AN: I apologize for all of the pain that this fic contains, but something compelled me to write this. I hope you enjoy and review!

On the Willows

In terms of death, it seemed like a fitting one for him. He had been a quiet, peaceful man. He died a quiet, peaceful death. It only felt right that he should go just the way he went through life.

At least it didn't come unexpectedly. They all knew it was going to happen someday in the very near future. Geppetto had been getting sicker for months and months before. He stopped going to the shop or do much woodworking because of his shaky, unsteady hands. Pinocchio hired a in-home nurse to care for his father to keep the legacy of the store going. Even if the namesake started to fade away. It was supposed to be anytime now.

Just not today.

Lampwick breathed in the crispy fall evening air before planting himself down on the step leading from the Caspari back porch to the yard.

He had seen how as Geppetto grew weaker, Pinocchio became more distressed. He was caught in an internal tight wire act - should he stop his father from coming to the shop for the sake of his health when his presence was what made the place so special? (How could it be Geppetto and Son without Geppetto, anyway?) Was is really the best thing for Geppetto to be under the care of an in-home nurse so Pinocchio could take care of the business?

Maybe it was for the better, that Geppetto's suffering was over.

That Pinocchio's pain was over.

But now he was without a father.

Lampwick reached inside his suit jacket and withdrew a packet of Marlboros and his lighter. He tapped the box gently for a cigarette. This was a brand new packet - he had bought it while stopped for gas, on his way to visit Pinocchio the day Geppetto died. Stress of the moment purchase? Especially how he was going around, telling Pinocchio he was quitting - for good.

At least he hadn't torn through the whole pack yet - he had only smoked half the pack in the three days since the death till now, the wake.

(Actually he had also smoked six cigars since then, he still had a fuck ton of them lying around because he didn't take this attempt at quitting as serious to throw away all of his smokes.)

Huh, Lampwick thought as he flicked the lighter and watched the flame shudder as the autumn wind sent leaves in the relatively unattended yard dancing. Ya think I would be puffin' like a chimney now. Stress and all that.

He brought the now light cigarette to his lips and took a big drag. Nicotine entered his blood stream and the intense craving subsided.

He sighed in relief.

Smoking had always been his stress habit. Whenever he was nervous or sad or a whole rainbow of emotions he really didn't like to address, he turned to his old friend, tobacco. Weeks leading up to his high school graduation? Had about seven different lighters between his jacket, locker, backpack, and pant pocket. His college girlfriend's pregnancy scare? Went through three packs a day during that week.

Stress was a killer.

Fuck. Shouldn't make death jokes like that. He looked disdainfully at the faded brown mulch below his feet and flicked off the ashes from his cigarette.

He took another puff, this time longer, savoring the tobacco. He hunched himself in relief and was just about to take another drag when he heard the door open, the sounds of two dozen mourners inside crying over the plates of cheese dip and cocktail shrimp, courtesy of friends of the Caspari family.

"I thought you quit." A voice said behind him. Alexander.

(Usually if Al made a remark about Lampwick's smoking, it was along the lines of "Smoking kills" or something about the lethal consequences of inhaling cancerous toxins. After the wake of their friend's dad seemed like an inappropriate time to make snide comments about Lampwick not knowing the dangers of his bad habit.)

"I did," Lampwick told him, taking a short puff, looking back at the younger man. Dressed in his best funeral tux, black tie, and holding a red cup of . . . something? Presumably, alcohol. Although, Al hadn't been known as a heavy drinker. It was probably something like lemonade. Still, if it was something stronger, Lampwick was not afraid to ask for a sip.

"And now your back?" Alexander asked, demanded in kind of a condensing tone.

Lampwick scoffed. "Ya don't know how hard it is ta actually quit, Al. Ya had, what? Five smokes in your entire life. Vomited after two a them." Chuckling, Lampwick took another puff.

He recalled very well when Alexander had his first cigarette at the age of thirteen and after one puff, he threw it down on the pavement and puked in the nearest bush. Lampwick told him that he wasn't supposed to inhale. Lampwick had been smoking for a year already. He knew how to do things.

Alexander didn't say anything, but took a sip of his drink.

"I've tried quitting twice this year," Lampwick informed him, taking a long drag and a small pause. "Tried quittin' half a dozen times before. Ain't gonna work. I always go back after a week."

He took another puff, reconsidered his statement. "Actually, the only time I seriously quit was after my grandmother died when I was fifteen," he added. "Was a real good try too. Didn't have so much as half a cigarette in two months."

"You quit after your grandmother died?" Alexander repeated. "Why?"

Lampwick guessed that Alexander assumed he would have turned to nicotine after such a traumatic event.

(Like he was now.)

"Ah, she had lung cancer an' all. Whole thing spooked me real good, I guess," Lampwick confessed. He tossed the cigarette down on the ground and stamped it out with the tip of his dress shoe.

He looked up to Alexander and spied the red cup. He motioned to it."Beer?"

"Diet Coke."

"Figures."

"I could use a drink now, to be honest," Alexander said quietly as he approached Lampwick and plopped down next to him.

They were silent for what seemed like a whole minute as Lampwick pulled out another cigarette. Alexander didn't scoot away because even though the smell made him gag, he was still compelled to be close to the man he didn't even really consider a friend.

"Is it normal that feel like I just lost my father, and not my best friend's?" Alexander asked after a while.

Lampwick took a drag of his cigarette.

"I mean, he wasn't even related to me but I feel like I just lost a huge part of me and of my past. Geppetto was like a second father to me. With my dad gone on excursions so many times, he used to be so good to me - taking me to the beach with Pinocchio and on fishing trips. We did so much together that heck, I felt like I was an honorary Caspari. You know?"

Lampwick did know. More than Alexander knew he knew.

Because Geppetto wasn't like Lampwick's secondary father. He was like his father.

With his own father gone by the time he was supposed to be preparing for kindergarten, Lampwick didn't have anyone to do all the good fatherly shit that all kids were supposed to have. No one to sign him up for Cub Scouts. Or Little League. Ma was busy, Nonni was more interested in Poker and her Telenovellas than pitching a baseball or telling him great, exaggerated stories from her youth.

But then he met Pinocchio after standing up for him to Antonio Mancuso in the second grade. And then, subsequently in the principal's office after the fight, he met Geppetto.

He had always been there - in the background a lot, but there none the less. Always there to drive him if he missed the bus. Always there calling he and Pinocchio inside after they had spent the whole day till dusk messing around in the woods surrounding the Caspari home.

All throughout school, Geppetto always assured Lampwick that he was there, if he needed him.

At that time, particularly through high school, Lampwick was convinced he didn't need anybody. He had lived in this mode from freshman year all the way through the start of senior year, when it looked like he wasn't going to be able to graduate with his class, if at all. And who did Ma bring as backup during a parent-teacher crisis conference?

Geppetto.

Ma has gone through nearly thirteen years of these types of conferences but Geppetto hadn't (mostly because his boy was a model student)

Ma's mood had been anger, frustration, a touch of guilt. But Geppetto had been disappointment.

That was it. Just, disappointment.

And Lampwick didn't know why he was so affected by Geppetto's look of disappointment, considering he was sure he was a disappointment to a whole bunch of people. There was just something about the old man's look of concern and disappointment that made Lampwick . . . care. Feel bad. For once.

But it wasn't that initial look of disappointment that had compelled to try hard that rocky senior year. Everyone else at the meeting seemed to have an unconcerned air about them. They all said that they were there at that meeting because they truly did care if Lampwick passed or failed high school. But the truth was, the majority of them were just there as a formalities. Most of them knew that Lampwick was gonna drop out one day soon. (They couldn't believe that he hadn't dropped sooner, actually.) All most of them had given up on him.

But not Geppetto.

After the meeting was over, the older man had gotten the chance to pull him aside and tell him that he still believed he could pass and not to give up and he could go on to better things. Whenever most adults told him something like this, Lampwick thought it was all a bunch of bullshit you had to say at that time. But there was something genuine about Geppetto's words that - for once - Lampwick actually heeded an adult's advice.

Long story short, he graduated that year. And even if community college had been a bust, it was all worth it.

It was from that moment when Lampwick started to get more of a perspective, of an appreciation of how much faith this man had when everyone else didn't have any.

But now Lampwick had lost that faith.

He had lost much more than a secondary father.

"I know."

Alexander, before taking another sip of his drink, raised the red cup to the sky and mumbled, "To Geppetto."

Lampwick, with the cigarette between his teeth, murmured as well, "Ta Geppetto."