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Horizons and Runaways
by [personal profile] cold_clarity

Cesare/Lucrezia
PG-13

written mostly as a vignette to fit into the modern-day AU web that I've woven with [livejournal.com profile] sunshine_queen . Lucrezia is seventeen and Cesare is twenty-one and together they drive from New York to Arizona to see the Grand Canyon.

warnings for implicit romantic interest between siblings.

It is the summer after her seventeenth birthday and she sits in the passenger seat of her brother’s car as they race towards a western horizon through sprawl of Kansas. Most of the world still seems so wide and so mysterious to her, even as this new landscape scrolls past, filling in her window.

Watching it, she remembers reading about the farmers who first settled here, even before the long lost era of westward expansion; she imagines quiet people carving out their patterns of life, tiny and solitary beneath the sky.

“It doesn’t look like I expected,” she remarks, watching the horizon line in the distance, where the sky soars up from a shelf of earth.

Cesare huffs a little. “And what did you expect?”

“I don’t know. I think I couldn’t have imagined it at all, if I hadn’t seen it.”

“Do you like it?”

She thinks about this. She feels in herself a vastness to match this wide-open world.

“It’s like the kind of thing you read about in books,” she says. “Like a legend or something.”

Cesare smiles when she looks at him. “Yeah, it kind of is.”

The road is empty save for them. A black band of asphalt cutting through the plains, pointing them towards an eventual sunset. She watches Cesare watch the road, and she thinks again of all those people, lost to history, and time, and legend. She imagines him, and her, vanishing too, like wings of smoke against the sky.

“It makes it easy to pretend we’re time travelers.” She rests her fingers against the glass.

“Time traveling to where?”

She shrugs. “Wherever we want.”

“Wherever we want.”

A shadow of a smile passes over his face, but he keeps his gaze fixed straight ahead. She makes herself look away from him, and back out to the open world. The vastness in her chest yawns a little wider.

-

She doesn’t pretend they’re time travelers; she pretends they’re runaways.

They get a room at an inn in Dodge City, and their carpet sports a misshapen stain and the cramped bathroom’s fluorescent lights blinker and rattle when she turns them on. The sheets on the beds are thin and coarse—a quality she never knew sheets could really have—and the TV set’s color balance is broken, the images rippling into a weird pinkish color halfway up the screen. Cesare flips through the five channels before turning it off.

“Do you care if I shower?” he asks.

She sits on the edge of one of the beds, etching some design into the carpet with the hard edge of her sneaker sole. “No.”

“We’ll get pizza after?”

She’s hungry now but she can wait. She looks up at him and finds him standing in the bathroom doorway, the weird blinkering lights flickering behind him. A fan that must be a decade old drones somewhere out of sight.

“Yeah,” she says.

Cesare grins and ducks out of sight. The door swings shut.

She lies down and listens to the shower rush. She brings one arm up to drape over her eyes, dimming out the little nightstand lamp, and relearning the weight and motion of her own geometry. Her fingertips touch her shoulder. Draw patterns there. Small spirals. Her sneakered feet still touch the carpet and she moves her soles together, just to hear them squeak.

The shower rushes on.

They are runaways, she tells herself. There were no weeks spent wheedling and begging. No promises made that they’d be safe. Their mother never vied for them, and in the end, they just ran. West, and west, to trip over some razor’s edge. The other side of a sunset horizon. No one finds the runaways. No one wants them to come home. The huge world billows out in all directions, and there is nothing left but Cesare, and her, and their running.

She toes her shoes off and lets her feet rest on them and feels the corded way the position stretches her abdomen. Eyes still hidden in her elbow crook, she settles her other hand low on her belly. Her fingers in the hollow of her hip. The undulation of her breaths. She is young, and she is strong, and she could run for miles and miles, leading her brother and breathing the sun.

Still, the shower’s ceaseless rush.

-

They’re running west, to the sheer and serried ridgelines where civilization falls away—to the desert pans, where earth and sky dazzle as one. In Colorado, they come upon a county fair throwing its lurid light and its musicbox sounds into the gloaming.

“Carnies,” Cesare laughs, observing the lights as they pass by.

They haven’t figured out where they’re staying tonight—haven’t figured out if they’re staying anywhere. She never really likes sleeping in the car, but she likes the myth she can build up around it. Boxcar children, with only blankets, the car, and each other. She twists around to watch the fairlights dwindle.

“Can we go?” she asks.

“You want to?”

“Yeah.”

“All right.”

Cesare pulls a U-turn right there in the middle of the broad, flat street. The tires screech—somewhere behind them, a horn blares. Angry.

She makes a face at him.

“Showoff.”

“Always.”

“You know, sometimes I pretend I’m not even related to you.”

He just grins at that, and she knows she isn’t really mad at him.

They pull into a dirt lot and step out into the clear night. She can smell popcorn, and caramel, and something sticky and clotting and saccharine. In the distance, a ferris wheel rises up to meet the twilight, its latticework glittering like a bracelet or a finespun web against the sky. She stretches her arms over her head and sucks in a breath. Cesare’s door swings shut.

“C’mon.”

Side by side, they wind their way through this neon wonderland. They compete for best shot at a bb-gun booth, and when she knocks down more targets than him, she wins a little goldfish, flitting in a plastic bag. I can’t, she tells the booth clerk—there’s no place for a fish in these travels of theirs, and the thought of having to bury it in a day or two is sadder than not taking it at all.

They leave with a handful of glow-necklaces instead. She cracks them into life, the blue and green of them filling her palms, and when they stop to buy a funnel cake, she weaves them into two garish crowns, settling one onto her head, and the other on his. And while they eat, she watches him, the lucent strands of chemicals and plastic falling back in his dark hair.

Twilight unravels into night, and they find themselves looking up at the ferris wheel, still licking the stickiness of powdered sugar off their fingers.

“You want to ride it?” Cesare asks.

She hasn’t been on a ferris wheel since she was small, tucked into the carriage seat beside her mother. She remembers soaring up, and up, towards that space of blue infinity, and at the height of the circumference, she was supposed to have seen the whole wide world spread out all around her. But the world was too big, and the arc too high, and she cried against her mother’s side until their carriage came back down and Vannozza carried her little girl off the ride, stroking her hair and whispering that everything was all right. She can’t remember the ride so well anymore—or even why it had seemed so frightening; but she can remember the fear itself, even now, as she looks up at this winding wheel, spraying its lights into the night.

She glances at Cesare, who stands there with his neon crown still hanging on his head.

“Do you want to ride it?” she asks.

“Only if you do.”

“Okay.”

“Okay?”

“Let’s go.”

He grins, and they step into the line.

When the attendant locks them into their carriage, her heart flutters. The sounding of a clockwork mechanism; gears clicking a leviathan to life. She grips the handlebar that lies across their laps and their ascent begins.

In the sky: a halfmoon has emerged, flat and bright and sheer. And the slow shift of those clicking gears brings them closer to that pale shard, to the velvet dark, and the billow of stars, gone out into infinity. Beneath their feet, the sprawl of the fair grows tiny; the people blotted in dots of black. She holds so tight to the handlebar that her knuckles go white.

“Lucrezia.”

Their carriage crests the zenith. Before them, only open air, and the mountains silvered in the moonlight. She feels her own breath fill her chest completely, the sudden rush of cool night. The dark with all its starlight passes over her like a stream.

She looks to her brother. His crown sits lopsided on his hair.

“Are you okay?” he asks.

The stars spray out like a halo behind his head. She relaxes her hold on the handlebar—reaches, now, for his hand. His fingers spread to welcome hers.

“Yeah,” she says. “I’m fine.”

Another click of steel teeth. The wheel halts, their carriage suspended in the night while the fair babbles on in a distant susurrus, flowing somewhere beneath their feet. Cesare looks out over that bluing reach, his expression gone cool and serious. Still, he keeps his fingers laced with hers, and she doesn’t look away from him. Even up here in the gathered dark, she can see the way his hair wings back to curl behind his ear, can study the planes of his shoulders, his cheekbones, his throat—lambent in the light of the moon.

“Cesare.”

He looks at her and a pressure winds itself up tight in her chest. Her mouth works for a beat before the words form.

“I love you.”

The corners of his eyes wrinkle when he smiles. She knows that, even in the dark. He gives her hand a gentle squeeze and those ponderous gears set themselves to motion again.

“I love you too.”

Their carriage floats forward and then descends, back towards the light and the clattering sounds. She breathes deep to take in the moonlight.

On their descent, she feels weightless.

-

In Durango they call home from a payphone, and her runaway fantasy is ruined for a little while.

It’s early morning, outside a diner. Standing in the phonebooth, Cesare squints into the dawn. She watches him gesticulate as he talks and she watches the sudden dazzle of the sunlight in the fringes of his hair. When he catches her gaze, he waves her over, pressing the phone and a few extra quarters into her hand. They shuffle around in the booth—and then, she is alone. She cradles the receiver to her ear.

Her father on the other end, today. The questions are the same as they were when she spoke to him in Denver, and in Topeka, and in St. Louis, and then some. Are you having fun? Do you need anything? Don’t let Cesare do all the driving.

She imagines him in his office in the city, looking out over a jagged skyline. She thinks of him at work, with half his mind still on his children. His affection or his concern—indistinguishable at a certain point. She thinks of his embrace before they left.

It took no small amount of pestering, to get him to consent to this. She glances at Cesare again, waiting for her by the diner door, and abruptly she feels very sad.

Lucrezia?

Her father’s voice.

She grips the receiver close. I’m having a good time, she promises. I’m taking pictures; I’ll show you when I’m home.

He tells her that he can hardly wait, and reminds her to call her mother soon. She will. She will.

Well—have a good day of driving. Tell Cesare to be careful.

She’ll do that too.

I love you, Lucrezia.

I love you too, Dad.

A click. She sets the receiver back. Somewhere in the phone box, change jingles down, swallowed forever.

-

At the Grand Canyon, they reach the end of the earth.

There are other tourists standing, clicking pictures of this gorge, rifted through the red and yellow and sienna earth—but she sees only Cesare and the abyss. The sky, huge, and matte, like blue chalk.

There is a small barricade built along the edge of the place where the earth drops away. She stands against it and looks down. The depth is fathomless. She feels Cesare’s hand at the small of her back.

“Jesus Christ,” he says.

She looks at him again. His dark hair falls into his eyes and he studies the canyon with a serious expression, like he’s trying to make sense of something so enormous. She remembers the huge planes of Kansas and she feels that same sense of the immeasurable yawning wide inside her chest again. Cesare’s hand remains at her back.

“Imagine if you fell,” he says. “You’d have so much time before you hit the ground.”

“It might feel like you’re flying.”

“Well—you know what the difference between flying and falling is, right?”

She scrunches her nose at him. “How hard you land.”

He laughs and tugs her close, the kiss he presses to her hair diffusing her with warmth. “That’s right.”

Somewhere to the left of them, a camera shutter clicks. An attempt, different from hers, to fathom the unfathomable.

-

The nights in Arizona are incredible. She grew up in New York, and the only time she’d ever seen so many stars was on family trips up to Vermont, where the diminished light pollution revealed a sky full of distant wonders. Here, though, the air is even clearer, and the arc of the whole universe seems so much huger, somehow, billowing away with the flat sandstone landscape. She lays on the hood of their car and picks out the Ursa Major and Ursa Minor while Cesare sips at a bottle of beer—he bought a case for them, and didn’t even tease her about being so young that he had to be the one to sneak her alcohol.

“Are you going to be able to drive back to the motel?” she teases, poking gently at Cesare’s ribs.

She finished her share of drinks faster than him, and now she feels warm and loose-limbed.

“I’m not even drunk,” he says.

She pokes him again. “You’re going to take stupid risks with my life.”

“I’m pretty sure only one of us is drunk right now, lightweight.”
She hmpfs and he ruffles her hair.

“If it’ll make you feel better, I can drive us back now.”

She considers this, considers the warmth of the hood at her back, and the dazzling riot in the sky above her and she wants so badly to say no, let’s stay, let’s read the stars until they tell us where to go—but instead she sits up, and the whole world slides, slightly, away from her.

“It might,” she says, trying to be responsible.

Cesare squeezes her hand. “Okay.”

The drive back to the motel is a short one, but the drunkenness blossoms into something fully fledged by the time they reach their room. She can feel a strange buzzing in her joints and in the back of her jaw, a numbness in her mouth that makes it feel like she won’t be able to speak clearly, should she decide to try. In spite of there being two beds, she curls up next to Cesare, her head tucked against his hip, while he cracks open another beer and sips it.

“How you doing down there, Luce?”

“My head is heavy.”

He pets her hair and laughs. “Okay. You should have some water.”

“Soon.”

But soon never comes. She doesn’t remember falling asleep—only waking to darkness to see the screen of stars outside their room’s little window. Cesare lays next to her, breathing even in the dark. She isn’t drunk anymore, she realizes. Just thirsty.

To the bathroom. She runs the faucet in the gloom, cupping her hands beneath the spout and gulping swallows of tinny-tasting water. She splashes her face and her neck and wonders if she’ll wake Cesare if she tries to go back and sleep beside him again. Faucet off.

Standing at the bathroom threshold, she watches him, limned in weak moonlight, asleep in the dark. And in her person, she feels the an irrevocable ache, always familiar, sometimes forgotten, and never, ever, completely gone—like something permanently bruised on the inside of her chest. She stands there, watching him sleep, and for the first time, she can taste the name of that ache in the back of her mouth.

They have reached the end of their roadtrip and now they’ll have to go back, to a world where they aren’t runaways, and where their lives aren’t theirs and theirs alone. How terribly unfair.
Blinking rapidly, she undoes her jeans and steps out of them, leaving them pooled on the bathroom floor. Cesare doesn’t wake until she shifts the covers to crawl back into the space beside him. Eyes fluttering open, he makes a quiet sound.

“Luce?”

“I just got up to get a drink.”

“Oh.”

Her feet touch his under the blankets. She rests her head on his shoulder and feels with her palm, the spreading and contracting of his chest.

“Cesare,” she whispers.

“Hm?”

“I don’t want to go home.”

He shifts, his shoulder gone away from her, and suddenly they’re face to face, his hand rested on her cheek.

“What?”

“I don’t want to go home.”

“Why not?”

“I don’t know. I just want to be with you.”

A quiet settles over them, in which Lucrezia can hear only the sound of her own heart beating. Beneath the blankets, their knees touch. She studies him studying her until, at last, he rolls onto his back and presses the heels of his palms against his eyes.

“Oh, Lucrezia…” he says. “We have to go home.”

In the bluish dark, she reaches for one of his hands, pulls it from his face, her fingers folding through his. The ache in her chest feels deeper and more painful. She kisses his knuckles and hears him exhale, a shudder gone into the night.

“I know,” she whispers. “But I don’t want to.”

He only says I’m sorry and the words sound hoarse and broken against the quiet night.

-

They wake to the promise of a long journey home, their terminus—a glittering, jagged city—etched all the more sharply in her mind.

But in this morning, they’re still runaways with a bright blue fragment of the Arizona sky seen clearly through their window. They haven’t called their father or their mother yet; it’s still just the two of them, alone in the world.

Sitting in bed, she watches him dig a fresh shirt out of his duffle bag and go into the bathroom to shower. She flips through the TV’s five channels while she waits for him. She tells herself not to think of home.

They get breakfast together at a little diner on the main street and trash their bottles in the dumpster in the back. Cesare looks happy in the morning light, so much so that she has a hard time picturing him as the person who whispered a rueful apology into the dark last night. She wishes she could tell him that he didn’t have to be sorry because he’s done nothing wrong—but he grins at her on their walk back to the car, and she doesn’t want to ruin that.

“Can I come visit you at school this year?” she asks as they’re pulling out of the diner’s little parking lot.

“Are you seriously asking that question? Visit whenever you want.”

She smiles a little. “Thanks.”

They take a turn for the interstate and Cesare accelerates. She leans her head against the window, watching the whole enormous world scroll past, and she thinks of sleeping beside her brother, of hearing him breathe, of pressing her mouth to the joints in his hands.

I’m sorry.

In some strange way, she supposes she’s sorry, too.




 

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