Balance of Power, 80

Tom Hagen answered their knock on the study door. If he was surprised to see the pair, he did not show it. "We would like an audience with the Don," GianFranco informed him. The Corleone consigliore glanced back over his shoulder at his powerful younger brother. Michael gave a tiny nod of his head; Tom stepped aside and allowed the couple to enter the study.

Other than a quick glance Sonny's direction, Sabrina did not acknowledge his presence. She stared straight ahead and took her place in front of Michael's desk beside GianFranco. "I have asked your daughter to marry me," GianFranco announced without preamble. He reached for Sabrina's hand. "And she has said yes. " GianFranco held Sabrina's hand so that her father could see the ring he had placed upon her finger. "We would like to marry in two days. Sabrina and I see no reason to delay."

Sabrina did not bother to explain to her father or uncles that her proposed marriage to GianFranco was, in reality, more like a business arrangement on her part. She still cared for him and in time might regain the love that had been growing between them. But at that moment, she did not trust GianFranco with her heart. Marrying him was simply the best solution out of an impossible situation.

He'd come to her at what had to have been the lowest point yet among the Corleones. And for her newfound family, that was saying a lot. GianFranco listened to her defeated tale and then calmly, but with some compassion, told her to pick herself up from the floor. Point by point he laid out how she'd gotten to that point by fighting all the wrong battles. His solution, Sabrina recalled, had been to propose marriage. He would be her teacher and her companion in the Corleone world. To GianFranco's mild surprise, she accepted. It was obvious that he'd anticipated doing a lot more persuading on his part.

Sabrina made it plain to him that she would promise nothing more than cautious friendship on her part. On that she was adamant. GianFranco had been equally adamant that Sabrina grant him several months away from her powerful family to try and remind her what they'd had before he admitted his error in judgment.

"We will, of course, marry here," GianFranco went on. "Sabrina has asked that it be only a very small group: my father and sister Carmella, the three of you, of course, and perhaps another close family friend or two of your choosing."

Sabrina watched her father's gaze flicker her way. Michael Corleone stared at his daughter. She did not look away. It was not an act of defiance on Sabrina's part. She was still too emotionally battered for defiance. What she allowed her powerful father to see was the resignation in her eyes. "Is this what you have chosen?" Michael asked.

"It's what I'm left with," Sabrina replied flatly.

"Very well, then." Michael seemed unfazed that his daughter's prospective husband had so far done virtually all the talking for the couple. "You will be wed here on Thursday."

GianFranco straightened his shoulders. "You should know that we have chosen to leave immediately after the ceremony for Sicily or Umbria or perhaps Perugia. Sabrina and I feel that some time alone is an understandable request for a newly married couple."

"With one caveat," Michael stipulated. "The first stop of your travels must be to the Bishop of Rome so that he might bless your union. Tom will make the arrangements."

"The Bishop of Rome," GianFranco turned and explained to Sabrina quietly, "is His Holiness, the Pope." True to his word, GianFranco had begun teaching her the nuances of the world she'd been thrust into. "Only the most powerful of people can request such a blessing of him. It is unheard of to do so at such short notice."

Sabrina frowned. "So this blessing isn't really about us. It's about my father."

"Yes." The couple spoke as though the others weren't in the room. "But it is no less a blessing for our future," GianFranco added.

"Fine," Sabrina nodded, shortly.

"Then it is settled," GianFranco announced. "Now I must go and tell my family about our plans." He leaned in and bussed Sabrina on the cheek. "I will call you when I am done, Bella."

Sabrina watched him leave the study. She turned back to her father, who sat watching her impassively. "I know," she began flatly, "that you gave the order to have me kidnapped." She glanced over at Tom. "I know that you made all the arrangements." Sabrina still would not look at Sonny. "And I believe now that none of you knew about Vincent. But it happened - because of something you set in motion. " She abruptly turned and headed for the door. As she reached the threshold, Sabrina turned. "If something happens to GianFranco before we get a chance to get married, I will blame the three of you." She did not need GianFranco to explain that removing him from the equation would effectively destroy any hope Sabrina had for a life outside her father's immediate sphere. "I suggest you keep him safe." She directed the words toward her father. "After Vincent, you owe me that."

~ * ~

No one spoke. Instead, each man kept the counsel of his own thoughts. Pressed to voice them, each of the trio would have been unsurprised to find his musings traveling along the same basic path as the others.

After a while, Sonny began to rise from his seat. Instead Michael waved him off, crossed over to the bar and efficiently prepared three tumblers of scotch. He handed the first to Tom. The cubes of ice Michael added clinked pleasantly against the cut glass. The second tumbler Michael handed to Sonny. Patiently he held onto the heavy glass while his older brother awkwardly accepted it with his left hand. The Corleone hammer's right hand was swollen and misshapen from his earlier encounter with his bastard son Vincent. Sonny's first few blows had split open the knuckles of his right hand. They had done the same to Vincent's face. Sonny had quickly reined in his anger and proceeded to administer a professional and masterful beating to Vincent that left the young heir to the Corleone power black and blue from the neck down.

"Thanks to young Privete," Michael retrieved the final tumbler of scotch and returned to his place behind the desk, "a large portion of our security concerns have been put to rest."

Tom and Sonny nodded. With just a few seemingly innocent decisions, GianFranco had provided them with a handy solution to their current circumstances. Thanks to a young upstart named Angelo, the beginnings of a revived Tattaglia family had recently been crafted from the ashes of their destruction. Emotionless and deadly, young Angelo had set his sights on the Privete family as his first major step up the ladder of power. Whether he did not know of the Privetes' affiliation with the Corleone family or he did not care, word had trickled down that Angelo Tattaglia intended to succeed in his quest for power or die trying.

That was the subject of the meeting Michael had instructed Sabrina to attend. Her defiance against attending had ended up working in their favor. With no knowledge of any underlying reasons for GianFranco's suggestions, Sabrina was more open to consider them.

"You gotta give the kid credit," Sonny nodded. "He hasn't made a single move that couldn't be explained away as a giant coincidence."

Tom sipped his drink thoughtfully. "With this wedding and honeymoon, GianFranco has managed to solidify the connection between our two families, remove Sabrina from the immediate line of fire and then relocate her willingly in the middle of territories that are Corleone strongholds. With no prompting from us," he added wryly.

"So," Sonny smirked, "how long do you think until Sabrina realizes she's married a man just like Mikey?"

It was Tom that answered his brother's bemused query. "Quite a while, I imagine. Young Privete has not realized his own talents for the life."

"By that time Sabrina will have accepted her place in our world," Michael said quietly. He'd seen earlier what his daughter believed to be defeat in her eyes. Michael knew that her actions were anything but those of a broken spirit. Without conscious thought Sabrina had chosen to ally herself with a young man whose innate talent for wielding the reins of power among the 'Family' would one day perhaps rival Michael's own. By accepting young Privete's marriage proposal, Sabrina had subtly shifted a balance of power that had teetered precariously since Michael resigned himself to grooming Vincent for leadership of the Corleone family. "My daughter and her husband will be a formidable pair once he discovers his instincts and Sabrina learns the rules of our world."

"You know that Pops is somewhere shaking his head," Sonny chuckled. He grew sober for a moment. "But you're right. Sabrina's gonna be just fine among us." Sonny raised his glass. "Here's to your kid, Mikey."

Michael acknowledged his older brother's toast with a tilt of his head. "To the future of the Corleone family."