It is evening, the golden smudges of the horizon slowly fading from view. To the west stands a magnificent mansion. There are men in there, men with tight slacks and shiny rifles. Men in suits and hands that grasp sharp knives, pull triggers. It is evening, but comes not the lull of slumber.
In a deep corner of the estate lies a room. It is here where the ring leader plots. It is where a young but sturdy man, a man of twenty-one years, paces back and forth in the space, polished leather boots rubbing against the expensive carpet. It is where another man, younger and sparer than the other, leans against a dark corner of the room. He faces perpendicular to a large window at the back, yet half his form is engulfed by shadows. Hazel eyes gleaming. Unobstructed by dark, dark locks.
The man stops in his tracks, sideways glancing at the other. Blue eyes blinking. Runs a hand through chocolate tresses.
"Have you been sleeping?"
Sleep. This is something that has long since transformed itself into a luxury for the elder Vanetti son. Or, should that adjective even be useful anymore? In this type of world, in this walk of life, does the past tense hold any value? The shrill crackle of a round. The yellow odor filled with the urge to survive. He remembers his eyes widening, cold hard realization piercing his gut when the barrel facing him had not gone off. Remembers blue eyes, much like his own, popping. The blossoming rose on his younger brother's dress shirt.
A low growl reverberates in the pit of his throat. Nero reaches for the bottle on the desk at the back of the room. Pours himself a cool, hard cleansing. Chugs it. Burns.
The other youth finally departs from where he was standing. Dispassionate eyes staring through Nero as long, thin fingers reach for the Lawless Heaven. Pianist fingers. Except they are not. Stealthy fingers. Fingers that twitch once and leave with valuables. That's better.
"Avilio." There are shadows of the dead around Nero's eyes.
The dark haired man just stares, hazel eyes so still, so departed, when he pours some of that bootlegged escapism into the glass Nero is holding. Those same slender fingers wrap around his own. Brings his glass to the younger man's lips. Downs it.
Nero watches as the other's Adams apple bobbles while the liquid fire does its work, blue eyes transfixed on that pale skin. The back of his hand burning, scorching, as if it were there that the liquor touched. It lasts for seconds but feels like hours.
"You know," Avilio starts, the glass and bottle set on the table, already forgotten. "I meant it when I said I will be your brother from now on." Licks his lips.
He licks his own, tongue dancing on the pink flesh, surprised at how sweet the remnants are. He is sitting at the desk now, shoulders hunched, arms suspending the weight of his head and demons. Avilio finds room at the edge of the table. Behind them the last eerie orange dims, melding into the dark of night.
When he had been younger, about thirteen years of age, he used to carve.
The dead don't know they are dead. But the living do. A family is built on sacrifice, some more fatal than the rest. It is up to the living to honor their efforts. And so he carves.
But, the hypocrisy of his actions is something that must be hidden away in order to keep his Truth. At fourteen years Nero comes of age. He sacrifices. He loses not his life but his innocence. It is only by the sweet fibs of alcohol that he can pretend to forget. Where he can un-see the wisps of life in those child-like eyes smothered by noise and gunpowder. Where he can ignore the way the mother huddled over the youth in a moment's glance, desperate to shield her son from death's bullet. She failed, of course. Nero succeeded.
After that day, he whittled two more strikes onto that lump of quartz. Even though they were not part of his Family. Even though he should not have cared. But he did. It was then when Nero's psyche cracked a little, deep jagged fissures webbing across the mirror of his soul. And he can see his ugly reflection. After that day, the following day, and the day after that, up until the night leading to his brother's death, murder, the eldest Vanetti son sculpted into that god forsaken rock he picked up from the ground when he was thirteen.
But where the original intention of paying respects used to lay, now lie angry, empty gashes. Nero Vanetti is not the same. He wears tight slacks but in his coat pocket sleeps a shiny rifle. He wears a suit but his hands have grasped sharp knives, have pulled triggers. The sin and hope for redemption would have driven lesser men to prayer. He is not, and has never been, religious.
And now, one by one the anchors of his sanity plunge deeper and deeper until they are gone. Nero is a ship lost in the sea that is his darkness. That much is true. So when he is offered one last hope, one last lighthouse glowing through the fog, he latches on to it. And by luck, that is Avilio Bruno.
The younger man shifts a bit on the table, but doesn't offer another hint at being uncomfortable. Perplexing. The light of the waxed moon illuminates the den, their silhouettes nearly blending into one another. Candles dim and nearly snuffed out. So close. He realizes they are so close now. His nostrils pick up the musk that is Avilio. His skin feels the heat through his clothes.