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Bleeding Hearts

Posted on Mon Sep 18th, 2023 @ 6:39am by Princess Royal Giana Orsini & Crown Prince Paolo Orsini
Edited on on Mon Sep 18th, 2023 @ 6:40am

Mission: Historiae Terrae Et Imperii
Location: The Pyramid
Timeline: Date 2371-08-16 at 1215
5930 words - 11.9 OF Standard Post Measure


Prince Mario had played his hand a bit before he had wanted to, and the result had been an unfortunate and unplanned confrontation between himself, his brother, the emperor, and his least disappointing niece. She had, of course, been deeply dismayed by the fact that he possessed compromising information about her past with her brother, Giuseppe. He didn’t particularly care how she felt, but would have rather had it come out on his own terms. That was his own fault for trusting his brother's Propaganda Secretary. Unfortunately, his brother's ministers were the only truly useful people for his purposes.

After the unfortunate exchange, he returned to the apartments that had been prepared for him and his family in the Pyramid to think about what had just happened. An hour or two passed and he sat down to have a bit to eat for supper with his wife, his children, and grandchildren. After a few bites of the mediocre meal, he went to lie down because he didn’t feel well. A few seconds into his rest, he clutched his chest and his wife called for help.

His eyes fluttered open, the light from a nearby lamp oppressing him, though it was dim. He could smell the sanitized room around him, and knew, immediately, that he was no longer in his apartments. All was silent around him as medical machines no longer made sound, and he didn’t hear a single soul in the room with him.

“Hello?” He asked, his voice raspy. He was thirsty and he felt weak. What happened to him? When no one answered his call, he tried again and then resolved to simply wait for someone to remember. His anxiety was slightly raised, especially at the prospect of being so poorly attended. He would have the job of whoever ran this place.

Mario was left completely alone for an indeterminate amount of time. When the door finally did open, a middle aged man in a white coat walked in with a younger woman following him. His attention was focused on the PADD in his hand. He paused at the end of Mario’s bed and let out a sigh. “This is what happens when people don’t keep up with their physical health, you know.”

“I beg your pardon?” Mario said, his brow lowering in contempt at the doctor’s rude comment. “What did you just say to me?”

“I said you haven’t been taking care of yourself and it shows. Do you know how many cardiac events I have seen in the past month? Two - that includes you, The other one was a hundred and thirteen year old man. His I can excuse. What about yours?” The doctor challenged.

“I’m not accustomed to being spoken to this way, Doctor. And if you have any idea who I am, you should change your tone right now.” He said, balling his fist up. “Also, I’m in fine shape and I exercise daily. What are you talking about a cardiac event? Where the hell am I?”

The doctor looked back down to the PADD in his hand as if he had to check. “Mr. Mario Orsini?”

The young, gorgeous nurse looked at Mario, though instead of attraction to him even if only for his power, there was an air of disappointment and distaste that was clear in her eyes.

“That’s Prince Mario to you!” He spat, waving a dismissive hand at them. “Where am I, I asked. And where are my wife and family?”

“Mr. Orsini, you must remain calm. Again, you suffered a cardiac event.” The doctor said though seemed extremely disinterested. In fact, he almost gave the sense that he might prefer it if Mario continued. “You are in the Pyramid’s hospital.”

“In the Pyramid’s hospital?!” Mario bellowed, clearly upset. His poor heart began to race again and an indicator next to his bed began to blare and whine. “You are working on your last patient. Both of you are! You stupid little man, you should speak to me as a prince! Get my brother on the phone this instant before I consider having you shot!”

“The Emperor is aware you are here, Mr. Orsini. This is his private suite.” The doctor replied dryly, to the common man, it would have meant nothing. The implication was very clear for Mario, however, and the man standing at the foot of the bed looked at him through cold hazel eyes.

“Wh….” Mario started, finally calming enough to look at the doctor. “What are you talking about? Why do you keep calling me ‘Mr.’ like that? It’s impossible for you to be this stupid, so out with it!”

“Mr. Orsini, if you continue to hurl insults and be uncivil, I will simply sedate you and we will try to speak again when you are in a more cooperative mood.” The doctor sighed and nodded to the nurse who moved immediately to prepare a hypo spray.

“Aaaaaahhh!” Mario shouted, his anger peeking again as he shook his face and rage and began a tantrum that would rival that of any two-year-old. “Aaaaahh! Help me! Keep your hands off me, you daughter of a whore! I’ll kill you!”

“Mr. Orsini, what are people going to think of this little tantrum you are having?” The doctor asked, his voice even in the face of Mario’s childish raging. “You will not insult my nurse either.”

Mario kept screaming as before, ignoring the calming counsel of the doctor. He pounded his fists repeatedly and issued some additional vile insults. Ultimately, in the end, his eyes went big and he clutched at his chest again.

“Oh Gods, what’s happening?” He asked, his breathing quick and his face wracked with pain.

“I did warn you.” The doctor said, standing exactly where he was and making no move to assist the Prince. He wouldn’t die of course, he was sitting in the hospital and they were well beyond that kind of thing happening from a technological standpoint, but the man could have some time to feel his own mortality.

“Help me…help…” he said now, reaching out to the doctor, his face filled with fear. He saw the indifference in the man’s eyes and knew that he was either having a terrible nightmare or the man was no doctor at all. “Please, I’m…. I’m sorry.”

“Are you? I don’t think you are. That doesn’t sound or look very convincing, does it, nurse?”

“No, doctor.” The nurse demurred.

“I didn’t think so. Mr. Orsini, I’m afraid you’ll have to do better than that.” He prompted the frightened older man easily.

“Is this..because of what I know about my niece?” He asked, his hands shaking, more distracted by the purpose of his torment than any fake apology he was offering. “Did Antonius send you here to kill me?”

“Niece? What do you know about your niece?” The doctor asked, his thick brown eyebrows raising up on his tanned forehead.

Mario grunted and was silent. He would take it to the grave with him.

“Go to hell.”

The doctor moved up to Mario then, getting down onto his face level without fear. Even if Mario did lash out, the man was currently working himself into another heart attack - it wouldn’t do anything. “I don’t believe I am the one at risk of doing that right now, Mr. Orsini.”

“I'm not telling you anything.” Mario said in a low voice. “I didn’t think my big brother had this in him. Killing his own family is more his son’s style. And all for daring to want a seat at the table. What a family..”

“Perhaps you were deemed unworthy. The Emperor has little time for petulant children.” He pointed out and checked the man’s chart. “You’d do well to remember that fact going forward, Mr. Orsini.”

Mario blinked, his mouth open as his mind processed what he was being told. He had been a healthy man far away from any heart attack like this. He wondered if his health was now ruined because he dared to play the game for once in his life instead of waiting for some benefit or title like a little boy. He looked down in silent defeat. The message here was clear. He would die if he harmed the family’s image. He would be harmed if he went against Giana.

“Alright, I understand, damnit.” he said finally. “I get it.”

“I certainly hope so. It would be quite unfortunate otherwise. Don’t you think so, nurse?” He looked at the young woman.

“Yes, doctor.” She replied with a smile.

“Wonderful. Now go ahead and administer treatment.” He prompted her and she moved closer to Mario while the “doctor” remained where he was. “Your family will be here quite soon Mister Orsini. How shall we explain what happened here today?”

Mario swallowed hard, his eyes darting from the nurse to the doctor. He breathed heavily several times before he responded.

“The shock of my nephew’s treason caused me to have a heart attack.” he said with a grimace, spitting it out like it was bile. “I’m grateful to His Majesty, the Emperor, my wife, and my entire family for their continued support through this difficult time.”

“Very good. Very good.” The man smiled; it wasn’t pleasant. “And those ‘juicy secrets’ you had promised to tell certain individuals regarding your family?”

“What secrets?” He asked, indicating his agreement that they would be forgotten. “Forgive me, I’m an old man. Sometimes I lose track of time and say terribly silly things.”

“Yes… you do.” The doctor agreed. Mario would be treated and would of course recover. The warning would be heeded… or it wouldn’t. It would, however, be the only warning.

The arrangement was that Antonius would come and visit his brother later, but the Vanguard was to be Giana and Paulo. As they made their way into the medical ward which existed in the underground military complex under the Pyramid, Paolo looked up at his older sister and lifted his eyebrows.

“Poor uncle.” He said simply. It was more a probe for information from her than a genuine expression of sentiment. He couldn’t help the feeling something more was happening than what they’d been told. A prince going into cardiac arrest was unheard of considering modern technology and the quality of their care. “I suppose the stress of the current political situation got to him.”

“Yes, must have been the stress.” Giana agreed though she was sour. Everything about her read sour except the way she was walking; the expectation of elegance and grace was automatic now, and she swept along the floor with ease. She either didn’t notice Paolo’s probing or didn’t particularly care to offer up explanation at this point.

“I don’t know why we are being sent. He has an entire family of his own.”

“That’s just part of the mystery then.” Paolo said with the furrowed brow of curiosity. As doctors and nurses, military and civilian, stepped out of their way, they drew closer to the Emperor’s medical suite. “Perhaps Papa wishes to give Uncle Mario the special treatment to show him how much he means to us.”

Giana frowned deeply and looked over at Paolo, not replying right away, but trying to gauge instead if her little brother was truly that foolish or not. He tried to see the best in people, she supposed… but still.

He looked at her again and caught her expression. He shrugged light-heartedly.

“In a manner of speaking.” He said with a smirk. “What’s wrong, sister?”

The smirk reassured Giana mildly and she looked ahead again. “You’re probably right, but I still don’t like it, and why the shit isn’t Elana here?” she demanded in a very unroyal fashion. “How does she always get to weasel out of this kind of nonsense?”

“I’m not sure weaseling out of nonsense is a good sign in our world, sister.” He answered as they came to the door. “I think I forgot the letter I wrote in my room. Can you wait here until I return with it? Or…you can go in and I’ll be right back.”

“Letter? What letter?” She asked, annoyed. Was he weaseling out of this nonsense as well? “Can’t it wait? You don’t need a letter, just speak from your heart.”

“There’s nothing in my heart. I don’t like Uncle Mario at all. I’ll be so awkward without my letter.” He said, turning and backing away slowly. He still seemed to be waiting for her consent before he turned and left, however, not wanting to annoy her too much.

Giana scoffed and rolled her eyes at him, obviously quite annoyed and not even trying to hide it. “You’re going to have to work on that you know. By the time you are a man there are going to be a lot of people you don’t like and you’ll still have to be able to talk to.”

“By the time I’m a man, I will be able to.” He said with an apologetic smile before quickly turning and heading down the hallway at a hastened, though not hurried, pace.

Left alone except for what remained of her guard escort, Giana let out a long sigh and closed her eyes. It was rare she took a moment for herself, but she did so now. She wanted this day to be over, and truthfully she was having a moment of doubt in her life plan. Maybe Elana had the right idea. Her blue eyes drifted to the door where she knew Mario was being held and after a moment of indecision, her features hardened and she walked inside without announcing herself. The door opened, she swept inside, and immediately her cold gaze - so very like her father’s - settled on her uncle.


Mario looked up, having been alone in the room for the last few minutes sense the nurse left. His visit from…whoever that had been…was about an hour past and he had time to recover a bit and to think deeply on what his next few days should look like. When the door opened, he looked over disinterestedly. When he saw Giana walk in, he frowned.

“Well, if it isn’t my favorite niece,” he said gruffly. “It's genuinely a surprise to see you of all people.”

“Are you?” It was rhetorical, she didn’t want nor care about the answer. “If it is any consolation, I don’t want to be here. I’d have rather attended a funeral.”

Mario’s brows went up at that, then, after a small pause of indecision, he started to laugh. It wasn’t very loud, but he had clearly found the comment humorous.

“You know, you’ve always been my favorite, right?” he asked, looking at her with glassy eyes.

“Is that so? Then why did you threaten to ruin my life, Uncle? I know you know, even if you refuse to admit it to my face. Why not go after my stupid sister? She would have been much easier.” Giana moved to take a seat, though not in the one next to him.

“I never threatened anything of the kind.” he said with a shake of his head. “And anyone who says I did is a damn liar.”

“Don’t toy with me, Mario, or I will make your life so much worse. I promise.” It was a threat, but it was spoken with simple assurance in her voice. She was her father’s daughter and when push came to shove whether either Antonius or Giana wanted to admit it, out of the remaining children she was likely the most like him in many aspects.

“I’m not toying with you. I implied a threat. I never threatened.” Mario said, rolling his eyes. “And don’t threaten me, girl. I have seen four Emperors and four generations of Emperor’s daughters. I’ll show you the respect you’re due, but I’m a prince, Gods damnit. I will not be treated like trash anymore by anyone in this family.”

“You are NOTHING uncle, don’t you understand that? Do you need to be taught another lesson?” Giana scoffed. “I didn’t think you were that stupid. I suppose I was wrong. You aren’t good enough to lick your brother’s boots.”

Mario frowned, seeing to withdraw from the situation behind his eyes. He looked at her steadily, an obvious hatred growing there. He never thought he would see a day like this in his life.

“And yet, my dear, he would never speak to me the way you’re speaking to me right now.” he said, and then he leaned back looking at the ceiling. He was tired. Far too tired for this. “Mark my words…being the sibling of an Emperor is far less glamorous than being a child. One day, you will know exactly what I mean. And on that day, Giana…you will wish you did things differently today. Perhaps when one of his children speaks to you like you’re a dog.”

The door opened again, but this time it was Paolo. He was going to speak, but the smile on his face was wiped away as he felt the mood of the room. Instead, he paused in front of the doorway, confusion on his face.

“Oh, Paolo.” Mario said, looking at his nephew. “They’ve sent you too. What an honor.”

Giana looked over her shoulder to Paolo and then back to Mario. “How would you suggest I do things differently, uncle? I’m sure Paolo would be quite interested to hear your thoughts on it all.”

“Thoughts on what?” Paolo asked, finding his seat somewhat uneasily.

“I was only telling your sister to prepare for the future, Paolo. Some day her beauty will inevitably fade and the tabloids will find her marriage to the marine far more tedious and banal than a wild dating life. No one will care what she wears anymore.. It’s a natural part of growing old. If once a man becomes second best, a hundred others may one day go before him. Even I’m now sixth best… and that’s if you don’t count Giuseppe.”

“Uncle Mario was just telling me how much I’m going to regret my choices because being the sibling of an Emperor is less glamorous than being a child. That I should do things differently. What should I do differently then, uncle? Take your path? Never truly support my brother?” Her hand moved down and rested lightly on Paolo’s shoulder. “Imply threats toward his children? His family? How has that worked out for you so far? Loyal siblings historically do quite well.”

“Threats?” Paolo asked, looking at Mario. “What is she talking about?”

“You naive girl…you’re too young to know this, but I was intensely and obviously loyal to your father my entire life. I still am. I was licking his boots until he took the throne. Don’t you remember that?” He asked, leaning forward a bit. “But the throne changes people. You don’t understand that now, but it does.”

He looked at Paolo then and sighed, leaning back again; defeated.

“Be good to your sister Paolo. She’s on your side.” Mario said with a sad expression. “For now at least.”

“But you haven’t answered my question, Uncle.” Paolo said, polite but pressing a bit more.

“If your father wanted you to know, he would have told you already. Don’t worry. We’re to be a happy family again.” Mario said. “One where I’m nothing as Giana said.”

“My brother asked you a question, uncle.” Giana pressed with her brother.

“And he’s received all the answers he’s going to from me.” He said with a snarl. “Send another goon in to poison my food and give me another heart attack if you’d like.”

“What?” Paolo said, standing up. “Uncle, that’s a very serious accusation. I’ve never done anything to harm you.”

“Not yet, Paolo. Not yet.” Mario said with a shake of his head. “But you’ll have blood on your hands soon enough. I remember when my older brother was your age. He was just like you.”

His eyes drifted to Giana; another silent warning. If he was going to be robbed of all influence, he at least didn’t want to have to deal with the jabs of disrespect. Now, at least, people were being honest with him and the gloves were off.

Giana’s cool blue eyes simply met her uncle’s gaze. She wasn’t afraid of him. “What of it, hm? My brother is his own person with his own mind. He is not our father just like our father is not his father.”

“You didn’t know my father. You knew an old man. Don’t pretend like you did.” Mario said simply. “Now, not to be rude, but I believe I’m due for open visitation after you leave..”

“You are being rude.” Giana said flatly then looked down at Paolo. “You had something to say to Mario, Paolo?”

Paolo blinked, his hand grasping the letter he had written for his uncle tightly. More and more, he had been in the loop, reading hundreds of government documents a week and studying the finer points of running the Empire. The politics of things, he understood well, but the politicking he never got to see. There were so many secrets involving his own family that he was not read-in on. It was starting to get on his nerves.

“I wrote this letter for you in my own hand to let you know how sorry I am for your illness.” He said, putting it on the table next to the older man’s bed. “I hope you get well soon and that you don’t suffer much from your illness.”

Mario stared at Paolo, a hint of a smile playing at the corners of his mouth.

“That’s very kind, my boy. Very kind indeed. Thank you.” He said slowly.

Giana watched the exchange quietly, letting Paolo have his moment. She knew they were supposed to be kind, but she just couldn’t do it. The moment she had seen her uncle sitting there smirking at her… she really wished he was just dead and out of her life. It would make things so much easier.

“Is there anything else?” She asked her brother lightly.

Paulo looked at his sister, an expression of concern in his eyes. Unlike her, he found it very easy to be kind; very easy to be humble. He placed a hand on hers and looked back at Mario.

“Uncle Mario wishes to see his family and we’ve said what we came to say, I think.” He said calmly. “Our father sends his love and the Imperial Blessing. I believe he is planning to visit you later. They’ve received word on Giuseppe and he’s busy dealing with the fallout.”

Giana didn’t respond outside a tense nod and removed her hand from Paolo, stepping aside to give him room to exit before her.

Mario’s smile widened. Perhaps it was his status being affirmed that gave him so much comfort, or perhaps it was something else. He looked at Giana again, his smirk widening.

“Thank you for honoring me with your visit.” He said in a croak, his throat still dry.

Paolo gave his elder a nod and then turned to exit before Giana. Once he was out in the hallway, he waited for her.

Before leaving, Giana looked at Mario one more time, her eyes cold. “Paolo is the best of us, Mario, and you should hope that he remains that way. If he doesn’t - or if you try to change that fact yourself - even the gods won’t be able to help you.”

Mario said nothing, but somehow he seemed less bothered than he had before. He frowned and watched her angry eyes.

What was cold became ice and she stared at him a moment longer before she turned and walked out after Paolo finally. She didn’t say goodbye or give him any sign of farewell, she simply left.

“What is going on?” He said with a frown bordering on sudden exasperation. “I know something is going on.”

Giana’s head snapped down to Paolo and for just a brief second she looked like she was about to lash out at him, but she caught herself and instead looked up at the ceiling while taking a slow, deep breath. “Did you hear anything about what happened in the Secretariat room?”

“What are you talking about?” He asked, raising his brows. “When?”

“Earlier this evening. You may have been with Amalie.” Giana sighed again, her anger subsiding more or less, and she reached down to Paolo’s shoulder to guide him away from the door. She had never seemed to care that it wasn’t necessarily proper to lead or guide him, especially now. In the end, to her, Paolo was her little brother and always would be.

“Things happened, but the point of it all is that somehow - and I don’t know how - Mario knows what Giuseppe did to me and he was threatening to expose it. He still is, I imagine.” She paused and added slowly, choosing to confide in him, “I can’t shake the feeling that it goes deeper than just knowing, though.”

“Deeper than knowing?” Paolo asked with a frown. The comment had been ominous at best. “What could be deeper than knowing?”

“Having something to do with it.” Giana supplied flatly, a frown settling on her pretty face again.

Paolo looked at her, his mind working to make sense of what she was trying to tell him. Consider as he might, however, he just wasn’t able to make the puzzle pieces fit. He walked together with her in silence for a while as he thought.

“You’d remember something like that, wouldn’t you?”

“It isn’t like he would have to be physically there to have had a hand in it, Paolo.” Giana replied sharply and then frowned. She hadn’t meant to lash out at him but this whole thing was under her skin now and she couldn’t shake the feeling. “Mario is a snake, Paolo. Don’t trust a word out of his mouth.”

Paolo furrowed his brow more, keeping his eyes forward. He set his jaw as well, wondering silently if there would ever be a time when his family would stop talking in riddles. He was tired of not understanding; he worked hard enough to be trusted.

“I don’t know what that means at all.” He admitted with an uncharacteristic gruffness, sounding more like their father in his tone than himself. The exasperated annoyance was growing. “What the hell does any of that mean, Giana?”

Giana had been doing her very best to remain patient, but it was new for her and Paolo was most certainly pushing past the depth of what she could take. She stared at him for a long moment and then took a deep breath. Her brother was intelligent, but he was going to drown the moment he had to touch intrigue.

“It means our uncle is throwing a childish fit about not having as much power as he wants - about not being Emperor - and to try and grab some sort of power he feels entitled to, he will go to great lengths to do it - even blackmailing our family or turning us against each other. He doesn’t have to be with the family to do that. A few disloyal servants here or there, loose lips, a bribe or two…”

She scoffed suddenly then and grabbed Paolo by the arm, ushering him over to a slightly more secluded spot. She leaned down to his ear then - something she likely wouldn’t do for much longer - and told him about what had happened. She told him of her conversation with CJ and Mario’s bid to spill some sort of secrets right after Giuseppe was taken into custody and she told him about the encounter in the Secretariat room and the exchange between father and uncle.

Once she was done, she straightened and looked down at him, watching his face curiously.

Paolo went with her willingly, providing no resistance, and besides recoiling a bit at having her whisper in his ear, a sensation to him that was particularly foreign, unpleasant, and common, he listened without expression. When she finished though, he shook his head subtly. He was silent for quite some time, seeming to be lost in a cloud of his own thoughts. Only after nearly twenty seconds of staring into the middle distance, did he speak.

“Well, obviously that won’t do.” he said with a shrug. “He has to go. I’ve seen enough of what it means for one to be protected in treason because they are family. Enough of that, I think. It simply isn’t working.”

“Then may I suggest you go and speak with Father before he visits Mario?” She posed to him, her tone mildly impatient. She just wanted to go back to her apartments with Sacha now, she was tired of all of this. “You are crown prince, if he wants you to lead someday, it is time for you to start making yourself heard.”

“Well, I don’t know…It’s complicated.” Paolo said, crossing his arms in front of him. “Father expects me to be better than him. I can see it in his eyes whenever he talks to me. I don’t think he really knows what that means, but I would guess he means that he wants me kinder, fairer, more benevolent.. But, recently, those seem like the traits that cause him the most harm in his reign.” he looked at his sister then, his mouth hanging open. “Should not a Terran be a Terran? Where is the virtue in forgiving traitors? I used to know but…I just..I just don’t think I see it anymore.”

“I’m the wrong person to ask that question, Paolo, because I never saw it in the first place.” Giana wrapped her arms around herself slightly. “You can be kind, fair, and benevolent… but still just.”

“We were just with Giuseppe. He was duly arrested and preparing for his trial.” He argued, a defiant tone coming into his voice. “And because of that act of confidence in the integrity of our state, we find ourselves in this position.”

“I’m on your side on this, Paolo.” Giana assured him, her eyebrows raising slightly. “I agree with you. Father decided on mercy rather than justice. You don’t have to do the same and that won’t make you any less kind.”

“Hmm” he said under his breath, seeming to half consider and half brood about it. Finally, deciding to move on, he looked up at his big sister with a concerned raise of his eyebrow. “ISS has confirmed suspicions that Giuseppe and his cadre of traitors have fled to a base of operations on Axanar. Security has landed a few agents so far, but they command the entire Axanar system, presenting some problems for us.”

It took Giana several beats to make the mental shift from one thing to the other. Usually she was quite quick on these things, and even this was above the skill of a commoner, but she had let her mind continue on with the Mario problem and had gone far into her feelings over it. She licked her lips and spoke. “Well if we already have agents inside, it will be over soon.”

“We have agents on-world, not inside. They are running a tight ship now and don’t trust anyone new who claims they want to join up. Silas says they can’t hold out on that forever without damaging their chances of actually recruiting people. I just thought you might want to know.” He said, his head angled slightly away from her and his dark eyes moving with the nurses and medical staff in the distance. “There is something else though.”

“What is it?” Giana prompted, tired but listening to what he had to say.

“He rescinded his shoot-to-kill order on Giuseppe.” Paolo said, his brows knitting together in a rare display of anger. “He wants him captured.”’

“What? Why?!” She demanded, anger flashing on her own face. Somewhere in the back of her mind she knew Paolo probably didn’t have the answers, but he was the one standing there before her. “When did he do this?”

“In the meeting I was attending before we came down. He said he wanted him captured and nothing more. He ignored the barely-controlled confusion on everyone’s faces as well.“ he answered, tapping his leg with the fingers of his right hand. “I don’t know what he’s thinking.”

As Paolo looked at his sister, it was very obvious she was about to cry. She spoke very quietly, her voice unsteady. “Anything else?”

He shook his head grimly, seeing the expression in her face and not knowing what to say. Part of him wanted to be there for her when she was sad, but the other part wanted to spare her the embarrassment of being seen. This resulting conflict resulted in something of a freeze for him as he watched her with compassion in his eyes, looking for the answer to his unasked question.

The look he was giving her was so foreign to her that she didn’t understand it. She simply looked at him, confused, and then took a deep breath which was cut short by emotion. Clearing her throat, she managed to keep it together. “Well, thank you for letting me know, Paolo. I appreciate it.”

She meant it, genuinely.

“You’re welcome, Giana.” He said in a low voice, his facial expression remaining just as compassionate and confused as before, “I’m…I’m sorry it’s going this way..”

“Yeah, me too, but I’m not really surprised. What’s a daughter to a brother or a son?” She shrugged sadly. “I hope you’re better to your girls… and if you can’t be, I hope you don’t have any. Anyways, I’m going back to my apartment now.”

She turned and began to walk away, her arms wrapped around herself and her hands holding the opposite elbow.

Paolo didn’t really understand why she seemed to consider everything their father did against how much she thought he did or didn’t care about her. It didn’t seem true to him, and obviously so, but he was a boy, and she was not. What’s more, he knew that he was loved, and she wasn’t so sure. He wasn’t going to judge her.



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