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The appearance of a blood-drenched John Wick is more than sufficient incentive to clear out the dining lounge of the Continental hotel.

Patrons expediently vacate their tables and bar stools as the man hobbles his way down the stairs. Injured and tired, John is still an imposing figure. Santino D'Antonio has long finished his meal in the time it has taken the legendary man to track him down, the duck fat still lingers luxuriously on his palate. Emanating nonchalance, the Italian lazily swirls the deep garnet wine in his glass as he leans back into his seat. The high-end Sangiovese is an appropriate selection considering the evening's events.

Winston alone remains to witness the confrontation between the predator and his prey.

John raises his arm as he strides closer, his aim easily finds the last D'Antonio with instinctive ease. Even after the shootout at the museum and the journey to the hotel, there is little sign of the true exhaustion in John's body. His stance is steady and his mind is set to purpose.

As Santino stares up at the Baba Yaga, death incarnate, he thoughts reflect back onto Gianna.

Had she felt this sense of awe at knowing that Death had finally come for her?

Winston, perhaps recognizing the look on John's face, intervenes and attempts to talk his old friend down from his blood lust. Santino can't help but find amusement in the futility of such an endeavor. He knows that John cares little for the rules. The Baba Yaga only operates within the established order because they have never directly interfered with his hunts and it has always been easier to simply operate within them. His adherence has always been a courtesy.

Until now, that is.

Thinking again back to his late sister, Santino muses that Gianna had probably greeted John like an old friend. She would have found twisted humor in her own inescapable demise. The knowledge that Santino, her own baby brother, had sent none other than John Wick himself, would have pleased her.

He hopes.

It had been a final gift of sorts between the siblings, despite the dark machinations behind the visit.

Santino is also sure that Gianna, wherever she is, is currently laughing at his expense in that fond yet condescending way of hers.

After all, coils of arousal are probably not a normal reaction to the Emissary of Death.

Yet, here Santino finds himself, once again.

As he sits in the lounge of the Continental, the Italian is struck by the same shock that John's appearance had created back at the museum gala. It is a common occurrence when Santino is in John's presence—no matter how much time that has passed. So when the crowd of High Table guests had parted and he made eye contact with John's predatory gaze across the museum hall, it had sent chills down Santino's spine that had little to do with fear.

That soul-searing moment, where Santino had been struck by John's ingenuity and primal ferocity focused solely on him, had been their true reunion after all these long years.

So now, as Winston continues his attempts to reason with John, no—the Baba Yaga, Santino grins at the hotel manager's hubris. The creature before him is far past rationalization, he is running on pure instinct and fury. The predator within this man cannot rest until it has been satiated.

John Wick wants to kill him.

He needs to end this.

Yet, the man still requires a reason, a motivation, to pull the trigger.

Santino knows that the search for a sufficient-enough justification for the hell he will unleash upon himself is the sole reason John Wick hesitates. One shot would eternally deny John the reflective peace that he has been pursuing since Iosef Tarasov cruelly snatched it away from him. After all, killing a newly-inducted member of the High Table and desecrating the grounds of the Continental with blood are serious offenses that will not go unpunished.

The Baba Yaga is at an impasse.

Santino imagines that it is unfamiliar territory for John Wick.

Only a man willing to defy the entire infrastructure of the dark world they belong to would even attempt to contemplate such things. A contemplation borne not of a fear of the consequences, but of the mere inconvenience the repercussions would cause and the expenditure of energy it would require to negate them.

Only John Wick would have options against the High Table.

The sheer audacity of this incomparable man throws the last D'Antonio off his game in the best of ways.

So, Santino decides to operate opposite his own nature for once. He decides to refrain from pulling the proverbial trigger that would no doubt push the Baba Yaga into mutually-detrimental action.

"John," the Italian begins, smoothly interrupting whatever Winston is blathering on about. "Please join me. Take a seat."

Death's emissary does not move at the sincere invitation. His hand remains rock steady as he continues to point the barrel of his gun at Santino.

Yet, John's fathomless eyes dilate with adrenaline and dark fury. A flash of confusion registers as his restrained ferocity remains on Santino—his prey firmly in his cross hairs. John pants in measured, ragged breaths. The exhalations are almost guttural from his rather herculean efforts, yet still steady in their rhythm.

Part of Santino, wants to taunt John further over the precipice.

It would be a death wish for sure, but it would be almost worth it to see how far Santino could push the legend. Could he alone make the man break the sacrosanct rules that their entire world operated on? To risk everything including his own existence? Could he alone push John perhaps further than he has ever gone?

There has only been one other that has inspired John to such lengths, to such desperation.

His dear wife, Helen Wick.

Ordinarily, Santino would not miss such an opportunity. He has always had a inherent need to push the buttons of others—to slide the knife in deeper and to press further until it hurts. But, in the hour since his arrival at the Continental, something has shifted in the Italian. The adrenaline has had time to settle. Instinctual fear has eased into inevitable acceptance. Santino has calculated the full weight of his losses. The mind of the last D'Antonio has cleared and done what it truly does best—assess the current situation to his favor.

Death's emissary cannot be reasoned with, lesser men have tried with their dying breaths. Santino knows that this man, this honed weapon before him, cannot be stopped—but perhaps, he can be redirected.

"I am not going to beg for my life nor antagonize you, John," Santino begins, he brings both of his hands into view as a silent gesture. "Sit, eat something. I imagine you have not had much time to relax these past few days. Enjoy it. After you kill me, I don't expect that you will have time for such things."

His words are not spoken with the usual implied threat or ingrained condescension, they are the simple statement of fact that all three men know them to be.

"Mr. D'Antonio—"

"Fear not, Winston. I do not plan to sully your precious hotel with our transactions nor my corpse," Santino reassures with a casual sip from his glass. A moment passes as he swallows. "After our conversation, John and I shall leave the premises to conclude our business."

That seems to satisfy the hotel manager for the moment. Winston hums in acknowledgment as he leans against the bar, an expression of morbid curiosity on his weathered face.

But John remains standing, gun pointed at Santino. His gaze pierces with its focused intensity.

"I only ask for one conversation, John," Santino requests, with an open sincerity that feels odd upon his own lips. "If you honor this last request from a man already marked for death, I will leave the consecrated grounds of the Continental by my own will. Afterwards, you can do whatever you deem appropriate. I defer to your judgement. There will be no repercussions from my end. Winston has borne witness to my words, I'm sure he will see to it."

"The time for conversation is over," John intones after a heavy moment.

As they stare at one another, Santino takes in the man before him. John has aged in the days since their last meeting. However, like his kevlar-lined suits, he wears his age well. The Italian's sharp eyes leisurely sweep over John's tall frame. Even as battle-worn as he is, the man still towers before him. His sluggishly-bleeding wounds detract nothing from his terrifying presence. The coordinating blood stains that paint John's suit, face, and hands alongside his dark features make an ominous visage. There is almost a haunting beauty in the macabre of it. As Santino's gaze rests on the man's bloodied hand that hangs at his side, he spots John's ever-present wedding ring on his finger.

"To lose love is an exquisite torment, is it not?" the Italian comments. His words are void of any amusement. "Made more so when that devastation is caused by your own hand. I would not wish such a thing on even my worst enemy."

It is far from an apology or any monetary offer he probably expected, yet John seems to decipher the honest empathy behind Santino's words. Although, the man still furrows his brow. 

"Like yourself, I once had to make a choice," Santino continues. "Yet, unlike yourself, I chose to free the man I loved. Admittedly, it is a rather self-destructive habit of mine."

John shows no immediate reaction to this reveal of his past. A beat of silence passes. Then the man's eyes narrow as he catches something in Santino's words.

"You used the past tense."

A humorless chuckle leaves Santino at the harsh judgment within John's voice. The statement manages to be both subtly suspicious and openly accusatory.

"Dio Mio, you think so little of me, John. It may surprise you to know that I didn't have Angelo killed or indebted to me. Last I heard, he is happily married to his husband and living in Malta."

Leaning forward, Santino folds his hands on the table. A rare vulnerability crosses his face as he stares up at John.

"I share this with you, not to intimidate, but to empathize. I know what it is like to lose the individual that makes you want to be a better person. Not a 'good' person, simply a better version of oneself. Angelo was aware that my family had dark ties, but he would not have been able to handle the true brutality of our world. I would not have asked him to, so I ended our relationship—severing it completely and leaving no room for reconciliation. A clean heartbreak was the only mercy I could give him. I had no delusions that both my family's obligations and the High Table's reach would always find me and Angelo would always suffer for it."

Silence follows that confession. Both John and Winston are unsure how to react to Santino's words. The hotel manager's gaze goes back and forth between his two patrons, while John adjusts the grip on his gun.

"I'm not sorry I blew up your house," Santino states, unfazed by the weapon that is still trained on his head.  "However, I will rebuild it. Just as it was, spare no expense. You will have your 'temple' back."

Winston raises an eyebrow at the rather abrupt return of Santino's condescending charm. John has a rare look of confusion on his features, yet he quickly recovers.

"Why?"

"A lifetime ago, the two of us came close to enjoying a familiarity that vaguely resembled friendship, John. Despite what you think of me, I do not enjoy causing you pain."

John doesn't outwardly react to that assessment, yet he doesn't deny it either.

Santino smirks softly at the silent acknowledgement.

"May I enlighten you to how you are seen in this world of ours, John?" The High Table member offers as he leans back in his seat. "Consider it a final gift. One that may help you in the near future."

John and Winston both raise a doubtful eyebrow at the implication that the D'Antonio would provide anything resembling help to anyone but himself, yet Santino lets it roll off of him as he continues.

"You are not unlike a sword, John. A truly remarkable and legendary one, yet still a weapon used to execute the will of others. And eventually, when their task is complete, all swords are cleaned, sheathed, and then put away. The deadly blade becomes encased and made safe to handle. The weapon is at peace. I trust that your dear wife, gave you this sense of peace and rest. For her, you were willing to remain sheathed forever, no?"

John nods minutely at that sentiment.

"But, every sword is still an instrument of death. That is the sword's purpose. That is what every weapon is forged to do. And whenever a particularly legendary sword like yourself is suddenly unsheathed, especially after an extended period, it arouses the curiosity. There are those that need to know if that sword was well maintained or if it was left to rust."

Santino's smile curls into a grin, yet it doesn't quite reach his pale green eyes.

"And as you so eloquently demonstrated over the last week or so, your skills have not dulled in the years since you've been sheathed."

The understatement hangs between the two men for a moment.

"So, then come the unanswered questions. Does the sword go back peacefully into the sheath or does the well-honed blade thirst for more? And if it is indeed thirsty, whose blood will quench such insatiable and unpredictable desire?"

The Italian pauses here as he makes another appraising sweep of John Wick. He then stares directly into the man's dark eyes.

"And most importantly, whose will does such a dangerous weapon now serve?"

As he speaks, Santino slowly reaches into his pocket and pulls out the completed marker. The weight is a heavy reminder of the past, for both men. Winston's eyes widen, as he had thought Santino had surrendered it during their last meeting. The Italian grins at the manager's incredulity as he turns over his reclaimed memento.

"The High Table sent me here for a specific reason, John."

Both Winston and John exchange a glance.

"You were sent here, Mr. D'Antonio?"

"Yes, Winston. I am not the arrogant fool you think me to be," Santino remarks, his gaze never leaving the forged metal pact in his palm. "If it were truly up to me, I would have never cashed in this marker. I have grown rather fond of it over the years."

The Italian's celadon eyes harden to jade as his lips form a tight line. A storm settles upon his features as his thoughts turn to the High Table and the iron control they've had over his entire life.

"However, like all of us under the authority of the High Table, we must renew our fealty or die where we stand. There is little choice in the matter."

"Santino?"

The even baritone of John's voice cuts through the D'Antonio's musings. Santino truly hadn't meant to divulge this, yet faced with his own imminent death there is very little need for subterfuge.

A resigned sigh leaves the Italian's lips.  

"It is no secret that you and I had this marker, this blood debt, between us, John. Any Adjudicator worth their position would easily discover this sole tie between us in order to exploit the only connection still binding you to our world," Santino begins as he caresses the aforementioned marker in his hands. "When you left to be with your wife, the High Table was furious. They had lost an extremely valuable asset. Yet, since you won your freedom within their parameters, there was nothing they could do to you. You were untouchable."

The last word resonates as it leaves the Italian's lips.

"If the High Table broke their own code, if they reneged on the terms of their own deal, it would undermine their centuries of control and power. As it stood, I was the only person that had any enforceable power over the Baba Yaga—assuming that you still chose to abide by the rules. I was only allowed to keep my life all these years because I was their insurance policy against you. The High Table needed to know that if you ever decided to return, whether or not you could still be controlled."

Holding up the marker, Santino opens the metal pact to reveal both of their bloodied thumbprints.

"The fulfillment of our marker was a test to see how loyal you were, John."

John and Winston react very differently to this news. The manager sinks into one of the plush bar stools, his eyes widened at the exposed machinations of the High Table. Yet, the Baba Yaga only narrows his gaze as he absorbs this information.

"Why are you telling me this?"

"I was never meant to survive this," Santino replies, seemingly unconcerned with his own demise. "Either by your hand or by one in service of the High Table, I will soon meet my death. Everything in our world is supposed to be under the Table. I am being punished, just as rigorously as you are being tested. My defiance, my assistance in your impossible task, must be paid in blood and fealty. My actions that resulted in the loss of such a valued asset from the High Table's control can not be tolerated."

Santino takes a breath as his eyes remain on the man before him. A rueful expression crosses the Italian's face as his gaze becomes distant.

"Dio mio, they have such plans for you, John. Plans that only work if you are completely under their control. The High Table would descend to unimaginable lows in order to sink their claws back into you."

Though his gun and gaze remains on Santino, John shifts part of his focus to Winston.

"Winston?"

"The High Table is absolute," the manager validates. "To retain their sovereignty, no action would be outside the realm of possibility, Jonathan."

Santino laughs at Winston's massive understatement as he returns the completed marker to the safety of his jacket pocket.

The burden of fealty to the High Table has always pressed hardest upon those directly underneath it, a constant foot on their throats. Perhaps more so for those meant to ascend into its hallowed seats. The surviving heir of the D'Antonio bloodline has long resigned himself to his place beneath its rule. Yet, as it always has, John Wick's sheer determination against such vast and insurmountable odds ignites Santino's own rebelliousness.

After all, if John is to be truly free from this world and the High Table's long reach, the man needs to know how far it truly goes.

"Why do you think Gianna refused to aid you all those years ago?"

The question regains John's full attention.

"She said it was a foolish endeavor."

The remaining D'Antonio sibling chuckles at his late sister's words. It is an odd comfort to know that Gianna had been equally frank with them both.

"In our world, love cannot be anything else."

Santino is rather proud of the amount of indifference he manages to infuse in his remark. However, John's penetrating gaze suggests that something in his expression has revealed more than intended.

"Why did you help me that night?"

"I did it for one foolish reason," Santino states. A self-depreciating grin momentarily graces his features. "I never wanted to be your sheath, the one that hides your exquisite deadliness. I wanted to be your whetstone. I wanted to be the instrument that makes you sharper and hones your striking beauty."

The honesty temporarily softens Santino's features and has him squaring his shoulders. His piercing green eyes gleam with amusement at his own hubris.

"You were not meant to survive, let alone complete, your Impossible Task that night. The High Table had decreed it so. You were supposed to be an example, a warning for anyone else foolish enough to attempt to leave our world. There was little any of us could do to defy that decree."

John looks to Winston as confirmation. His old friend says nothing, yet in his silence says everything. Santino almost laughs at the way John inherently trusts Wintson. For a man that is legendary for his pure focus, he is often ironically blind to the impure motivation of others. The hotel manager is just as deeply indebted to the High Table's whims as any seated member, perhaps more so.

"But you did, Santino," John observes. "You defied the Table?"

The Italian averts his gaze to the signet ring on his right hand, the D'Antonio family crest. A self-depreciating grin curls his lips as he remembers the outright fury his father had unleashed upon him in the wake of his assistance to John. The former head of the family had denied his only son then and there the position he know holds.

Irony is abundant apparently.

"I did all that I could, knowing that it would most likely not be enough," Santino informs as he reaches for his wine. He swirls the remaining amount in his glass, mesmerized by how the blood red color catches the light. "You came to me, desperate and pleading for my help. How could I refuse you, John? If that night was to be your last, I wanted to be of use to you just once, Amore mio."

Santino closes his eyes to enjoy his last sip of wine. Uninterested in Winston's surprise and John's maddening stoicism, he savors what is to be his final hedonistic pleasure upon his palate.

An appreciative hum escapes the man's lips as Santino discerns the hidden notes and resumes his explanation.

"I was relieved that you survived, more so that you were left unbothered afterwards. As long as you were sheathed in your wife's love and the life you shared with her, you were protected from the High Table's wrath. You had your deserved peace and rest. Even after her untimely death, you would still have been free to mourn. But when I heard what you did to the Tarasovs, to Viggo and his son, I knew then, that the High Table would act. It was not long afterwards that I was visited by an Adjudicator and tasked with completing our marker."

Opening his eyes fully, Santino luxuriates in the tranquil acceptance of his fate. A lesser man would fear the spilling of the High Table's dealings from his lips. Yet, so much has already been revealed, Santino reasons that he might as well complete the deed. If he is to die for his transgressions, he may as well commit them in totality.

"The High Table operates on fear and fealty. Even ascension to a seated position requires an act of loyalty, a sacrifice of that which we love. My father sacrificed my mother to save his children. I have no doubt that my sister would have been made to sacrifice me, insurance policy or not. In order to sit at the table, nothing must come before it and all must be sacrificed to maintain it," Santino flawlessly recites. His jaw clenches at the words that have been drilled into his head his entire life.

The Italian then shifts his gaze so that it locks with John's steady one.

"Yet, your unexpected reappearance has truly scared them, John. They punish me for valuing your life above the best interests of the table."

"What exactly is your punishment, Mr.D'Antonio?"

At Winston's morbid curiosity, Santino closes his eyes as a chuckle escapes his lips.

"I was tasked to order the man I love to kill my own flesh and blood. If I refused, they would force me to watch both Gianna and John be executed, slowly. My sister and I were raised not to fear our own deaths by enemy hands, especially by ones controlled by the High Table. It is an inevitability in our business. But I couldn't let Gianna be slaughtered and tortured like some beast—she deserved far better than that. We were raised as competitors, rivals really, but mia sorella will always have my utmost respect."

Santino takes a moment to remember the indomitable woman that was his sister before he continues.

"Ordering Gianna's death tested both my fealty to the table and John's in one move, Winston. The completion of our marker proved that John still heeds their authority and that the Baba Yaga is still fully capable. His single-handed decimation of the combined D'Antonio resources served as sufficient proof of his well-maintained skill set. And by placing that bounty on John's head, I have sealed my own fate and ensured my own death at his hands. The Camorra seat would go to a more loyal family upon my death and the High Table would then force John back into their control through 'benevolent coercion'. All would then fall back neatly into place as they see fit again, ad nauseum. "

As he relays his punishment, the D'Antonio once again finds himself impressed with the personal touch the High Table has decided to mete out to him—it's almost flattering.

"Despite my considerable losses tonight, I am glad to see that your skills are just as deadly as ever. Perhaps even more so. Your ferocity, as always, is breathtaking, John."

Santino takes out his phone and places a call. He remains calm, despite the gun of the Baba Yaga that is still trained upon him, as he initiates the speaker setting. The phone rings once before the call is promptly connected.

"You've reached Accounts Payable."

"I, Santino D'Antonio, current occupant of the Camorra seat of the High Table, dismiss the murder charge of Gianna D'Antonio, a seated member of the High Table, against John Wick. Mr. Wick acted as per the binding contract of an unfulfilled marker to myself. And when Mr. Wick decides to take my life as rightful compensation for my slights against him, he is to remain instated in rank and privilege to all amenities and services entitled to him."

After a efficient series of approval codes and override measures, Santino ends the call. He looks up to see John staring at him with something close to incredulity.

"Enjoy your peace with my blessings, Amore mio. Though I do wonder how long you think it will last. The High Table is patient, but they will come to collect your fealty, John. Have no doubt of that."

For the first time since he entered the Continental, John's expression eases into one of curiosity.

"And what do you suppose I do about it?"

Santino stares in disbelief at the man, the entity, before him.

"First, remind yourself who you are, John Wick. Then, remind them."

In a fluid rise, Santino stands up from the table and straightens out his jacket. He runs a hand through his curls before he steps into John's space and looks up at him expectantly.

"Now, shall we?"

At the question, John looks at Santino. The man appears to take stock of him as something more than prey as his intense stare burns into the D'Antonio. John then takes a deep breath, his broad shoulders rising and falling with the action, and fully lowers his gun to his side.

"I'm not going to kill you."

Santino blinks owlishly at the assassin.

"Excuse me?"

"I want to. I should."

The perfectly-arched eyebrow on the Italian's face threatens to disappear into his hair.

"Then what exactly is stopping you?"

John doesn't answer Santino. He just continues to stand there, his one hand still clenching his gun as the other hangs loose by his side. John's dark eyes simply stare into the Italian's as they both stand mere inches from one another. The weighted tension sizzles between them as the silence stretches on. After a few moments, Santino barks a cruel laugh as he finds his answer.

"Pity doesn't suit you, John."

"It's not pity."

Santino narrows his eyes at the seemingly-innocuous statement. Yet, when his green eyes meet John's gaze, he finds a weary gratitude there. An undeniable intimacy exists between a man honed to be a perfect weapon and a man honed to flawlessly command such force.

For a moment, the suffocating air of circumstance weighs on them both.

"The High Table won't like this, Mr. D'Antonio," Winston comments. His knowing voice resonating with condescension as it cuts through their impasse.

Yet Santino barely pays the man any attention. His gaze is still fixated on John and his fathomless stare.

"They don't like anything that is not under their control, Winston. Least of all, John."

The Italian offers the Baba Yaga a cunning, yet warm smile. Santino imagines that the expression on his face is oddly fond.

"Do keep me in mind if your unique brand of misfortune finds you in Naples, Mr. Wick. However, as I initially promised, I will not disturb you again. Our business is finished."

At the finality of his own words, an old, insistent yearning blossoms within the last D'Antonio.

In the face of being denied forever, it now demands to be satisfied. 

Slowly, Santino closes the gap between them and presses his lips to John's, uncaring of the blood staining the man's face. The kiss is not one of raw, heated passion between reunited lovers, but a demonstration of sincere affection and reverence. It encompasses both the enticing promise of a first kiss and the bittersweet affirmation of a last one. Santino slowly reaches a hand up to rest on John's unshaven cheek, taking advantage of the man's stoic nature to stretch out the tactile connection. Yet, as a gun-calloused hand slides over his hip and settles heavily on the small of his back, Santino gasps at the surprising possessiveness in the grip. The Italian's lips release a heated moan when John pulls him in closer to reciprocate the sensual exploration. Eager to make the most of this impromptu yet overdue kiss, each of their mouths chase the enticing taste of 'what if?' and 'what could have been'.

When they part, after one last heated press of lips, John's eyes have darkened. It appears to take a considerable effort and another deep breath for the man to release Santino from his grip.

The last D'Antonio knows that the majority of John Wick will always belong to his late wife.

Yet, Santino is content that this fraction of John, this immeasurable moment, will always belong to him.

He never has been allowed to keep the people he loves, why would the love of his life be any different?

Pressing a hand to John's blood-stained cheek, Santino leans in closer. He rests his forehead against John's, taking full advantage of the mutual exhaustion between them both. The two men share breath, their lips mere millimeters apart, as they share this final intimate conversation.

"I do wish you peace, Amore mio. May you receive all that is justly due to you."

The hushed invocation is powered by a faith Santino is unused to.

"But if solace is again denied to you by those that wish to control and place you beneath their heel, there is only one path left—kill them all."

Santino speaks with no hesitation as he allows the sentiment that weighs his dark, whispered words. It helps that they are heard by, and only meant for, John alone. The man appears to take them in stride with a deep breath. Despite the phrasing, they aren't an order, but another affirmation and reminder. Santino desires only to sharpen the weapon that is John Wick, the Baba Yaga, one last time. The man himself once again says nothing, yet words aren't needed. However, the last D'Antonio basks in the acknowledging way John presses his forehead against his before they part—a purposeful move that is accompanied by the stoic man's waiting gaze.

"I'll be seeing you."

With that intoned parting, Santino removes his hand, that last tactile connection, and walks past John. The man's dark gaze follows him as he climbs the stairs and makes his way towards the main lobby of the Continental. Death's Emissary is silent as he remains standing next to Winston, his gun still in his hand. As he reaches the balcony that overlooks the lounge, Santino reaches in his pocket to pull out his phone.

He deliberates whether or not to call Ares. If she had survived the carnage at the museum, she would have followed him to the Continental by now.

Admittedly, it would be a hard pill to swallow if he must part ways with both John and Ares this night.

The sharp weight of John Wick's stare still upon him is a soothing comfort.

It sears into him.

Yet, oddly enough, he doesn't hear the gunshot as he swipes to unlock his home screen. Santino only hears the sharp crack of his dropped phone splintering on the marble floor of the Continental. He hears the exclamation of condemning surprise from Winston afterwards. 

Santino feels it though.

His chest blossoms with pain as he collapses to the ground. The cold marble is unforgiving as the smooth stone presses against the Italian's face.

The realization and acceptance of his own death comes to him slower than Santino ever imagined it would.

An unknown factor has distracted him.

Despite the numbing feeling spreading throughout his body, the D'Antonio can still feel the heady sensation of John's lips upon his own. And even as darkness slowly overcomes his vision, Santino is content to have that as his last thought as he slips into sweet embrace of unconsciousness.

 

 


 

 

Santino D'Antonio blinks his eyes blearily at the artificial light assaulting his corneas. A sea breeze fills the small bedroom of what appears to be a private beach bungalow. He is resting on his side on unfamiliar and rough sheets, the Italian's skin is far more accustomed to much higher thread counts. Turning his gaze towards the open window, Santino stares at the palm trees that sway peacefully in the coastal wind. Still disoriented, he doesn't quite recognize the crystal blue ocean and white sands beyond them—his mind loosely reasons that the lush surrounding terrain is not rugged enough to be the Amalfi Coast.

He had promised himself to spread Gianna's ashes there one day, as the picturesque shoreline had been a favorite place of their late mother.

Shaking off such unattainable thoughts, Santino moves to sit up to get a better look at his new surroundings. He is stopped by a steady hand that forces him back into the make-shift hospital bed.

The injured man's pale green eyes widen to see Ares sitting in the bedside chair, professionally acting as a barrier between her ward and the only door of the quaint bedroom. Santino notices a few bandaged wounds that peek through her clothing and reveal that the assassin herself is still on the mend. A slow series of signs accompany the genuine concern on Ares' sharp features.

Take it easy. The bullet struck just two centimeters away from your heart.

The information takes a few moments to sink in. Santino blames whatever cocktail of medicine that is coursing through his bloodstream. The remnants are dulling his mind in ways he is not used to.

"I remember being shot, vaguely," Santino recalls, his voice dry and rough with disuse. He slowly rolls onto his back, grimacing at the pain radiating from the entry wound. 'What happened afterwards?"

Bullet went clean through. Got you stitched up and transported out of the city during all the chaos.

What Ares' answer lacks in gentle delivery, overcompensates with professional efficiency and succinctness. Santino finds himself taking comfort in the familiar, despite the questions now swarming his mind.

"Chaos?"

Three days ago, John Wick 'killed' you at the Continental. The official ex-communicado order has gone into effect and he has a bounty of $14 million on his head. Suffice it to say, it's open season on the Baba Yaga.

Santino narrows his eyes at that revelation as Ares gives him a water bottle. Taking the offering, the Italian swallows the cool liquid and soothes his sore throat. It does little to soothe his anger though.

"That makes no sense. I pardoned him. I made the call."

The High Table doesn't see it that way. He still shot you on consecrated ground.

"Typical."

Ares doesn't hide her amusement at the inelegant scoff that leaves her employer's scowling lips, to his further annoyance. Santino is fully aware that she knows better than anyone how much he truly loathes the High Table. After all, the silent assassin has observed much about the D'Antonio as his bodyguard and head of his security detail over the years. It's to be expected, really. And in that exact same vein, Ares doesn't appear to be surprised that Santino still has such protectiveness for the man that shot him.

The Italian frowns sourly as he can practically read his guard's thoughts.

While he's eternally grateful for Ares, Santino has always been wary of her keen perception.

"Did they even bother to send an Adjudicator?"

Yes. However, Winston was the one that formally declared your death and sent the ex-communicado order against John.  The Adjudicator is only interested in tying up loose ends.

"I see. And what of my 'corpse'? Surely whomever they sent would want to see my remains as confirmation?"

Ashes to ashes, dust to dust. The Continental has an incinerator for a reason and John left plenty of bodies behind that night. There are few questions with the right witnesses and attention to detail.

Santino doesn't doubt her knowledge in such things.  Still, the information offends him and adds insult on top of insult. The High Table that has made his entire existence such hell did not even deem it important to take the time to confirm his death properly. They just wanted him to suffer, satisfied with whatever ashes they had passed off as his. Santino absently notices that his D'Antonio family signet ring is missing from his hand.

He does not mourn the weight of it.

"I shouldn't be surprised by their arrogance. How like the High Table to be far more concerned with making an example out of John's defiance than confirming the act they will use to condemn him? They are probably chomping at the bit for his blood."

The stern look on Ares face tells Santino all he needs to know. John is now being hunted like no man has ever been hunted before.

It will please you to know that the High Table bit off more than they could chew. Since your "death", John has been a very busy boy.

The signed understatement earns a huff of laughter, the movement has his groaning at the sharp lance of pain. Santino gingerly touches the exit wound on his chest, his fingers tracing over the sterile bandage. Oddly enough, he feels the tenderness of the bruises more than the exact spot where the bullet left his body.

"I should be grateful John was too preoccupied to concern himself with accuracy. It saved my life."

Ares rolls her eyes as a put-upon sigh leaves her lips.

You've always been shit at gun marksmanship.

"Excuse me?"

Santino has a very short list of people that he tolerates open disrespect from, Ares is one of the two people still alive on that extremely short list.

A known fact that she often exploits.

At that range and with his level of skill, John Wick didn't "miss". He meant to shoot you in that exact spot. It was intentional.

True surprise widens the Italian's eyes. Santino dares to make the connection in his mind, yet needs more evidence to voice it out loud.

"Are you sure? Two centimeters is rather infinitesimal."

One hundred percent sure. It would've been easier to just shot you in the head. Much bigger target.

At the jibe, Santino shares a grin at the one individual in his life that most closely resembles a trusted friend. The deep gratitude Santino conveys to her is palpable in that moment. Ares has a fond annoyance on her face as she surreptitiously sweeps him for signs of distress. The assassin beside him is not the nurturing type—except for his late mother, no one in his life ever has been.

For some reason or other, most of the people that the Italian has ever held dear have contemplated and/or attempted to kill him.

The two may not be mutually exclusive.

Santino D'Antonio is fully aware of his difficult nature.

He has often wondered if perhaps those that deal in death can only emote through it as well.

As the current situation stands, John Wick actually "did" kill him, which in turn, has so far saved Santino from the wrath of the High Table. And if what Ares says is true, then the weapon of a man has been sharpened into a force that even the High Table is ill-equipped to handle. Santino has once again taken a desperate John Wick and honed him into the legendary emissary of Death. For the forces he is about to face, John needs to be at his best.

The observation makes Santino smile genuinely. His fingers travel up to caress his lips as he recalls the kiss they had shared and processes this new life John has granted him.

"Amore mio è sentimentale, no?"

Ares rolls her eyes even harder this time as she silently manages to convey her complete disinterest in her employer's love life and romantic attachments. The small smirk of amusement curling her lips means nothing.

Speaking of which, a gift was sent here.

At Santino's confusion, Ares motions over to the bedside table. On its surface lies the marker that contains both his and John's thumbprints of blood. Santino instantly moves to pick it up, his arm feels heavy yet he is motivated to push through it. The familiar weight of the marker is reassuring as it sits at home in his palm.

"This was sent here?" asks the Italian, suddenly suspicious of the marker's appearance. "Who knows our exact location?"

With a knowing grin, Ares changes the movement of her hands into a graceful teasing flow. Santino sighs, he has long given up on how the silent assassin manages to effectively convey Italian sarcasm without moving her lips.

Il tuo amore.

The foreign expression of genuine wonder feels odd on Santino's face.

I was surprised too. He sent me the coordinates for this safe house. I had nowhere better to take you after we left New York.

"So, John shoots me, leaves me 'for dead', yet provides a route to safety and ensures the return of our marker to my hands?" states the last D'Antonio as he brings the coveted marker close. His fingers reverently run along the well-worn edges and details of the souvenir. It may have lost its contractual tie to John, but the marker still holds significance. Lost in the meaning behind these actions, Santino almost misses Ares' confirming gesture.

Apparently.

"Hmm. Who knew that Death's emissary is so unconventionally gallant?"

Probably should refrain from blowing this house up.

Santino chuckles at Ares' dry comment, still delighted by how John has managed to truly pay back his marker in full, with no interference from the Table's machinations. Santino had helped free John from the Table all those years ago, and John has now reciprocated.

"Where exactly is 'this house', anyway?"

Confusion furrows the Italian's brow as Ares proceeds to spell out the location in sign language.

N-A-P-L-E-S.

"Naples?" Santino questions disbelieving as he pointedly glances out the window. Though he remembers telling John to find him in his home city, this particular beach view is not one to be found in the Italian metropolis. "This is not Napoli, Ares."

Naples, Florida. We're still in America.

At that clarification, Santino blinks. Then a full laugh erupts from his lips. Despite the discomfort it causes, the former D'Antonio powers through his mirth at John's truly peculiar sense of humor.

The love of his life is always finding new ways to truly surprise him.

 

 

END