When they ask the candidates to pick a dance partner, Vincent is at a loss, as the other princes-to-be seem to easily wade through the crowd, the women all swarming to be with them as the spotlights scatter. His throat tightens. Trying to pick someone isn't the same as being an attractive magnet.. and people are having murmurs about the guy in the white Venetian mask. They can smell a new fish.
The announcer comes over to him, whispering: "Do you not have a dance partner?"
Not wanting to fail his mission (and only hope of meeting Lil again) Vincent ignores that question; he steps down the stage to the nearest girl he could find. "I'll choose you, is that ok?"
"U-uh, sure," she says. "I'm not much of a dancer though.."
It could be worse. Anyone is better than no one, but when it comes to it – the same dexterity and confidence which had carried Vincent through his card games is now virtually absent.
But he sees his partner, who's shuddering in his arms. Deciding to comfort her.. "Do you want to wing this and call it a night? We can stumble together."
("Take your places!")
It's later that he'll realise this event is an ordeal that needs months of planning. The other dancers carry a natural grace that's picture-perfect because they already had dance partners, with many hours of practice placed in perfecting their rhythm, their bodily articulation, and all those nuances that lend to passionate embrace.
Here, as the music plays, Vincent and the woman just fumble. He's looking to his side, trying to copy what the other dancers do, only to feel foolish and evoking bits of awkward laughter from the audience – with camera flashes pointed directly at him.
"Damn this crap," he whispers, while his partner begins to giggle uncomfortably. Everything is just going terrible. Then a thought: he conjures up his earlier moment of winning against Majin Buu. The kind of focus one needs to persevere under high pressure. "Just look upon me," he tells her, "and my eyes only. Don't mind everyone else. The world right now is just us two, in each other's arms. Even if it's the worst tango.. I'll dance it with you!"
He catches her eyes beneath her mask – she begins to believe in him.
They end up bumping into that same red-haired prince (whose name is Touga), where Vincent catches intimations of his sneering, before he returns to his smile for the cameras during his graceful waltz. These people certainly don't make it easy for newcomers, do they? Touga's partner lets out an airy giggle as they begin moving in pas de deux fashion.
It feels almost like an eternity before the dancing segment is over, with Vincent stopping to catch his breath.
"That was kinda cool," his partner goes, as the other dancers head backstage. "At least I'll have a story to tell tomorrow. Good luck winning the role." It's a small consolation while Vincent hears hushed murmurs – most likely about his awkwardness – as the curtains fall. He feels his sweat seeping through the layers of clothes, and already..
Upon the refreshments table, a glistening fruit punch pitcher. The ice floating upon the pink surface, and the condensation upon the glass drips down the curves..
He rushes over to pour himself some. It's so good, like the best of peach and watermelon rolled together, to the point where he feels the crushing need to inhale after gulping down so much of the fruit punch.
"Vincent?" It is the young lad who had been harassed by Touga - Nowe. "Is this your first time competing?"
"What is it to you?"
"Well, I just wanted to say thanks for sticking up for me earlier.. this is only my second time, and I'm merely 22. But people think I'm still too young to try going for don." Nowe pours a glass of fruit punch, and the way he sips it is like a grateful child, being blessed by the simpler pleasures derived from life. "You're not from around here, are you?"
"Why do you ask?"
"It's – you have these tailor-made clothes, but you move as if you don't really fit them. As a matter of fact, your dancing ability is quite surreal, to say the least. I've never seen anyone fumble a waltz like you have.. this is a competition, see who can fit the role of leading the entire Bonanno family. Cause their patriarch is getting quite old.."
"Everyone gets old," Vincent goes, matter-of-fact. It's up-close that he notices Nowe's tattoo by his neck, in the form of a flying lizard, and he realises that maybe this kid isn't as innoceous as he first seems. "If you're young, and you've been practicing for this, what is becoming the don going to do for you?"
"It's not about me," Nowe says. "My familia, my friends, they all live in an area where Bonanno oppresses them. He has them paying 'taxes' as part of his protection fee. It's so hard just struggling to stay afloat these days - if they try to run or escape, he'll have his men blow them away. Replacing him would mean I could put a stop to that. I'll use the power of the Bonanno family for good! Help the poor and destitute who need a lending hand."
It's a terribly naive answer, but it's earnest. Having power over people is like a barrel of wine, with just a sip leading to.. maybe this kid could help him.
"Suppose if I told you I'm here to kill Bonanno tonight?" Vincent goes, as if letting out a secret.
The look in Nowe's eyes shifts – "Really? I never took you for an assassin. You look too much like you'd suit that role with your mask. What's your grudge against him?"
The other contestants are busy chattering among themselves, so Vincent keeps his voice down to a hush. "I bear no grudge, Nowe, but the woman I care about is in danger. If I fail to do this.. I'll lose her. Not to mention, my own life. I'm sorry if I can't explain it better."
Nowe blinks. He looks as if he's been slapped by a revelation. "You're not even interested in taking the mantle? Killing Bonanno now – there'd be nobody to receive the oath of fealty from. The family will have no successor.. and their whole empire will split apart! That's talking crazy! Is it not possible for you to wait until the next few days?"
"No." Vincent bows his head down in regret. "But your loved ones will be free from this family's tyranny."
"That's true.." Nowe ponders about the lost opportunity of the family's influence. "If you pull it off, Vincent.. you'll have my eternal gratitude."
"Where is Bonanno, usually? Is there a chance for me to have a toast with him?"
The contestants are called out for the second round, and Nowe lurches up. "He's watching from the high balcony. He'll be there to personally congratulate the winner - the other contestants just head on straight home."
Damn. The pain of flubbing the first round stings especially. "Nowe," Vincent goes, as the curtain call cannot be ignored further. "I stand little chance of winning. What I have here, this pill, it'll be our salvation." He palms the little love bomb into Nowe's pockets. "I'll place my hopes with you, Nowe. Pour a toast for Bonanno with this- and don't linger around if you doubt that it works."
The revolver handed to Vincent is loaded with blanks. So they've told him. It is ornamentally-laced with a gold emboss upon the wood handle, and a lengthy chrome barrel that would make any gun nut saliviate.
The weapon taken from the box, Vincent tries to quickly grow used to the revolver's weight, its sense of balance and imagined sense of recoil. But who is he supposed to shoot with it?
He stands aside on the stage, out of view of the audience, as the fat, pudgy announcer goes:
"You've seen our fine gentlemen dance, with their ability to radiate grace and charm. But now, see how they perform under duress – when they face off against one another! Witness how your prospective leader will face off against danger from a forsworn enemy, whether it be in defiant bravery, or if their knees shall buckle under the pressure!"
A spotlight pops upon Vincent, like a visible nudge for him to step out. And another spotlight – who is his opponent?
It's Nowe. Innocent, well-meaning Nowe.
And like that, the gun in his hand quivers.
"To have our Vincent and Nowe contest life against one another, they must have a good reason! Oh, but what must this reason be? Could it be jealousy over a woman?"
The stage has been shrouded in darkness up to now, but the ambient lighting increases to reveal a dramatic scene in a city square.. set under a winter's snowfall. Looking at his feet, Vincent sees the snow clufts gathering over his boots, one snowflake at a time. Then at Nowe, whose revolver glimmers under the phony stage lighting – look at him, he's just as scared of having to use it on a friendly face.
"Our sweet darling Odeile," the announcer goes, "why don't you reveal yourself?"
As if descending with the snow, a woman is lifted down, her white hair flowing under the same air that has the snowflakes dancing. But what stops Vincent's breath isn't her amethyst crown, complementing her fanciful dress, non. It's her face – her supple face, youthful and radiant, and those white eyes.. her lips whose depth you'd fall forever into..
She's so beautiful.. but I don't want to betray Lil. I musn't. I won't. My heart though, how it quivers for her!
When Vincent's eyes flicker back towards Nowe, he finds the boy as shaken – certain that Nowe has the same maddening pangs of desire, surging.
"The one whose hand is most steady, whose aim holds true on its target, not only shall they win the favour of Odelie – they shall get to spend a very memorable night with her! Duellists, take your positions!"
There's operatic music, bellowing from some unseen source, as Vincent is impelled to step upon the highlighted area of the stage. Now he's face-to-face with Nowe, a designated rival, while Odelie has stepped to the background – she watches on humbly.
"Nowe.." Vincent goes, reluctant to raise his gun. "Forgive me. I wish we didn't have to face each other. I wish you were that Touga person instead. It would make it so much easier to pull the trigger. Even if these bullets were real blanks.. I won't dare point my hand at you. I'm sorry."
"Don't say sorry." Nowe nods back at his opponent. "One thing I've learned, is once you're in the spot, you can't weasel out of it. All you do is accept where you happen to be in life – and make the most out of it. A woman may have her beauty, but a man, his honour!"
Then Nowe aims his revolver – not at Vincent, but towards an onlooking Odelie.
It happens before you even know it. Both shots ring out from the stage, piercing through the silence offered by a rapt audience. Odelie goes down, while Nowe feels a genuine coldness spreading out from his chest. The blood just gushes out of his wound, and he struggles, before the pain shoots through his entire system – the young lad collapses.
Some of the audience just gasp from sheer shock.
"NOWE!" Vincent screams, the gun slipping out his hand as he rushes over to the fallen boy, half of his own being in shock and half in total remorse. "Why did you make me shoot you? Why?!"
"B-because you love her," Nowe croaks, for lack of any better words. His blood-soaked hand reaches for his pocket, and puts the love-bomb pill back in Vincent's hands, before Nowe fades off – the paramedics arrive to tend to the boy, while Vincent's arm gets taken by the announcer.
"Our victor, Vincent! His show of valour will be forever remembered by the family!"
The initial trepidation of the audience is jolted into a massive applause, but Vincent knows he hasn't acted out of valour, when he'd pulled the trigger on an innocent person – only a mere, selfish urge. That is what haunts him, while behind, Odelie recovers from a grazed cheek.