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Mio Macchiaiolo

Chapter Text

 

...we can endure neither our vices nor the remedies needed to cure them.

Livy





The paint on his palette had become dry and cracked.

The oils, kept in tiny bottles and tubes littered across half an unkempt, crooked bookshelf, hadn’t seen the color of any pigment in weeks. Vermilion, prussian blue and ocher all remained untouched inside of their small iron boxes, crusting over and losing their shine. Filthy, paint-covered rags were scattered everywhere in the room, on top of the dresser, on the grimy floor, and with them, heaps of various objects, which sat mostly broken or shredded : bottles, clothes, varnished wood, canvas, some lone pieces of slowly decaying, moldy food.

And he, too, was lying there. Amongst the rotting.

Which, he thought, seemed particularly fitting.

He had not been what one could call « awake » for a few days now. Nor had he stepped foot outside, or even opened the windows, though that went without saying -- even the mere thought of fresh air and sunlight, at the moment, sounded more painful than a punch to the gut, and perhaps twice as violent. He’d remained in a constant, dreamless daze, frequently forgetting whether he was sleeping or simply knocked unconscious by his own ministrations. Immobilized by a heavy creature sitting atop his chest, crushing his ribcage to dust.

The world and its agitation felt so incredibly far away, now. Reality, in itself, seemed almost absurd, to levels never before reached even in the bitter anguish of his soul. Existence was distant, cold, morbid, and intangible ; unlike the way he felt now, warm and comfortable in a way that he could touch and sense with every fiber of his being, or at the very least, every fiber of his being that had managed to keep a veneer of coherence.

For there was only the sweet, rancid taste of haschisch, the familiar sheets of his bed, and the gentle tang of Sicilian wine.

On the day he realized he was out of wine, Leone received a visit.

Had he been in a state to feel self-conscious, he would probably have reacted violently to this unannounced stopover. He would have tried to hide, no doubt ; to cover the dark, deep purple circles around his eyes, the pale, sickly tint of his face, the unkempt mess on top of his head (which only a madman would have dared to call hair), the sleep crust surrounding his mouth, nose and eyes, or, god almighty, the foul smell he must have been exhaling from days upon days of lying there, immobile, and drinking anything but water.

A sober Leone Abbacchio would never have shown himself in such a sorry state. Then again, one might have argued that a sober Leone Abbacchio would not have had to, as he would not have gotten into such a sorry state at all.

Slowly but surely, as he felt eyes boring down into him, Leone regained semblances of consciousness. His tongue felt dry, as though he had recently swallowed a mouthful of sand, and each and every moving part of his face was numb, prickling as though prodded with pins and needles.

The bared mattress dipping and creaking under a foreign weight finally forced him to blink awake -- fully, at last, and just about half cognizant.

A gentle gloved hand fell on his shoulder, shaking him softly.

Ah. Of course. It could only have been him . Who else, if not him ? Was he not the only man in the whole city of Rome who could not focus on his own business ?

« Who -- » Leone croaked, at a higher pitch than even the springs of his bed, just before his voice broke. He cleared his throat, and tried again. « Christ’s sake, who let you in ? »

Talking felt like scraping a fork onto a plate. In front of him, the young man’s lips spread into a sad, but not humorless little smile, crinkling his eyes as he spoke.

« Well, isn’t it wonderful, how happy you are to see me. What a delightfully warm welcome into your abode, Leone -- truly, I’m touched. »

The young man sighed and shook his head.

« Your landlady let me in, obviously. She was very worried about you, you know ? She thought you might have succumbed. »

« To what? »

A moment of silence. The young man stared down at the accumulated bottles surrounding the bed like spikes around an ancient fortified camp, and the pretty silver box on the nightstand, in plain sight, which contained only a small pile of fragrant dawamesk. Leone shrugged.

« She hadn’t seen you come down in days, » the young man explained, though he knew it was futile. « And you didn’t bother answering to her knocks when she came to check in on you. »

« Hah. That nasty owl, » Leone growled, though his torpor did wonders to lessen the aggression in his voice. « She should care about her own troubles, and leave mine where I want them. »

« Where you want them ? You are killing yourself, Leone. »

The painter let out an ugly cackle, followed by an humorless, dry sniffle.

« Celestino, » Leone then said, « I have not painted a single thing in five months. That -- that is what’s killing me. Not all this. And certainly not this. » He pointed to the dawamesk, licked the front of his teeth. « It’s… Supposed to help. But it hasn’t done wonders as of yet, that I’ll admit. Perhaps it’s no longer taking. »

Another short silence fell. Slowly, the man peeled off one of his white gloves, and pressed the back of his hand against Leone’s forehead. A frown creased the skin between his brows.

Because he was tired, or perhaps because it had been too long a time since he was last touched, Leone allowed it, and closed his eyes for a few, restful seconds.

« When was the last time you ate? » Celestino asked him. Leone huffed.

« That would depend on what you consider to be sustenance. »

Celestino tsked and lightly pinched the top of his ear. Leone rolled his eyes -- an action that he regretted immediately, as it prompted a violent headache to pulse behind his lids.

« I… I got treated to pasta e fagioli last Thursday. »

« Thursday… Do you mean to tell me you haven’t eaten anything in three days? »

« Well, I’ve been eating this. » He pointed to the box of dawamesk. Celestino let out a tortured sigh.

« I will never be able to stop mothering you, will I ? You are nothing but a child, Leone. A fussy child who is too obstinate to ever ask for help. »

For an answer, and because it was partly true, Leone let out a tired grunt.

The springs creaked once again as the young man got up. For the first time since he had arrived, Leone was able to get a look at all of him, as his vision had finally begun to clear up. When he noticed his friend’s attire, so very neat from head to toe, he could not hold back a smile.

« You’ve been dressing up, I see. Is that for me ? »

Celestino pinched him again, though this time was merely for show, as he was grinning.

« Do not mock me, devil that you are. »

« As though I would ever want to make fun of you. »

But alas, he was -- at least a little bit. Celestino was wearing a long black vest, despite the heat and sun of the early summer. A white, incredibly clean cravat was hiding his entire collar, making his face look both juvenile and constipated in a way that, Leone was sure, had to have been out of fashion at least a decade ago. In his gloved hand, Leone took notice of a tall top hat, crisp and perfectly cylindrical, looking to be straight out of the box he had been shipped in. Only the cane was missing, and he would have looked like a French noble on a stroll.

« You’ve gotten fancy, » Leone added, grinning. « That is all. »

« Lord, I know. I was supposed to see my editor today to talk about my new manuscript. And instead, here I am, spending time with you. »

« Aren’t you a gentleman, putting your friends first. »

« I do try my best, Leone. »

Leone could remember a time when Celestino wore corsets and loud clothing. Bright colors. Torn jackets and shoes with holes at the toe, and trousers that were much too wide around his hips. A time when they both drank more than they ate and laughed in the face of the prissy snobs haunting the streets of Rome.

A time when he did not have a care in the world and spilled words on paper like a fountain of poetry.

A time when the thought of wearing white gloves would have prompted him to howl with laughter.

A bygone era , thought Leone, and instantly felt much older than he truly was.

« Leone, get up, » suddenly said Celestino.

« Hm ? »

« I’m going to get you clean. Get up. »

« Oh, don’t. You’ll ruin your pretty gloves with me. I’m filthier than a sewer rat. »

« I don’t mind that. Get up, or I’ll get you up myself. »

With a sheepish grin, Leone stretched his arms out in front of him, as though a babe demanding a breast. Celestino sighed again.

« Alright, fine. Hold on to my neck. »

Leone obediently did as he was told once Celestino bent at the waist to reach him. He wrapped his arms around the stiff collar, and let himself be pulled up -- until his vision unexpectedly began to swim, and sway, and the slightest movement from Celestino’s body felt like a brutal lunge. He heaved, his stomach full of liquid and suddenly, increasingly, extremely sore. A pained gurgle escaped his throat.

« Oh -- oh, Celestino -- »

« What ? Oh, no, are you going to -- not on my jacket !»

But it was too late.

In the end, Celestino spent the rest of the evening not only scrubbing filth and vomit from Leone, but also from his expensive jacket.

The painter’s hair was even more tangled than it had first seemed, splayed out on the yellowed pillow; a proper rat’s nest, that Celestino now had to deal with at the best of his capabilities, which were, it should be said, close to null.

« I should just cut this mess off, » Celestino grunted, trying to pull a comb free from the knots of Leone’s hair for the eleventh time in a row. « This length isn’t even proper for a man your age. »

A grunt from Leone, who was bent down over the small copper-colored tub and trying his hardest to stay still as his friend ravaged his poor hair.

« Like you can talk about -- ow -- about what is proper or improper. You had the curls of one of Lippi’s angels when I met you. »

Leone had grown significantly paler over the past hour. Once he’d been done puking red-tinted bile, he’d started dry-heaving and drooling, shudders making his body spasm compulsively. The cool bath had not helped his case, unfortunately, and he found himself shivering on the spot, only a thin cloth (the cleanest Celestino was able to find, which was not saying much) wrapped around his body. His teeth were chattering, and though he was freezing and damp, he still felt himself break into a cold sweat.

« Yes, well. Things change, » Celestino countered. « People get older. Hair gets cut. Men -- »

« Oh, men get married. »

Celestino had started courting a tailor’s daughter back in early February. Leone could remember it very well --  he’d been the one introducing them. They were now engaged, and in a few months more, Celestino would, finally, marry rich, and be rid of every single one of his problems for all eternity. At least, that was how he sounded whenever he spoke about it ; Leone, though he had long understood he had no say in this decision, knew that no thing in life would ever be so easy.

Behind him, he heard the other man swallowing.

« Well. Yes, I suppose they do, among other things. »

Leone’s breath drew out into a shaky snicker. Celestino, mistaking his bitter sadness for another of his taunts, clicked his tongue in annoyance.

« Don’t laugh. It is very cruel to laugh at a friend when he opens his heart to you. »

« I am not laughing . You’re pulling too hard, it’s hurting me. »

« You deserve it, after all the worries I’ve had. God, I should just -- do you have scissors? A knife? Anything sharp? »

" Don’t you even dare to think about -- ohh, for Christ’s sake. »

Shutting his eyes, Leone wrapped his arms around himself, body shaken by a sudden spasm. His stomach hurt like an open wound -- like acid had burnt a hole through his stomach and had continued to pour over the rest of his organs. He remained completely still for a moment, waiting for the scorching pain to finally fade.

When it subsided, a cool hand pressed to his bared lower back. Celestino’s voice was soft once he talked again.

« … When you said that you couldn’t paint anymore, did you mean it ? »

Leone spat into the empty bathtub.

« I did not say that, » he hissed, clutching his abdomen. « I said that I had not  painted anything in five months. »

« And you did not because you could not. Or is it not the same thing ? »

« I can see now why you never finished that novella of yours. You lack an infinite amount of finesse, Celestino. »

« And you , » Celestino quickly replied, « are an unfathomable bastard. Especially when you are like this. »

« Oh, for blazes’ sake, get this stick out from your ass. You know my love for your work. »

« You haven’t read any of my last works. »

« The last two collections were nothing more than dull copies of your first ones, and you know that perfectly well. I don’t mean to offend -- ow! Stop pulling so hard -- oh, why don’t you just give up. It will have to stay like this. »

« Fine. As you wish. »

Celestino begrudgingly left the comb to fall on the floor, where it clattered against the tiling.

« Let’s get you dressed. »

« Where are you taking me ? »

« Out. You need to eat. »

« With what I’ve just gotten out ? You must be joking. »

« It will make you better. Come with me. I’ve asked Pipo and Dante to join us. They have also been missing you greatly. »

Leone let out an exasperated groan. Celestino’s brows furrowed, though his lips had begun to curl up into a slight smile, which didn’t go unnoticed by his friend -- and Leone found himself smiling as well, despite the dull throb in his entire body.

« Fine. Alright. Lead the way. »

 

-



Rome had always been a busy city -- steadily buzzing with activity, even as the start of the bright summer heat had begun to take its toll on the population, who chose to either travel to the seaside, or the more merciful climate or northern cities, such as Florence or Turin. Men in artfully tailored, dark costumes walked arm in arm with powdery pale, raven haired ladies, which sometimes held their plumaged and flowery hats against their forehead, to brace their eyes against the soft wind and the dust it carried. The clicking sound of hooves against the paved roads filled the streets with constant noise, akin to a metronome of sorts, as did the roll of diligences’ wheels, a regular bump , bump , bump of wood against stone, in time with the drivers’ whistling and the lively chatter of bystanders and walkers.

Leone, as an unspoken principle, felt an extreme animosity towards it all.

The city’s agitation stuck to him like a dark, heavy leech feeding off his blood. The pulsating, heady, neverending cacophony brought him frequent headaches, which certainly could be of no help to  his health : unable as he was to get any sleep during the night, when his insomnia got the better of him and he spent hours staring at a white canvas, he at least tried to rest as the sun rose -- but as soon as his eyes finally, mercifully closed and he began to drift off into slumber, it was too late. Already, merchants took out their stands, already workers left their homes for the city center, already the grating buzz and hubbub made him ache from inside.

He hadn’t been able to sleep properly in weeks, and it showed  -- in the way his body bent, the way he walked, the length of his nails, the color of his skin.

« You look like death, Leone. »

And it certainly showed on his face.

A grin pulled up his chapped lips. He did not need to tilt up his head to know that Celestino’s plate remained untouched, as did his, and that the other young man was instead staring at him -- and most likely at his atrocious posture, too.

« You certainly know how to charm a man, » he mumbled, picking at the dirt caked under his fingernails.

« You are skinnier than a twig, and your eyes -- I’ve never seen eyelids so dark. »

« Again, thank you for noticing. » he sighed, deeply. « I will not say that I have not known better days. »

Celestino, having already dined, had only asked for a small plate of scaloppine for himself, and for a massive plate of trippa for Leone (who had not even bothered to say that the mere thought of eating an animal’s organs would have deeply disgusted him, even not in such a nauseated state). Leone’s plate was almost overflowing with the sauce-covered meat, and he briefly wondered how much such a generous dish could have possibly had cost his friend.

« Better days ? » Celestino scoffed. « That’s a sure thing. It’s a wonder children don’t run away at your very sight. You look like a witch. »

He could remember a time when Celestino, like him, never had a single centesimi in his pocket. When all of their joined money meant for food went either into buying charcoal, paint, ink or paper. When they were seventeen and finding joy in the purest, simplest things, and refused to bend down to the whims of their elders.

Four years later, Celestino wore white gloves and had a fiancée.

The rich smell of the trippa made Leone want to gag. Nonetheless, perhaps to assuage the guilt he felt from having snapped at his friend so often that day, he took a bite, more to pacify Celestino than for his personal enjoyment -- and immediately made a face at the chewy texture. Celestino laughed.

« I thought you liked this. You used to eat servings upon servings, back in the day. »

« When it was my only option and I was so hungry I could hardly stand up, yes, » Leone sighed, putting down his fork.

« You should be hungry, in the state you’re in. »

« I am not. »

And, truly, he was not.

Food made him feel heavy and disgusting, nowadays. It felt like an indulgence, one he did not deserve in the slightest ; and it was as though everything was made of ashes.

« Ah, well, if you’ve suddenly decided to become picky, I’ll try to remember your favorite meals next time. »

Letting out another chuckle, Celestino finally began to dig into his food. Leone was content simply picking at the scattered pecorino flakes around his plate, letting them melt onto his tongue.

He looked around, at the other tables surrounding them on the restaurant’s terrace. Sitting right next to them, holding a glass of white wine, a woman with tanned skin sported a white dress, tight around the collar, and, on her black hair, a pearly white doll hat, adorned by an ostrich feather and a jumble of fake exotic fruits. She caught the light perfectly, and her posture (ankle over the other, left elbow resting on the table and face close to her friend’s as if to whisper a secret) was admittedly rather gorgeous. Well-composed, even, and all on its own.

Leone’s long fingers began to twitch.

But as soon as it had come, the moment faded. A cloud masked the sun, just for a few seconds, and in that short span of time, the lady reclined back into her chair, laughing, ankles uncrossing. Leone wished he had been able to catch it before he flew away.

He had almost felt like painting again.

« Leone? » Celestino suddenly said, catching his attention by tapping on the table.

He blinked.

« Yes? »

« You were staring into nothing again. I was thinking -- if your lack of inspiration is torturing you so bad, why not take a little change of air? »

Leone furrowed his pale brows.

« A change of air?… As in, go to the countryside? » He shook his head. « You know how I feel about the wilderness. I am a city man, through and through. »

For better or for worse, he had yet to know.

« Don’t be silly, now. The countryside isn’t particularly wild. You can travel to the south anytime you like, nowadays. It would do you good, I think. Why not give a try to Naples? »

Leone’s interrogative scowl turned into a full grimace.

« I… Do not manage well in the heat. You should know that. »

The last brutal heatwave they had faced together had ended with them almost parting ways completely ; Leone’s bad temper, increased hundredfold by the suffocating weather, had been met with Celestino’s less than patient tolerance. Thankfully, by the time autumn had come around and soothed the city’s burns with its gentle breezes, they had already made up.

« Nonsense, » Celestino countered. « It might turn you lazy for a little while, but in the end, it will make you feel better. This ache in your bones you told me about would probably feel better, too -- Naples’ climate is a lot drier than Rome’s. Besides, it isn’t usually that much hotter than here at this time of the year. »

« It might not be, but -- »

« Leone ! Celestino ! »

And at last, here they were.

Pipo and Dante were also artists, though in their own, very particular ways. They were handymen, that was for certain, and never seemed to run out of money to spend (most likely because they knew the right people to leech onto).

Pipo was a very dashing man, two years older than Leone, though he seemed far younger -- he was one of the few able to resist aging by force of charisma alone. He had this air of childish enjoyment often plastered upon his face, with large, bright eyes, short mussed air, and the pinkest cheeks one had ever seen. He only reached Leone’s shoulder, and yet, had a very imposing demeanor ; his presence always filled whatever room he was in, and his voice carried far. He had been an actor, a while ago, before deciding that he was unfit for work of any kind and much preferred to live life free of any worries.

Dante, on the other hand, was a far more discreet man, though he, like his companion, had a natural talent for fraud, swindling, conspiracy, and pranks of all kinds. He bore the looks of a gentleman with ease ; and though he was shorter than Leone (as most people were), he still stood at a reasonable height. His stomach was slightly protruding, as was his nose, and his beard seemingly got more massive each time Leone saw him.

The two made an unlikely pair in appearance, but as far as characters went, theirs completed each other most nicely.

Celestino got up to greet them, a frank smile on his lips. Leone did not bother, though he gave them a polite, affable smile.

« Why, hello, you two, » said Celestino. « How have you been? »

Pipo’s face fell into a grimace. He gave a slight shake of his hand, before reaching up to plant a kiss on both of Celestino’s cheeks, while Dante bent down slightly to do the same with Leone.

« Te-rri-ble, my friend. Simply terrible. You would not believe the things we -- I Malano miau , Leone ! Your face ! What horror made it so sour ? Did you finally meet Celestino’s in-laws-to-be ? »

« Come, now, Pipo, » Celestino replied, trying his very best not to sound annoyed. « He feels unwell. »

« I would feel unwell, too, were I forced to eat this trippa ! » mumbled the smaller man, sitting down at his friend’s table while Dante, his companion, did the same, twirling his cane (an old, posh thing, which might have been in fashion twenty years prior, with a polished eagle head sitting at the top) between his hands absently. « I assume you will not be finishing it, Leone? Would you mind terribly if -- »

« You can have it. »

« Much obliged, » replied Pipo, taking the spoon and proceeding to gobble down as much of the plate as fast as he could.

Leone let out a chuckle, reclining into the back of his chair.

« Que va piano va sano , Pipo. Must you be fast in everything you do ? »

« Not everything, I assure you, » came the reply, thrown with a grin around a mouthful of meat and sauce.

« And what have you two been up to, dearest friends? » inquired Dante, picking at Celestino’s scaloppine, even though had not been offered to. « Leone, we have not seen a lot of you in quite a while. Some of us were worrying about your health. »

Leone opened his mouth to reply, but Celestino had a quicker tongue.

« I was just telling him that he needed to get out of Rome. »

« Oh ? And for what reason ? »

« He hasn’t painted a single thing in five months. »

Meat splattered the table, shooting straight from Pipo’s sputtering mouth. People turned to look at them, aghast at such a conduct, though it seemed to make a few quite merry. A woman gave a slight gasp at the offensive sight.

« Five months ! » choked Pipo.

« You, Leone ? » Dante added. « You, the most prolific of them all ? Surely, it cannot be. »

« You used to start at least three paintings a week ! You only finished a handful of them, yes, but it was most impressive all the same. I’d never seen someone paint with as much passion, as much fervor as you ! »

« Aren’t you three tired, » mumbled Leone, « of talking about me as though I were dying?  I am fine. Perfectly fine. This is… Just a brief respite. A dry season, a -- a difficult time »

His stomach had begun to hurt again -- an acid bite, sharp as it rose in his oesophagus. A pang of sudden discomfort made him uneasy ; the stare of the strangers, the inquisitive look of his friends. The harsh sun, the noise.

He deeply, dearly yearned to go back to the quiet of his home.

« Madonna , I’ll have heard everything, » mumbled Pipo, going back to his meal. « Leone Abbacchio, our little lamb, resting. »

« Pipo, don’t be so harsh, » Dante sighed. « Perhaps his Muses have left him ! »

« Muse s ? Plural ? I’d admire the one, if she managed to stay around this stubborn mule ! I can barely imagine how Celestino manages to deal with such a character -- and, » he grabbed Leone’s hands from across the table, « I don’t say that to offend, my dear friend. »

« No offense taken, » grumbled Leone.

« This is precisely what I was telling him, » Celestino said, glad to have someone on his side. « Some travelling would do him good, wouldn’t you agree? Some place where he could rest properly, without all the city’s agitation… A place where he’d be able to paint new things, things he’s never seen ! »

Pipo’s entire face lit up, brighter than a candle.

« Oh ! Oh, Leone, why not Paris ? I’ve heard it is magnificent -- Dante, tell him, you’ve been there ! »

« Once or twice, I have, » replied Dante, chewing around the mouthful of scaloppine, idly playing with his beard. « Magnificent city, simply magnificent… Ah, apologies, gentlemen, my throat is parched, do you -- »

Leone silently handed him his glass of wine.

« Or, perhaps you could go to Amsterdam… » Pipo continued, ecstatic. « Lisbon! Barcelona! So many places you could paint, Leone ! »

Leone sighed and crossed his legs, picking at his teeth.

« Celestino wants me to go to Naples. »

The two men remained silent for a second, while Celestino leant back into his seat, a little smile on his lips.

« … Ah, well, » simply said Dante.

« That is… Well, why not ! » Pipo quickly cheered up. « Naples is much closer, after all. You will not be breaking your habits ! And there’ll be the sea ! »

« Beautiful landscapes there, » added Dante, taking another sip of wine. « Simply beautiful. »

« And great beauties to paint, as well ! I still remember this gorgeous piece of art you’d made, the one with the sea nymphs ! Weren’t they Vecchiato’s daughters ? The banker who wanted some nice portraits of his girls ? Ahah, you drew them as naked as the day they were born, and so beautiful, too ! He was furious ! »

« It was a good painting, » nodded Leone. « But I’m not too sure about this idea of travelling. I… Have grown quite used to my routine, over those past few weeks. »

« Leone, » Celestino piped in, « Trust me, it will benefit you immensely. »

« At least, it can’t get any worse from here ! » Pipo nodded, as though he were even the slightest bit wise. « Consider it ! Besides, Tino, don’t you have some friends in Naples ? Right on the seaside ? »

« Ah… Well, I can most certainly send them a letter. They own a beautiful house, Leone, I’m sure they would be glad to have you. What do you say ? »

Leone looked up at the three pairs of eyes, staring straight at him, eagerly awaiting his answer. He winced. Making big decisions such as this one, in passing, so unreasonably quickly, did not sit well with him. But he did not have much a choice, not with Celestino looking at him like this ; so expectant, so excited to see him feeling better. He sighed.

« Well. I suppose I -- »

« Excellent ! » chirped Pipo, getting up and making the whole table rattle and shake. « Leone, you must write to us as soon as you get there ! And when you finally start to paint again, please, invite us to your exposition, yes ? Now, come, Dante ! »

The older man followed suit. Celestino blinked.

« Well, you two, leaving already? »

« Oh, yes ! So many things to do -- you know how busy an artist’s life is ! » Dante winked in the men’s direction, tapping his cane on the ground before lending his arm to his friend.

« We will see you soon ! » Pipo waved goodbye. « Thank you for the meal! »

« Grazie mille ! » added Dante, tilting his hat in an obsequious reverence, before the two left -- bringing with them a chatter full of energy.

Leone allowed himself a small smirk.

« They are certainly a handful, mm ?… Celestino, what are you doing ? »

The young man patted his chest, up and down, then reached for his pockets, looked considerably puzzled, and let out a groan as realization finally dawned onto him.

« I, » Celestino mumbled, « I think they stole my wallet. »

« Yet again. Hah. That will teach you. Never offer a meal to a vulture, he’ll pick at your eyes soon as he’s done. » Leone took a sip of wine, giving a glance to the empty plates on their table. « Do tell, you paid for all this, right ? »

Celestino made a face, which Leone mirrored.

« I see. Well, I suppose it will have to be like in the good old days, mh ? »

« Leone, I’m almost a married man, » Celestino whispered, holding his napkin. « I can’t -- we can’t do that kind of thing anymore. »

« Want to bet ? Even in my sorry state, I bet you three coins I could still run faster than you. »

« Don’t -- good lord, Leone, sit back down -- »

« Follow me, idiot, or you will be the only one scrubbing dishes tonight. »

With that, Leone threw his glass back, emptying it in a single gulp, and began to run for it, promptly followed by Celestino, who was laughing a little hysterically.

" -- insane, you’re insane, this is -- for god’s sake, Leone ! »

Leone’s legs shook and he wavered ; but he held on, and ran.

And as they ran deeper into the streets of Rome, leaving yet another restaurant they would forever be banned from, Leone sensed what felt like the start of a laugh bubbling in his own chest, despite the exhaustion and toll the sudden course had on his breath.

For a brief moment, he wondered if the sun shone as nicely in Naples as it did here -- and if it did, if there would ever be a sound as nice as Celestino’s laughter to ring in his ears.