Revised Notes (as of November 25, 2010): With the latest set of Primo memories in Chapter 316, I can safely say that this fic is not Jossed and will not be Jossed, at least for now. I'm striving to make everything in here as canonically correct as possible, but this fic will continue to be modified to fit new facts and tidbits Amano tosses at us. If she gives us something that breaks this story, then I will concede and call this an AU. The first two Shimon/Primo memories we were given take place in an Interlude soon to be posted; the third takes place after this fic.
This was written for khrfest's Round IV: II-25. Giotto - first impressions; "Well, I have to say that I wasn't expecting this." Each chapter centers around this theme, though some more subtly than others (this chapter being one of the subtle ones).
I hope you enjoy, and please review! I'm also open to concrit since I'm always looking to improve my writing.
"Remember, my beloved Giotto," Grandmama crooned, "that little in this world is ever as it seems."
Then she closed her eyes and did not wake the next morning. The young Vongola child ran away that afternoon.
Clutching the small burlap sack of coins she left him, Giotto dodged the busy shoppers in the street and avoided the attention of the older children who usually pushed him over to steal what little possessions he carried. He bumped into an adult once, but Giotto only stayed long enough to hear the "Hey, watch it!" before he hurried off towards the outskirts of town.
He did not stop running until he reached the top of the hill overlooking the town. Giotto bent over to rest his hands on his knees and to catch his breath. Hot tears brimmed his eyes, and he shut his eyes tight to keep those tears where they were. Boys don't cry, he reminded himself. Boys don't cry no matter if they're pushed or beat up or teased, and boys certainly don't cry without a grandmother to kiss their tears away.
Giotto rubbed his eyes with the back of his sleeve and stood. He glanced over his shoulder at the town below. He either had to keep moving or he had to go back before sunset. The woods and the meadows surrounding the city were no place for a child at night, and the next town over was a half day's walk away. If he wanted to avoid the orphanage with the mean children, he had to keep going forward.
He made his way to the dirt road between the two towns. Giotto barely walked an hour before his stomach growled, and he made a face as he held his belly. He hadn't thought to eat all day, nor had he thought to bring food with him when he fled the city. Remembering that the girls in town often spent their summers picking berries in the woods, he left the road with the hopes that these bushes would be easy enough to find. He quickly found, unfortunately, that berry bushes were not as plentiful as the overflowing baskets would suggest, and he reached a clearing with a stomach threatening to consume itself if food was not an option.
Giotto slumped to the ground and groaned. He was too far to go back now, but at this rate he would never reach the other town before dark. He was hungry, and he was alone, and he only had a few coins that would do him little good in the middle of nowhere. Disheartened, he drew his knees to his chest. Before he could let the tears fall, he felt a cold and wet raindrop on his nose.
Frowning, he turned his head towards the sky and saw that while he searched the woods for nonexistent berry bushes, dark gray clouds had covered the sky relentlessly. Another drop hit his nose, and then his cheek, and then his forehead, and then the rain spared no part of his face or body. Giotto yelped and curled up over himself, using his little hands to cover his already soaked hair. Only after a crack of thunder ripped through the air did he think to move and find someplace drier, and fast.
Luckily, not too far from the edge of the clearing stood a tall, wooden shed. Giotto sprinted towards it and let out a small whoop when he discovered that the door was unlocked. After the door shut behind him and he let his eyes adjust, he saw that the shed only had rusty equipment, dust, and an old ugly rat. This was no place to get too comfortable.
Giotto found a rotting crate against a wall and carefully sat on top of it, crossing his arms to stop the shivering. Hopefully the rain would stop before too long so that he could make his way back to the road and run as fast as he could to the other town. That was his only chance now. Nobody knew he even existed anymore, and so nobody would think to look for him, much less rescue him.
He wondered how long he could have gone undetected before leaving. Enough time to get food before getting mugged? Enough time to wait until morning before someone found him and dragged him to the orphanage with the bullies?
Enough time to wait and see if Grandmama would wake up?
Giotto did not fight the tears this time, and this time the tears were not interrupted. As the rain dully thudded against the roof of the shed, Giotto sobbed, and neither rain nor tears stopped until the boy fell soundly asleep.
Giotto woke to the sound of chirping birds and sunlight streaming through the cracks in the walls. His stomach growled, and he curled up into a tighter ball on the dusty floor. He doubted he had the energy to make it to the other town. Did it even matter? He was done for, and only the rats and roaches had use for him anymore.
Just as he was about to discover that he still had tears to shed, the door swung open and the unforgiving sun barreled over Giotto's body. He tensed and rolled up to face the doorway. Squinting, he saw the silhouette of another child, shoulder-length hair unruly and shoulders pumping up and down in time with heavy breaths. As Giotto's eyes adjusted, he began to make out a fancy white shirt and dark trousers on the boy, the wild red of his hair, and fiercely bewildered red eyes.
"What the—" the boy began, and then he scowled. "What are you doing in here?"
Giotto panicked. He scrambled to his feet and rushed past the boy. He barely made it out the door before he caught his foot on a loose floorboard. He crashed to the ground, his chin and his knees scraping across the rough dirt. The tears from only a few seconds ago now freely fell, and he wailed at the pain all across his body.
Startled, the boy shouted, "Hey—hey! Are you okay?"
But Giotto didn't respond, and the boy knelt down beside him.
"Hey, hey kid," he tried again. "Don't… don't cry! Stop crying! Why are you crying?"
Then the boy stood, and for a moment Giotto thought that he was going to run away. Unsure if he wanted him to stay or go, Giotto sniffed and pulled himself up to his hands and knees, trying to calm down. Boys don't cry, he reminded himself, especially not when they tripped themselves, and especially not in front of other boys. He rubbed his sleeve over his face and he stood, keeping his nose pointed to the ground.
"Um," the boy beside him began. "Are you okay? What were you doing in my shed?"
"Your shed?" Giotto found himself replying.
The boy circled in front of him, and Giotto saw that his black shoes had big, shiny gold buckles on them. Giotto raised his head, finally piecing together his fancy clothes with his clean face and clean hair. He was almost like something out of a fairytale Grandpa used to tell him.
"Are you a prince?" asked Giotto.
The boy scoffed but didn't answer the question.
"You're bleeding, you clumsy idiot," he said instead. He glanced behind him and made a face. "You should come with me."
As the boy ran further into the clearing, Giotto touched his face and glanced down at his knees. Sure enough, he was bleeding. He wondered if he should follow the boy or not, but the boy stopped, turned around, and yelled, "Come on! I'm not going to wait for you!" Giotto knew he had little reason to stay behind.
They did not go too far before Giotto saw a huge and glorious mansion straight ahead. The boy was a prince! A hundred different daydreams and possibilities popped into his head, and it wasn't until the boy yelled at him again did Giotto realize he had stopped. Giotto ran to catch up, and the boy quickly and quietly took him around to the back of the house.
"Do you live here?" asked Giotto.
The boy ignored him and opened a small door. Smoke and delicious smells of bread and steaming vegetables poured out and into Giotto's nose, and his stomach violently reminded him that he had not eaten in a day and a half. Before he fell to the ground, the boy grabbed his arm and dragged him inside, calling to the women working inside.
A woman approached them, her hair tied in two golden braids and her wide eyes a prettier and cleaner blue than her dress.
"Young master! What are you doing here? Aren't you supposed to be at your lessons?"
The boy pointed at Giotto. "He fell."
The woman opened her mouth and shut it again as her eyes fell on Giotto.
"Oh, dear," she said, looking him up and down. "Oh, poor boy, what happened to you?"
"He fell," the boy said again.
"Fetch me some warm water, a clean towel, and some bandages," she called behind her to the other maids. She turned back to Giotto. "I have some of the young master's old clothes that you can wear in the meantime. Where do you live, boy?"
"I—" Giotto began, but was interrupted by a maid giving the woman a bucket of water and a white towel.
The woman knelt and dipped the towel into the water. She pulled Giotto closer to her and wiped his face, taking special care around his chin. When another maid came with a small box, she carefully washed his chin and his knees and gently covered them with bandages. She lifted his shirt over his head and replaced it with another one that had been patched up, and she jerked off his pants and had him walk into another, cleaner pair that had a hole in the knee.
"There you are," said the woman, and she ordered the women behind her to get back to work. "Young master, you're still here? Shouldn't you be getting back to your lessons?"
The red-haired boy was still standing by the door, looking as though he wanted to bolt.
"No," he snapped. "I'm not going back."
The woman sighed. "Love, you know that never works out well for you."
"I'm going to run away and never come back."
"Well, if you're going to run away, you could at least run this boy back to his home. Where did you say you live again?"
"I, uh," Giotto stared at his feet. "Nowhere."
The woman laughed. "Oh, certainly you must live somewhere. Do you live in town? At a nearby farm?" Giotto shrugged. "Don't tell me you ran away like our young master keeps threatening to."
"I really will do it someday," the boy said.
"Hush, boy, or I'll call Nanny and you won't be leaving the house for a week." The woman gently lifted Giotto's chin up so their eyes met. "Now, where do you live? Or maybe you'd just like to show the master where to take you?"
Giotto shifted from foot to foot.
"I, um, need to get to the orphanage," he mumbled.
The woman widened her eyes. "What?"
"Grandmama is with Grandpa in Heaven now, and the orphanage has bullies, so I wanted to go to the other one, but then I got hungry and then it started raining and then I fell—"
"See?" the boy said, and the woman glared at him before turning back to Giotto with sorrowful eyes.
"You poor dear," she cooed. "So you really have nowhere else to go, do you? Young master, you did good bringing him to me."
"So… this means you won't call Nanny?" The boy sounded hopeful.
"Not this time, I won't. What's your name, boy?"
"Gi—Giotto. Giotto Vongola."
"Nice to meet you, Giotto. You can call me Auntie. How would you feel about living here for a little while? I can't take you to the orphanage for another month, and you'll have to do a little work, but we can feed you and clothe you and the young master seems to have taken a liking to you at least."
The boy snorted. "Yeah, right."
The woman glared at him again. "Go outside and play, or I'll call Nanny."
He rolled his eyes and made his way out the door. Giotto surprised himself by asking after him: "Wait! What do I call you?"
The boy popped his head back in, glancing between Auntie and Giotto. "You're the same age as me, so don't call me anything fancy. And I hate my name. So don't call me anything."
"Fine. Just call me G. And do not ever ask me why or I'll change my mind and you'll have to call me Your Highness."
Over the next couple of weeks, Giotto fell into routine. Auntie woke him up before dawn and he helped out in the kitchen, running little errands to keep busy and stay out of everyone's way as they made breakfast. After the lord of the house and his family ate, Giotto helped with the dishes. Soon after, G dashed into the kitchen, ducking and cowering behind the cabinets before either a screechy, graying woman found him and dragged him kicking and screaming back into the rest of the mansion, or he trotted off somewhere else.
Giotto spent the rest of the morning doing chores until Auntie pulled him aside for lunch. They sat and ate outside together, Auntie telling Giotto stories about her childhood and Giotto eagerly listening to every word. After cleaning up, she let Giotto go out and play for the rest of the afternoon.
For an hour, Giotto ran around the woods by himself, looking for those elusive berry bushes and playing in a small, shallow stream he found. Then G caught up to him, and he watched Giotto play, refusing to get involved himself.
"Why not?" Giotto asked every day.
"I don't feel like it," was the response G gave most of the time. If he was particularly cranky, he said, "Playing is stupid." If he was in a particularly good mood, he only shrugged. Giotto knew that he should not push a prince to do something he didn't want to do.
Sometimes, instead of going back to whatever he was doing before G showed up, Giotto sat next to him. Sometimes, they talked. Or, rather, Giotto talked about Grandmama and Grandpa or Auntie or what he had been up to that day, and G quietly listened. Sometimes Giotto asked G about his family or why he always ran away from his nanny, and for the longest time G never answered.
Finally, one day, he did.
"It's like you said. I'm a prince. Princes have to do boring lessons about things that are stupid. And I hate stupid things."
Giotto did not know how to respond to that. "Are you going to marry a princess someday?" he asked instead.
G froze, and then he settled back into a scowl. "Girls are stupid, too. But probably. I won't have a choice about it, that's for sure."
"She'll probably be really pretty," said Giotto. "Princesses always are."
"I hope I get married to a really pretty girl someday. Maybe a princess! But she'll probably be for you, won't she?"
"If you want her, you can have her. I don't want anything to do with this family."
Giotto frowned. That was an awful thing to say about a family he still had.
"G, why do you hate being a prince so much?"
G said nothing for a long time, and Giotto thought the conversation was over. Auntie would be calling for him any minute now to help with dinner preparations, anyway.
As he stood to leave, G said quietly, "I'm not really a prince, Giotto."
Before Giotto could respond, he heard Auntie's voice, and the routine of the rest of the day had to commence. He helped with dinner, he ate while the maids served, and he did the dishes. Auntie sent him upstairs to where the servants slept with a glass of milk and a book to try to read before she could join him. Not too long later, she came to him, and he asked her how to read the words he couldn't and she told him how. Then he fell asleep with only half his glass empty, forgetting all about what G had said that afternoon.
"Giotto. Giotto, darling. Wake up."
Giotto groaned and rubbed his eyes. "Auntie? It's morning already?"
"No, it's not morning, but you have to get up now."
Her voice sounded urgent. Scared. Giotto opened his eyes and saw worry creasing her pretty face. He frowned; it did not look right.
"Auntie? What's wrong?"
"Get up. We can't stay here. And hurry."
She ran to the door and opened it ajar, and Giotto heard muffled screaming and little, dull explosions on the other side. He widened his eyes and stiffened, and his heart pounded into his ribcage.
"Auntie, what's going on?"
This time, she sounded angry, but when she turned around her face betrayed her fear.
"Giotto, get out of bed right now and let's go. We have no time to waste."
Giotto did what he was told and tossed off his covers, looking for his shoes and pants, but Auntie tightly grabbed his arm just as he found them at the foot of his bed. He cried out from the pain but managed to grab both his shoes and his pants before she could drag him out of the servant's quarters.
He clutched his garments tightly as Auntie led him down the stairs and through the hallways, always stopping before turning a corner to make sure no one was there. The dull little explosions and the screams and shouts were louder and less dull and less muffled now. Giotto trembled and held his clothes tighter to his chest. He did not dare breathe, much less speak up to tell Auntie that she was still hurting his wrist. She was just scared, too.
Before long, they arrived at the kitchen, dark from the blown out candles and eerily still. Auntie took Giotto to the back corner and opened the bottom pantry door. After taking out one large burlap sack and pushing aside the others, she sat Giotto inside and hesitated for just a moment.
"Stay here," she said. "Stay here for as long as you can, and stay quiet."
"Auntie," Giotto managed, "what's happening? What's going on?"
Auntie looked distressed. "Something bad is happening, Giotto. Something very bad. Oh, how I wished this wasn't happening for another week, after I could have gotten you to the orphanage! I would have loved to keep you until you grew up, but this was never a safe place for you. Now, promise me that you'll stay here until the bad men leave. Promise me that you'll stay so still and so quiet until they leave."
Tears fell down his cheeks, and Giotto nodded slowly. Auntie kissed him on the forehead and closed the door. Darkness enveloped Giotto, and he shut his eyes tightly and paid careful attention to his breathing. In. Out. In. Out. Stay still, stay quiet. Stay still, stay quiet.
A bloodcurdling scream ripped through the kitchen, and Giotto's eyes flew open. His breathing hitched, and before he could stop himself he whimpered very shakily and very softly, "Auntie?"
He quickly realized his mistake, and he covered his mouth with his hands and shut his eyes once again. Maybe no one was there. Maybe that scream wasn't Auntie and instead his imagination. He would not do it again. He promised! So please let that those approaching footsteps not be one of the bad men.
The footsteps stopped. Giotto opened one eye. Maybe it was his imagination. But he was still shaking and he knew better than to crack open the door to check. But maybe?
The pantry door swung open and Giotto saw a pair of black clothed legs next to him. He glanced up, and he did not recognize this man: a man so tall he must be a giant, with narrow, mean dark eyes and a twisted scowl that turned upwards into a twisted smile.
"Well, well, looky here. Seems like old man Guinizelli had another little brat running around."
Run, Giotto told himself. Run and get out of here, now now now! But before he could move an inch the man knelt down to grab a fistful of his shirt and lifted Giotto high, high off the ground. Giotto cried out. He kicked and he squirmed but the shirt was a perfect fit for him and his legs were much too short.
"Let me go," he tried to demand in a brave voice, but he knew it came out not brave at all.
"All in good time, little boy. After I decide how to deal with you. The boss said no survivors, and I never leave a job undone."
Giotto kicked harder and squirmed harder. Auntie! Where was she? Grandmama? Then he heard two big bangs and he fell to the ground, the bad man crashing with a loud thud beside him. Giotto stared at the man. His eyes were wide open, and a dark red puddle formed at his head, and he wasn't moving.
His eyes flew around the kitchen until he saw G standing at the door, his red hair wilder than usual and a smoking black gun in his hands, panting as though he had just sprinted across the entire house.
"Are you okay, Giotto?" G asked. His voice was shaky.
Giotto nodded. Then his eyes trailed to the very still body lying by G's feet by the door. It was Auntie, her pretty blonde hair dyed red and her face identical to the bad man.
"Au—Auntie?" he whimpered.
G rushed across the room and knelt in front of Giotto so that he couldn't see Auntie anymore.
"Giotto, listen to me, we have to get out of here," he said, grabbing Giotto's shoulders. "They'll be looking for us, and they won't stop until they find us, and then they'll kill us."
"But… but what about Auntie?"
"She's—" G started, and then he shook his head. "She's fine. But we have to leave right now."
Giotto met G's eyes angrily. "No, she's not."
G hesitated for just a moment.
"No," he conceded. "She's not. But neither will we be if we don't get out of here. Giotto, please. Trust me. I know where to go. I know how to get out of here without anyone seeing us. And I promise I'll tell you everything once we're safe. Okay?"
Giotto glanced at Auntie once more, and then he nodded. "Okay."
They stood, with G gathering a small, ornate box under his left arm and keeping his gun firmly in his right hand. He nodded towards the back door, the one leading outdoors, and he made his way towards it. Giotto grabbed his shoes and his pants from inside the pantry and followed G, making a careful effort not to look at the bad man or at Auntie. Together they snuck out the door, jumping into the corner between the stairs and the bricks of the house, leaning against the wall. The dull explosions that Giotto now knew as gunshots resounded with less frequency, and the shouts and screams were now angry and frustrated mumblings.
G pushed off the wall and sprinted across the field and into the woods. Giotto kept up a few paces behind him, ignoring the little pebbles and twigs digging into his feet and pushing the mansion and Auntie out of his mind. They ran through the woods and across the stream and they kept running until they came to a tree with big roots spread across the ground, much farther than anywhere Giotto had ever played before. G ran around to the other side and sat down, and Giotto settled right next to him.
Neither of them said a word as they caught their breaths. Then G said, "We should be safe here, for now. We can't stay too long, though. They'll find us before the morning."
"G," said Giotto, "what's going on? Why are there bad men in your house? Why are we running?"
G pursed his lips. "I did promise to tell you everything, didn't I? And since you almost… well, you have the right to know everything." He sighed. "I was hoping I'd never have to tell you this."
"Tell me what?" asked Giotto, and then he remembered what G had said earlier that afternoon. "You said you weren't really a prince. You're really not?"
G cringed. "No. At least, not a royal prince or anything like that. I still don't think I'd have liked it, though. Have you ever heard of the Guinizelli Family?"
Giotto shook his head, though the name sounded familiar.
"The Guinizelli Family is… well, rich and powerful, but not because of nobility or anything you'd hear about in fairy tales. They're a mafia Family."
"Criminals, Giotto. Bad men, just like the bad men who just butchered all of us. And—" He drew in a deep breath. "—and they're my Family. My father was the head, and my name, my real name, is Giovanni Guinizelli. And that's why I hate my name."
Giotto stared at G incredulously. He was not expecting to hear that, of all things. They were criminals? But criminals didn't live in fancy mansions! They were eventually caught, weren't they? Caught and executed in the town square, never having been rich to begin with. They lived in shabby stone houses in the ghettos of the city and did not dress like princes. And criminals didn't take in and show kindness to a little boy who trespassed on their lands. Or, if criminals did, bad men did not.
"But you're not a bad person, G," said Giotto.
"Yes, I am."
"You saved my life!"
"I killed someone, a couple of someones, just to get to you." He held up his gun. "Good boys don't carry these, and good boys don't know how to use them, either."
"But you're not a bad person," Giotto said again. "You're my friend."
It was G's turn to stare at Giotto, startled. "Friend?"
G frowned. "You can find better friends than me."
"But I like you."
G turned his attention back to the box in his lap.
"But I got you into this mess," he murmured. "You shouldn't like me. Friends don't get each other into trouble. Criminals and bad people don't have friends."
"Maybe that's why they're bad," said Giotto softly. "I… I think the big kids from the orphanage who used to bully me? I think their friends are only friends with them because they're scared of them, and then they're not really friends, are they? I'm not afraid of you, G. And I know you're not afraid of me. So that means we really are friends, and that means that you're really not a bad person at all."
G said nothing for a long while, just staring at the small box. Giotto worried that he said the exact wrong thing, that G would go back to saying that he was a criminal and a bad person and that they should not be friends. But Giotto did not want to lose G as a friend. He never had one before, relying only on Grandmama and Grandpa for companionship, and he had a feeling that he was G's first friend, too. They could not lose each other, not now, not when neither of them had anyone else in the world anymore.
"I still haven't told you everything yet," said G. "See this box? Father gave this to me when we first discovered the Medici Family among our ranks. He told me to keep it safe, guard it with my life, that the Medici Family can't ever lay their hands on it. Then he told me to leave. To run away, and never come back. And like I always do, I didn't listen to him. I went looking for you first. That's… that's friendship, right?"
Giotto grinned, and when G met his eyes he returned the smile.
"Yeah," said Giotto. "That's friendship, because I would do the same for you."