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Panem et circenses

Chapter Text

The light blue sky seemed heavenly peaceful above the streets of Pompeii during that spring afternoon. Sea breeze graced the roofs of the residences and the top of the trees with its lazy and comforting presence. At the backdrop of that shimmering town, the mighty Mount Vesuvius lied dormant since untold times. The houses of the free and rich families were almost empty of its residents at that moment, as slaves walked around the streets and backyards slowly going about their chores. Across the streets paved with white stones, people could certainly hear and feel the vibrations coming from the arena recently built at the center square.

Inside the wooden structure adorned with vibrant colored banners, most of the citizens, free men, and even some servants were attentively watching a spectacle built on violence, bravery, and physical prowess. The gladiators, with their swords, spears, vibrant crests and enviously great physique, fought bravely till death ( or at least near deaths ) for the entertainment of Pompeii’s population. Common folk and elite alike held their breaths and cheered at every wound, every dangerous swing of swords, and every turn of the battles. Meanwhile, as most of the free population were distracted by the horrors of slaves facing each other in death battles, illegal trades happened under the beautiful vibrant sheets of Pompeii’s picturesque scenario.

Giorno knew about it. In fact, most high ranking elite families present in the event knew about those trades but chose to watch the spectacle, as well as having their public presence be known and enjoyed by the common folk. Giorno hated being part of that rotten elite. If he had any choice, he wouldn’t show up in the arena that afternoon. But his father, Dio, was a roman politician on quick ascension inside Pompeii’s public and political sphere. In fact, he was one of the politicians who funded the maintenance of the arena in the first place, which was telling of how much he enabled the illegal trades happening.

Dio seemed to enjoy attending the arena on occasion just to comment on the physique of the gladiators and throw snickering comments about the local elite to his oldest son. He had nefarious ambitions in this city. Part of his plans included causing political turmoil, assassinating some “obstacles” and gaining more power and influence. Giorno was the only son he confided his plans for, mostly because he was his “favorite”. Giorno knew that this was a “false” love and that the man would most likely use him as a bargaining coin for his goals. “ Not if I happen to achieve my goals before him. ” Thought Giorno, as he usually did when faced with his father’s disdain for the locals and his monologues.

Dio was rather uninterested in the battles as well, something Giorno noted. But he had a social obligation to be there, especially to take his second son to his first attendance at an arena. Donatello was present with his father and older brother for the first time in a public event since he got his toga a few weeks before. The 14-year-old was dazzled and throughout entertained by the display of sheer violence unfolding before his eyes. Giorno couldn’t care less about it and only made a few acknowledgment noises to his younger brother’s incessant commentary.

“ I really would rather be at home tending to my garden than here having to stand by this brute display of tasteless entertainment”  Lamented Giorno, cursing the indictment of his brother who couldn’t take a no for an answer.

"At least I was able to steal three earrings and a necklace from the rich folk at the entrance today. I just hope my father doesn’t present me to any other perverted man again. I’m through with just two of them flirting with me today already. There’s 5 of them looking at me right now and I swear to the gods, if they continue trying to undress me with their eyes, I’ll undress their jewelry and have our servants beat them to a pulp”

Giorno didn’t need to witness a brutal fight between gladiators to feel his heart boiling by the furnace of hatred towards the very elite that he was socialized in. Some might say that he’s going through a rebellious phase typical of an almost 16-years-old, but he knows how to recognize the seriousness of the rotten world he grew up in. Everything around him was rotten to the core. Even Giorno’s own existence was rotten, as he was merely the son of a concubine.

In fact, all of his brothers were under this same origin. Giorno seemed to be the only one noticing how disturbing the implications of his birth truly were, which made him question his reasons for existing.

Completely uninterested by the fight happening at the battleground, Giorno decided to look at the other attendees of the event. Most of the elite were familiar faces to him. Mostly faces he’d love to punch if he had any physical prowess similar to the gladiators fighting at the grounds below him. The blonde young man turned his face towards the common folks at the seats above them. He could tell who were slaves and who were free folk just from their clothing and the look in their eyes. Witnessing their reactions to the bloodshed happening seemed more entertaining to Giorno than watching the fight directly. At least he could tell how deranged people were just by looking at their expressions.

“Disgusting…”  Whispered Giorno as he noticed the sheer excitement of the crowd to witnessing an apparent beheading. He didn’t know for sure, he wasn’t watching it.

“How many of them do you think will die today Giorno?”  Asked Donatello, trying to look cool and well acquainted with the battle outcomes, despite the fact that it was his first time attending the event and having no idea what the average death toll was supposed to be.

“I have no idea”  Lied Giorno.

He knew that the average death count on a normal day for gladiators fight in the arena was around 2 or 3 per event, and only reserved for the most important fights of the day. Slave owners didn’t want to lose such expensive “product”, especially considering how they profit from gambling on their lives. The politician at the head of the event would consider the fate of the warriors in case of ties or very close combats in which both gladiators demonstrated equal physical capacities. In cases like this, the fate of a gladiator depended on how much political power their owner had in the city, and executing a beloved warrior was often times an act of political power. Giorno hated to see how meaningless the lives of even the most famous and beloved slaves were at the hands of the elite.

  “Well, so far there has been one death. I’m sure there will be at least 4 more. Do you want to bet?” Asked Donatello.

Giorno sighed. He had to at least pretend that he cared about the event for his younger brother sake. Donatello was a sickly kid who was in and out of life-threatening illnesses. Having him achieve the age of bearing a toga was no short of a miracle. He couldn’t just be rude and dismissive of him like that.

“I don’t like making bets, though since you want it... The death count tends to vary a lot from event to event here in the arena. If you want to bet, we should be doing this in a fight by fight instance. For example, the next fight is about to begin. Who are you betting on and what’s your price?”

Donatello was caught off guard by Giorno’s words, not expecting his brother to be seriously considering making a bet. He didn’t have anything In mind in terms of payment. Giorno chuckled.

“If you can’t make a bet because you have nothing to pay for, you shouldn’t propose it in the first place. Anyways, I’m betting on the black haired man to win this round. If I win, I’ll be the one deciding whether we should come here the next time or not. Understood?”

Donatello seemed bummed out about it but didn’t try taking back his words.

Giorno gave another look at the black haired man. He decided to bet on the guy on a whim, mostly to end the conversation. But looking closely, he could see that the man had chosen only a number of daggers while getting ready to face a red-haired man armed with a saber and protected in enough armor pieces to stop any incoming dagger.

The blonde youth felt slightly uneasy about his own bet. He should have paid more attention when choosing his warrior. But then, the gladiator turned around and looked at him in the eyes for a brief moment that felt to Giorno like an eternity. Just by looking at his eyes, Giorno knew that he was witnessing the eventual winner.

The man’s eyes held no fear, no hesitation, no insecurities. The brief moment their eyes met, Giorno felt a shiver going down his spine as if he caught the man reading his doubts and…. Was that a smile? The man smiled in a reassuring way. Giorno couldn’t stop looking at him, despite the fact that he didn’t seem to care about calling much attention to himself and remained perfectly still, calmly sorting through his daggers as the wave of cheers geared towards his opponent filled the arena.

Polpo announced the warriors in the arena. The red-haired man was known as “Sale the armored”. The black-haired man who seemed completely unfazed about the whole situation was fittingly called “Guido the fortunate”.

Giorno noticed that Guido only had 6 daggers, and obviously would have issues fighting someone wearing protective armor. For the first time since Giorno started forcefully attending arenas, he was completely focused on the battle about to start before his eyes. Both men gave their nods in acknowledgment of each other as opponents and put on their respective helmets. Sale's helmet had a narrow opening for his eyes but seemed like a robust shield for his face. Guido's helmet had an arrow pointed to the tip of his nose and a wider opening for his eyes. Giorno noticed that Sale's armor was the most completed one he saw during that afternoon and reminded him of the Roman soldiers, though much more rusty. His sword was curved like a saber. Guido, on the other hand, had very little clothes, to begin with. His arms and shoulder were protected by armor, as well as his legs and knees. But his belly was on full display and he seemed to choose his armor for speed rather than protection. 

The fighting started. Guido’s strategy was to keep his distance from Sale by skillfully evading his attacks and mockingly dangling his daggers in front of him. The man seemed to dance and taunt the attacker in a way that made half the public hate him, and the other half laugh and cheer for him. He was seemingly having fun while facing potential death and Giorno’s heart almost leaped out of his chest at every close call.

Donatello found the black-haired gladiator to be hilarious and mocked Giorno for choosing him as his bet. Giorno could barely pay attention to the words his brother or even his father was saying. He was sold to his eyes, his moves, his strategies, his bravery…. His smile.

His body glistered under the sun and for each move that put Sale on edge, his smile grew wider and the crowd seemed to love him even more.

Giorno felt like he knew true love and true fear at the same time while witnessing this.

Guido started throwing his daggers. The first one hit Sale on the leg, right at the junction between one protective armor plate and the other. The gladiator fell to the ground in pain but got back on his feet as soon as Mista went to throw the second dagger. This one seemed to have been evaded, but as Sale least expected, the blade made a strange curved trajectory in the air and hit the man on the back, right under his left shoulder plate. The crowd went crazy for the display of pure knife throwing skills on that battle.

It was soon proved that Guido had the upper hand in combat, much to Donatello’s dismay and Giorno’s relief. But as soon as Guido started getting too cocky, his third thrown dagger was deflected by Sale’s sword and the small blade flew right back at Guido, hitting him hard on the left side of his stomach. The man’s expression shifted from confidence to pain and fear, as Sale started approaching him with blind rage in his eyes.

Giorno had a hard time looking at it. He feared that the man who captivated his eyes and mind would die before they even had the chance to speak. But at the same time… He recalled that reassuring smile the man gave him before the fight, and this compelled the blonde to stay focused on the battle. He couldn’t believe that he was praying to the gods to let him win this one.

The crowd held their breath as Guido was still on the ground, laying down in pain with blood pouring out of his stomach. His situation was desperate, but his eyes were full of life and fire. He had the face of a victorious man regardless of his current situation. Before Sale managed to get too close, his opponent threw his fourth dagger, now lodging the blade on the front of Sale’s helmet right on his forehead. Of course, the blade didn’t do much except scare Sale for a second and crack the front of his helmet. The man continued to walk towards Guido after taking the blade out of his helmet and tossing it aside. The wounded man had only two chances now.

He threw his penultimate dagger towards Sale, as he was trying to get on his feet. This time he went for Sale’s throat that had an area of exposed skin. Sale was quick to deflect the dagger due to the fact that he knew Guido would try hitting him on that vulnerable area. Guido managed to get up, but he still held his stomach in pain. He had only one dagger left. Giorno couldn’t pay attention to anything else anymore as he waited for his next move.

In what seemed like a blink of the eye, he threw his last dagger and…

There was a second dagger hiding behind the first one. The second dagger was smeared with blood due to being the one he got stabbed with. He took the blade out while ignoring all pain, only to throw Sale’s expectations out on a loop.

Sale couldn’t deflect this time. He didn’t expect his opponent to try hitting him a second time in the front of his own helmet. His cracked protective helmet cracked further with the dagger lodging itself in it, and with the cable of the second hidden dagger, the blade went further and penetrated his skull.

There was a moment of silence in which Sale stopped walking towards Guido, only to wobble slightly and fall to the ground with a heavy thud, completely defeated.

Giorno felt his soul ascending in pure blissful relief as the crowd cheering erupted through the entire arena. Common folk started throwing flowers to the dusty ground, and the elite members were politely applauding. Guido the fortunate was the complete victor and Giorno was so appalled by this that he forgot to pretend that he didn’t care about gladiator battles.

Guido the fortunate was smiling widely, despite feeling obviously in pain and holding onto the left side of his stomach for dear life. His dark glistering eyes scanned the crowd and locked onto Giorno’s blue orbs. The youth couldn’t blink nor look away. He felt like the man was glaring at his very soul and saying “See? I won this for you.”

Before Giorno could notice the fact that he couldn’t blink nor breath, the man picked a blood-stained dagger from the ground, and the next thing Giorno heard was a heavy thud on the wood of his seat, right beside his head.

Everyone in the vicinity of the blonde aristocrat stared at the scene in utter disbelief and Giorno, scared of turning his head around, could only see the man’s tanned back full of scars retreating while leaving the trace of a smile behind him.

“Giorno what in the name of…”  He could barely listen to Dio’s astonishment.

The dagger was lodged on the wood of his seat. Between the tip of the blade and the hardwood it lodged onto, a flower was firmly in place. The gladiator’s blade throwing skill was so precise, that it hit that flower mid-air while evading harming Giorno or any other spectator.

Giorno’s heart was filled with love. He never expected to fall for such a man and under such a circumstance. Giorno paid no mind to his father’s complaints. He only had eyes for this dagger and the flower. He only had thoughts for this man who just left the battleground victorious.

Giorno would love to come back to this arena more often.