The text he'd left had simply said "kitchen" and Pavi half wondered if Luigi even knew where it was? While not a chef himself, he'd been plaguing the cooks for ages, creating a space for himself within their world. This was where Pavi felt most at home, most comfortable. This was his turf and he wanted that advantage for once. In the hours between midnight and 5AM, the usual controlled chaos of the kitchen gave way to darkness as cool and silent as the catacombed graveyards. Perhaps that was waxing a bit melodramatic, but Pavi was feeling rather Gothic with Maria's face still rolled up in his pocket. It felt strange to be carrying a little piece of her with him like that.

Luigi wandered in and spotted his brother almost immediately.

"So?" he demanded. More than a little drunk, Luigi's temper was probably more volatile than Pavi was usually willing to risk. However, drink and anger fueling his own ill humor, Pavi decided to forego any of the usual pretenses.

"Did you kill her?" he asked in Italian, choosing the language as well as the location for what was likely to escalate into more than just a verbal confrontation.

Luigi looked confused. "'Her' who?"

"Maria. Maria Fratelli. The chef's daughter. One of father's bookkeepers. Recently had her face done. Did. You. Kill. Her?"

"The hell does it matter to you?" Luigi groused, tired as well as drunk. "Bitch asked for it."

Pavi rather doubted that. "It matters because I knew her."

"Pavi, you 'know' just about everyone in the city. The fuck does one dead cunt matter to you? Did I get to her before you did? Is that it?"

"No," and Pavi surprised himself as the word came out in a low growl. "iI assure you I got there in plenty of time, brother," and this time the word fairly oozed contempt. "Who got there first is not the point."

"The hell it isn't," Luigi scoffed. "Haven't you got enough GENterns to keep you company? Get the fuck over yourself."

The reflection of his own face in the shiny stainless steel behind the stove proved that he was even more surprised than Luigi at the vicious slap across his brother's face. Pavi could feel rage vibrating in every nerve, making his clenched fists tremble at his sides. Hot, stinging tears of rage and bereavement spilled from his eyes.

"She was NOT just anyone, asshole! She wasn't some GENtern or one of father's lackeys! She was Maria! She was my FRIEND!"

It took Luigi a moment to process what on earth had just happened. Pavi wasn't generally one to pick a fight, much less throw the opening punch.

"God you are such a fucking crybaby! Spare me your emo tears!" He followed it up with a fist aimed at Pavi's jaw, but the younger Largo was ready for it and ducked with the awkward grace that only years of practice could bring. Normally he'd let Luigi hit him because if he did, the fight would be over faster and Luigi would have less time to get creative. Tonight, however, Pavi had some anger of his own to burn.

He ducked and dodged around stainless steel counters and wood chopping blocks, waiting for an opening. Luigi wasn't as fast, but was nearly as tall, and far stronger than his younger sibling, and Pavi knew it. Further, there was an impressive array of knives hanging from magnetic strips along the walls. It was only a matter of time before Luigi grabbed one out of sheer murderous reflex and tried to put it to use.

No sooner had the thought occurred to Pavi than Luigi grabbed at random from the nearby rack. Santoku, Pavi identified. Japanese. Excellent all-purpose chopper. If he didn't move quickly, Luigi was going to chop off something not only important but also expensive to replace. He was so busy dodging the dimpled blade that he didn't realize he'd been backed against the enormous gas stove. Luigi slashed at him, half aiming, half crazed with rage. Pavi dodged, but there wasn't much room to do so and the blade caught him across the cheek. A cold line of pain streaked across his muscles as blood began to spill, but he ignored it.

"You can't fucking SHARE?!" Luigi roared, slashing again as Pavi did his best to twist out of reach. "If you were anyone else's brother you'd get nothing BUT hand-me-downs! Be fucking glad I could care less about all your stupid GENterns!"

"It wasn't ABOUT fucking!" Pavi snapped out of pure knee-jerk reflex. This struck Luigi harder than any physical counter attack and the two seconds he stood staring in completely stunned silence gave Pavi much needed time to at least find himself a bit more room to move.

"Like hell!" he crowed between peals of hysterical laughter. "Pavi, if it can't be fucked you aren't interested!"

Galling as it was, he had a point.

"Okay, f-fine, but it wasn't JUST a-b-bout that!" Dammit, there was the stutter again. Luigi had the irritating knack of bringing it to the surface.

"So, what? You sought her out for the mental stimulation? I've heard your foreplay conversations, hardly fucking Shakespeare," Luigi growled, lunging and catching Pavi by the collar. Because of the santoku pressed against his cheek, wrenching out of his brother's grip was proving difficult.

"I take a lot of shit, kid, but don't think I'll put up with the holier-than-thou bullshit from the likes of you."

There wasn't time enough to wrench away as Luigi's hand jumped from Pavi's collar to his wrist, jerking the arm painfully up and back into the region of Pavi's shoulders. Twisting the captured limb further still, Luigi bent his brother over the stove until Pavi's face was resting on the cold burners. Struggling was yet an option, but a foolish and dangerous one. Half-lying on the stove like this his knees were precariously close to the knobs that controlled the gas flow. And the automatic starter.

"Luigi, let GO," Pavi grunted, scrunching his eyes closed in order to avoid getting gouged by the blunted cast iron trivets. Luigi said nothing, only drew the knife across his brother's cheek again, slicing another thin red line into his flesh. Swallowing the scream and lump in his throat together nearly choked him, but Pavi managed it. While he didn't think Luigi would intentionally kill him, it was best not to encourage him.

The knife gouged deeper into his skin, a sickly scraping sound made him wonder if Luigi had scratched his teeth? The thought was revolting enough to twist his stomach into such a knot that his legs jerked along with it. Pavi choked a second time as the stench of propane blasted into his nostrils. His struggling interrupted the stroke of the knife, carving an uneven rent in his cheek that skirted dangerously close to his eye.

"Hold STILL," Luigi ordered through clenched teeth and forcing a knee into Pavi's groin. This triggered another reflexive jerk of the knees and Pavi barely managed to bite back a scream as the propane flared into cerulean life. Although the fire might be small, Pavi's head large enough to block the flicker of the little blue flames, it still burned bright and hot and Pavi felt as if he could feel each individual skin cell sizzle and die as his makeup and moisturizer ignited.

"You enjoying this now?" Pavi could hear the leer in those words as his breathing became quick and labored with pain.

"G-get the f-f-fuck off me!" The words were rasped in little more than a whisper, constricted to keep from screaming.

"I'm not done." The knee pressed harder, forcing Pavi's own knees against the oven a second time. The gas flared and Luigi jumped at the sudden surge of flame.

"The fuck?!"

It was enough. Lurching backwards, Pavi made a wild grab over the stove and felt his fingers close around something cold and smooth. Luigi stumbled back at the sudden reverse of weight and dropped abruptly to the floor with a resounding "CLANG".

The unexpected noise alerted Pavi to the improvised weapon still vibrating in his hand: Mario's favorite stainless steel skillet. The pan was huge, nearly as large as a pizza tray and almost too heavy to wield with one hand. Holding it up as if it were one of his hand mirrors, Pavi gaped at the mangled remains of his own reflection. Shit. His face was still burning.

Stumbling to the big three-basin wash sink he turned on the water and stuck his head under. The tortured yell mingled with the hiss of cold water on burned flesh; a sudden rush of bile and regurgitated alcohol silencing the noise before Pavi could scrape together the necessary brain cells to bite the pain back himself. God, Mario was going to kill him later. At least this was the wash-up sink and not the one used for food. Grabbing blindly for one of the many dingy white tea towels stacked on the shelf, Pavi pulled one down and wiped the water out of his eyes before gingerly pressing it against his lacerated cheek. The towel would only stick to the burned side, and so he left it for the time being.

It took him a few shaky false starts to shut off the stove, but once the burners had all gone cool and dark, Pavi knelt to examine his brother, vaguely hoping that he hadn't killed him. Luigi's nose was streaming scarlet, clearly broken and smashed almost completely flat. He'd tried to fight back a few times early on, but Luigi had been considerably bigger back then. This was the first time he'd fought with Luigi and won. He wasn't going to be amused when he came to (Pavi was fairly certain that he would), so Pavi left the frying pan where it was, still clutched in his fingers as if they'd been forged together. After a few tense minutes and some mildly frantic prodding from Pavi, Luigi blinked himself awake and groggily sat up.

"The fuck?" he gargled, blood spilling from his mouth all over his shirt. Pavi said nothing, only crouched silently with the skillet resting across his knees like a mace. The handle beneath his fingers was as familiar to Pavi as the hilts of Luigi's collection of knives were to him. This was something he knew how to wield. He was not defenseless. And he was not going to be bullied. Watching his brother's face, Luigi seemed to glean this from Pavi's charred expression.

"You tryin' to kill me?" Luigi demanded, retching yet more blood.

"We you trying to k-k-kill me?" It was only fair. Luigi had the grace to pause and avert his eyes for a moment.

"No," he admitted. "You know how I get."

"I know." And he was sick of hearing that excuse. Still, the man was sorry, and it was the closest thing to an apology Luigi could give. Deciding he needed it more, Pavi removed the towel from his own face and offered it to his brother.

"Thanks," Luigi replied, leaning forward and hacking blood into the stained terrycloth. His rage had passed for the moment, and so had Pavi's. Feeling suddenly tired, Pavi leaned back on his heels and plunked to the floor. His face throbbed, the many wounds leeching trails of blood that trickled down his neck and into his shirt. These were secondary details, however, drowned out by the subtle crinkle of the plastic grocery bag rolled up in his pocket.

"You know even though she was the master chef's daughter she couldn't boil water?" he stated, distantly amazed at the even clarity of his own voice. "She was better with numbers than she was in the kitchen. She hated sweets; she liked salty stuff- peanuts, pretzels, that kind of thing. She liked coffee but not espressos. At one time she had wanted to be a teacher…"

Luigi looked up, the towel still pressed to his streaming nose. Behind the blood and the rising bruises from the shattered bone, something like sympathy flickered in his eyes.

"She was one of the few people who would speak Italian to me." That last one alone had earned her a special place in Pavi's mind. "Now she won't speak to anyone again; not Italian, not English, not anything ever at all."

They sat there; Luigi staring at his brother's mangled face, Pavi staring straight ahead at nothing. Spitting blood onto the floor, Luigi put into words what had risen in his mind.

"You really liked her, didn't you."

"I did."

A long pause. "…I'm sorry."

Pavi shrugged and shook his head slightly. "It happens."

"Yeah," Luigi agreed, assisting Pavi in his contemplation of nothing, "it does."

The two of them sat on the floor, bleeding, not talking. Pavi seemingly too miserable to do anything else, and until his nose clotted at least in part, Luigi didn't feel much like moving either. Words he'd heard before echoed inside his head, and he nearly blurted them to Pavi. Maybe it was the blood still coursing down his face, maybe the soggy towel, but they never made it past his lips. Instead he shifted the towel and offered a hand to his younger brother. It took a moment for Pavi to notice the outstretched palm hovering above his lap, and another minute to correctly interpret what it was there for. There was no deception in Luigi's eyes, only an unspoken question:


Slowly, Pavi lifted his own arm and grasped the hand, giving a brief, firm shake.