There was a short drive to the centre of town and once there, everyone got out and Vittoria was once again thrown over a man’s shoulder and hauled away. They were quicker this time, for it would be best not to be seen carrying around a bound woman around, after all.
Everyone piled inside, and Carlo ordered them to put her in a chair. All the others stood around him, looking on expectantly. He had dreaded this, because he knew they expected him to do something now. Something drastic that he couldn’t bring himself to do. Even Lucia, pale and sniffing as per usual, looked like she expected it. Her hand rested on his shoulder, and she said meekly:
“W-what are you going to do… my baby…?”
“Everyone, leave,” Carlo said, shoving her hand away.
Of course, Lucia broke into a wail that could have woken the dead. There was a confused murmur in the room, because besides Franco, the others weren’t used to Lucia’s particular brand of crazy. Carlo repeated:
“What’s the plan now?” Giacomo asked. “What are you going to…?”
“Leave. Go upstairs and leave us.”
They left reluctantly, and even when they did he suspected that they were listening in, so when he spoke, he kept his voice low enough that only she would hear.
“You remember this place?” he asked softly.
For the first time since he had found her, she glanced up, but only for a second. She nodded. “This was your house.”
The gang had taken it again and someone else lived here now. Taking her to this house was spur-of-the-moment and maybe petty, but he wanted to remind her of the past. He wasn’t sure it would work. It was more bare-bones than it had been when he lived here, and less warm somehow. Or perhaps he only remembered it as such because things had been easy and pleasant. She had been just an innocent young woman he swore to protect and he had tried to stay away from her, for her sake. He couldn’t have known that he should have thought more of himself.
Right now, with her head bent and stray dark hair falling over her face, she looked a lot like he remembered from before all this mess started. The coldness that had been clear in her features back when she betrayed him was gone, replaced by a heart-rendering sadness. Fake, no doubt. A ploy to win his sympathy. He only wished it didn’t work.
“Don’t you have anything to say?” he asked. “After everything?”
Vittoria let out a deep sigh. “We both know how this has to end, so please end it. Only… get rid of my mother as well. Don’t let her near the kids.”
“I haven’t,” he said.
At that, she finally looked up at him, something in her eyes he couldn’t read. She nodded. “No, of course not. You’re smart. I’d prefer it if you killed her, but I know you don’t like doing it, so as long as you keep her far away from you and don’t let her gain any influence, you’ll be fine.”
“You sound so sure that I’m going to kill you,” he said.
Her face pale and she turned to look at him. “You have to.”
“I know that.”
Vittoria nodded. “So be it.”
The nonchalance in her words made him clench his fists at his side.
“So be it? After all that time, you expect me to just kill you and dump you in a ditch?”
“We both agreed it’s the right course of action.”
Though still looking sad, she looked up at him in a way that suggested this wasn’t unusual. He had managed to forget that she always expected the worst. How many times had she looked at him in wonder when he was nice to her? She had always said he was a contradiction – a gang leader who would love and cherish his wife, who would be gentle with their kids, who treated others with respect. This was how deep she felt it: that even though he had only ever loved her, he would kill her just like that.
“I can’t,” he said to her then, meeting her eyes across the room.
Vittoria started and stared. “You have to.”
“Yes, I told you – I know. But I can’t. I won’t.”
“But your men-.”
“To hell with them,” he said in a low growl, and her eyes grew big. “I’m not killing my wife. The mother of my children. How could I look them in the eyes if I did? How could I look myself in the eyes?”
“They’re still young. They’ll forget.”
“But I’ll know.” He walked towards her and stopped less than a metre away, looking down at her. “I couldn’t live with myself. As much as I hate you now, I love you. I always have and I always will.”
He thought he saw her blinking away tears, but that couldn’t be – Vittoria never cried. Regardless, her eyes shone in the pale light of the room as she said:
“I’ll send you away from here,” he told her, turning his back on her. “Wherever you like, I’ll drop you off with some funds and you can do whatever you like, so long as you don’t come back here. If you do and one of my men decide to take you out, so be it. But I won’t.”
“Please, reconsider,” she said. “It’s safer for you if I die. She’ll use me against you, the way she’s already tried it once.”
“It’s not up for debate. Franco will take you out of town.”
“Carlo, please. Please, you have to listen. It’s why I betrayed you, it’s why I had to do it. To keep you safe. Everyone can see that you act foolish when it comes to me and that’s why I needed to get away. To help you come to your senses and see that I’m hurting your position. I’ve always been your weakness and that’s why you have to eliminate me. You have to show strength now.”
He turned back to her. She still wasn’t crying, though this was as close as she had ever – would ever – be.
“Strength.” He ran a hand over his face, pressing the tips of his fingers into his eyelids, and said the word again as he opened his eyes: “Strength.”
Vittoria slowly nodded. He was reminded, more than anything, of a day more than four years ago, when he threw her out of this house. When she spun and stared and her eyes were like a dark void. Even though it had frightened him, it hadn’t hit him before now how deep the darkness reached.
“You truly believe that,” he said.
He walked over to her and she flinched when he reached a hand out to her. Perhaps she expected him to hurt her, but he put a hand on her cheek and turned her face up to meet his.
“How many ways did they hurt you?” he asked gently. “To make you believe all the bullshit?”
She opened her mouth, but closed it again when she couldn’t find the words. As had always been the case, she didn’t look comfortable at his gentle touch, at his fingers that brushed the soft waves of her hair and returned to her cheek. Oh, but he wished she had never done this.
“I’m starting to understand,” he continued. “You think I’m weak.”
“Because of me,” she said. “I needed you to be angry with me, to show them that if you had to, you’d hunt me down. That even if you love me, you’re still strong.”
But Carlo shook his head and he never stopped caressing her cheek. Vittoria leaned into his hand, closing her eyes for a second, but then she looked up again.
“I’m not weak, Vittoria,” he said.
He silenced her with a finger to her lips.
“I would never have survived this lifestyle if I wasn’t the way I am. Look at Alessandro and how he treated you. In the end, all it earned him was a knife in the back. My men are angry, yes, but at you, and for good reason. They want you dead, but if I tell them that I won’t allow it, I know they’ll be angry for a good long while. However, they’ll respect my decision in the end.”
“They’ll revolt. Kill you…”
“They won’t. So many of them come from other gangs with violent idiots for leaders, and they know that if I die, someone like them will take over. Nobody here in Monte Vista wants that. Think of that, think of all the other people who rely on me and the gang in town – the town council, the police, local businesses. No one dares to touch me.”
He thought he saw understanding in her eyes, but she still protested:
“But I worked with Franco. He agreed with me.”
That was how he had been there so quickly then. He already knew what was about to happen.
She continued: “I asked him about those rumours and he said it was all true. He said we were in trouble if you didn’t shape up, so he went along with the plan.”
“What would make him worry so much? He knows as well as I do that it won’t happen.”
He felt a tremble in her body as she looked up at him.
“My mother. She’s the one who started the rumours and spread them everywhere. If she could make you appear weak, she could have all the gangs in the region trying to take you on. Then all she had to do was march Gallo in here and take the town.”
Carlo let his hand drop.
“You’re really scared.”
Vittoria nodded and she told him everything. How she had never really been in charge, but only a puppet for Lucia, how Marta had been the same thing – and an important piece in Lucia’s rumour mill. When Marta came and Vittoria panicked, it had been what Lucia expected. She had let the girl get away, let her think she escaped, hoping that she’d go exactly where she did.
He mulled it over, his head spinning with the information. He knew that Lucia wasn’t right, but to go then on to say that she was some manipulative mastermind was a leap. And yet… Vittoria was scared. She was never scared or at least she didn’t outwardly show it. There was the matter of Marta as well, who was almost as scared as her. Carlo started with a realisation.
Vittoria sucked in a sharp breath. “I sent her back to you.”
“When?” he demanded.
“Last night, before I went to Monte Vista. She should be here by now.”
“We need to find her. Gallo must have caught her when she left. If he-.”
Her voice was drowned out by a gunshot. So loud he thought it must be in the house, but she immediately searched for the windows and Carlo realised she was right. It had come from outside. More followed. The target of the shooting became clear when one of the kitchen windows shattered and glass sprayed over the floor. Somewhere upstairs, another window shattered right after and he could hear Franco shouting up there.
“Gallo!” Vittoria shouted. “He said my mother would lead her straight to you. He followed us.”
Carlo cursed and grabbed for his gun as the small glass panes of the doors followed suit and exploded over them. He caught his wife around the waist and dragged her to a solid wall that they wouldn’t be able to shoot through.
“Let’s say I believe everything about your crazy genius mother,” Carlo said. “What do I do?”
“Release me,” she said.
He set his jaw. “I don’t think I believe you that much.”
She grabbed his hands and held his gaze.
“I love you. I risked my life to get you out of jail once, and I’m going to risk my life to save you now because I love you stupidly much. Maybe you’re weak for loving me, but I’m no better.”
He let out a sigh that wasn’t audible because of the shots that still pelted the house and sailed through the windows. Her eyes were pleading and beautiful and he hadn’t realised how much he wanted to hear her say that.
“I’m definitely weak,” Carlo said, and he untied her wrists.
Feeling lost? If you’ve forgotten previous chapters and need a recap you can find my recap page here. Be aware that it contains spoilers for the story.
Author’s note: Hi guyssss, welcome back to Monte Vista – in which Vittoria yet again asks someone to just kill her already and gets a no.
Normally, I don’t like to ramble about my chapter titles, but dangit – if I can get a chance to talk about Roman poetry, I’m taking it. Odi et amo are the first words of Catullus 85, which is a short, sweet, extremely awesome poem that goes like this:
“Odi et amo. Quare id faciam fortasse requiris.
Nescio, sed fieri sentio et excrucior.”
“I hate and I love. Why do I do this, perhaps you ask.
I do not know, but I feel it happening and I am tortured.”
So basically the chapter title means ‘I hate and I love’. It’s a bit on the nose, but it’s in Latin and that means it’s cool. Roman poetry is basically the best. I generally always preferred ancient Greek (because the definite article) and I will always love me a good Greek tragedy. But their poems never did it for me. Give me Ovid, Martial, Catullus… *sigh* so good. It’s not relevant to anything at all – I just really like Roman poetry.
Anywayyyy, I think I’m out of my writing funk, as least as far as this story is concerned. My dislike of it from last chapter has pretty much faded because this chapter was extremely fun to write. I was even inspired to spontaneously make a pose! (The one where Carlo touches her cheek) – I won’t release it, because it’s shitty and rushed, but it still felt pretty great to be so enthusiastic about this again 🙂
Well, that was it for now. Thanks for making it this far and I’ll see you in two weeks for the next chapter… in which Vittoria won’t be tied up for the first time in a while… wooo! 😀