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Chapter 36 - The Darkness of Death

Dad! I scream loudly. A sob clogs my throat as my fingers dig deep into the fabric of Ace’s forearm. Desperately, I try to heave him off of me, clawing like a wild animal. “Why are you doing this!?”

He said ‘our father’, but my father doesn’t have any other children. It’s just me, it’s always been only me.

Is this his way to throw me off?

I know better than to believe any of his claims. I can’t fall easily into his plans.

My father is a hard leader, an example. Abiding by the rules so very much so that it’s instilled in the core of him.

A Valentino wouldn’t dare to break the rules.

Ace lowers his head, the material of his ski mask brushing against the crown of my head. “Stop fucking moving,” he roughly demands.

The arm around my neck flexes and I choke out a plea. My head falling back with tears clouding my vision.

I can’t help the retching sound I make, gagging through the pain with my esophagus burning. A sharp object presses against my back and the will to fight against his hold ceases, coming to terms that he has the upper hand. He’s most likely pressing a blade of a knife into me, I’m no match for that. Responding to my actions, he cautiously relaxes his arm, giving me some breathing room.

“Stop this now!” I hear the commanding tone of my father, sounding deadly serious. “What are your reasons, what do you want!?”

I could never shield my panic the way he does.

Tears run down my cheeks, my chest rising then falling quickly from my erratic breathing. I have to control myself, losing myself to hysteria now will only work against me.

“I want them out,” Ace speaks loud enough, but it’s my father who acts as if he didn’t hear him, or maybe doesn’t want to. “I said I want them out! All of them!” he reiterates, raising his voice for the whole building to hear loud and clear.

My eyes squint down below. Alessio is standing shoulder to shoulder with my dad on the first platform. He looks so distressed but determined to make it to me, but there’s no way. The second and third flights have been completely demolished.

“Go.” My dad doesn’t have to raise his voice the way Ace did. It’s a simple instruction that has everyone following immediately.

There is no room for questions or hesitation, not with all the risks at hand.

A rush of footsteps echo as they pound the payment all at once. It’s not only the Valentinos’ here who came as back up but also the Romanos’. A little under three dozen crowd around a large garage door as someone manually slides it open.

My heart drops as they disappear into the night, but it’s not because they’re leaving or because they have to seal the door behind them — but it’s because Alessio is still standing next to my father.

I don’t want him to go.

But wants and needs are two different things.

“Romano, leave.” There’s a bite in my father’s words, he doesn’t like to repeat himself.

But despite that, Alessio remains unmoving.

I know he won’t leave, but he needs to.

His eyes meet mine, they’re engulfed in despair. Confliction of the heart and mind

There’s a strong need to reassure him that it will all be okay if he leaves, but the fear of Ace getting angrier and causing more damage to my body stops me.

“I’m not leaving her,” Alessio calmly states.

He may be the boss of the Romanos’ but he’s not the boss of the Valentinos’.

It doesn’t work this way.

“I’m not fucking around.” The gun in my father’s hand swiftly lifts back up, the barrel pressing into Alessio’s temple. “Get the hell out,” he seethes.

Now he’s snapped.

One of Ace’s hands moves to the back of my head, grabbing a fist full of my hair as he pushes me forward into the railing. My waist painfully hits against the metal bar. Screaming, I look over the barrier that I might plunge over any second.

“You think your love for her makes any of you untouchable!” Ace hollers over their bickering. “You better listen because I won’t hesitate!”

“Go!” My father says for the last time before Alessio, having no other option, reluctantly pulls away from the end of the gun.

Begrudgingly, he walks to the exit. I can still feel his eyes on me, they linger until he steps out the door that I entered from.

When he’s gone, Ace pulls me back into him, the blade hovering once more near my spine.

The arm that my father had raised to Alessio drops to his side again. Sighing heavily, he descends back down the staircase and moves into a better view of us. “Everyone who could have left,” he says whilst looking to Fionn and Levii who are now kneeling on the platform of the fourth level, “has left.”

My attention turns to Levii. His head is moving from left to right, searching for something in the dark. It’s probably the gun he lost in the midst of the fighting, but there’s no doubt that it fell during the collapse of the staircase.

“You know, I’ve always dreamt of this moment,” Ace begins, his voice wavering. “Mom being here would’ve been nice, but then again she never really gave a shit about me so… guess I was too hopeful with that dream.”

Mom? No! No, why is he still claiming this relationship?

It can’t be — can it?

“Aceon!” My eyes widen, mouth dropping as my father says the name with confidence and familiarity. “We can talk about this!” It’s almost as if he’s speaking to a child.

How is this possible?

It hurts to realize that Ace… is speaking the truth.

Denial burns deep in my heart. I want to reject this, that my own father could do this to me!

“Now you want to talk.” Ace scoffs, sounding so eerie. “You wouldn’t have offered if I wasn’t forcing you.”

Levii is discreet as he attempts to make his way up the flight of stairs. Locking eyes with him I mouth the word ‘no’. By the time Levii makes it up here, I’ll have a knife lodged into my spine with my cousin being the next victim.

I refuse to die with his blood on my hands.

“I’ve been meaning to apologize.”

What the hell! An apology, for what?

Ace pulls the weapon away, bringing our bodies closer as an arm secures over my neck again. “You make it seem like apologizing was on your list of things to do — but never got around to.”

“I was a burden…but she wasn’t?” Ace’s arm almost flexes and I let out a whimper, afraid that he’ll place me in a chokehold again.

“Aceon, we can do this somewhere else!”

The more my father talks, the more I begin to lose faith in him. I want him to deny Ace, but he doesn’t condemn the claims of family.

“Oh, she isn’t aware.” His forearm lets up slightly from my throat, Ace letting out a breathy laugh. “You’ve always been good at that, haven’t you? Hiding shit away from the people you care about.”

“Well go on.” It’s like I can hear Ace smiling. “Tell her who I am.”

There’s hesitation from my father. His eyebrows knitting as he frowns when looking up at us. His own contemplation is leaving him petrified of what to do next.

“Tell her!” Ace viciously screams. “Fucking say it!”

I shut my eyes, trying to take my focus off of this. I’m too scared to listen to my father's confessions.

“Cherry!” Desperation in his voice begs me to understand. “Aceon, he’s… he’s your brother… your twin brother.”

My eyes open just in time to see my father heaving over with his hands grasping onto his knees. Seeing him lose composure like this has my bottom lip wobbling.

My body drops but Ace’s arms hold me up.

I feel lightheaded.

Time has stopped for me but my ears and eyes remain working.

I’m unable to process this.

“Now that the obvious is out of the way,” Ace says as the knife comes up to my neck. “You’re going to tell me why you did it.”

I don’t have the energy to fight for my survival. If he kills me, then he kills me.

“This isn’t the closure you’re looking for.” There it is again, my dad trying to reason with a child, his child.

How could he say nothing to me?

“Closure?” Ace dryly laughs as my father finds the will to stand back up. “You don’t know what the fuck I’m looking for, but then again how could you? You don’t even know me, your own son.”

“What do you get out of hurting her? Cherry is your sister!”

“No, no you don’t get to do that!” Ace is without guilt. “Answer my fucking question!” The tip of the knife presses into my skin at the neck.

“You were ill, Aceon,” dad’s voice holds a tremble when saying his name. “There was nothing we could’ve done..”

My father drops his head, ashamed. I’ve never seen him like this before.

Regret and sorrow become him.

“Your mother loved you — she still loves you.” His head lifts, his expression full of misery.”

“And what the hell was I supposed to do with her love?! never protected me. It never saved me once from the hell hole you left me in.” The sadness and anger are so profound in Ace’s words.

“We didn’t know those people would turn out like that.” My father lifts his head as he says this. “I came looking for you, but you ran away before I could bring you back!”

Why was Ace sent off to live with other people?

“Yeah, I left. Do you honestly think I would stay around for the next blow.”

“I understand why you did, and I’m sorry that I didn’t find out until it was too late.”

I never knew my father could be so remorseful.

“They hurt me for years!” The knife wobbles against my neck as Ace recalls the events. “You don’t get to just say you’re sorry. That isn’t good enough. I want to know the truth, the real truth. You’re hiding something and I want to know what it is.”

Breaking eye contact, my father turns his head away — full of shame.

“Why did you do it?” Ace shoves me into the railing again, my body bent at an angle that’s too close to actually falling over. Instantly, I find my voice again, screaming with no mercy as my hands find Ace’s hands that are locked around my hair. I hold onto his wrists tightly, terrified he'll open his palms.

“Stop it, Aceon! I’ll tell you! I’ll tell you! Just stop!”

Ace grips my hair tighter, but he doesn’t pull me back. He’s not budging this time.

“Your mother had just given birth a few months prior to when it all started. You see, the Valentinos’ had a rivalry with another family, the Marcels’. It was a territorial issue we had with them. One day, things escalated too far… and a Marcel boy around your age ended up dead.”

A pause that feels too long passes.

“The Marcels’ wanted to get even, and they would have done anything to make sure that it happened.”

Just a single sob slips out of my father’s mouth, trying to hold it together.

“You were already so sick, Aceson. Both you and Cherry were premature, and nursing you back to health was taking longer than what the doctors had said. Cherry was covering at a faster pace, and the Marcels’ caught wind that you were in a more vulnerable state. It wasn’t until much later that we found out that they were going to target you for their revenge. And they tried everything, even going as far as to tamper with the loyalty of our pediatrician to hurt you.”

Ace slightly loosens his hold and I grip his wrist even harder. I won’t let go. I don’t want to die, not like this. “Why only me?! Why not Cherry as well? she was just as frail,” he shouts.

Dad shakes his head, his worried eyes locked on me. “They lost a son — and in return they wanted my son’s life.”

Sniveling, my cries become more audible.

“That family,” dad harshly spews, “they had to be dealt with for you to come back to us. But wiping the Marcels’ out took years. We couldn’t afford to leave a single soul alive or else they would just continue to seek revenge on my children.”

To my distraught, Ace simply laughs, sounding short and sarcastic. “It was never your intention to come back.”

My brother, this man who is the monster of my nightmares, is really my brother.

“No!” My father retorts. “Placing you in a home with people I thought I could trust was only temporary! If your mother and I had known that they were abusing you, we would have-

“-you would have what?” Ace furiously yells over him. “You abandoned me!”

I may not be able to see him, but I know at this point Ace is crying. You can’t hide that type of pain from your voice.

He’s so broken that it physically hurts me as well.

“They were practically hunting you, Aceon. When it was over, I came for you. I did!” My father sounds equally hurt.

“Twelve years too late,” Ace gently counters.

That’s when he left. That’s how long it took for my father to cut down the Marcel family tree, sparing no one.

It’s no wonder he left. Ace was just a kid. The abuse he endured for years forced him to make a decision no child should ever make.

And now we’re all here to face the consequences for that.

“The man and woman that raised you are no more!” My father suddenly shouts and my eyes go wide.

What? When did this happen?

“You killed them?” Ace asks, pulling me away from the rail.

My arms are still up, gripping his wrists with burning muscles.

“It was under your mother’s orders,” he clarifies. “Everything was a mess when you ran away, and she was so angry. Enraged with the loss of her child, she wanted them dead.”

No, no. Not mom. She isn’t capable of that — is she?

I don’t know.

A mother would do anything for her child, but what I know of her is so different. Kindness and mercy is what she embodies, or so I thought.

“We couldn’t just let them live. You’re still our son.”

Ace’s breath softens, as if he’s tired. “You still don’t get it do you? If what you’re saying is true, then everything… is still all your fault.”

There’s no anger in his voice anymore — he’s just done.

“It’s always been about business with you. You easily pawned off your own daughter for the sake of a good business relationship with the Romanos’.”

My father looks at Ace with sad eyes, but he and I both know that it would be a lie to deny the truth Ace speaks.

“Why didn’t you ever visit me?” It’s now that he lets it all out, letting us here him snivel, showing us how hurt he is. “Or just simply acknowledge my existence?”

“I couldn’t risk it. If anyone knew that we were communicating, they would have found you easier. Please, I’m so sorry.”

Turning my head slightly to look over my shoulder, I watch as Ace’s body shakes, appearing as if he could fall apart any moment.

The damage is done.

“I know which politicians fund your schemes.” Ace sounds dull, finished with tonight. “You offer them your services and in return they grant you access to anything the city can provide.”

Ace lets go of me and shoves me hard across the platform. Stumbling back, I fall into a body that keeps me from hitting the floor grate. It’s Levii who broke my fall, helping me carefully tand. Fionn, who is standing behind Levii, grabs my hand, pulling me to stand in between them.

“Well, I’m here to take that all away.” A hand fishes into his pocket. In a split second his hand is back out, holding something small and raising it high in the air.

A spark flicker ignites, the lighter holding a small flame.

“What are you doing?” Fear strikes my father’s face. “Aceon, wait!”

What is he going to do with that?

“Maybe I can’t kill you all,” he says as his other hand points in the direction of where all the crates are stacked. “But this is what you prize the most. The Valentino Empire.”

The lighter falls from his hand...

… falling slowly.

It seems unreal, time stops as we all watch the fall. Waiting for it to hit the ground. Upon impact, fire immediately erupts. Flames rising tall, engulfing the wooden crates.

It’s not possible for wood to ignite as fast as that. It’s almost as if they were already doused in something extremely flammable.

Flames jump to a higher level, rapidly expanding that my father nearly catches fire. It’s with luck he dodged the blaze, backing up into a clear area.

There was no way this could’ve happened. We were so careful when we planned this.

The rapid combustion has a loud explosion going off. I don’t know what’s in these crates but whatever it is, it’s definitely not meant to be near heat.

“Cherry!” Fionn tugs my arms, tugging me away from the sight of the merciless fire. When I look back up, Ace is gone, nowhere in sight.

“Where did he go?” frantically asking Fionn.

“Into your father’s office. Cherry, we have to get to the roof. If we stay here any longer we’ll be trapped.” Lost in a trance, Fionn takes my hand and leads Levii and I up the next flight of stairs, leading to the roof door.

As Fionn reaches for the handle, the door quickly swings open. Alessio stands opposite of us, his stance wide and gun raised. The tension on his face drops, appearing relieved. Dropping his weapon, he pushes Fionn out of the way and embraces me strongly. “Oh god,” Alessio sighs, hugging me tightly.

“We have to get you out of here. There’s a fire escape going down the side of the building. Let's go!” Alessio is quick to turn around and pull me with him. Fionn and Levii trail behind us, the sound of the fire exploding making us run faster.

Ace, I can't help but think of Ace for some reason.

Why did he go into my father’s office? If he stays, he’ll die.

“Alessio, wait!” I instinctually say, not understanding why.

“Your father will be fine, Cherry. Keep moving.” There’s no going back as Alessio pulls on my hand to keep up.

Aceon’s fate has been sealed.

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