He is twelve years old when his mother teaches him to fire a rifle.
They live in a house ten minutes by motorcar from the nearest town, a dirt road the only way to reach it. His mother takes him down this road, past groves of trees and to a field a kilometer away.
She says nothing as she walks and he doesn't quite know what they are doing. His mother is wearing trousers, the first time he'd ever seen her in anything besides long skirts and old cotton dresses. The rifle is slung over her right shoulder, bouncing slightly against her back with each swift step she takes. A leather satchel rests on her left shoulder, bulky and heavy. She won't let him carry it when he asks.
He doesn't know who owns the field they stop in. He supposes it might belong to them. His mother stands inhaling deeply the sent of wildflowers and summer dirt. She watches the clouds slowly drift across the sky for a moment before kneeling carefully.
She sets the satchel to the side and pulls the rifle into her lap, craddling it like a small child as she commands him to sit.
"Every young man should learn to shoot a gun." She tells him, voice intractable. "Your father should be the one to do this, but, well..."
His father is a bastard. Grade A scum. A reprobate of the first-water. His addictions run from alcohol to gambling to whores. Drunk, his favorite activity is beating on his wife and child. Sober, he isn't much different.
His mother's fingers dance lovingly up the barrel of the long weapon as her face twists into something mirroring frustration. The look is gone so fast that he wonders if he even read it right.
She speaks for an hour. Names every part of the Vetterli-Vitali rifle. Shows him how to clean it, how to load it, how to unload it, which is apparently just as important. She tells him the history of the gun.
"It's originally a Swedish design, but Vitali modified it for use in the army. It belonged to your great-grandfather." She says, fingers trailing over a carving of ivy on the stock.
They stand after she's convinced he knows how to properly care for the gun. She shows him one more time how to load the cartridge. Then she goes step by step through the process of firing. Once, twice, thrice. Her hands move slowly but surely.
"Now, I'll do it for real." She tells him. "That tree will be the target." The tree she points to is twenty meters away. A broad, sturdy oak that casts a long shadow in the sun. Faster than his eyes can follow his mother swings the gun level with her shoulder, takes aim, and fires.
The sound is louder than anything he's ever heard. He clutches his ears and ducks instinctively. He looks up at his mother in time to see her slowly lower the rifle, eyes still on her target. He too turns to the tree and gasps. The bullet destroyed the bark of the tree four centimeters in diameter in the exact center of the trunk.
"Now, you do it." She hands the Vetterli-Vitali to him with both hands and her son takes it reverently. It's heavy. He stumbles just a little. "Heavy, yes?" He nods at her. "Always remember the weight of this gun."
With that she takes his shoulders and turns him to face the abused oak tree. Looking once to his mother for reassurance he rises the rifle and, copying his mother best he can, fires.
And promptly gets knocked on his ass.
The pain that blooms from his shoulder is excruciating. He drops the gun into his lap as he clutches at it. Tears form unwillingly in his eyes and he blinks harshly to keep them at bay. The ringing in his ears is worse than before. The air tastes of gun powder as he takes deep breaths.
He hears light laughter and turns to look at his mother in shock as she kneels down next to him. Her thick, curly black hair bounces as she shakes her head, her full lips turned up in a soft smile.
He can't remember the last time he'd heard his mother laugh. Can't recall the last time she looked this happy. The pain in his shoulder seems to lessen from the light in her eyes alone as her hand carefully folds over his own.
"I'm sorry I didn't warn you, but you need to know." She tells him in a gentle, murmuring voice, carefully lifting the heavy rifle from his lap and placing it on the ground beside herself.
"Know?" He asks as his mother pokes and prods at his shoulder.
"It's not dislocated, just a bruise." She tells him before gripping his face in between her two hands. "Never, ever forget that a gun can hurt you too if you ever have less than perfect control over it." She leans forward, ebony hair sliding over her thin shoulders, and presses her lips delicately against his forehead. "A gun is only and ever a weapon. If you don't control it, it will control you, do you understand, my beautiful baby boy?"
He can only nod, even if he doesn't.
The gun lessons continue, three times a week until his mother says different.
Slowly but surely he gets better at it. The weight of the rifle becomes familiar and easy. The movements needed to make a shot he can now do in his sleep. He learns to move his shoulder with the recoil. He becomes accustomed to the loud crack of firing. His aim, which was nonexistent in the beginning, slowly inches closer and closer towards the mark his mother made.
The day he can fire ten shots in a row and have them all hit within a centimeter of his mother's perfect shot is the day his mother hands him a Beretta.
"Now we'll start on this one." She tells him as she pulls a length of fabric from the leather satchel she always carries to these lessons. The fabric she wraps carefully and lovingly around the rifle, before setting it aside.
"Go on." She says once done. "Fire it."
He looks at his mother oddly. He expects a lecture, a long speech on the care and design of the handgun he holds, not to simply be handed a weapon and told to use it. It goes against everything she has taught him.
At her impatient look however he lifts, aims, fires, and promptly drops the gun onto the ground.
He thinks his hand might be broken, and he curses darkly as he holds in carefully to his chest. His mother whacks him upside the head for his language before pulling gently on his right hand to examine it.
"You're fine." She tells him, kissing his palm lightly to make up for his hurt. His mother then bends to pick up the discarded Beretta. "Do you understand?"
He does. It feels a little cruel, what she's doing, but it's to teach him a necessary lesson. The handgun is much smaller than the rifle, newer, plainer, just as dangerous. It's weight is lighter, but it's heavy from things other than metal and wood and plastic.
It's then that she sits them both down to teach him everything he needs to know about the handgun. She takes it apart and puts it back together over and over, going a little faster each time until her hands are practically blurs. She shows him how to clean and care for each part. How to load the clip, how to take it out. She shows him the proper way to hold the gun, to fire it.
They are all the same things he had learned with the rifle, but completely foreign and new again. His hands feel clumsy in ways they haven't for weeks as he slowly takes the Beretta apart at his mother's order. He stumbles when putting it back together again, he doesn't know what to do next but he refuses to ask. He fights with it for as long as he can, becoming more and more frustrated, and more and more awkward with his movements.
Two hands, cool and comforting and as familiar to him as his own, cover his, forcing them still. He lifts his head, eyes meeting a pair so much like his own. There is a soft smile in them.
"Some things take time." Is all she says, taking the pieces of the Beretta that he just can't fit together, showing him once again how to assemble them into their proper place.
She does it slowly a couple more times before handing it back again. This time he can do it perfectly.
"There you go." Another smile graces her lips and he experiences a rush of joy that he's the one to give her this happiness, meager though it must be. He wants his mother to always be happy.
Two days after first being handed the Beretta his father comes home drunk. Unfortunately he doesn't come home drunk enough.
When his father is drunk enough he'll stumble in, take a piss, and then collapse on his bed to sleep straight through till morning, when he'll get up and leave for work. When he isn't drunk enough he comes home and decides that beating on his wife sounds like an attractive idea.
She orders him to his room the moment the door slams and a voice roars out, calling for her. It feels cowardly to run away, to leave her to his father. He wants to protect her, defend her, and since he can't do that he at least wants to take the hits for himself. But the last time he tried his mother had been so upset. He never wants to see those tears again.
He shuts the door to his room quietly, knowing better than to attract the attention of his father now. Even through the solid wood door he hears his father screaming. The names that man calls her are terrible, dark, and ugly. The sheer hate and anger in that bastard's voice is a physical weight in the air, oppressive and smothering. His mother's voice is light and murmuring in return. But it doesn't matter what she says. His father is far past reasoning with.
Soon the names turned to accusations as his father blames his mother for everything from him running out of money at the bar to his recent string of bad luck at the gambling den. They grow more and more outrageous as the man continues until eventually he is blaming his wife for the state of the Italian economy. His mother says nothing, instead she takes the abuse with stoic silence.
The boy cautiously opens his door just a crack, peering out with one eye. There stands his mother, back to the door, spine rigid and painfully straight, her shoulders pulled back so far he wonders that they haven't popped out of place. His father towers over her by a foot at least; face red, spittle flying as he curses and screams.
A resounding crack fills the room as his mother falls to the ground, his father's hand still upraised as he stands dispassionately over her. There is a moment of stillness. No one moves. Not the woman on the floor or the man standing above her, nor even the one hidden behind a door, biting his hand to keep from screaming.
A choked sound rings into the silence as she spits something onto the ground instinctively. As though it were a signal everything starts to move again. His father lashes out darkly, kicking her swiftly, one time, then again, in the ribs. She curls around herself, protecting her fragile middle, and he kicks her once in the side.
"Useless fucking whore!" His father screams one more time before he spits in her hair and then turns on his heel, storming into their bedroom and slamming the door behind him. The windows rattle with the effort before once again stillness fills the house.
Neither the woman nor her son move for a few minutes, knowing just what will happen if her husband comes out to see them. When enough time has passed to be sure he won't return to inflict more abuse she slowly uncurls from her fetal position before pushing herself up carefully on her elbows.
The boy slowly, oh so slowly, lets his door swing open and steps gingerly out into the hallway. He doesn't run to his mother, though he wants to, instead he moves down the hallway into the bathroom. Under the sink is a large first aid kit, well stocked for moments just like these.
By the time he brings it to his mother she has moved to the kitchen. She stands over the sink as she spits blood, a hand pressing deftly against her side, taking in the damage done there. He sets the case onto the kitchen table with a soft thunk. His mother turns at the sound, very carefully not jolting in surprise.
"Thank you." She tells him with a bloody lip. Her lower lip has a split in the left side, she lisps her words slightly, but doesn't wince despite the pain she must feel. She wets a cloth with cool water from the sink and presses it gently against the split.
"Are you okay?" He asks as he stands hovering awkwardly next to her elbow.
"I'm fine." She tells him, trying to smile with cracked, bloody lips. "Everything will be alright."
It's a lie. It's a terrible, awful, horrific lie. He knows it. She knows it. And there is a moment, brief even as it rears up in front of him like a tidal wave, where he can call her on it, where he can make them both face this farce they are playing. But the moment passes and he says nothing, and in his silence is a tacit permission, a subtle agreement, to let the lie stand as truth.
"Why don't you do something?" The words falling from his mouth sound as bitter as they taste. Filling the quiet of the room with black feelings once again. "Fight back." All he can think about is the rifle in the utility room closet and the Beretta sitting in the bottom of a leather satchel.
His mother looks at him with soft eyes briefly as she slowly stitches her lip back together, her hand is unbelievably steady as she does it, the mirror over the sink her guide as she carefully knots her work and snips the end of the thread. She doesn't look back at him until the needle and scissors are back where they belong in the first aid kit.
"Some things aren't that simple." She tells her angry son. "Some things-" She breaks off for a moment, seemingly at a lose for how to explain herself. "This is the way things are, and I've grown accustomed to it." She envelops him in a gentle hug, mindful of her beaten side. "Please, please, please, don't do anything rash. I know you don't understand, but, this is all we can expect."
He is thirteen years old when he first dreams about killing his father.
That first night he wakes short of breath and sweating. His heart races as the edges of his dream blur into the reality of early morning. He tries to push it aside, sure in the thought that it must be a weird onetime thing.
A little over a month later he dreams of murdering his father again. And then again a month after that. The dreams slowly become more and more common.
The method of killing isn't always the same. Usually it's by gun, either rifle or the Beretta, but sometimes he uses other means. A couple times he strangles his father with his bare hands. A few times he stabs him; in the chest, across the throat. Once he pushes him off a cliff. And then there is that time he smothers the bastard while he lies in a drunken daze.
By the time he's fifteen he's having the dreams three times a week.
He cannot find it in him to feel guilty over them.
He's coming in through the backdoor when he hears the screaming. His mother's leather satchel is slung haphazardly over his shoulder. He's been out in the field, shooting his troubles away with the Beretta. He shuts the door behind himself silently. It's best he father doesn't know he's there.
The screaming gets worse as he makes his way with deadened footsteps towards the living room. He frowns as he realizes that it's not just his father's voice shaking the rafters but his mother's as well. He barely recalls the last time his mother raised her voice to his father, but he remembers the outcome in startling clarity.
The beating his mother had sustained for such a length of time it put her in hospital for three weeks.
He moves swifter as his mother's voice, shrill in her anger, cuts off into a strangled scream. He reaches without thinking into the satchel, grasping the cool, hard gun within, letting the satchel slide off his shoulder to hit the ground with a soft thud. He comes around the edge of the living room doorway just in time to see his father throw his mother by the arm into the heavy granite and iron coffee table.
Her head hits the sharp corner and the crack that reverberates throughout the room is sickening. She slumps to the floor bonelessly as a small puddle of blood slowly widens around her temple.
His father whirls suddenly, furiously, and the young man supposes he must have made some kind of sound, except something is wrong with his hearing, because the only sound he can make out is the heavy beating of his own heart.
"You-" His father begins, but before the older man can finish his son brings up the Beretta he holds, clenched so tightly in his right hand his knuckles are white.
The bang of the gun is impossibly loud and completely surprising. Twice he fires, once in the heart, once right between the eyes.
He is fifteen years old when he kills his father.
He doesn't remember dropping the gun. He doesn't remember crossing the room, stepping over his father's body, lifting his mother gently. All he knows is suddenly he is holding her, hunched desperately over her body, eyes wild as he inspects the wound on her head.
His mother's eyes are unfocused. She can't see him a foot from her face.
"Don't," She says, voice oddly far away. "Don't become him."
"I won't." He vows, eyes squeezed shut, as though he might change reality if he just doesn't have to see it. "I promise. I promise."
He's not sure she even heard, because by the time he opens his eyes, she's gone.
He buries her next to the rosebushes in the backyard. She's wrapped in an antique lace tablecloth, her hair lovingly washed of blood. He buries her deep so that animals can't get to her.
His father he drags thirty meters into the grove that surrounds their home and leaves him in a ditch. He hopes the animals feast on his bones.
Two days pass slowly; he doesn't clean the two blood spots, he doesn't pick up the Beretta. He knows he needs to be planning. He needs to be doing something. He can't wait here.
When the door slams open years of conditioning has him standing to head towards his room instantly. Then memory catches up to him and he sits back down in the old, overstuffed chair by the fireplace.
The man who stands at the door is a stranger. He's tall and broad in the shoulders. His hair is awfully blonde and his eyes are awfully blue for an Italian. He wears an expensive black suit and carries a gun in a holster under his arm.
"I suppose you are his son then?" The man asks. His voice is thick with an accent.
"No. Never." The teen answers sullenly.
"What happened here?" The stranger observes the scene dispassionately, eyes flicking over the blood to land on the discarded gun.
"He killed my mother." He leans forward, elbows on his knees, hands clasped in front of him.
"And?" The man prompts.
"And then I killed him." There is a lot of satisfaction in that. "His body's out back. In a ditch, some thirty meters out, if you care."
The man leaves out the backdoor to look. He returns with a sneer of his face, pulling his dirty gloves off, leaving them where they land on the floor as he steps up to the gun.
"You killed him standing here? Where was he?" The man asks as he picks up the Beretta, unloading the clip to count the bullets.
The younger points at one of the stains, roughly six meters from where the stranger in the suit stands with the gun.
"Nice shot." The man comments. "Do you know who your father was? Who he worked for?"
"I can't find it in me to care." He isn't being sarcastic. He really can't.
"He worked for my boss, Don Trovato. He was a bag man, mostly."
He's not surprised to learn his father was a criminal, he's slightly surprised to realize he was a mafioso. Suddenly his mother's unwillingness to kill his father, or to try to run makes sense to him.
"What does this have to do with me?" He asks eventually, when it becomes clear that the man isn't just going to leave.
"The boss isn't going to like having one of his men killed."
"He killed my mother." The anger he still feels is surprising. His father is dead and he still has this much hatred left in his heart.
"You think the boss is going to care?" The man looks down at him like he's some kind of stupid. "But, I think he'll be very interested in you."
"What?" A terrible realization is starting to make it's way into his brain.
"You have potential. Who taught you to shoot like that?"
"My mother." He answers honestly, feeling smug as the stranger looks slightly shocked.
"Is that so?" The man hums in thought. "Well, you got two choices in front of you now. Either you come with me, and work for us, or I shoot you here."
He laughs. Because it's funny. Because it's not a choice at all and the stranger knows it. Because what he's going to do next puts him one step closer to becoming his father. One step closer to breaking his promise to his (dead) mother.
He takes only the rifle with him as he leaves. The Beretta he lets lie on the table where the stranger had sat it.
It's as he's locking the backdoor however that he spots it. The black fedora hanging on a nail on the wall. It's the old one his mother used to wear outside when it rained. He doesn't know where she got it but she had it forever.
It's a strange bit of nostalgia that causes him to reach up and take it off the hook, flipping it easily onto his head. It fits perfectly.
Later as he stands next to the open passenger's side door of the foreign mafioso's sleek, black car, his rifle already sat with the utmost care onto the backseat, he turns back to the house that was his home for fifteen years. Part of him that wants to burn it to the ground. Wants to watch as flames swallow it whole.
Another part of him wants it to stand forever. As much heartbreak and pain there might be in it's walls there is just as much joy and warmth. This is the house where his mother raised him, the house where his mother loved him. And he can't destroy that.
He shakes his head mournfully as he gets into the car.
"So, kid, if we're going to be working together it's best I know your name, right?" The man says as he adjusts his mirrors.
He thinks about it for a moment, not wanting to give him the name that had been the same as the one of the man he had killed.
"Reborn." He says as the man turns the engine. "I am Reborn."
Author's Note: Thanks to Kirishimaayama (on LJ) for beta-ing this for me. This is pretty much the darkest thing I've ever written, beating out even Schizophrenia, but I love it so much.
The inspiration for this started with the first sentence, and the rest somehow just writ itself.