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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.

Chapter Text

“As much as I’d love to congratulate you on your first actual romantic interest, you need to remember that he’s a gladiator Giorno. He would never have the permission or freedom to even come close to you.” Fugo’s words hurt, but Giorno knew he was telling the hard truth. 

He wasn’t a naive man nor someone who encouraged all of Giorno’s plans without criticisms. Fugo was a scholar who was much more mature and knowledgeable than many men older than him. His concerns weren’t unwarranted or irrational. Giorno deeply appreciated his philosophical and mathematical teachings, however, he would rather not have him raining on his parade.

Giorno knew that a gladiator rarely has the opportunity of escaping his condition of slavery. They are treated like celebrities among slaves who are promised freedom and glory if they earn countless victories. In actuality, no gladiator had ever successfully lived to have their freedom. Their lives were short, sad and violent. They fight with hope in their hearts, only to die in tragic displays of public violence.  

Yet, Guido’s eyes in that arena shined with the confidence and resolve of a man who knew he’d survive through all his trials. He behaved in the arena as if the whole place was his own game table, and he was the centerpiece of his own strategy. Lounging on his reclined chair near the chamber’s low table, Giorno twirled the golden flower between the tips of his fingers. He couldn’t stop thinking of that man and how that flower ended up in his hands.

“What a tragedy, huh? You should write a theatre play about my unfortunate romantic endeavors. Make sure to add gods gambling over our success rate and have us both die tragically to the whims of whoever made those bets. It will surely be a success.” Said Giorno in a mocking voice tone. He drank a little more wine than he should have. 

Giorno made a gesture for Narancia to throw a grape towards his open mouth. The fruit landed on his chest instead. The black haired servant laughed about it before apologizing. Fugo rolled his eyes as he turned the wooden tablet of his codex, laying belly first on the carpet next to Giorno’s chair.

 “This is serious Giorno. This man is probably facing the consequences of throwing a knife towards the son of a politician. Even if he didn’t hurt you, that’s something that’s not easily forgiven for a slave, even if he’s a victorious gladiator. This just shows that he could easily assassinate anyone in that arena. Besides, I don’t think that you should talk to him. And even if you are permitted to talk to him, I don’t think you should try this so early on. Let the dust settle down a little.” 

Giorno sighed. Fugo was, once again, overthinking and making Giorno wary of this situation. It was wise to hear his analysis and bits of advice when dire political situations happened around them. But at this moment, Giorno wanted to indulge in his fantasies, even if just for a few hours before rationality took over his thoughts. He shook his head after eating the grape Narancia threw towards him. He shouldn’t think of all the negative possibilities just yet.

Maybe the gladiator wasn’t going to be punished right away for what he did. Maybe Giorno could have permission to talk to him. Maybe Giorno could intervene and stop him from being punished… And if they couldn’t meet face to face under any rules, laws or pretenses, Giorno would do anything to break the law if it stood in his way.

“Your words won’t do much to stop me Fugo, but now I wonder if he’s going to live to see another day after what might have seemed like an assassination attempt.” Lamented Giorno.

Narancia laughed while sitting on the floor next to Fugo while placing the plate full of grapes right at the scholar’s back.

“You talk as if this guy hasn’t just assassinated you. Seriously, you only talk about him! Where is Giorno? You’re not him. I actually like you much better. You are much funnier.” Mocked the slave.

“Narancia you are lucky to be Giorno’s servant with those manners of yours.” Uttered Fugo, annoyed by him.

“Oh well, thank you very much.”

“Narancia has a point. This man has murdered me. The old Giorno is no more. Completely gone. I’ll need a long time to recover my disdain for low effort entertainment. For now, I only retain my dislike for the elite as always.” Revealed Giorno, trying to convey some cynism in his voice tone.

“Well, that’s more like you. Narancia, take this plate out of my back, will you?” demanded Fugo.

It was almost nightfall at Dio’s mansion. The owner of that household was away in political meetings. Donatello had yet to come back from the bathhouse with his servants. Rikiel was sick again, being tended by Enyaba in his bedroom. Ungalo was probably being punished for throwing mud at a merchant the other day. Due to his absence at the corridors pestering the slaves, he was most likely studying extra hard under Enrico’s supervision. Giorno was relieved to have the dinner chamber for himself and his most trusted subordinates.

Fugo was a Greek youth who was cast away from his wealthy family thanks to some legal controversy. Dio took him in as a hired servant to teach Giorno more about Hellenistic culture when they were still living in the capital of the republic. Fugo came along when they moved to Pompeii thanks to Giorno’s request. Giorno saw him more like a close friend than a servant.  

Narancia, on the other hand, was a slave they bought in Pompeii. His last owner was eager to sell him out due to him not having good manners and also sporting a nasty eye infection. Giorno was passionate about healing technics and the writings of Aristotle about plants and their many medicinal properties. He made Dio buy the scrawny sickly slave for cheap, helped him heal to full health, and now he worked as his subordinate. Giorno saw him more like a younger brother than a slave.

He didn’t like the fact that he even had slaves.

His mother was a slave herself. More precisely a concubine. Despite nobody else knowing this in order to keep his father’s image as “pristine” as possible, Giorno knew the truth. He knew how deeply seethed in the purest hypocrisy his own social position truly was. He was glad that none of his personal subordinates acted as if they were leagues below Giorno, because they actually weren’t.

He preferred having Narancia feeling free to eat as many grapes from the bowl as he wanted and bicker with Fugo out loud, then having him in a position of servitude, tending to him while in complete silence.

As the teenagers bickered about sharing grapes, Giorno took out the dagger from inside the folds of his clothes and admired it. It was strangely heavy for such a small weapon, but it was perfectly balanced. The blade was sturdy and short, but very sharp and Giorno had to be careful not to accidentally cut himself with it.

His father almost took his “gift” away when they were leaving the arena the day before. Luckily, Giorno’s hands and reflexes were quick enough to keep this blade with him until now. The grip of the knife was made of dark brown wood and seemed to have been carved patiently by hand. The quillon was elegantly curved with adorned engravings. It was made of some metal with a golden tint to it. It couldn’t be real gold, but it was certainly something similar in its appearance. Engraved at the golden round pommel of the weapon, there was the number “V”. Giorno wanted to keep that blade as an excuse to, eventually, meet him in person. He should bring that weapon back to his rightful owner, right? Just by thinking that the strong hands of that man most likely carved that weapon’s grip made Giorno’s heart swell against his chest.

“ Master Giorno. Bucciaratti is at the front hall for a visit. Would you like me to bring him over?” D’arby’s sultry and polite voice interrupted Giorno’s thoughts and forcefully brought him back to the present. 

The blonde teenager recoiled the blade and concealed it under his clothing. D’arby was one of the many servants in their household. Though he served more like a “receptionist” and scheduler for the family than a servant for their “house chores”. Giorno stood up quickly.

“This won’t be necessary. I’ll meet him there D’arby. Thank you.” With that, Giorno bid goodbye to the other teenage boys on that chamber and started walking towards the front hall of their mansion. 

As expected, Bruno was there with his distinctive dotted cloth hanging around his shoulders and dark clean bob cut that made him look like an Egyptian aristocrat. He gave Giorno an earnest but slightly concerned smile as the blond approached him. Giorno held a deep respect for that man.

He was native to Pompeii and spoke not only the local dialect but also Latin from the capital. If it wasn’t for him, neither Giorno nor Fugo would be able to understand the local speech. Bucciaratti was also a slave, but different from many, he wasn’t born in that position. He used to be a free man, albeit not a rich one. His father ended up witnessing something disturbingly illegal done by someone in the city’s elite. Since then, Bruno knew no peace.

He had to become a slave for debt after being unable to continue paying for his family’s protection. To top it all out, Bruno wasn’t just anyone’s slave. He was the supervisor of numerous illegal routes and gambling sites in the city. His master was Diavolo himself. Bruno knew that, even if he had all the money to pay for his debt, Diavolo would never let him free.

He already knew too much.

Bruno knew that he was doomed to live this lifestyle forever. Despite that, he was so caring and attentive to everyone he befriended, that Giorno wondered how a man so virtuous could be born in such a terrible world.

“Good evening Bucciaratti. What brings you here? Probably not extra classes on Pompeii’s history, I figure.” Said Giorno, trying to make some small talk.

“Good evening Giorno.” Said Bucciaratti, bowing slightly and offering him a polite smile.

“ I didn’t come here for extra lessons. I actually came here to talk to you in particular. Most precisely… It’s about your attendance to the arena yesterday and…” Bruno seemed to hesitate as he turned his head to the right and eyed the front window of the entrance. 

Giorno heard Donatello’s voice, turning around the street corner that led to that entrance.

 “How about we go for a stroll?” Suggested Bruno. 

Giorno agreed with that. There was a sense of urgency in his voice as if he wanted to cut to the chase as fast as possible. Giorno dreaded whatever he wanted to say. It was probably going to be words of discouragement about a possible “affair” with the gladiator. He’d say something on the lines of “Don’t get too close to him” or “he can die at the arena at any moment, so don’t expect much of it.” or something else.

Giorno and Bruno left the house and started walking down the opposite direction from which Donatello approached with two of Dio’s subordinates. As soon as they were far away enough from Giorno’s residence and started blending in with the busy streets of early night Pompei, Bruno started talking while barely looking at Giorno.

“ The man who threw that dagger at you... Half the city hates him now thanks to him grabbing your attention and “making a move” on you.” Said Bruno, in a voice tone that sounded close to mocking.

Giorno had to suppress a laugh.

“Oh really? That’s stupid. I thought they would be more concerned about what looked like an assassination attempt” Suggested Giorno.

“You might not know, but you are considered the most handsome young man in the city, and I think you should take that into consideration when someone makes a public move on you in front of your fans”

Giorno knew fully well about his impact in that city in terms of “attracting attention” from people he didn’t care about. Giorno would have fallen in love with other men more often if they were even a third of the man that the gladiator was. Bruno smiled at him but his eyes seemed stern and focused.

“I wasn’t in the arena during the battle, so I just heard about it afterward. It made me wish I wasn’t conducting an operation at the tunnels underneath our streets but…Giorno… what I wanted to say is… I know that gladiator personally.” Revealed Bruno.

“Oh…”

Giorno felt his heart race.

“Do you know where I might find him?” Asked Giorno, trying not to sound desperate.

Bruno’s facial expression shifted to that of concern.

“Giorno… The gladiator belongs to Diavolo. I doubt you’ll be able to meet him under any legal circumstance. Unless Diavolo invites you over and specifically present you his slave. Besides… I’ll need to bring him his dagger. So please, hand me over.”

Oh…

Giorno felt like he just dropped into a freezing lake. Meeting the man face to face proved to be much more difficult than he first anticipated. Now, the possibility of a love affair between the two of them seemed basically impossible. In order to be together, they’d have to take many risks and Giorno would have to be careful.

Still… If things didn’t work out, Giorno risked losing the guy to the grips of death way too soon.

Things were not looking great.

Giorno lamented not having been killed by that dagger when it had the chance.

Chapter Text

“I don’t have the dagger with me at the moment” blurted Giorno, knowing full well that Bruno wouldn’t be fooled with it.

Bruno looked incredulous when he turned his head to face Giorno. He knew that whenever Giorno had that vague, albeit serious, look in his eyes, he was most likely lying about something. The brunette wondered why Giorno felt the need to lie about this. It was obvious that the dagger was under the folds of his clothes, there was no use for him to pretend it wasn’t. 

Bruno sighed. 

He suspected since the beginning that he’d refuse to give back that dagger, but now suspicions were true. The boy finally got infatuated by someone and wouldn’t give up on that object so easily.

“Alright, I'll pretend to believe in you. But you’ll need to answer me this… Why are you keeping this dagger with you?”

Bruno knew the answer and he expected Giorno to say something vague about it. The boy was, more often than not, detached from his own emotions. Incapable of addressing it accurately, for sure, but not incapable of feeling it.

As expected, the youth furrowed his brows in deep thought. Perhaps he was trying to rationalize why he felt so compelled to see that man, or why he felt so lost now that the possibility of even meeting him became even more difficult.

“I… I don’t know. I think if I hold onto this object, I can keep him existing in that state we saw each other. I don’t know what happened to me back then. I just want to meet him again and I think the dagger will allow me to do so.”

Giorno stared at the ground as they walked down the street. He refused to look at Bruno just to face whatever judgment he might receive. The chilling night breeze crossed them as they walked silently on a much quieter side street. The noise of the water running beside the sidewalk was the only sound drawing a line of tension between them. Giorno decided to finally look at Bruno, desperate for a piece of advice that might not come.

“Tell me Bucciaratti… Why are we doomed to bare those invisible bounds that we do not choose to have?”

Bruno’s expression was that of empathy and patience. He smiled at Giorno and chuckled. He knew the sort of frustration he might be going through. He felt like that whenever things out of his control kept pushing him to his limits.

“ The only certainty of one’s existence is that it will come to an end eventually. The rest is up to the gods but I firmly believe that the gods appear to us not only through the "inevitable" but also in the forms of choices and consequences. You should have this in mind when deciding your next course of action. Maybe the choice you’ll take will bring you happiness. Maybe the consequence will feel like a tragedy sent by a merciless god. But you won’t know it unless you try.”

Giorno welcomed the silence after Bruno’s wise speech with open arms as he reflected upon his words. They were somehow soothing and brought peace of mind to the youth. His hand almost instinctively held the fold in his clothing that concealed the dagger.

What could happen later was up to him. It was his choice, and no one else’s.

He could choose to hand Bucciaratti the dagger, go home afterward and forget about the gladiator. He could keep that dagger with him forever as a memento of that one moment he'd never forget. Or maybe… maybe he could keep that dagger for now, but find a way to retrieve it to the owner… regardless of the obstacles in his way.

“What do you want to try Giorno?”

The blonde took a few seconds to respond. He closed his eyes and took a deep breath. The reassuring smile of that man in the arena came back to his mind as if reminding him that things would be alright. When Giorno opened his eyes, they were filled with a newfound resolve.

“I’ll take this dagger back to him. I don’t care how, but I’ll do it.”

Bruno smiled and shook his head. He knew that the boy's stubbornness would win at the end.

“Very well… I’ll help you out with information. But everything else will be up to you.”

And with that, Giorno’s choice was set in stone.

------------

The full moon rested high on the night sky, bathing the houses and the stones of the streets in a pale light. The sounds coming from bars, squares and residences were quieting down as Pompeii was falling into slumber, preparing itself for another day.

Some would be able to feel a presence lurking around the dark corners of the alleyways, skillfully climbing up the trees and running with the grace of an acrobat atop the roofs and dismiss it as just being a cat. If the night sky was as bright as the day, people would see that the skilled figure who stealthily moved among the shadows was far from being a simple animal.

As Giorno paid attention to avoid entering the line of sight of the Roman guards at the streets below, he recounted in his head all the information that Bucciaratti provided about the whereabouts of the gladiator. Fortunately, he didn't live in the same property as Diavolo, his master, but at the training grounds behind Polpo's residence. Polpo was a slave merchant who also supervised the training and livelihood of Diavolo's gladiators. As Bruno stated, Diavolo doesn't like the presence of gladiators or any other skillful assassins near his residence, so Polpo took it upon himself to supervise them on the opposite side of the city.

Giorno knew where his place was due to visiting twice, mostly to accompany Dio's business trip for slave purchasing. On one of the occasions, Giorno convinced Dio to buy Narancia and that's why Giorno remembered exactly where that place was.

When Bruno gave that information a few hours ago, the youth felt a wave of relief. It wouldn't be impossible to sneak around and even maybe meeting him face to face after all. Polpo's residence security wasn't as impenetrable as Diavolo's. But another piece of information surely added to the urgency of their meeting. Bucciaratti said that the gladiator was already being punished. He didn't know the details, but the small talk among Diavolo's subordinates was that "Guido the fortunate" was losing his "Luck".

In the hours between his talk with Bucciaratti and his current situation, Giorno couldn't sleep nor rest easy. The thought that the man was suffering at the hands of his master just because of him made Giorno's guilt weight on his chest. To prepare himself for what he might find if he meets him, Giorno brought some medical tools, herbs, and substances to ease his pain. He also brought him some food that included bread and assorted fruits. He held his dagger firmly under his clothes as a prayer for protection and concealed his frame and hair with a dark cloak. A porcelain mask prevented him from being recognized if onlookers saw him, but that was just for safety for now.

His silk ropes helped him escape from his household in the middle of the night without being spotted. It would be of use later to climb down the inner walls of the gladiator's training grounds.

Giorno was making his way through the dark corners of the streets without facing problems. He had a few close calls with Roman soldiers and three drunk men who spotted him and claimed him to be a "strange figure". He was lucky to find his way to the side walls of Polpo's manor without running into the worst case scenario.

However, as he approached the back wall that led to the gladiator's training area, he could hear voices chatting near the gate. Approaching carefully without turning into that backstreet, Giorno noticed that one of the voices belonged to Bruno, but he couldn't recognize the other.

Sneaking around the corner, Giorno could see that there was a tree between his position and Bruno's, so he could approach the plant carefully and climb up on it taking care not to be seen or noticed. 

While carefully climbing the tree, Giorno thought to himself how he'd manage to escape that place after he got in. He'd leave the silk rope hanging from the tree and would climb it back up when he was done, but everything else would have to be out of luck.

As soon as he reached enough height to reach the top of the wall, Giorno climbed up the structure and, while sitting atop of it, tied the rope to the tree trunk as silently as he could.

Bruno was having a seemingly flirty conversation with a man with long hair that was standing guard outside the back gate. Giorno had no idea of Bruno's personal life, but the fact that he was there chatting with the guard was a happy coincidence. Giorno started climbing down the inner wall of the area and his movement made the treetop jerk a little.

"What's this?"

The unknown man's voice could be heard, which made Giorno's heart skip a few beats.

"That's probably a cat, Abbacchio. Pay no mind to it"

Bruno replied. Giorno would have to thank Bruno profusely at another time, but right now, the best course of action was to focus on his task. He was making a steady descent towards the dusty ground below when, out of a sudden, a voice made Giorno jump and release his grip of the rope, which made him fall with a dry thump through the remaining 2 meters.

"Are you okay?"

The old man's voice was oddly calm despite being in the presence of a masked intruder. Giorno felt like crying not only out of pain but also because his meticulous crafted infiltration plan had failed in its crucial moments.

Giorno got on his feet and took a few steps back to face his opponent.

It was a short old man, dressed in a simple toga with several keys hanging from a chain to his side. He was holding a torch with one hand and a tortoise with the other. His lazy eyes made him unnerving to look at.

"You must be young to be on your feet after such a fall. Please reveal your face."

Giorno knew that as soon as he'd take out that mask, he'd be in big trouble. Especially if either Polpo, Diavolo or even his father got ahold of this information. His hands were shaking and his heart was trying desperately to escape his chest, but Giorno needed to find a way out of it with the least amount of collateral damage.

"I just wanted to deliver this..."

Said Giorno, reaching down the bag to fetch the dagger inside it. He showed the weapon to the man whose eyes went wide upon seeing it.

"You know this dagger? Where is the owner?"

Giorno tried to keep a steady voice tone but found out how difficult it was to maintain a confident facade when his legs couldn't stop trembling. The man's eyes managed to focus on both the dagger and Giorno's masked face at the same time.

"You must be Giorno, right? You should have been more careful. What if one of our rowdy gladiators took ahold of you when you're searching for this dagger's owner?"

Giorno was appalled by the man's words. It seems like the gladiators were aware of what happened and even knew who he was or what he would try finding there. The young man didn't know how to respond to such words. Suddenly, it felt like everyone in the world knew his secret and were ready to judge him.

"Don't need to look impressed by this. Most of the city knows you by either appearance or name. Gladiators included. You want to give this back to him personally, right?"

Giorno didn't know how to respond, so he just nodded.

The old man looked around to make sure there was no one lurking on them, before quietly gesticulating with his head asking Giorno to follow him. During their walk, Giorno felt like he was being led to Polpo's presence and, if that was the case, there would be no return from this. He wouldn't be able to see the gladiator again. But the old man started walking towards a small house to the left of the much bigger mansion.

"My name is Pericolo, boy. I take care of the keys and resource distribution among our gladiators. Polpo usually distrusts his gladiators and have other commissioned subordinates to look after them. I do agree that they tend to be a rowdy bunch, but they are only men. They also deserve some comfort in their difficult lives."

Those words both calmed and stressed Giorno beyond belief. On the one hand, it was good that Pericolo wanted to help. On the other hand, his words implied that all the gladiators had terrible lives under Polpo's management, including the man Giorno wanted to see.

The training field was wide and barren. There were no trees to help those men find shade during training hours. There were training tools, weapons, and wooden pillars that seemed to be used for punishment. The ground was made of dried dirt and the air had this scent of death, violence, and blood. Despite the calm voice tone of the man conducting Giorno, he seemed to conceal untold horrors behind his eyes. Giorno's presence there with his expensive cloak, porcelain mask adorned in gold and high social status was extremely out of place. As if he was a god walking among squalor and famine.

Finally, they reached a heavy old door that concealed the small house with no windows. Pericolo placed the tortoise on the ground and used the key to unlock and open the door. The interior of the place was dark, hot and damp. The smell of blood, feces, and bile almost made Giorno throw up at first. Polpo brought in the torch to ignited the one previously unlit near the doorframe. The place was illuminated now and what Giorno saw made him feel his knees hitting the ground.

Guido had his arms chained to opposite walls. His head was hanging low and his tanned skin was plagued with small cuts and bruises. His uncomfortable position was making his muscular arms look slightly purple. Giorno's trembling hands removed his mask. The foul smell almost didn't faze him. Things were much worse than he had imagined.

The gladiator moved, startled by the light of the torch. He raised his head and squinted his eyes to get used with the new light source. As soon as he saw Giorno's face, molded by the light behind him, his eyes widened and his jaw dropped.

"...you... you are a dream, right?"

Giorno couldn't tell if he'd be able to contain his tears.

 

Chapter Text

Guido Mista was a simple-minded man. He lived independently between settlements, forests, mountains, and temples. He never settled his roots anywhere specifically and had nearly no interest in joining his tribe's incursions for plummeting and conquering. Living a simple life, hunting and gambling for food and shelter, as well as occasionally visiting the temple of Dionysius, were activities that occupied most of his carefree days.

Being a southern Thracian from the Sapaei tribe, Mista was in touch with the Greeks and the Romans from an early age but preferred avoiding trouble with them. Those heavily armed soldiers who invaded their region wanted to organize the tribes, but the cost for it was their own freedom. Not that Mista had much to complain. He was always avoiding trouble with those men. They were stripping the Thracians of their freedom and customs, but looking through a positive perspective, the locals were indeed thriving under Roman management.

It was a good scenario for Mista who was a free, albeit homeless opportunist.

Most of his opportunities came around in the forms of petty thievery, gambling and working on commissioned services. He would do anything to get by.

"Things are going to be alright if I'm able to eat, drink, and take care of myself." Answered Mista whenever people questioned his lifestyle. 

He valued the simple things in life, such as letting nature guide him to new paths and meeting new people. He cared much more about the present than the unforeseen future. Though whenever he started thinking about what lies ahead in his path, he'd feel a dark sense of uncertainty and dread.

"If I manage to avoid bad omens, I might have a good outcome in life."

He'd say to himself while trying to avoid the maze of possibilities and prophetic speeches from his faith's priestesses.

Mista identified the number "four" as a bad omen. By avoiding it as much as he could, he'd guarantee survival and good fortune despite his harsh living conditions. At least that's what he had in mind. Maybe he was being delusional. Maybe he was using this mindset to deal with his lack of control over the outcomes of life.

"If it helps me feel at ease, there's no need to think critically about it".

And with this mindset in place, Mista lived an easy-going life.

One day, however, the bad omen appeared in the form of a situation that changed the course of his life forever.

Upon seeing three Roman soldiers taking turns to brutalize a local Thracian woman who was on her way to the temple, Mista decided to take action. He managed to beat up one of the soldiers who was caught by surprise. The Romans were vengeful and wanted to kill the attacking Thracian, but Mista was skilled with dagger throwing.

He perfected the skill to help with hunting and gambling. though he used that skill to kill people for the first time that day.

Despite the woman fleeing the scene and onlooking Roman soldiers arresting him, Mista only blamed the fact that he failed to see the bad omen before it was too late.

Mista was indeed facing three men, and he was the fourth one.

Before he noticed, the Roman general in charge of his area was judging his fate. As he awaited the result of his trial, Mista wondered if his path would end right then and there. But, when he thought that he was completely doomed, the general listened to key eyewitnesses and decided not to kill him.

Those Roman soldiers were ignoring direct orders from him and were drinking excessively when they should have been on duty. They were also suspects of committing a thread of other crimes in the region, crimes that the legionaries were at first blaming the Thracians for.

Since Mista did commit multiple murders, even though he was defending himself, he wouldn't be forgiven for this. Instead, the general decided he'd make a good gladiator. In a matter of days, Mista went from a carefree young Thracian with no bounds and no commitments with anything nor anyone, to a mere slave, limited by everything and everyone, forever bound to the needs of society for entertainment.

"It's alright. As long as I don't come across the bad omen again, I'll be fine."

At this point, Mista repeated this to himself like a prayer. A prayer that wouldn't spare him from leading a life of servitude.

He was transported by boat and land. Beaten and chained. Ordered to run through plains and climb steep rocks.

"I'm lucky"

He'd say to himself. He wasn't killed for what he committed and he heard that being a gladiator was an honorable position to be under enslavement.

His trader called him an "eye-catcher".

"You have a good physique. You're also perfectly healthy and young. I've heard from the general who sentenced you that your aim is quite admirable. Those are good attributes and I'll write them all down in your plaque."

He was brought into the Roman capital for a massive slave trade auction. Mista had no idea what type of market he'd be sold on or if he'd be sent to a "proper arena" with this. He was stripped naked, had one of his feet whitened with chalk and a plaque written with his "attributes" hanging on a chain like a necklace.

He was placed on display with a group of equally young-looking men who were brought in from different regions and. Soon enough, well-dressed Romans were strolling around, looking and studying them like pieces of furniture at a store.

Mista wore nothing. "It's fine. This place is too hot anyway."

His feet and arms were covered in callouses and bruises. "Maybe I look more experienced than the others thanks to that."

He wasn't as tall or as intimidating as others among him "This probably means I'll land on a much less risky position in an arena."

His skill set didn't fit the traditional fighting styles among the capital arenas. "Well... Being unique is surely a positive thing!"

After what felt like hours of countless rich people passing by and some even looking at him from all possible angles that made Mista feel extremely vulnerable, an overweighted "Venalitti" and a seemingly "well-positioned" slave took turns looking at him and discussing. Mista could barely make out the words they were whispering to each other but the Venalitti seemed to agree with something the slave pointed out.

After one last physical health check-up and a few signed paperwork, Mista was sold to the man. His cuffs were chained to the back of another purchased slave and sent to a wagon equipped with a cage.

“We are in a group of five. Things are going to be fine! No bad omens here.”

Mista took his time during the trip to Pompeii to get to know the other men he was being transported with.

There was the red-haired Sale, who said that he was arrested thanks to stealing the riches from a politician in order to pay for a debt. But he got caught and sold to slavery despite being from the second generation of born free men in his family.

“Good… No number 4 in here.”

Another man, this one was a slow talker and had his hair tied in a strangely shaped bun. His name was Zucchero. He was sent to slavery after he tried helping Sale escape with the stolen riches on an also stolen fishing boat. They were partners in crime and thus lucky to be sold together.

“No bad omen in here either”

The third one was short-haired and laid back, despite his anger of being caught and sold into slavery. His name was Formaggio and he got shipped in from Greece. He used to be an assassin for hire but got caught by the Roman soldiers before he managed to kill his latest target. He had a pet cat still with him and seemed to have hopes of escaping.

“ Still no number four in here, I’m good.”

And then there was Narancia, the youngest in the group. He was loud and unruly. According to him, he was caught after soldiers cracked down his gang of thieves and informers. He was too young to be sent to execution, so they sent him back to his father who decided he’d be more useful to him if he was enslaved. His father sold him to slavery and Mista couldn’t wrap his head around why someone could even do that.

Mista recounted pieces of his story nonchalantly. The fact that he saw no bad omens during his whole trip down to Pompeii really got him into a good mood that was pretty much out of place for their current situation.

Bruno, the slave who was accompanying the Venalitti’s expedition, was a calm and respectable man. He was honest about what they were going to encounter once brought into Pompeii and informed them what types of services they’d probably do. Despite the grim reality that they would face ahead, Bruno was quick to point out possibilities of escaping their conditions by being well regarded by their masters or win enough good battles in the arena in the case they’d be sent to fight.

Mista held high hopes. He preferred seeing the silver lining of any situation, despite how awful it seemed to be.

Once in Pompeii, the group of recently acquired slaves split into those who would serve as gladiators under Polpo’s management, and those who would be sold to others in the city. As expected, Mista would be one of the gladiators. Him, Formaggio and Sale were sent to Diavolo’s presence to pledge their loyalty and make their oath.

Diavolo was an enigmatic figure, or so to speak. When Mista and the other new gladiators were brought in, his appearance was hidden behind a curtain of pure white cloth. He was accompanied by a boy who stood in front of the curtains and a young woman who observed the scene while resting her back against one of the pillars.

“There are more than four people in this room. Things are going to be just fine, even if I’ll need to fight in an arena. Maybe I’ll win enough battles there to have my freedom one day.”

I will endure to be burned, to be bound, to be beaten, and to be killed by the sword.

Upon uttering his oath, Mista felt a shiver running down his spine. Suddenly, his oath sounded more like a pledge to death than a promise of honor and glory. With no time to question and no way of taking back his words, Mista and the rest of the new gladiators were sent to the gladiator school. As they walked the whole way from Diavolo’s manor to Polpo’s residence where the Ludus was situated, Mista felt like he could collapse down in a panic attack at any moment. Everywhere he looked at, he’d perceive a bad omen. He knew that what lied ahead was the worst outcome he’d have in life and cursed himself for not having tapped out before it was too late.

But as his feet almost dragged against the warm stones that paved the streets at the path to his doom, something caught his attention at the corner of his eyes.

Or more precisely, someone caught his attention.

Mista saw the most beautiful person he’d ever laid his eyes on by the window of a seemingly luxurious residence. The person’s wavy golden hair cascaded past their shoulder and molded their face in what could only be described as “perfection”. As the person busied themselves with watering a bush full of flowers that cascaded out of their window, Mista couldn’t stop admiring them.

He wished the person could have seen him walking down the street, but even though he turned his head to try glancing at that person for one last time, they haven’t noticed him.

By thinking of that person for the remaining of that day, Mista stopped seeing bad omens everywhere and his mind was put at ease. The possibility of seeing that person again, even if just for once, filled Mista’s heart with hope. Maybe the Ludus wouldn't be that bad. Maybe he would last more fights than he first anticipated. Maybe he’d bask in glories and would meet this person again. Those possibilities and dreams carried his mind and heart through most of the weeks that ensued.

The gladiators training routine was rigorous, but not impossible for those who already had strong bodies. Mista wasn’t the strongest of the bunch, but he was talkative and avoided getting to the bad side of those he was acquitted with.

He befriended many of the gladiators in training there but had some difficulty approaching the veterans. they usually didn’t mix up with the rookies.

Abbacchio was a guard who worked for Polpo and would supervise their group to prevent infighting and misbehaving among the rowdy crowd. Bruno would sometimes help him out if he happened to be in the area under Diavolo’s requirements. Bruno was the only person Abbacchio tolerated and, upon being questioned about it, Bruno only admitted to “things being complicated.” Mista didn’t press Bruno with further questions.

The second time the young Thracian saw that beautiful person, was from a much closer perspective than the first time and seeing them again brought new enchantment to his heart. This time he was sharpening a sword near the barracks, his body turned towards the stairs and the balcony that led to Polpo’s residence. When he saw those golden strands of hair at the balcony above them, his heart almost jumped out of his mouth. He could barely continue to concentrate on his task.

The person, now it was clear to Mista, happened to be a young man, most likely from the elite as noted by his toga ornated with golden details.

“What is he doing here?”

He could barely process that he was accompanying what seemed to be his father in a business meeting with Polpo. The owner of that residence seemed pleased to show them both his troop of gladiators. The golden-haired young man didn’t seem interested in it, but his calm and polite expression would put anyone at ease just by looking at him.

Mista has had enough. He left his seat and went to ask Abbacchio about the newcomers.

“Why are you suddenly so curious about this? You never cared about any other visitors we received so far”

Questioned the guard, not wanting to be bothered out of his lunch break.

“Look, I’ll owe you one if you at least tell me who the young man is.”

Abbacchio took a quick glance at the men talking at the balcony before throwing Mista a scorning expression. Knowing the man, Mista was uncertain if that meant something positive or not. Abbacchio normally disliked most people.

“ I hate those types of people. They are clearly from the elite and the kid seems very pampered. By the looks of it, I have my suspicions of who this might be.”

Mista’s eyes widened. He couldn’t believe that he’d at least know his name.

“And I won’t tell you unless you tell me what you’re going to repay me with.”

“That’s unfair Abbacchio.”

Interrupted Bruno, who had just overheard the conversation. Mista felt relieved that Bruno might actually help him with this and that he wouldn’t need to rely on the guard. The man shrugged and let Bruno speak.

“Mista, this young man is named Giorno. He’s the son of that man who is talking with Polpo. He’s a politician called Dio. His family is pretty much a newcomer to Pompeii. Also, Giorno isn’t as pampered as Abbacchio claims him to be. His father is searching for a teacher of the local dialect to teach him, which isn’t something you often see in the elite.”

With that piece of information, Mista started shaping a version of the young man in his head. He seemed like a dream. His appearance was god-like, but he was humble and wanted to be closer to the common folk. Suddenly, Mista started training harder and more rigorously. He wanted to win as many battles in the arena as possible just to have a chance at freedom. Maybe, if he was a free man, he’d have a chance to meet him face to face and enjoy their freedom together.

All the gladiators and staff regarded him as a naive dumbass, who would romanticize an impossible dream to achieve. Mista didn’t mind it.

“If it gives me motivation, I won’t get rid of this feeling.”

Bruno, however, supported him. The brunette was luckily chosen as Giorno’s local language teacher and he’d talk bits and pieces about his student whenever Mista asked for.

From what the man said, Giorno was a very odd and unique young man. Curious about the world and nature itself, and fundamentally critical of his own society, which was a more than shocking behavior from someone of such social status. Mista wished he could talk with that man for hours on end. He seemed fascinating just through Bruno’s words alone.

“Forget about him though. I’ve heard he is the most desired young man in the city. As in, there are tons of proposals for future spouses and I heard last week at the bath that some older men from the elite wanted to take him to private sex clubs. I have no idea what’s the decision his father will come to at the end. It’s pretty much up to him, but really, you should forget about it.”

Said Abbacchio one day after Mista just heard about Giorno’s interest in medicine. Knowing about Giorno’s current social context only made him scared for the boy’s safety. He knew that the young man was popular, but knowing the extent made Mista feel… jealous? He didn’t know how to deal with this fact.

Not even two months later, Giorno and his father paid another visit to Polpo’s manor. The reason for their visit was to take a look at a slave sale and resale event he was holding at his atrium. Mista spent those hours of the night distracted from the food and drinks at the gladiator’s dorms. He knew that the boy he couldn’t stop thinking about was within a short distance from where he stood and, even so, not being able to see him in person tortured his soul.

Two days later, Bruno showed up for his regular weekly visits and. Upon much questioning from Mista, he took the gladiator aside and briefed him about what happened during that visit.

Narancia, the young man who was sold to slavery by his own father, was returned to Polpo after just 4 months, much to Mista’s horror. He was beaten and had one of his eyes swollen with an infection. Apparently, he was misbehaving and would have to be resold for a cheap price. Dio came in to take a look at new slaves brought into Polpo’s manor when his oldest son, Giorno, asked his father to buy the cheap slave after discussing it with Bruno and Fugo, his greek culture teacher.

Bruno seemed happy to bring him the news but urged Mista not to tell anything about it to anyone. The private choices of the elite regarding slave purchasing wasn’t something he should bring up to the others, especially to other slaves.

This only made Mista even more infatuated with him.

Months later, Mista and all the rookie gladiators that started their training around the same time as him were graduated from the Ludus. They were ready to face their first battles in the arena and the battles would be announced days in advance. As the city prepared to see the new batch of warriors to grace the grounds of the wooden arena, Mista and the others ate what could have been their last banquet in life. Mista tried his best not to think of it as the last one. He was confident in his dagger throwing skills and was looking forward to seeing if his secret love interest would attend the event.

the next day promised to be grand. He felt that.

---------

“YOU IDIOT.” Polpo didn’t need to repeat himself. Mista was well aware of it.

He had received the medical treatment for his stabbed stomach and was recovering from it at the barracks when Polpo bragged in to drag him out for a public whipping.

“DO YOU WANT THE WHOLE CITY TO THINK MY OWN SLAVES ARE ATTEMPTING MURDER ON THEIR ELITE? WANT ME TO GO TO COURT FOR YOUR MISBEHAVIOR, HUH?”

Mista was dragged through the ground and beaten by one of the veterans. One of his punishments was already in its course since he didn’t receive payments or prizes for his victory. Now the punishment seemed to turn for the worst at every passing second. Mista didn’t utter a word. He knew that what he did in the spur of the moment should have been better planned. Now he wasn’t sure if he’d survive to see another day or even if he’d get the chance to see Giorno again.

Mista was beaten and whipped through what felt like an hour. He was quickly losing strength and consciousness. He couldn’t remember much of anything that happened that evening, except he woke up hours later with his pulses cuffed to the walls of what he recognized to be the “hothouse”. The place was a house that was isolated from the rest of the structures in the training grounds. It was small and had no windows in it. The heavy wooden door prevented most of the light of coming in and the place got unbearably hot during the day.

Mista’s whole body ached horribly, and he wondered if he was living in a never-ending nightmare.

If he was, he’d like this to turn into a dream in which he’s still living among nature, at the mountains and forest he was born in. The blond boy was in his thoughts as well but in the form of an unreachable star. A god that would never cast an eye towards him.

With his soul tormented in agony and his body trembling in pain, Mista was almost forgetting about the feeling of hope he held in his heart. He doesn’t know how much time he spent awake or sleeping in that small confinement. He just wanted a way out of that nightmare.

--------

“Are...are you a dream?”

Mista didn’t know how to react to that sight. He could only be dreaming. Gorno’s face looks real right now because he’s being delirious. Of course, this is a dream. It has to be.

Giorno’s trembling fingers approached Mista’s face and the gladiator flinched with the movement, unable to trust it, only to be graced with a pair of careful hands cupping his face and.

“I’m here. I’m real. I came all the way here to return you your dagger and… Pericolo, could you uncuff him? His position is damaging his arms.”

Mista could barely say a word. One moment before he was sure he would never be able to see him again. And the other he’s awake in the middle of the night to be graced by his presence. Giorno is worried about him. Mista could see it in his eyes. He wants him uncuffed and to take care of him. He wants him to be safe and wants him to give his dagger back. Mista was about to cry.

After some convincing, Pericolo not only uncuffed Mista’s hands but also brought in cold water from the well and a piece of folded cloth to help Giorno’s with the medical check-up. He closed the door of the place before leaving, which left the pair alone.

Upon uncuffing him, Mista’s body fell limp to the arms of the visitor who held him firmly. Giorno laid down his cloak and placed Mista’s tortured body down on it. The gladiator noticed that his fingers trembled as he examined the state of the warrior’s body. Mista didn’t want to be seen in such a vulnerable state. He wanted Giorno to see him basked in the glories of victory, not weak and tortured like he was at that moment. He noticed that the young man was highly stressed about this situation. He should at least try diverting him out of that mental state.

“D-did you like the flower?”

Asked Mista, trying his best to smile. Giorno’s eyes widened and he blushed a little.

“ Can’t say I disliked it. Though you should have presented that to me directly instead of throwing the dagger. It could have prevented…”

And with that, Giorno gesticulated to his whole body.

“Oh this? ppff… This is nothing!”

The blond teenager held an expression of pure incredulity.

“Of course this is something! You are burning with a fever. And your stomach wound seems to be developing an infection. This shouldn’t be something a victorious gladiator has to go through.”

The numbness of Mista’s arms was slowly fading away, enough for him to move and raise one of his hands to touch the back of Giorno’s own.

“I regret nothing.”

Said Mista, unable to look away from his beautiful face full of worry and sweat. The blonde man continued to work on his wounds without giving much of a time to look back at him.

“Well, you should be regretting it, if you have any sense of self-preservation.

Mista shook his head slowly.

“I regret nothing because you’re here with me now. I can't ask the gods for nothing else.”

He was sure he saw the young man’s face blush against the warm light of the torch.

Mista felt like his heart could burst at any moment.

Chapter Text

Giorno was trying his best to treat the man’s wounds. He wanted him to be able to recover, even if he had to stay in that isolated chamber for a few more days. Just to think about how he had to endure at least two days and nights in that torturous condition made Giorno tremble to contain his tears.

Mista squirmed and sometimes left out a swear when a particularly nasty cut was being treated by Giorno’s careful examination and herb usage. But he never demanded Giorno to stop or complained about it. He was trying to keep his good spirits and Giorno wasn’t expecting him to have so many endearing comments and praise to offer, even in a situation like this.

Giorno felt like he was truly beloved.

He also felt like he didn’t deserve it.

At the end of that whole process, Giorno noticed how much calmer he felt and how at ease the gladiator made him feel. He managed to clean the man’s battered skin and treated all his wounds with a healthy mix of herbs and substances that had septic and anti-inflammatory properties. In the end, he only needed to raise his head a little to make him drink some medicine that would help him recover from his fever.

“You’ll need to drink this. Here let me help you up.”

Said Giorno, positioning himself to raise the gladiator’s head with his hand. The man seemed blissfully happy with that physical contact. Even though he was extremely weak and debilitated, he mustered some strength to raise his head a little, and before Giorno processed his own thoughts, he was positioning his legs under him to serve as a cushion.

With the back of his head resting against his lap, Giorno’s now steady hand busied itself with making the man drink the content of that small bottle. A comfortable silence lingered for a few moments. The warmth of their interaction made them feel like they could stay like this forever.

“Thank you so much for being here. I thought you would never want to see me again after what I did at the arena.”

Said the dark-haired man, his black eyes gleaming as the reflection of the flame slowly twirled inside his orbs. His smile was a little shy and weak but still held the same reassurance that Giorno saw in the arena. Up close, Giorno could notice how long his eyelashes truly were. This was one of the surprisingly beautiful things about his appearance.

“ I came here because I wanted to see you. You happened to grab my attention in the arena that day and… The knife-throwing sealed the deal. I wanted to see you, no matter how.”

Giorno noticed Mista’s face blushing and his smile widening. He couldn’t stop himself from smiling right back at him.

“ I’m glad I got your attention then. You didn’t need to do much to call my attention though.”

Giorno’s smile broke and Mista’s heart skipped a beat. “Did I say something wrong?”   wondered Mista as he saw Giorno grabbing the folded cloth to soak it on the water and place it on his forehead.

“I know that I don’t need to do anything to call people’s attention. Everyone just looks at me everywhere I go. It’s so uncomfortable to me that I just tend to ignore it.”

Mista instantly knew how uncomfortable Giorno would feel if he admitted that he’s been watching the boy from afar for so long. Even if he knew his feelings were genuine, and that if it wasn’t for Giorno’s existence he wouldn’t have the will to survive for so long, Mista knew that he should hide this fact. He cared way too much for that boy and couldn’t fathom how nerve-racking it must be to live like this.

He wouldn’t lose his only chance of building trust with him.

“I’m sorry… For looking at you at the arena. You probably felt uncomfortable.”

Giorno waved his hand, dismissing the comment.

“No need to apologize for that. The way you looked at me wasn’t the same way some people in the elite do.”

Mista felt his heart sink. He wondered what kinds of horrors Giorno was scared of dealing with every single day.

“I think I should worry about your safety. Are you sure you’re safe.”

Giorno smiled while caressing his short strands of hair with his humid fingers.

“You should worry about yourself instead. My life isn’t as dangerous as the arena. I’ll be alright.”

Mista stared at him with a serious expression, his head slowly nesting on his lap.

“I was trained to fight in the arena… Nobody is trained to deal with abuse like this. If you feel like you’re going to be in any form of danger, please don’t hesitate to tell me.”

And with that, Mista raised his hand to touch the boy’s face and, instead of flinching or getting away from this gesture, Giorno leaned into it. He had no words to fight off Mista’s own. The fear he feels towards his own situation, existence and the possible outcomes in his life was extremely real. Everything that could happen to Giorno depended on his father’s decisions. Despite being born into luxury and prestige, his position meant nothing if he had no freedom to choose his own path.

He was hyper-aware that people wanted to use him and that he had as much free will as any other slave… with the difference that everyone around him thinks otherwise, and would never offer him a helping hand.

But here they are. A mere gladiator, who has absolutely no freedom, looking beyond the mask that Giorno wears every single day and offering a helping hand to the scared child hiding underneath it. He felt guilty and selfish for showing his vulnerability to someone who’s is enduring such a harsh reality. But the man maintained that reassuring look in his eyes that made Giorno’s negative thoughts disappear. Giorno felt like he should trust him as much as he’s trusting him back, letting him treat his wounds, showing how vulnerable he was to a complete stranger who came to save him. But it was not enough. Giorno had to do so much more to that man.

“I’ll… Do something to get you out of here.”

Concluded Giorno. The thought of having that man remain in that terrifying torture chamber was destroying the boy’s heart.

“W-what do you mean? Just having you here today is enough to get me through the rest of this. Don’t worry.”

Giorno placed his own hand above Mista’s and removed it from his face. He wasn’t going to accept that unbalanced exchange. He had to do something else, or he would never forgive himself for leaving that man behind.

“I’ll do something. Your current situation is absolutely unfair. I’ll do something, either you like it or not.”

Mista’s eyes went wide for a second before giving him a confident smile.

“Well, aren’t you rebellious…”

And by taking Giorno’s hand to his lips, Mista silently placed a kiss to his fingers which made the boy instantly blush. The kiss was like a promise. A deal between them. Mista would protect Giorno. Giorno would take Mista out of that awful situation. But as they thought that the moment could last forever, their warmth was interrupted by the heavy knocks against the wooden door.

Frantically, Giorno took out his legs from underneath Mista’s head and laid it carefully on the cloak underneath him.

“Time is up kid. You need to get out of here.”

Pericolo’s voice held a tension that felt almost cold and piercing. Giorno and Mista didn’t want to let go but were forced to. Giorno cupped Mista’s face with his hands.

“I promise I’ll get you out of here. Just accept your dagger back and some food I brought in.”

Whispered Giorno, a look of urgency in his eyes. Pericolo opened the door with a thud and when Giorno looked at the outside, not only Pericolo but also a worried Bruno and an angry Abbacchio were looking at them.

“Giorno. I’m sorry but you’ll have to go back to your home immediately.”

Said Bruno in a worried tone. Giorno felt his heart sink and he looked back at Mista.

“I’ll be alright. Go with them.”

Assured the gladiator, holding onto the bag of food and the dagger Giorno handed him.

In a blink of the eye, Giorno was taken by Bruno outside and Pericolo entered the place to put Mista back on cuffs and extinguish the torch’s flame.

Giorno felt a rush of cold wind as he barely understood what Bruno said in a worried tone while coaxing him towards the gate.

His heart wasn't with him anymore. His heart stayed behind that wooden locked door.

---------------------

“Your little escapade ended up alerting the whole public guard in the entire city. You better wish this doesn’t land my ass into trouble.”

The guard named Abbacchio was truly angry about this, especially because he was supposed to prevent a home invasion and would have known where Giorno was before the whole city guard was alerted.

Bruno couldn’t blame Abbacchio for being angry at the teenager. If he wasn’t distracting the guard, Giorno would never be able to sneak into the gladiator’s training area for a whole hour in the middle of the night, nor met with Mista.

“Don’t be harsh Abbacchio. The important thing is that Giorno is safe and we’re taking him back to his residence. I’ll make sure to note that you were the one who found him. You might earn some compensation.”

Bruno wanted to make sure that the guard wouldn’t be penalized for this. It was his fault that the man was distracted. For an hour. “A very good distraction and for a really good hour nonetheless,” Thought Bruno noticing that the guard’s hair was still a little disheveled and his face was blushing a little.

Giorno walked silently between them, his head hanging low and his face hidden beneath the porcelain mask he brought. Which was quite useless. Everyone would be able to recognize him from afar thanks to his hair. Bruno figured out that maybe the boy wanted to hide his expression in case other guards or his father’s subordinates met him.

the entire city was silent and dormant, except the guards who could be heard still marching and running around trying to find the missing son of the politician. Bruno wanted to question Giorno. Ask him what has gone through his head to attempt something that crazy, but at that moment, he only placed his hand at the boy’s shoulder.

“Did you managed to help him?”

Asked Bruno, trying to distract the boy into thinking about the positive thing he just did. He nodded in agreement. But his whispering voice carried the weight of regret.

“I didn’t even ask his name…”

Said Giorno, feeling a heavyweight of remorse cracking down his heart. The man received some help from him… but he was back at being mistreated, cuffed and tortured for an offense he didn’t commit. Giorno was at first certain that he’d be able to take him out from that imprisonment, but now that he seemed to be on the verge of being punished as well, he saw that opportunity as more improbable than anything else at the moment.

“Tsk… Idiot. His name is Mista. Why do you go to the trouble of visiting him and doesn’t even ask for his name? Anyways, he knows yours. Everyone in the city knows your name and you should pray to the gods that this story won’t spread like wildfire first thing in the morning.”

Abbacchio’s words left a gaping silence between the trio. Giorno added one more reason to worry on today’s count. At least he knew the gladiator’s name.

“Mista…”

He resented not hearing this from the man himself. Such a small and sweet name. Out of character for a gladiator.

Soon enough, they got to the front door of his family’s Domus. Giorno’s heart wanted to escape from his chest. Bruno gave him a final lucky wish before knocking on the front door. Almost immediately, Terence with his draped long clothing and tall turban opened the door with a stern look on his face.

“Good evening. I found your master's son and brought him in. Tell Dio I show my deep respect.”

Said Abbacchio in a formal way. Terence nodded and handed Abbacchio a small bag with some monetary compensation.

“Thank you for your service. Please accept this as my master’s retribution… Bruno, thank you for accompanying as well.”

Said Terrence, and with a final nod of recognition, the slave brought Giorno in by the hand and closed the door behind him.

Giorno knew that this was going to be a long night

------------

“ You smell terrible. Were you playing around with sewage all night?”

Dio’s vulgar assumptions didn’t take long to fill the space of their atrium. Laying on one of the reclined couches of his tablinum, the master of the house maintained his eyes carefully calculated upon the still piercing and unreadable eyes of his oldest son.

“ What I was doing is not of your concern.”

Dio laughed, as he always did whenever he witnessed any of his children being standoffish. The place was illuminated by a single oil lamp that casts the area into a sinister atmosphere. Standing to both of Giorno’s sides there was Terence and Vanilla Ice, who were both attentively waiting for any possible demands from their master. Right in front of the steps that led to the tablinum, Narancia and Fugo were kneeling with their bodies facing Giorno. They were both scared of the situation and seemingly have been awakened in the middle of the night in order to answer some questions

“Well... it is of my concern. Isn’t it the sheep hoarder concern to have all of his precious sheep under his watchful eyes? So it is my concern as the father of this family to keep an eye on my children’s whereabouts. Therefore this does concern me. So Giorno… If you may be as kind as to give me a full answer…”

Dio was as persuasive as always, but Giorno wouldn’t succumb to this as easily. He knew how it was to deal with his father. He kept his emotions on a chest at the dark corners of his mind. The only thoughts that should surface enough to escape his mouth are those carefully planned into words as dangerous and poisonous as the ones Dio utters. “You can only fight fire with fire in a situation like this.”

“ Why are you so curious about it? For some reason, you strive to make your children heavily reliant on you. However, I can see through this flawed upbringing. I’m just trying to build my own path. Besides… bold of you to criticize my choices when I’m fairly sure you were doing much worse at my age.”

Dio chuckled and made quick work of getting out of the couch and stepping down to the atrium.

“ The 15-year-old me would be lucky to have the position you have right now. And even so, you’re willing to spit me in the face. Let’s see if I can convince you otherwise.”

And with that, the man swiftly grabbed Narancia by the hair, yanking the boy face-first to the ground. The loud thud followed by his shaky whimper almost made Giorno explode with anger. But he knew that if he did anything, Dio would make something worse. Fugo reacted to such display of violence by instinctively standing up, only to be held down quickly by Vanilla Ice powerful arms.

“Now now… I’ve seen that your servants have been a little too careless with you Giorno. Instead of making sure you wouldn’t sneak out, they’ve been busy sleeping instead. And not only that. Your greek teacher was sleeping in your bed, pretending to be you. Fortunately, we’ve noticed this deceit.”

Dio raised Narancia up by the hair and grabbed his chin. The boy was visibly scared and in pain. He was shaking like a leaf, his nose was bleeding from his nostrils all the way to his neck.

“Unfortunately I’ll have to beat this slave more for the mistakes of both of you. Unless you decide to cooperate and tell me where you have been.”

Giorno’s anger was boiling inside but his only sign of restlessness was visible through his clenched fists. His expression continued unchanged. Fugo was averting his eyes. Anger and fear were very visible from his expression alone. It was obvious to Giorno that the greek was feeling that overwhelming sense of guilt, but Giorno knew that he was the only one who should be blamed. As Dio prepared to continue brutalizing Narancia, who couldn’t do much except struggle in a futile attempt to escape him, Giorno left out a resounding

“Stop. That’s enough.”

Dio immediately stopped what he was doing and smiled victoriously.

“Good… I see that you’ve decided to cooperate. Though you’re still too filthy to talk to me. Terence. Strip him down.”

Said the patriarch, letting go of the slave who was quick to scuttle away from him immediately.

“And you two, go grab a jar, a strigil, and some perfume. Clean him. I’ll be waiting.”

Commanded Dio before going back to sit on his couch, taking the opportunity to go back to reading as he was before. Giorno was fuming at this point and barely paid any attention to Terence undressing him unceremoniously. Fugo and Narancia ran to fetch the pail, scrapping instrument and perfume.

The water was taken directly from the impluvium in the middle of the atrium, so it was cold and felt like daggers piercing Giorno’s skin. Narancia and Fugo still held expressions of pure anxiety and remorse. They felt as if they should have discouraged Giorno further or should have kept an eye on him to avoid the situation, but Giorno knew it wasn’t their fault.

Fugo’s trembling hands poured the chilling water over Giorno’s skin and Narancia scrapped it with the tool. They were both silents in this task, scared of being reprimanded again by Dio. Giorno gave both of them a smile, trying to calm them down and reassure that things would be alright.

As Narancia finished scrapping Giorno’s skin and Fugo used perfume to get rid of his previous scent, the teenager thought deeply on what he should say to his father face-to-face. Maybe telling him half-truths instead of full lies would grant him a better outcome.  

Giorno was a good liar. He was confident of his capability as such. Maybe if he used this skill well enough, he could even convince Dio of intervening on Mista’s punishment.

Giorno wanted to feel like he was holding an invisible dagger.

One to pierce his father’s abuse of authority once and for all.

 

Chapter Text

“Now that you look more presentable, why don’t you start talking about your little midnight adventure? You better have a good reason to keep me and my slaves awake until unreasonable hours of the night.”

Dio paid no mind to even look at Giorno’s direction after his son took a seat at the opposite couch. Narancia and Fugo were dismissed after they finished cleaning the master’s son and Giorno could hear them quickly run upstairs to keep their distance from Dio. Terence and Vanilla Ice were also dismissed after providing Dio with some information.

Now Giorno had no way of delaying the topic. He needed to make his case heard and it wouldn't be easy. Deep breath.

“ I went to retrieve that dagger to the gladiator himself. I figured out that Polpo wouldn’t let me see him in person. He’d prefer not having to be the centerpiece of yet another “assassination attempt”, but I really didn’t see it as such. You know me, father. I know that a man in such a position like that, especially a rookie in the arena, wouldn’t attempt against an elite member if they had any sort of self-preservation. A gladiator knows that the only way to die with honor is fighting in the arena. Not as a punishment for killing an unarmed civilian there.”

As Giorno gave his explanation, Dio slowly rolled up the scroll he was reading and didn’t seem as interested in what his son said.

“I see. And why didn’t you just hand the dagger to Bruno earlier? Terence told me you received his visit earlier. However, you still preferred risking your own life on the streets in the middle of the night. You were obviously not trying to just give him back his dagger, wasn’t it?”

Dio now had his undivided attention, still, his voice didn’t show a single sign of anger or impatience. He was like the calm that hid a terrifying storm underneath it. “ Calm down Giorno… Think!”

“I wanted to see if he was in good health. Bruno told me something that made me pity the man. He told me that the gladiator was being punished for what he did. I didn’t see what he did as deserving of punishment, so I had to do something about it. You know me well, father. You know that I dislike feeling guilty about someone else’s mistreatment. So I went in to examine his wounds and treat them. Facing Polpo would be risky. He wouldn’t understand my views and he’d hesitate to show me a battered gladiator. But I sneaked in anyway. The man was in bad shape but I was able to treat his wounds regardless.”

Dio chuckled, which caused Giorno to feel a shiver running down his spine. “ Keep calm. You didn’t lose your case yet.”

“This would convince me… If you hadn’t acted in such a hurry. Why didn’t you brought this topic to me? Why didn’t you appeal to me so I could use my position to press Polpo? Why did you have to act in such a hurry Giorno? You almost had a convincing excuse of getting to meet him after you were seduced.”

With that, Dio sits up in a gesture to match Giorno’s posture and assert his dominance over the topic. Giorno feared that his father would use this against him. It was just a matter of connecting the dots. Maybe he’d still be able to revert the conversation to win his father’s favor, but it would most likely cost something. Something Giorno feared would cost him.

“I thought you took me for many things Giorno… But I didn’t expect you to take me as a fool.”

With that, he stood up and started walking towards the small balcony that overlooked the garden. He held a victorious smile. Giorno couldn’t look at him directly without feeling the heat of anger and revulsion pilling up inside.

“You see, yesterday I spent the entire day trying to downplay what happened to you in the arena. Trying to convince the others in the city hall that our family wasn’t a target, or that you weren’t having an affair with the rookie gladiator. This city is provincial. It loves the small talks and gossip.”

Dio turned around to face his son, marveling at the sight of how helpless he looked.

“And now you show yourself to me, actually proving that you’re desiring that disgusting barbarian. Not only that, but you're also sneaking out in the middle of the night to meet said barbarian by invading my business’s partner residence. Imagine what the people would say? Do you know how hard it is for me to maintain your image as pristine as mine?”

His movements were all highly calculated to intimidate Giorno. To make the teenager look small and vulnerable. Dio approached Giorno, sitting by his side on the couch and grabbing him by the jaw to force him to look while he spoke. Giorno had to contain himself not to slap his father’s hand away from him.

“If you step out of the line again, I’ll have you sold to a brothel. There are plenty of those in here and they’d be more than happy to have you on their staff. So if you have any kind of objection, please say it now. Or else this case is closed.”

That’s it. It's time to do what I do best.

“Who told you that I was seduced by him? I was merely thinking he could be useful to our plans…”

With that, Dio’s victorious smile crumbled into an expression of unreadable seriousness. Giorno lightly tapped his father’s hand away from him while maintaining his eye contact.

“Think about it. You plan on assassinating people in order to harness even more political power. But how do you plan to do this without the means?”

Giorno took the opportunity to stand up and take a step further to fetch an apple from the low table in the middle of that room. He had his convoluted lie at the tip of his tongue and was ready to deliver it.

“ I’ve overheard one of your conversations with Pucci about it. You don’t want to be associated with assassins, so it’s harder for you to navigate the criminal world and commission people to do this job without exposing yourself…. Though what I saw in the arena was an opportunity. Why don’t we use this gladiator to do your dirty work? You’ve seen how capable he was of killing anyone just by watching his fight in the arena.”

Turning around to face his father, Giorno did his best to deliver him a mischevious smile. Maybe his father wouldn’t be able to see through that lie if he pretended hard enough.

“ Maybe if I seduce him into trusting me completely, I might even be able to convince him to kill his own master. Preferably from afar. With no eye-witnesses. With nobody to prove who killed him. He’s skilled with his aim. And he has no social position nor anything worthy to lose. This is better than involving yourself with this, isn’t it father?”

While saying this, Giorno went to sit on the opposite couch, doing his best to maintain an easy-going posture and a cold, sharp look in his eyes. No matter what happens, please don’t let him get under your skin.

“I’ve seen what this city likes.”

Continued Giorno, playing with the apple he had in hands.

“ They like the vivacity of drama. The small talk is what keeps the city entertained. If the city sees a politician casting away his son into slavery thanks to rumors of a forbidden love affair… Think about the bad image you might get. You’d be seen as a tyrant by the common folk. If you do that, forget about being re-elected in the next poll.”

Giorno couldn’t believe how well he was managing to win this discussion over. His father’s angry expression only indicated that he was facing someone who was on the losing side. He still had to be careful. His father was many things, but a defeatest wasn’t one of them.

“Don’t you think things will be better if we pretend this romance never happened to the public eye? Meanwhile, as people think that nothing is happening, I could do my work with this “pretend romance” in secret just to manipulate the man…”

Giorno threw the apple towards Dio, who grabbed it mid-air, his eyes unblinking.

“Just imagine how many of your enemies would be killed by a revolted slave with a good aim? Imagine how many of your enemies would perish without you needing to lift a finger? Now imagine how ugly your image would become if you cast your eldest son, so beloved by the whole city, into slavery, just because you didn’t let he have some quality time with gladiators as a young man?”

With this, Giorno approached him in the same way that Dio did before, trying to intimidate the man despite how abysmal the difference in their social status was. The teenager grabbed the apple, snatching it from his father’s hand while maintaining eye contact.

“Why don’t you talk to Pucci and measure your possibilities, choices, and consequences? Let’s see how you’ll weight in this situation. After this, you should talk to me and see if I'd go through with this plan. If you’re uninterested, I’ll just continue to meet this man in secret and manipulate him to follow my own plans instead… Like I was intending to at first before you decided to intrude. You better be quick on your decision though. I’m fairly sure other politicians and free men who aren’t welcoming of you already have their assassins ready to take you out of the picture.”

And by taking a bite on the apple, Giorno sealed his place as the winner in that debate. Or at least he thought he did. Dio’s expression went from anger to an expression of contempt and even pride. He slowly clapped and his sultry elegant laugh filled the room, casting a shadow of doubt above Giorno’s presumed victory.

“You sure did your lesson on Aristotle methods of persuasion, isn't it? It prides me to see how well you defended your case. But don’t expect me to be convinced of this supposed “lack of feelings” you have for that man.”

With that said, Dio stood up and grabbed the apple back, taking it from his son.

“You’ll have a price to pay for my approval on those “escapades”. You’ll have to do what I say when I find it to be necessary. Meanwhile, you’re allowed to seduce this man. Manipulate him. Convince him to even kill in your name. But when I ask you to do something in regards to our plan, whatever plan it might be, you’ll need to drop whatever shit you’re having with him. You might even be asked to kill him eventually. Don’t forget. You were born a slave and a slave you will always be to me, even if you’re my son. Regardless of what position you think you have, in this household, you are not different from any of my slaves and I’ll treat you like one if you try doing anything funny. Now, go to sleep. I’ll come back with the rest of the plan when I’m done with my deliberations.”

Dio took a bite from the apple and placed it on Giorno’s hand as a reminder that he still had the upper hand, regardless of Giorno’s actual plans. The young man, who once had so much anger boiling inside him, now felt defeated. He felt like, regardless of what he tries, he’s bound by what Dio decides about his life. He's no better than any of the slaves under that roof.

“Oh, and another thing…”

Said Dio before leaving the room and stepping back into the atrium.

“Learn how to fuck. You should be able to please a gladiator. Those types of people only care about fighting and fucking. Why not using one of our slaves as a practice tool for this? Have a good night.”

Despite his father’s wishes, Giorno wouldn’t have a good night. The remaining hours spent before the break of dawn only served for him to lament over what he was forced to agree with. He thanked the gods that nobody bothered him nor tried to interrupt his crying in the following hours. Falling asleep from exhaustion in his own bedroom, alone, doubting over his own possibilities of freedom, was the only way he’d be able to get any rest that day.

He’d be allowed to meet that man again. He was able to encounter him as many times as he wanted. But at what price?

Giorno feared that the price would be too heavy for him to bear.

Chapter Text

Enrico Pucci’s favorite reading spot at the Brando Domus was on the left section of the second-floor balcony. Overlooking the beautiful garden, lush with greenery, statues and a fountain that lazily dripped water over for the birds and the people, Pucci could feel at peace to read his scrolls and books regardless of the constant activity of the slaves passing through the garden below him. The place was peaceful, quiet and open enough to grace its visitors with a comforting breeze even during summertime. An ornate tapestry made of wool, which was hooked to the wall of the manor, provided that spot with much-needed shade.

 

Reclining on the bench, he took some time off from reading just to appreciate the view. The garden was truly gracious and well maintained. Flowers climbed from the pillars below and decorated the rail of the balcony, making the place even more pleasant. Two birds flew nearby, chasing each other while chirping away only to land at what appeared to be their nest at the top of a nearby tree.

 

Pucci also felt as if that house was his newest nest. His religious albeit wealthy family funded his studies so he could become a priest at a prestige temple in Rome. However, after a terrible family feud and a forbidden love affair that led to his sister suicide, Pucci was cast aside and the weight of guilt made him question the fairness of the gods.

 

He wouldn’t know what to do with his life if he hadn’t met Dio back then. He left his ambitions at the most prestigious temple of Jupiter at the capital to live in a much calmer city as the priest of the newly renovated main temple. He did have an apartment of his own near the temple, but he often came back to his nest under Dio’s wings.

 

The place was much closer in appearance and living style to what he grew used to, that’s for sure. But the way less oppressive atmosphere made that place much comfortable for him. Even though he didn’t live there, he spends more time among those walls than he did his own apartment. Besides, the owner of that residence allowed him to use the library and stay the night whenever he needed, in exchange for supervising his children’s education.

 

Before he met Dio, he thought that the gods had forsaken him. Now, he felt blessed by their grace every single day thanks to him. And thinking of him, Dio finally showed up for the first time on that sunny afternoon. He joined in by laying at the bench next to the one Pucci occupied. He seemed rather distracted, Pucci could tell, but didn’t want to force him into talking. One of the things he loved the most about his visits was the many conversations he’d have with Dio. It was easy to talk with him about pretty much everything, especially subjects that the common folk refused to talk about.

 

Pucci felt that his conversations with Dio were quite liberating and calming. He couldn’t stop himself from loving him, maybe as much as he loved the king of all gods.

 

“Should  I ask you what you’re reading on this fine afternoon, Enrico?”

 

Asked Dio in that voice tone that usually means he’s trying to start a serious subject with some small conversation.

“Nothing too important. Just reviewing my studies on those translated scriptures. It’s about the practices of an eastern branch of Zeus worshipping. What brings you here so early in the afternoon? Were you done with your public duties already?”

 

Dio sighed and stretched his back against the surface of his seat.

 

“ My presence wasn’t as required at the public forum today. There wasn’t much happening earlier but I’m glad I found you here Pucci. I have some matters to discuss.”

 

As expected. The priest folded his scroll and placed it aside, turning his body to face Dio.

 

“And what is it?”

 

Dio faced the fine embroidery of the wool tapestry above their heads before turning his body to look back at Pucci.

 

“ It’s about Giorno. I guess you must know about the arena incident from a few days ago, correct?”

 

Pucci nodded. Of course, he knew what happened.

 

“ I hope the gladiator was dutifully punished for that. What’s about it?”

 

“Well. According to Giorno, he didn’t see the man’s action as a threat, but as part of his seduction attempt. Basically, my son believes that the man was attracted to him and… I’m fairly sure the opposite is also true.”

 

Pucci laughed.

 

“Giorno? Being seduced? And by a gladiator nonetheless? That’s rich…”

 

Dio smiled before replying.

 

“ Yeah I never took him as one interested in those types of men as well. No wonder he blatantly refuses to accept advances from elite members whenever an opportunity arises. Do you remember that one time in which a tax collector tried to convince him to go on a date and Giorno threatened him with a shovel?”

 

Pucci nodded slowly, trying not to laugh over that specific piece of memory.

 

“ That was just one of the classic examples that my son has particularly no interest in the romantic scene. Or at least had. So imagine my surprise when I learned that my son sneaked out in the middle of the night just to meet the gladiator?”

 

Enrico’s eyes grew wide and he placed a hand above his chest in shock.

 

“ Sweet mercy...Did something happened to him?”

 

Dio shook his head negatively, prompting Pucci to breathe in relief. Dio wasn’t as worried about his children’s safety and gave them space to act and think on their own. However, he only worried if they did something that could harm his image. Pucci knew that. He couldn’t blame Dio as much. He wasn’t currently married and all of his children were his desperate attempts to produce an heir capable of not only reaching adulthood in good health but also contribute to his goals. Unfortunately, all of his children except Giorno had deep issues of their own.

 

Donatello was a good boy, but he was naive and his body was fragile. He’d get sick or bedridden quite often and could be easily manipulated. He had recently received his toga and reached maturity, but Dio hesitated on defining his life completely. He has some interest in history, especially the ones that describe horrific tragedies, barbaric invasions, and wartime. his morbid interests clearly gave him some specific knowledge that not all young men his age has, but at the same time, neither Dio nor Pucci knew for sure what to plan for his life.

 

Rykiel was another frail kid, but different from his older brother, all of his issues were of mental fortuity. He was scared of many things. Even leaving his home made him prone to panic attacks and crying. Dio saw the boy as particularly weak and a shameful addition to his family. But Pucci liked the boy. He was trying his best to learn and was overall curious about physics and mathematics. He only needed some dose of self-confidence, Pucci was sure of it. He could have a promising career as a mathematician or an engineer. He was still underage and Dio had no plans for him as well.

 

Now Ungaro was the youngest and most unruly of them all. He was obedient only to Pucci and Dio, but would ignore anyone else. From teachers to caretakers, he was a difficult kid to deal with. Despite his good health, Dio despised his looks. He wasn’t aesthetically pleasing to look at and Dio once said that his face reminded him of his revoltingly abusive father. Ungaro was the most likely to be sent to military service later in life, not because of his father distaste on him, but because the boy was really into listening to fantastic mythological stories and heroic deeds of fictional and real men of the past. He was prone to violence, and both Pucci and Dio knew that the military academy would be of great importance to teach him discipline.

 

From all of Dio’s children, Giorno was, in fact, the most promising. He was outspoken, intelligent, well acquainted with the norms and, best of all, a good free thinker. He had many interests, including politics, herbology, medicine, and the arts, but he was far too ambitious for his own good. Dio was far too enthusiastic about his eldest and most promising son. Enough to change his plans for the boy’s future at least once or twice a month. Pucci was critical over how Dio treated the teenager, especially regarding how he’d like to use him to his own political gain.

 

But in actuality, Dio was both proud and fearful of his own son. Giorno was shaping up to be even more impressive than Dio has ever been, and the father of the family couldn’t be more proud. But at the same time, Giorno’s ambitions rivaled with his father’s. They both lived in a perpetual tense relationship. Dio was always wondering how deep seethed Giorno’s hatred and rebellious nature truly was and how the kid could possibly dethrone him. Giorno was always wondering how much of a free will he actually had or if his father would throw him into slavery at any moment.

 

Pucci tried to convince himself that, thanks to his intervening nature, Dio was less controlling of Giorno’s life. But at the same time, he knew how broken beyond repair their relationship truly was. A father who feared his genius son. A son who feared his tyrannical father. If the story of Chronus devouring his children could be translated into a real-life parallel, Pucci was almost sure this would be it. Dio was just like Chronus, so fearful of the capabilities of his powerful children that he decided to consume them. And Giorno was just like Zeus. Ready to kill his father and take his throne. Pucci would be absolutely mad if Giorno did so. But at the same time, he’d see that coming from miles away.

 

Pucci wished he could stop this from happening, but he had no saying on how Dio chooses to raise his children. He could only give Dio some advice, but not enough to mend this terrible upbringing.

 

“Giorno tried convincing me that he is not in love with the said gladiator.”

 

Continued the patriarch.

 

“Instead, he told me that he saw in the man an opportunity. He labeled the gladiator as merely a tool for assassination. According to my son, if he manages to captivate the man enough to convince him to kill on my behalf, I won’t need to involve myself with the underworld, that is heavily controlled by Diavolo. I must say that his plan is somehow well thought out in theory. But in practice, keeping a secret and a false relationship requires strong will power. No wonder I’m convinced Giorno indeed loves that man and was using this plan as a justification for me to let him interact with his love interest. My problem is that I’m giving him too much of a leeway. I normally prefer keeping my children on a leash, but Giorno knows how to extend his leash beyond my complete control. He’s way too similar to me…. And I know what I was capable of doing at this age. I don’t think he’d hesitate to try something of this magnitude if he wishes… especially while dating a violent criminal.”

 

Pucci reflected on Dio’s words. He was clearly worried about Giorno plotting his demise and the priest was fairly sure Giorno would be too scared of attempting this without a plan of sparing both his and the gladiator’s life. But Dio’s worries were justified. Dio shaped Giorno to be just like him. And he knows how ruthless he can be when pursuing his goals.

 

“What did you decide? Are you going to let Giorno have his way or did you cut him off?”

 

Dio sighed. Pucci didn’t know if that was a sign of defeatism or worry.

 

“I did give him an opportunity to prove himself, but under the condition that he should drop his act whenever I ask for and abide by what I demand. I think it’s a fair price to pay for my permission to approach the gladiator. The warrior isn’t even my slave and he’ll risk a lot just to meet him on the regular and away from the public eye. If Diavolo gets wind of this, who knows what condition he might pull up… Fortunately, Diavolo is not in the political sphere, but he controls a lot of the public opinion… his informers are everywhere and it limits my maneuvering capability in this city.”

 

Pucci crossed his arms before speaking.

 

“ And even so… You have Diavolo as your most prominent business partner. Yet, you seem to resent it.”

 

Dio slowly sits up and seems to contemplate the scenery for a brief moment in deep thought. He then proceeds to turn his position towards Pucci, absent-minded caressing his own leg while thinking of what to say.

 

“My alliance with Diavolo is surely a double-edged sword. Not many see the alliance between patricians and common folk to be proper, especially among the land-owning elite. But I see it differently. The economy in all the roman cities depends on the entrepreneurship of freedmen and common folk. This society only works because of them and, of course, slavery. But the intellectual elite only considers themselves as essential to Roman society. This is a fallacy and we all know it.”

 

Dio stood up and started walking towards the balcony rail.

 

“When I started meeting up with Diavolo and we began our business partnership, he felt honored to have a member of the elite actually considering his side in society.”

 

Dio couldn’t stop looking at the flowers as he spoke.

 

“I’ve done plenty to support businesses from the growing class of free men that the elite so often labels as “opportunists” and “pests”. With Diavolo’s financial and informational aid, I’m able to maintain my political status for much longer than the elite… and aim for the better. But Diavolo also has his own ambitions and is a very paranoid man among his class. He knows too much. His information network knows too much. Everywhere you go in this city and region, there are ears that belong to Diavolo. It wouldn’t surprise me if he already knew about my son’s midnight adventure before I was even informed of it. So Diavolo is both a blessing and a curse to me. I can’t win this city’s heart without his involvement. And he can’t win his political favors without me landing him a hand. We are stuck in a symbiotic relationship that I deeply despise. And now my son is dangling in front of him, almost as if he’s being delivered on a silver plate. Giorno should be careful, but having a loyal assassin thanks to his efforts surely looks good… especially due to him being a potentially rebellious gladiator who happens to belong to Diavolo.”

 

“So what you plan to do is convincing Giorno to manipulate the gladiator, so he can turn against his master? Under what type of compensation? Just that empty life threat you abuse him with?”

 

Questioned Pucci, who was quick to read Dio’s body language and knew that he wasn’t completely sure of how to convince Giorno. Pucci blinked a few times, his forehead frowning with an array of thoughts.

 

“Does Diavolo has any descendants?”

 

Asked Pucci after some considerations.

 

“Yes, he has a daughter and has thus far refused all offers to marry her out, despite him having enough money and property for a good dowry. My guess is that he’s uninterested in giving part of his property or risk losing it completely to another family. He knows others are envious of his wealth and want to take it, legally or not. No wonder his house is so highly secured by commissioned guards and assassins. Do you think we should use this factor in our favor?”

 

Dio at this point had plucked out one of the flowers that were perched just outside the balcony. Pucci remained silent for a few seconds before continuing his line of thought.

 

“I wonder if convincing Giorno to marry her would be a good plan. Her father might not refuse the offer from the politician he owes favors to. After this marriage is consummated, Giorno can convince his lover to kill his master from afar. No eye witness. Nobody capable of telling it was him. And once Diavolo is dead, all of his properties, as well as his wife’s dowry, will fall into Giorno’s hand. Including all the gladiators.”

 

Dio smiled mischievously as Pucci was delivering this possibility.

 

“And then we’d make Giorno as powerful or even more powerful than I’d ever been. I wonder what type of revenge he’d have waiting for me at the end of this whole ordeal.”

 

Pucci shrugged.

 

“Maybe he’d be grateful instead. Maybe he’d feel blessed of getting so much power, freedom, and true happiness, that he would never lift a finger against you. Gratitude is a powerful feeling to have.”

 

Dio turned serious, his finger slowly tracing the shape of the petals. He knew that this would be a shot in the dark, and the outcomes laid solely on the hands of gods. But he wanted to believe he had an actual tangible plan with an actual price Giorno should pay. Pucci’s idea had potential, but Dio doubted Diavolo would be so easily convinced of this arrangement.

 

“That depends on the outcomes… We shall see… I’ll go back to him and offer this little price suggestion. I hope he finds it advantageous enough.”

 

And with that, Dio closed his hand into a fist and ruined the delicate flower in it. Pucci knew that his suggestion would be a hard one for Giorno to follow, but it was certainly a high risk - high reward type of situation. He would pray for the gods just so Giorno could manage to leave this situation as victorious and as grateful for his father’s choices as he could possibly be.

 

Maybe like this, Dio would be spared from suffering under Giorno’s relentless fury. Maybe like this, Pucci won’t have to bury his loved one so soon.

 

----------------

 

“Doppio… Unfortunately, I feel that you’re the only one I can trust.”

 

Diavolo’s hand slowly caressed the wet bits of Doppio’s long unbraided hair. The sweat on his freckled face glistened as he stared back at his master with wide eyes.

 

“That’s an awfully gloomy thing to say.”

 

Responded the “boy” resting his head against Diavolo’s chest. It was warm and Doppio felt protected. His master trusted him enormously and he knew that he made him feel proud and loved. But Diavolo was increasingly paranoid. The more power he gained in the city’s economy, the more he feared others would destroy him.

 

He was becoming increasingly isolated and dependent on that isolation. Doppio pitied him. Even though he was just a slave and had been one since forever, he still could walk around the city without fear. Nobody paid much mind to him and those who knew him in the underworld never dared to mess with him, or else they’d have to face Diavolo’s anger.

 

Being a “boy” that belonged to a rich man had its perks. Though of course, the lack of free will was a negative aspect to it. However, being pampered, protected and trusted was more than what Doppio could ever wish for, being the clumsy teenager he was.

 

Actually “teenager” wasn’t exactly what he was. Most wouldn’t be able to tell his actual age but he was almost as old as his own master. The reason why he looked so much younger than his actual age was one of the other negative aspects that could come with being a “boy” in this world. He had the capacity of growing into a full adult taken away from him at an early age.

 

At least his master needed him and trusted him so Doppio was more than happy to remain at his side, even when he started spiraling into paranoia.

 

“Also what makes you think that? What’s making you feel so unsafe this time?”

 

Questioned Doppio. He was feeling safe for that time being. It was late at night, the flame on the oil lamp twirled lazily at the corner of their bedroom. The bed made of wool and stuffed with feathers was comfortable and cozy. The walls with ornated paintings contrasted with the simple furniture and the smell of expensive incense filled the air. They were heavily protected by bodyguards and locked doors. There was literally nothing that could endanger their lives at that moment. Still, Diavolo looked tense. Maybe something happened that day that made his master question everything and everyone.

 

“Doppio, do you remember the incident from a few days ago? The one in which I’ve been informed of one of my gladiators throwing a knife at Dio’s son in the arena?”

 

Doppio lazily nodded in agreement. He remembers that Diavolo took no time to request punishment from Polpo, even though the gladiator hasn’t harmed the elite member.

 

“I’ve heard today that… Dio’s son paid a secret visit to the gladiator in the middle of the night. And now Dio seems strangely quiet about it. I’ve heard he denied all rumors about his son being threatened or approached by the gladiator. But my informers are telling me otherwise. For some reason, someone under Polpo’s management allowed this encounter and I feel like Dio is plotting something behind my back.”

 

Diavolo had fully stopped caressing Doppio’s head, which made the boy look back at him as they talked.

 

“This sounds strange. Isn’t Dio your business partner who happens to help you politically?”

 

“Yes. But I’m afraid our relations are tensing up. He seems to be way too ambitious. Bruno has been giving me inside information from the Brando Domus. For him, it seems like Dio is willing to use his children to further his goals of gathering political power. That’s why his eldest son sudden approach to one of my gladiators have me worried he might be trying to pull something out with this. Especially because he’s been covering up and denying every rumor about this.”

 

Doppio blinked a few times, resting his chin against the palm of his hand in deep thought.

 

“Well, maybe he’s just infatuated with the gladiator and decided to pay a visit. His father wouldn’t like it if this became the latest gossip.”

 

Suggested the boy, prompting Diavolo to laugh over the silliness and naivety of that statement.

 

“Dio’s son? Being infatuated by a low life gladiator? That’s ridiculous. Don’t be silly. That young man is most likely incapable of feeling anything meaningful and I’m sure a simple gladiator is too low in the social hierarchy to even faze that arrogant brat.”

 

Doppio pouted. He disliked it when Diavolo dismissed his inputs. Most of the time, Doppio could figure things out with impressive accuracy, to the point of being almost prophetic like. The “boy” wondered if that was one of the reasons Diavolo wanted him near. Doppio’s intuitions were almost always right, especially when Diavolo needs it the most. But whenever Diavolo labels his intuitive inputs as “too silly” or “improbable”, Doppio takes mental notes to remind himself of saying “I told you so” whenever he ends up correct. And he was pretty sure this was the case here.

 

“If this ends up being the case, I’ll rub it on your face.”

 

Diavolo at least looked more relaxed.

 

“Let’s see if that's it then. But if it is true, I think we can see this situation as an opportunity.”

 

Doppio looked puzzled before sitting up on the soft mattress.

 

“What’s your plan in case Dio’s son becomes a recurring visitor to the gladiator’s training ground?”

 

Diavolo turned to his side to face his partner better. With a hand extended to caress his long strands of hair, Diavolo had an almost demonic smile adorning his face.

 

“I might have to invite this gladiator into our secret assassination squad. I’ll need him to gain the boy’s trust and eventually either take his father out or convince the boy to do it on his behalf. The compensation would be his freedom and dismissal from the arena. I guess Dio’s son might probably think this is a good idea if he’s really both in love and easy to manipulate.”

 

With this, Diavolo sits up to get closer to Doppio’s face.

 

“What do you think, my dear Doppio?”

 

The boy took no time to answer.

 

“Sounds excellent.”

Chapter Text

A splash of cold water awakened him from a restless night. Mista flinched while his eyes struggled to adjust to the morning light. The intruder today was Formaggio and he seemed full of himself for doing that. He was ordered to give Mista his only meal for the day, though he had another task and he was planning to ask for an extra bowl of porridge for breakfast as compensation. It was just a pity that his mockery would have to cease soon.

“Hey guess what Guido? It’s the fourth day that you are here, do you know that?”

Mista looked both angry and slightly scared by that fact. He averted his eyes and Formaggio could sense his anger. The intruder chuckled. It was easy to mock that man. He never expected him to be stupid to the point of landing his ass in that situation. It’s not as if he didn’t see it coming, but he thought Mista would be a little bit more careful with his public demonstrations. The guy was young, but he should have matured enough during all those months preparing himself to face the arena. Apparently, he learned nothing these past few months and choose to start learning the hard way.

“Anyways, I’m here not only to give you food for the day but also to drag you out of here. Polpo wanna talk to you. Pray that he’ll let you out today.”

Mista still avoided talking or looking back at Formaggio. He surely wasn’t in a good mood knowing that it was the fourth day of punishment. Formaggio sighed and kneeled forward to unlock his cuffs and hand him his food. Mista ate quietly, not making the ruckus and small talk that he normally does when he eats at the gladiator’s dorms. He furrowed his forehead in worry and thoughts. After he was done eating, Formaggio cuffed his hands together with a long chain and started pulling him out of confinement. His shaky weakened legs struggled to keep him walking forward.

The rookie gladiators had already begun their practice. There would be a new batch of warriors graduating soon and, in a week time, they’d be having their first arena fight. Excitement and apprehension ran free on the training grounds but Mista paid no mind to them, even when some of them stopped their activities to look at him walk by, being tugged along into Polpo’s residence. Mista had no strength in himself to try struggling or running away. He couldn’t pay attention to anything else other than his own impending doom.

Maybe Polpo found out about the late-night visitor.

Maybe I’ll be forced to fight in the arena in this state.

Maybe I’ll never be allowed to see Giorno again.

His mind was currently plagued with negative thoughts, even when his heart screamed at him, urging him to believe that things would be alright. Knowing that Giorno cared about him and wanted to be there for him… The thought that they might have had a true connection… the feeling that they could have something more together… All of those thoughts that should be comforting actually only made Mista feel restless.

He had a feeling he was about to lose all of those possibilities that day. He felt like he wouldn’t be able to fulfill the silent promise they made to each other. And the reason was obvious.

It’s the fourth day. Nothing good can come from it.

After walking for what felt like an eternity, Formaggio stopped at the dining room of Polpo’s Domus. He took a quick bow before handing the chain to one of Polpo’s commissioned guards. After Formaggio took his leave, Mista raised his eyes to see the vast frame of the slave trader reclined on a couch, his chubby hands occupied with food that Mista would never be allowed to eat.

“You look much worse than I expected, though your wounds look better.”

Said the man unceremoniously. Mista flinched when hearing his voice. The last time he heard it, he was being whipped and the man was yelling in anger. Now he sounded calm and in good humor. The difference was quite jarring and Mista didn’t know what to think of it.

“Your wounds would be in much worse shape if you haven’t received some external help, isn’t it?”

That’s it. Mista was screwed. Polpo knew about the midnight visitor and would probably punish him harshly for this. Though for some odd reason his voice remained calm and collected. He talked in a condescending tone as if he was instructing a child.

“You don’t need to be scared of punishment for this. You were in confinement and your visitor had no obligation to meet you. We had a breach in our security and those who allowed this to happen should receive the appropriate penalties. Though I decided to bring this information to Diavolo first and see what he had to say. So that’s why you’re here. Diavolo wants to know more details...as in, what reason brought Dio’s son towards you?”

Mista was frozen in place. He was definitely in a trap he didn’t know how to escape. If he told him the wrong thing, maybe even Giorno would be punished. If he told what actually happened, maybe he would be killed that day. But Mista was a terrible liar and couldn’t think of anything else to say as a cover-up.

“W-what do I gain if I tell you?”

Polpo didn’t hesitate to respond.

“It depends on what you say. If I tell you what you would gain, you might know what I want to hear from you. So you better say it quick.”

With that, Polpo sits up and Mista couldn’t bear looking at him with all his height and size. He felt insignificant, like an insect uselessly trying to escape from the hands of an uncaring god.

“I don’t know why he decided to show up... He told me that he came here in order to deliver my dagger.”

Polpo leaned his body forward to grab a piece of poultry at the low table before looking back at Mista.

“Hm… And he decided to just invade my residence without asking me and didn’t ask any of my employees to give you the dagger. Is he that attached to you already?”

Think Mista! Think!

“I think he wanted to see if I was alright. He brought some medical tools so I guess he expected me to have untreated wounds. He helped me and left the dagger. I don’t know if it means attachment.”

Polpo chuckled, a piece of poultry still lodged between his lips.

“Of course this means attachment. Anyone else would have left you to die as punishment from your little demonstration at the arena. Especially if that someone happens to be an elite member. Yet, this boy decided to treat your wounds in secret instead. This is odd, don’t you think. More importantly, what Diavolo wants to know is: Does that young man feel attached to you?”

Mista had no feasible way to deny this fact. For Polpo, it was obvious that this was the case and there was no use for the gladiator to try denying it or covering it up. Mista felt defeated when he quietly nodded in agreement. The man laughed briefly, shaking his head in disbelief.

“That’s true then… Well, that would be the first one for a teenage boy. Gladiators usually attract a lot of attention from elite women, you know? But this case can have some interesting outcomes. You see, Diavolo told me to give you a mission if this was the case.”

Mista’s eyes went wide. He expected anything, except this.

“What…?”

“Don’t need to look so surprised. Diavolo has his own reasons but he’s currently unnerved by that boy’s father. He suspects that the boy’s approach and attachment to you is just part of a scheme to bring about Diavolo’s demise. He believes that, by approaching you, the boy can end up convincing you of killing your own master, and thus Dio could make something to get his upper hand in the situation. We don’t know the details and this could all be just empty speculation, but if you notice that this boy is trying to convince you of committing murder in his name, don’t hesitate to tell us. If you let us know, you’ll be rewarded. Also, if that’s the case, it’s going to be your job to convince the boy to kill his own father instead. If you do that, we’ll grant you freedom. So, what do you say?”

Mista didn’t know what to say. He just stood perfectly still, his mouth agape. He couldn’t believe what he’s been told. Maybe Giorno’s approach was all carefully pretended so Mista would open up and trust him and… No…

That’s not possible. Giorno was a great person. He was beautiful both inside and outside. He would never have approached him out of self-interest.

But what if that was the case? What if this was all a farce? What if he just wanted Mista to help him take Diavolo down for his father’s gain? Mista wanted to punch himself in the face just by thinking about it.

“So, what do you say? Do you want to take the mission or what? If you’re still unsure, I’ll have you back in the confinement so you can think more about it. If you want the mission, then you’ll be good to go. You can still meet that boy as much as you want, but keep an eye on him. If you don’t want this mission, you’ll go back to your training and your life will continue exactly how it was before this whole mess. We can all pretend this never happened, alright? So… What do you say?”

Mista remained silent. The thought that he was about to lose all the possibilities of meeting Giorno again weighed down on him. However, being allowed to meet him meant he would have to betray Giorno eventually if he proved to have those ulterior motivations. Mista didn’t know what could possibly destroy him the most, but he wanted to see it. With his own eyes. regardless of how hurtful the truth might be.

If he lost the chance of building something beautiful with him, he wouldn’t forgive himself.

“I’ll take it”

Responded Mista, his eyes filled with resolve.

--------------

“You’re aware of what price you are willing to pay for this, right? Don’t forget that the man you’re meeting is a gladiator of the lowest social status and is somebody else’s slave. If you want to take him out of his condition in the arena you’ll have to do as I say. Now repeat what I instructed you to do.”

At this moment it was pointless to try convincing Dio that he felt nothing towards the gladiator, but since Dio would use any means to further rule over Giorno’s life, the teenager had no choice other than agree to do what he commands… even if not immediately.

“ I need to avoid being seen by the public with him.”

“Yes, and you know what will happen if you do?”

Giorno felt a shiver going down his spine. Despite it being a hot day and him having had worked all morning at the garden of their Domus. Dio was looming over, casting a shadow at the teenager who was bending over the wild bushes he had been ripping out of the ground.

“Yes…”

Responded Giorno, knowing full well how cruel his father could be if he made this mistake.  

“Meanwhile, I’ll try convincing Diavolo to have you and his daughter marry. And as we’re busy with this, you should convince your lover to murder anyone I desire to. Including Diavolo, but only after the marriage. After it, if you two are successful, you’ll inherit both your wife’s dowry as well as all of her father’s property. Including this particular slave.”

Giorno knew how impossible this task would be if it relied solely on him and Mista. Others should be aware of this plan and help them achieve its goal, but if way too many people learned about him and Mista’s relationship, Dio would obviously punish Giorno with… He doesn’t even want to think about it.

“You can win it all Giorno, but you’ll have to stick by the rules. I’m willing to risk myself in this. Diavolo isn’t someone easily convinced and I’m risking losing influence in this city’s economy just so you can have a chance to fuck someone you desire. Pray to the gods that you’ll manage to leave this situation unscathed.”

Said Dio, trying to look like he cared about Giorno’s well being by crouching to meet his eye level and placing his hand on his shoulder. Giorno would have none of this.

“You underestimate me, father. I didn’t need you to repeat yourself. I know exactly what price I should pay.”

Said Giorno, not breaking eye contact. Before Dio managed to respond swiftly, Giorno got up and dusted the dirt off his knees.

“I’m leaving for the baths for today. You should be the one working on a hit list. See you again this evening.”

The last thing Giorno needed to deal with was his father making him even more miserable. He knew that he’d have no freedom of choice regarding his own future. He was reminded of that every single day.  He knew there was no possible way of him having any control of his life… Except if he took the reigns of it forcefully, with his own hands. The only positive result from their back and forth, was that at least he managed to get his approval to meet Mista… even if under specific reasons and obligations… but this shouldn’t stop them from actually having something meaningful with each other.

Assassinations don’t need to be the whole topic of conversation between them. For now, Giorno decided to head over to the bath and relax a little. Take his mind away from such troubling thoughts.

As always, the servants of the house refused to let Giorno walk out of the Domus without a company, even when he just wanted to go to the nearest public bath.

After a quick visit to the library and the kitchen to convince both Fugo and Narancia to join him, Giorno was finally out of his father’s residence and enjoying the warmth of the late morning streets. The baths wouldn’t be as crowded as usual and the streets were filled with scents of food being prepared in the taverns.

What types of food does he like? I’ve heard that gladiators eat fairly healthy and have even more access to good food than some free men. I wonder if Mista likes sausages. I should bring him something more interesting to eat other than some bread and fruit.

The trio reached the public bath and Giorno handed the doorkeeper all of their required fees. Narancia had been in a bad mood ever since “the incident” and his nose had a slightly purple coloration to it, even if it’s been days since Dio bashed his head against the floor. Upon hearing that he’d go to the baths that day, his mood certainly turned for the better. Fugo had to stop a translation work midway through it, but he felt like he needed a break as well so he came along, accepting the invitation.

They talked to each other enthusiastically and Giorno was relieved that the incident from around one week ago didn’t leave any deep emotional scars on them. They were talking happily about which type of massage and grooming method they’d choose this time around. Giorno was just glad that he had a way to distract himself from thinking too much about his current situation. Having a hard time sleeping was enough on him already. Comparing to his father’s harsh words, Fugo and Narancia’s usual banter sounded like sweet music to his ears.

Does Mista have friends he can talk to and take his mind out of his worries? I wonder if he knows some funny jokes and has a good time despite not knowing what is waiting for him in the future.

The trio left their clothes and sandals at the entrance to be tended by one of the bath-house slaves. Narancia picked up their towels and they headed into the first area of the public bath. This section contained a warm pool with ornated walls and indentations where attendees could sit. Statues of warriors adorned the intricate pillars and water poured into the pool through their open mouths of the marble figures. Beautiful mosaics portraying natural landscapes filled the walls and some people walked or swam around naked and shamelessly. The water temperature matched that of the streets outside and served more as a primary cleaner. Some people only entered the bathing process after exercising at an open area at the center of the public bath, but the boys were more focused on relaxing and cleaning themselves.

I wonder if Mista has ever had a full traditional roman bath before. He’s foreign and I don’t know if he ever had the opportunity to do so. What type of massage would be his favorite? He’s a gladiator so, he probably prefers those that deal with his sores. Maybe I can learn it just by observation.

Narancia left the water a few times to fetch something for the trio to eat while hanging around the pool’s margin. Giorno preferred attending the place with friends rather than his father or Dio’s subordinates. At least while chatting with people his own age, Giorno was less likely to be approached by people he didn’t want near him. Though the boy noticed that, as soon as he entered the warm pool, a few other people were already looking at him and seemingly gossiping. He’d pay no mind to them on a normal day, but on that day specifically, he wondered how many of them heard the rumors. He should pretend nothing ever happened, or else he’d be punished for it. As Fugo and Narancia debated about something related to bird sightings, Giorno tried emptying his mind as much as possible. Gossip be dammed.

The next area they attended was the hot bath. A heating system maintained through a furnace that was tended by slaves under the floor helped keeping the pool hot and steamy. The place wasn’t as heavily decorated as the previous area due to the steam making it hard for people to appreciate it, but it was by far the most relaxing pool. It was hard to keep up the same enthusiastic conversations from the previous area. The hot bath was made for complete relaxation.

Would he like this public bath? If he hasn’t been to a place like this before, would his muscles finally fully relax from the stress of training? It’s a pity that I won’t be allowed to bring him in. Gladiators are heavily supervised, and by bringing him in, every attendee would know I’m in contact with him. Maybe if I close my eyes and imagine that he’s a free man who’s attending this bath with me, I’d find some comfort.

Giorno fell sleepy and closed his eyes just to help him relax a little. As soon as he re-opened his eyes, he saw someone moving towards him. The water vibrated all around him and he felt at peace. The man’s details were blurred thanks to the steam, but his tall physique and slow approach gave Giorno the reassuring feeling that he was here with him. Giorno could feel his heart beating fast against his chest as a pair of black glistering eyes appeared among the mist and focused on Giorno. Those eyes were so full of love and devotion, that Giorno thought he wasn’t deserving of them. The teenager wanted to throw himself into his arms. Even if he couldn’t see his details, he’d feel safe and protected in them.

If he could just reach out to him. If he could just let the gladiator embrace him right there with no care in the world, he’d be the happiest man alive. But as soon as he felt a pair of arms surrounding him in that warm mist, he noticed something strange. The water seemed to burn him out of a sudden as if it was trying to boil him alive. The touches went from loving and soothing to forceful and intrusive. The hands were too harsh and too many. So many hands were touching him and holding his limbs down with brutal strength that Giorno couldn’t breathe, scream, or struggle. He felt trapped and horrified. From all around him, malicious whispers could be heard.

“Were you ruining your body with that gladiator? That’s so disappointing.”

“Such a pity… You’re too beautiful to be wasted to a low life like him.”

“ No wonder he didn’t pay attention to any of us… He has a thing for gladiators, so he probably likes it rough. Never saw him like a slut, but here he is…”

“I’m inclined to give up on my freedom and become a gladiator myself. Maybe he’ll let me fuck him.”

“Doesn’t matter, he’s just a slut. He wouldn’t say no.”

“So dirty… open your legs.”

Giorno couldn’t scream, move or breath. He couldn’t recognize any of the disturbing and distorted faces surrounding him, forcing him down into the water, making him open his legs. If he could just scream for help from anyone. Anything. Please.

“Hey Giorno, are you okay? You must be tired if you’re falling asleep in the middle of the hot pool. Let’s go back to the warm room, shall we?”

Fugo seemed a little worried, though heavily red thanks to the heat when he placed his hand on Giorno’s shoulder to wake him up. Giorno woke up dizzy and anxious, the terrifying nightmare still plaguing his body with trembles. It felt so real and horrifying, but after some deep breaths, Giorno came to the conclusion that it was probably the culmination of his thoughts and anxieties pilling up over the last few days

“Giorno, you don’t look well at all. Was it a bad dream?”

Inquired Narancia who had just emerged from the water while rubbing his eyes.

“Yes. It was just a silly dream, pay no mind to it.”

Said Giorno, trying to calm down. He was so focused on trying to get his heart rate to a normal pace, that he failed to see that Bruno had just arrived and was observing the trio from a distance.

“Giorno, do you want to ditch the bath for now and go home? I can take you there if you feel safer.”

Said the older man with a slightly worried voice tone. Giorno smiled at Bruno upon noticing him. He didn’t want to worry anyone, but couldn’t help feeling anxious about what he just dreamed of.

“It’s alright. Let’s continue.”

Giorno didn’t want to cut short Narancia and Fugo’s visit to the public bath. He didn’t want Bruno to worry either. With a heavy heart and an anxious mind, Giorno went back to the warm bath, being tagged along by Fugo and Narancia. Bruno was quick to follow them going into the warm bath before they left, and following them into the cold room, and then to the massaging area.

The massagist noted that Giorno’s back was much tense than normal. This didn’t surprise the blonde but Bruno certainly overheard this remark. After the massage was done with, the group sat down on marble seats to scrape off the oil remains from their skins and prepare themselves to leave the facility. Giorno noticed that Bruno has been keeping a careful eye on him ever since he caught the teenager having a mini panic attack at the hot pool.

He knew that Bruno would ask him about it eventually and dreaded having to tell him what the dream was about. Giorno has no idea why he had this specific fear since it’s not as if he has ever suffered such trauma before. Maybe the fact that he attracts so much unwanted attention or that he was threatened to be thrown into slavery at a brothel in case he fails to meet his father’s goals, contributed to that fear. But other than that, he doesn’t know what this actual trauma would feel like in real life. Giorno saw himself as pathetic to have such a stupid fear. He was acting just like a child who couldn’t sleep without a lit fire on their oil lamp.

“Giorno, talk to me. Are you alright?”

Bruno wasn’t wasting any more time with this. Giorno sighed while scraping off the oil from his legs.

“The nightmare was unimportant. There is something else that deems to be of higher importance than that. Is the gladiator still being punished?”

Asked Giorno at a low volume, as to not attract attention. Bruno, who was taking some of the oil to pour onto his silky hair smiled upon his question.

“He’s out of confinement. Last time I checked he was having all of his regular meals and was recovering from his wounds. Does this news brings some comfort to you?”

Giorno felt a wave of relief that he, unfortunately, couldn’t emote.

“Yes. It’s been a week since I last saw him. I’m thinking of paying him a visit. Maybe a date. Do you have any suggestions?”

 

Chapter Text

The bright night sky looked aflame thanks to the light of a million stars. Even the warm light coming from torches, oil lamps and bright parties at some of Pompeii’s residences, couldn’t tame the ethereal beauty of the moonless night sky. The milky way shined bright across the sky and tiny specs of stars could be seen crossing the night at incredible speeds.

When Mista was a child, he used to create his own constellations based on animals and strange human figures he’d meet on his daily life. His people believed that each person lived and died according to lines that nature wrote for them way before they were born, and the work of a prophet was to read and translate those lines in nature.

One of the most popular methods of fate reading was reading the position of the stars. Mista has always found the idea to be interesting but never learned to read those stars properly as the priestesses did in his homeland. Maybe he was scared of reading what fate had in store for him. Maybe he just wanted life to surprise him. Nowadays, he resents not having learned it when he had the chance. If he knew how to read it, he’d know what to expect from his future. Now he could only see a section of the night sky through a tiny window at the wall of his round-house. It’s been a few days ever since he was freed from his confinement, but going back to his usual cell wasn’t exactly improving his sleep quality.

Ghiaccio, his cellmate, was snoring as loudly as he usually talks. He never talks at a normal person’s volume. Mista wonders if he’s not only short on sight but also short on hearing. His snoring was always inconvenient. Formaggio’s cat walked over Mista’s chest and laid on it again but he didn’t mind. At that time of the night, even though most gladiators at the dorm were already asleep due to their rigid routine, Mista couldn’t sleep even a bit. His mind was wandering through the streets of Pompeii and into that Domus in which he saw Giorno for the first time all those months ago.

Does he know I’m not in confinement anymore? Wondered Mista, losing track of time. It’s been a whole week since they saw each other and Mista couldn’t help missing him. But at the same time, he was afraid of further developing their relationship only to discover that it has always been a farce… However, if those feelings were not only true but mutual Mista was scared of dying in the arena and leaving Giorno all alone. Leaving him behind to suffer was surely something that made him anxious about his current state in life.

Before they finally met in person and Giorno started responding to Mista’s feelings, the gladiator only held Giorno as a distant and untouchable source of hope. Like a constellation that he couldn’t read the meaning of but still had personal value to him. He held onto that fantasy of developing something with Giorno as a way to cope with his own terrifying situation. But now that Giorno turned into someone he could touch, talk with and build a relationship, Mista had something else to be scared over. For the first time in so long, Mista was scared of dying. He was scared of making Giorno grief.

As he tried resting after a busy day, his wounds still not completely healed and his body still aching, Mista closed his eyes and made a wish to a passing shooting star. He wished that the fate he couldn’t read adorning the night sky held a message of hope instead of impending doom. He knew that considering the way things currently were, that wish was almost foolish. His fate seemed to lay bare across the sky and only symbolized tragedy. But he still wanted to dream and hold onto hope.

He started relaxing a little and feeling drowsy, but just as he was starting to truly get to sleep, Formaggio’s cat heard a noise that made him leap from Mista’s chest towards the ground. Mista opened his eyes only to listen to a key unlocking their cell and slowly opening it. Mista turned around to look at the familiar dotted cloth hanging over Bruno’s shoulder.

The man looked alert as if he was doing something forbidden. Which was most likely the case. Gladiators were not supposed to receive visits from outside after sleeping hours. Though Bruno looked straight into Mista’s eyes and made a gesture asking the gladiator to follow him. Mista didn’t ask him anything, his heart thumping hard against his chest as the man guided him out of the dorms and handed him some warmer clothing to protect him from the wind.

“Don’t ask anything. If someone questions why I’ve been here, just say that I’m here to deliver some wine to Polpo’s residence under Diavolo’s orders and you’re coming with me to the doorway to help me carry the jars, understood?”

Mista nodded, fully awake and alert to any strange movement. He had no idea why Bruno was acting so suspicious but followed him anyways. He’d never doubt Bruno’s words or question his decisions.

Once they got to the back gate of the Ludus, Abbacchio opened the iron door from outside and Mista could see a wagon at the backstreet. An old brown horse patiently waited to pull up the cart and there was a tent covering the contents of the wagon. Bruno led Mista to the back of it. A pair of arms emerged from the opening of the tent holding up a wine jar. Bruno took it and looked back at Mista.

“ Again. Don’t say a word. Don’t let anyone see you. I’ll be back to conduct this cart out of here.”

Whispered Bruno, having exactly no issues holding the jar. Before Mista could ask anything, the pair of hands grabbed him by the arm and pulled him inside the wagon’s tent. It was dark, but the front opening of the tent that led to the conductor area managed to get enough light in from the stars above them. Mista’s heart skipped a beat when his eyes met with Giorno’s astonishing blue orbs.

“I hope I haven’t interrupted your sleep tonight. How are your wounds?”

Asked Giorno, a small but mischievous smile adorning his face. Mista’s eyes widened. He had to control himself not to throw his arms around him immediately or end up talking too loudly just from the sheer happiness of meeting him again. He couldn’t help but smile.

“I’m doing much better than before. Thanks to you as well.”

Answered Mista, showing the wound on the left side of his stomach and how it seemed to be healing fast. Giorno nodded, his fingers tracing his skin near the gash to check for swelling. Mista longed for his touches so much that he leaned into that immediately. Giorno didn’t seem to budge away from it, instead just continuing his examinations while trying to contain his blushing.

“It does seem much better now, though I’m going to give it a little more attention tonight. There is still some recovering to do. Can you lay down here? It’s a cramped cart but I think there’s enough room for you to lay down on your back.”

Mista noticed how crammed with jars, wooden boxes and other items the place was, but there was still enough room for him to lay down across the wooden floor and Giorno to kneel down beside him. As Giorno started treating his wounds using a similar method to the first treatment, albeit much less painful, Mista took in the sight of the blonde calmly working under a sky of countless stars. He wanted to finally tell him that he’s been seeing him from affair for months and that he is so beautiful that Mista felt unworthy to receive such attention. But before the words left his lips, Giorno started talking again.

“Bruno told me yesterday that you’ve been out of confinement. I was much pleased with this information so I decided to show up to check on your health.”

Mista chuckled. He was so cute and unnecessarily formal. He was truly from the elite and Mista couldn’t wait to see him loosing up a bit. Even if it’s just to strike some casual conversation.

“Can’t believe I’ve got a private medic taking care of me. My fellow gladiators would be jealous if they got wind of this.”

Giorno smiled while finishing his work.

“ I hope they have nothing to suspect. It would ruin the fun if way too many people knew our secret.”

Before Mista could answer with a quick comeback, Bruno returned to the wagon and sat down on the conductor seat in front of them. Mista sighed, thinking that their time was up, but instead of asking Mista to leave the wagon and go back inside, Bruno just conducted the horse ahead and away from the Ludus gate. Mista’s eyes widened. It was the first time he was actually leaving the facility without permission. He was sneaking out for the first time ever since he was sentenced to slavery. He tried sitting up, frantically anxious about not knowing where they were going, but Giorno placed his delicate hands against his shoulders and made him remain perfectly still.

“ Listen up you two. I have to take this wagon all the way up to a vineyard outside the city walls. You’ll have to remain silent the whole way up since I don’t want unnecessary attention. The guards from the night shift know me well and will let me pass without a check-up, but I’ll need you two to remain quiet. When we’re out of sight, you two can leave the wagon. I’ll pick you up after I’m done with my work for tonight. Will this suffice?”

Whispered Bruno from the conductor seat. Mista couldn’t stop smiling and his heart soared upon hearing this. He’d have a proper date with the youth and he couldn’t thank Bruno enough. He just wished he knew about it previously, so he’d try looking more presentable. Giorno didn’t seem to mind though.

“Bruno, you’re the best wingman. I’m going to repay you someday.”

Said the gladiator. Bruno made a dismissive gesture.

“No need to thank me. You need to be quiet though. I’ll give you guys a sign when you’re good to go.”

With that said, Giorno and Mista had to stay as quiet as they possibly could inside the old wagon that rocked up and down the stone-paved streets. They were alert and could hear all the sounds their wagon made as well as bits of conversations from people outside. The sounds of distant social gatherings, taverns buzzing with conversations, and mothers trying to put their children to sleep, filled the air on that night. The wait inside that wagon would be torturous if they were on their own but, fortunately, they had each other as company.

Mista wanted to ask him so many questions, but he knew that it had to wait. They were both sitting quietly side by side, waiting for Bruno to give them a signal. Mista couldn’t bare waiting for that long without at least making Giorno know that he was looking forward to their date so he held the youth’s hand, praying that it wasn’t all sweaty and gross. Giorno responded to the gesture by smiling and holding it firmly. For Mista, it was enough proof that Giorno was looking forward to that encounter. Bruno conducted the wagon to the waiting line in order to leave the town and, after some pleasant small talk with the gate guards, they managed to leave Pompeii’s walls behind.

The old horse pulled their wagon on a slow ascending journey towards a vineyard farm where Bruno needed to go to gather some items. Probably some of which were illegal but that’s why he was asked to do this job. Bruno had a lot of free passes from Roman guards themselves and he was not afraid to risk his life for a job well done. With that, he knew that he was doing the “love birds” a favor by riding slowly up that dusty road. He knew a good spot to leave them, next to one of the wells that had some well-placed trees around it. It was a good spot to avoid being seen by onlookers at the farm’s main house.

As soon as he saw the area, he knocked at the wood of the old wagon cart and heard the rustling coming from inside it. In a few seconds, the horse noticed how much lighter that wagon was. Bruno hoped they’d have some fun together for a change.

 

----------------

 

Giorno couldn’t believe how smooth things were going for them. He told his father a few hours before that he’d go out on a date with Mista. He ended up using Bruno’s work on trade supervision to find a way to take the gladiator out on a date. They weren't at any sort of social gathering nor at the hot springs like many couples would do, but they had a beautiful sky tonight to gaze upon, good food and wine that Giorno brought in, and some trees to recline on.

That place was quite dainty and relaxing. Truly a beautiful refuge among the vineyard. Flowers cling onto the rocks that surrounded the well and Giorno wonders if the farm’s workers used that area to sleep during hot afternoons before picking up some water from the well to continue their hard work. Mista was radiant with happiness, despite how alert he seemed at first. He knew that he’d be heavily penalized if he was caught outside his cell at that time of the night, but looking at how much he smiled indicated that it was worth the risk for him.

As expected, Mista was delighted to have some of the food Giorno brought in for them both. He never really had the chance to taste some of the delicacies that people in the elite would normally eat, such as the delicious peacock meat cooked with honey and spices, and fruits such as figs and pomegranates.

“Those are delicious! I’ve never had anything quite like this? What is it?”

And Giorno went on to explain what was on the dish he was eating. It was delightful to talk with that man who, despite being trained to maim and kill, still held true innocence and childlike wonder in his eyes and smile. It was the first time Giorno saw him so happy and at peace. He had no trace of alertness in his body language as soon as he started eating, talking and relaxing against the shadows of the trees.

“What kind of food do you usually eat at the Ludus?”

Asked Giorno, serving his date some wine on a simple cup. Mista admired the liquid before answering.

“We eat fairly well for slaves you know? There are fruits, bread, and some meat, though the cooked stuff is mostly kind of plain. However, there’s a special porridge the kitchen staff prepares for us sometimes. Normally, porridges are pretty bland as well, but this one has honey and all sorts of exotic flavors in it. I and the others try guessing what they put in the recipe, but we have no idea what they do... It’s delicious though! It’s a pity it’s not served every morning…”

As he told that, Mista had some smudge of the exotic delicacy he was having on the corner of his mouth and Giorno didn’t think much when he ran his thumb across the spot to clean it. Mista stopped talking immediately, blushing upon the gesture.

“You’re awfully happy about porridge. It must be a very good recipe. It’s making me curious.”

Said Giorno, letting his gesture linger. Mista smiled and leaned into his touch, kissing the palm of his hand in a gesture that made Giorno worry if his hand was sweaty.

“I’ll ask the kitchen staff for extra porridge next time. You should try it yourself!”

Giorno couldn’t help but smile before taking his hand away from Mista’s face.

“I should learn with you how to find joy in little things in life. Like in a bowl of porridge”

Mista shrugged, picking up his cup of wine.

“ Life can be hard. Sometimes, those little things are what keeps you going. Like eating your favorite food… or having some romance… or a cup of wine.”

Said Mista, gesturing with the cup for a toast. Giorno responded to it and they both took a sip of their drink. Mista gazed upon the content of his cup with a seemingly peaceful expression.

“You know, in the Ludus, we are not permitted to drink wine. Which is pretty sad.”

Giorno’s eyes widened.

“That’s weird. Is there a reason for this?”

Mista shrugged, taking another sip of the drink he hasn’t drunk for almost a year.

“They justify it by saying it contributes to addiction and that it’s better for us to avoid getting drunk before battles. This is just a travesty in my opinion!”

Giorno sighs, raising the jar of wine to meet his eye level. Even wine, which is something so common for everyone in society, was denied to those who were condemned to live as entertainment objects for others.

“Good thing I brought some wine with me tonight.”

Said Giorno, offering to pour him some more. Mista smiled and accepted his offer.

“You know, wine is pretty sacred where I came from. We drank it mostly during religious ceremonies and such. But I wasn’t much of a Dionysius devotee back then. I wish I were. Maybe I would have enjoyed more of my freedom before being sentenced to the arena.”

Explained Mista, casually twirling the cup on his hand. Giorno was blushing at the thought of him being involved in the cult of the god of freedom, wine… and sexual deviancy.

Giorno should dismiss the ugly prejudices and rumors his society made around the cult of Bachus, but he couldn’t help but wonder. Regardless, this wasn’t important to note. The fact that he had no freedom now was the most pressing matter.

“What was life like before all of this?”

Asked Giorno, not being able to contain his curiosity as he placed the wine jar back at the extended napkin they placed on the ground. Mista paused to think before drinking another bit of the drink and resting his back against the tree trunk.

“I wasn’t raised in a family nor in an actual house, you know. I was pretty much scattered to the wind ever since I can remember. It happens to some children in that region. We do receive education, but it’s very basic and supervised by the priestesses at the temple. Everything else is our choice to make since the faith of our people heavily praises the freedom to choose your own path. However, we were still at the mercy of gods and the lines of our fate are believed to show up in nature. Such as in plants, flowers, and the placement of the stars at night. Though I was never too curious about the traditional methods of premonition, so I created my own method of avoiding unlucky paths. It’s been working so far.”

As Mista explained this, Giorno laid down on the ground, his body turned to the side and head resting on his hand. He wanted to close his eyes and imagine Mista as a small child, barefoot, running amidst nature, having so much freedom to chose his own destiny that Giorno couldn’t even imagine. The youth both envied and pitied the gladiator. He had all that freedom in his hands but hasn’t completely filled his life with it… only to see himself stripped away from this freedom and be thrown at the winds of a miserable fate. He wondered how he managed to smile so brightly and talk so open-heartedly about his past.

“Do you miss that freedom?”

Asked Giorno, his eyes focused on Mista’s expressions and body language. The man seemed melancholic but still held a small smile on his lips.

“I miss some aspects of it. Others, not so much.”

Giorno’s eyes widened. He would have sacrificed many things to have this level of freedom. But seeing the man who had it still resenting parts of it was quite shocking.

“How could you dislike some aspects of it?”

Asked Giorno, sitting up again and looking at the gladiator in disbelief.

“I didn’t feel like I had a purpose. When you have no strings attached to anyone nor anything, you start feeling like your life has no meaning. You start wanting to fill your life with tasks and goals because, otherwise, what’s the point of living, right?”

Answered Mista, his eyes gazing the stars above them. Giorno blinked in confusion. It’s not that what he said made no sense, but it was strange coming from someone who had been absolutely free at some point, and now lived a life of slavery.

“I wish I was born with that sort of freedom.”

Confessed Giorno, also gazing upon the stars. Mista chuckled.

“But you are free. You’re not a slave. You are a citizen of Rome and in the elite of all places. You have way more freedom than most people in this world.”

Answered Mista, whose words felt like daggers to his heart. Though what he told was true. He was the freest a person could be in Rome, at least from the eyes of a slave. He knew that it wasn’t the case but he couldn’t blame Mista for thinking like this.

“There’s no such thing as true freedom in society. Even for those born in the elite, which makes one unable to choose their path until much later in life. Or never at all.”

Said Giorno in a melancholic voice tone. Mista looked at him with a hint of remorse in his eyes. He was probably sorry for implying that but Giorno didn’t want him to apologize for it. It was only natural for a slave to think someone in the elite was absolutely free.

“Well… that sounds awful. We’re both not very free people.”

Commented Mista, sounding lighthearted despite their grim reality. Giorno was still impressed with how he managed to do that.

“We are not free but… We still managed to go on a date. That’s pretty impressive!”

Giorno laughed. Mista did have a point and they should thank Bruno for this. Giorno relaxed a bit and blushed upon being reminded that they were indeed on a date and they could be doing pretty much anything at that moment. What they were doing was already quite risky, especially for Giorno, but since they were already there, the risk seemed worth taking. Giorno looked back at Mista’s eyes and found the courage to crawl towards him, moving closer so they could just stay at each other’s side. Mista didn’t take a second to invite him closer to lean against the tree and threw his arms around the teenager without hesitation. Normally, Giorno doesn’t like hugging nor any sort of physical contact like it. This happened mostly between him and people who come to compliment Dio’s family members and want to force an interaction with the teenager. Giorno absolutely despised those sorts of contacts, but this current hug made him feel something else entirely.

Mista’s arms and chest were warm and loving. Instead of forceful or intrusive, his arms molded against Giorno’s body perfectly, without making him feel uncomfortable for once. It was like a warm blanket that made the youth feel protected and loved inside that embrace. He could just doze off like this and he would completely forget the risk they were taking or all the dangers that could be lurking around the corner. Giorno felt like slipping into slumber, barely able to process the fact of how tired he actually was. He’s been unable to sleep properly for days and he just couldn’t help giving out to his own exhaustion now that he felt safe. He didn’t want to let go of Mista.

He wanted to wake up and realize that they have never been in any sort of danger and that they were safe, at a place to call their own.

He wanted to wake up to find out that Mista wasn’t a slave condemned to live and die in the arena, or that he didn’t have the threat of being thrown into prostitution himself.

He wanted to wake up and find him and Mista safe and well, comfortably on each other’s arms and not hiding away from everyone else.

Before Giorno could even notice, he had fallen asleep and Mista couldn’t stop looking at him in absolute awe. He was still processing the fact that they were even at each other’s presence, much less than they were on a secret date, embracing as lovers do and that Giorno fell asleep in his arms. He was so mesmerized by this situation that he failed to notice that Bruno has been sitting near the well while drinking water from it.

The man was returning from his duties but has been waiting for the couple to show up for the last 20 minutes, so he decided to take a break in the area instead. A cup of cold freshwater would be much welcome.

Mista noticed him only after 10 minutes of staring at Giorno’s peaceful face and Bruno seemed to be patiently waiting to be perceived there. Mista turned bright red with this situation. He was usually much more perceptive than that so, being caught so distracted was truly embarrassing. Bruno smiled at the gladiator. He got up from his sitting position and started walking towards the wagon, leaving them both alone. The fact that he was back with the wagon was a clear indicator that their time had run out but Mista didn’t want to leave nor wake Giorno up. Everything looked like a dream.

He wished they could have talked more.

He wished they could have laughed together more.

He wished they could have kissed and…

Mista was still blushing heavily about the whole situation. But he couldn’t stop himself from leaning down and giving Giorno a chaste kiss on his lips. Kiss that immediately woke Giorno up and made him place his delicate hand on the back of his neck to pull him closer. Mista fears that Giorno would reject him at any second completely evaporated under that soft prolonged kiss, and Mista felt that he could just melt himself against him. His heart thumped violently against his chest and he wanted to stay like that forever, but eventually, the kiss ended and Giorno’s eyes were wide and shining. His smile, his weaving chest and his blushing face were more than enough proof that he wasn’t self-interested. It was impossible in Mista’s mind that Giorno wanted to be close to him just so he could assassinate people. Upon seeing how much love there was in Giorno’s eyes, Mista knew that he was here because of something much more meaningful. He was here because…Because...

While Bruno waited at the conductor seat of the wagon, the old horse was slowly eating some hay next to the road. The boys were truly taking their time and Bruno was considering taking a quick nap.

 

Chapter Text

Just like most mornings, Trish started her day eating something left at her doorstep. Pancakes with honey and cinnamon, as well as some fruits this time around. A slave knocks at her door to wake her up and places the plate at her doorstep, just like her father requested. Trish came to the conclusion that her father wanted her to have the least amount of exposure to servants possible, which made her morning routine a lonesome activity.

After eating, she’d head off to the backyard for some exercises. Mostly stretching and squatting, as well as the usual healthy procedures. Sometimes she wished she had permission to join other women of her region with some outdoor activities, though her father was extremely private and overprotective of all of his “belongings”, including his daughter. No wonder there was almost no slaves at her presence. He wanted to avoid her being touched or “polluted” by the “lesser”.

It’s not fun being a thing…

Even if she wanted to attend the public baths, she didn’t have permission to enter them due to her age and unmarried status. However, thanks to the private lifestyle that her father led, they had a small traditional bathhouse installed at their Domus.

Due to that, she didn’t need to necessarily attend the often unsanitary public bath for her morning routine. 

It’s for the better. I’d rather die than sitting at the same places even the sweatiest slaves bathe themselves.

Even though she seemingly didn’t mind not going to the baths, she was certainly barred from engaging on the social activity that most women her age would partake. She led a remarkably lonely life for a 15-year-old.

After bathing herself, she’d take her time to style and braid her hair to make it look short and proper. Doppio was good at attending to her hair. He surely knew how to braid it, but Trish felt uncomfortable being touched by a man, even if it’s a eunuch and her father’s “boy”. She really misses being tended to by her mother and prefers braiding her own hair ever since her mother passed away.

After this, I’m going to moisturize my skin and… Put on my mask.

Trish gazed at her expensive makeup kit. It was essentially her daily mask, neatly tucked inside boxes made of hardwood, gold, and bones. The boxes contained small mirrors and a variety of cosmetic products to hide the imperfections of her face. The mirrors showcased how miserable she looked despite her young age. She had bags under her eyes and her red-haired genes provided horrible freckles and blemishes through her entire face.

Women my age are normally married or with kids already… If I look like this every morning, I wonder who would want to wake up next to me?

Most young unmarried girls from the elite had not much interest in embellishing themselves and, if they did so, it would be for ceremonial purposes. Slaves were usually responsible for applying it, but Trish had little to no access to slaves of her own. She learned to do that herself. It gave her a sense of pride but, she did miss the company of someone else applying it more than anything.

Trish wasn’t as childlike as other unmarried girls. She liked wearing cosmetics on a daily thanks to the influence of her late mother and had left her dolls aside for years now. Her late mother was the only person that the girl trusted in that household, but she had recently passed away thanks to a miscarriage.

Crying myself to sleep won’t help me. It will just make my life harder in the morning.

Lamented Trish using the tiny mirror of her make-up box to help her apply her foundation.

Trish wasn’t exactly from the political elite of Pompeii or Rome in general. Her father used to be a slave in his youth, but got rich and bought his own freedom after accompanying his master during a military expedition around Egypt. Some say that her father murdered his master with fire. Others say that he saved his life and granted him unfathomable economic power, and that’s why he was granted freedom.

Though her father’s mysterious past wasn’t that interesting to her, Trish cared about the family’s current status in the city than whatever happened in the past.

Trish’s family wasn’t originally from the elite but they had wealth and economic power throughout the region. More so than some elite families. Her father was, at least that’s what her teachers told her, an entrepreneur. And one who wisely navigated Pompeii’s economic needs, especially after the city was taken back by the Romans after spending decades enjoying independence.

Her father was a mysterious man who held the key to the city’s many secrets, essentially building his empire off those secrets. The snobbish elite disliked having anything to do with recently rich freed-men who built the city’s economic landscape, but they needed their help with political campaigns and to create public opinion.

Trish knew that her father was powerful enough for Pompeii’s economy, and thanks to that, he could run his business effortlessly. But he was only able to do so because of his numerous deals with politicians. He helped them get elected into office during elections, and in return, politicians and lawmakers turned a blind eye to all of his sketchy activities in the ports and underworld trades. Many politicians didn’t agree with his demands at the end of the day… Those often didn’t live too long after not paying their part of the deal. No wonder Diavolo is so heavily surrounded by commissioned bodyguards and had so many assassins working for him. He had countless enemies in that city and he was sure he’d be attacked at any turn.

Trish wasn’t proud of her father’s activities, despite the privilege she holds over the masses due to his success. She was made aware of her father’s business by her teachers, slaves and even by her father himself. She didn’t want to fall into the same paranoia that her father had been through over the last few years, but she couldn’t help feeling on edge. She is always surrounded by assassins who could turn against them at any moment.

Even though her family was wealthy, her position made her unappealing for marriage, especially with an elite member. She didn’t know what to think of this factor. She didn’t want to become a thing for someone else but, at the same time, she didn’t want to live under her father’s shadow for the rest of her life, especially not surrounded by dangerous assassins.

Most suitors came from other families of entrepreneurs but Diavolo paid no mind to them. He wanted to use his daughter as a way to bait someone from the elite into a binding contract with him, and for such, Trish needed to look pure and pristine to his daily visitors.

“I’m almost done with it”

Said Trish, fanning her make up before continuing to apply her eyeshadows. She could feel Tiziano’s presence at the doorway without the need to turn around. She knew he was probably going to demand her to hurry.

“You better be. Your father is already receiving some visitors.”

Said the bodyguard leaning against the wood of the doorframe. The man was great at manipulation and the best at training her to lie. She didn’t know how much that would eventually come in hand, but the man’s cunning and deceitful nature has always unnerved the girl. She never knew how truthful his poisonous words were, but at least she could learn a thing or two from that assassin.

“You’re lying so I can hurry up, isn’t it?”

 Suggested Trish, patiently applying her eye shadow. Tiziano shrugged.

“Perhaps… But you should head to the Atrium after you’re done. Your father wants you nearby when people show up. Which is odd, huh? Maybe it’s another extended line of suitors.”

Tiziano took a few steps into her chambers, swinging his hips as he did when normally walking. He moved very snake-like, his long hair shifting slightly side to side. Trish hummed, uninterested in his words.

“If it’s another group of suitors, my father will dismiss them as always. I have no idea why I need to show up for that.”

Said Trish, sighing upon examining her eyebrows. They needed some combing. Tiziano crossed his arms as he waited way too close to Trish to make her comfortable. Those assassins and bodyguards were always like that, always pressing her to follow her father’s requests without questioning or delays. She hated this. Her make up looked terrible.

“ You can’t help being a good bait for suitors. Opportunists might envision a marriage with you as a way to climb the social ladder. Not that your father has any interest in lending you to someone poorer than him. You should do what he says, and you might just win in the end.”

Trish chuckled, closing her box and reaching out to grab her bottle of perfume.

“Do you often lie like this to your boyfriend?”

Tiziano seemed offended.

“I’m not lying. Besides, he’s able to tell whenever I’m lying.”

Trish was almost done with her routine, spreading the perfume on her wrists and neck. She smirked before answering the pushy bodyguard.

“Then you should call him in so I can learn with him. Knowing when someone is lying seems more useful to me than lying. At least I’d be able to see traitors from miles away. Now leave. Tell my father I’ll be at the Atrium soon.”

Tiziano sneered before leaving her chamber. Trish hated having to wear that mask. She did it in order to survive in that house. She wanted to free herself from it all, but she knew almost nothing about the world she lived in. Striving for freedom seems to come at great risk… a risk that she wasn’t willing to take yet.

Her mother was daring, outspoken and a little bit vain. She was born from a very low social status but climbed in her life due to her relationship with Trish’s father. She died while trying to give the family a male heir, and there hasn’t been a single day in which Trish didn’t miss her ever since. 

If I was born a man, I wouldn’t have to face any of this. My mother wouldn't feel the need to go through what she did and I wouldn't be scared for my own life every waking moment.

Lamented Trish, picking up her Lunula that was hanging from her neck and raising it to meet her eye level. Most 15-year-old women from wealthy houses had already abandoned their childhood pendant, but Trish still had it. 

Of course… I’m not yet married. I still need to wear my childhood lucky amulet. 

She admired her pendant with love in her eyes. It was a simple gold amulet shaped like a crescent moon with an engraved scripture.

Be soft 

Be kind

Be adaptable

So the goddess of fortune will shine upon you.

Trish smiled.

She would still wear it until her father sold her out to some politician double her age. Trish didn’t look forward to putting her Lunula down with all of her remaining childhood objects. The pendant reminded her too much of her mother. 

Thinking about her won’t help me.

Concluded Trish, tucking the pendant beneath her tunic and standing up from her seat.

She left her private chamber behind her, turned to the left on the corridor and headed off into the atrium. Her father was receiving some businessmen, or “vermins” as he usually called. Diavolo was draped on white luxurious cloth that hooded his head and concealed most of his face away from view.

As always when it’s the case of suitors, Trish’s presence was required and older men would look her up and down, making comments among each other. She hated this. She felt ridiculous, humiliated and exposed. She wanted to run away to the library, lock herself up and read some poems. Maybe envisioning this could help her brave through such an uncomfortable social obligation.

Of course, there was another suitor denied by Diavolo.

The man was around 29 years old and he was from a family that ran a bakery business as well as two small taverns. Diavolo had that family as one of his many clients and helped them reach success in the bread baking business. They wanted something more and thus approached Diavolo with a marriage proposal. Of course, they were just “vermin”. Diavolo wouldn’t sell his daughter to opportunists. Even though Diavolo was an opportunist himself. 

Trish mustered all of her will power not to roll her eyes. The suitor looked very sloppy. He seemed like he didn’t wear his toga every day and his hair looked disgustingly oily. She hated facial hair as well and that man had a full beard. His fingernails looked dirty as well. She was glad that the man wouldn’t need to stand too close to her and that her father would turn down his proposal.

After the refusal they had some small talk with Diavolo, trying to make him reconsider. He wouldn’t buy it. The next two visitors were business partners, one of which confided with him only through whispers. There was literally no reason for her to be there, other than standing still and looking pretty for others to see. She wasn’t needed in any of those business meetings, but she was required to greet the visitors, smile and listen to their comments about her in silence. Her mask was running down with sweat and she was sure she looked awful. 

Don’t think about it. It’ll be over soon.

A tall and blond politician, who was also one of her father’s business partners, came in at the very last and greeted the owner of the Domus. He was tailed by two servants who stood behind him and looked quite confident. Different from the other visitors that morning, the man was from the elite and his toga had the purple stripes typically found on politicians.

Trish supposed that the visitor wanted to talk about business as usual. However, that didn’t seem to be the case. There was another subject he wanted to discuss. A subject that seemingly came out of nowhere.

“Diavolo, you probably expect me to bring news about the city council's meetings this week. However, I’m here for something else. A proposal, more specifically.”

Diavolo was strangely attentive. Maybe he expected something interesting coming from one of the only elite members who visited him.

“And what could it be?”

Questioned Diavolo, Dio having his full attention.

“I’m here to propose my oldest son to marry your daughter”

It was the first time someone from the elite made such a proposal and Trish’s eyes instantly grew wide, looking for answers on her father’s face. Or at least what she could see of it. He looked as serious and focused as a hawk. Trish felt a chill going down her spine. She was probably going to be betrothed soon if her father saw this as an opportunity to set his plans in motion.

Trish fears of being promised marriage to an unknown man came back with a full force. The prospects of what it meant automatically sending chills down her spine.

Her Lunula, that was currently resting against her chest, felt uncomfortable and itchy against her skin. It was a signal. She would have to put it down sooner than she thought.

 

Chapter Text

Fugo knew that there was no actual place for him in this world.

Like sand scattered through the wind, Fugo had no control over where he’d land in life and the outcomes of it, despite the fact that he was born with his whole life planned ahead of him. 

Fugo wasn’t exactly a slave, but he wasn’t a free man either. He was just a foreign with no place in Roman society.

Despite that, his position could change between being treated as an acquaintance, or as a servant of that Domus. The way he was treated depended on Dio’s mood.

He was born to a wealthy Greek family who collaborated with the Romans during their conquering of Athens. They were more interested in maintaining their wealth than helping their nation remain independent. Fugo hated that his parent's selfish ways were ultimately the reason why they were able to keep their properties.

Fugo’s native language was greek but he was forced to learn Latin and other languages from an early age. His parents wanted him to become successful and to guarantee prosperity to their family crest. Fugo was heavily pressured since birth to become a genius, a philosopher, a free thinker, a connoisseur of fine art, a perfect example of a Greek intellectual who should leave their family’s mark in history.

Fugo felt overwhelming pressure from everywhere. 

He felt like he could do anything to have a moment of peace. Even if that meant killing someone.   

He wasn’t allowed to make friends his own age and most of his conversations were with his teachers, who were often invited to give their lectures inside their luxurious family house. 

Fugo had no time to focus on his own emotional well being. His hatred towards his abusive and strict family, coupled with the resentment of seeing them favoring the imperialism of the Romans instead of the freedom of their own people and the copious amount of pressure from teachers, turned Fugo into a ticking bomb. 

The youth was often surprised and scared by his own thoughts and violent impulses. He wanted to maim, torture and kill his parents and teachers just to have a moment of peace.

Despite him having those violent thoughts, he never truly did any of that… Fugo was always suppressing his anger… always putting down his dagger… always trying to calm down and pray that those feelings would go away.

But unfortunately, he wouldn’t be able to repress his anger forever.

It was like any other day of lessons from one of his philosophy teachers. The man was one of the oldest and wisest teachers in the region. He was well respected by the other masters and families alike. But despite his good way with words and how well respected he was, Fugo grew weary of him at every encounter.

He’d touch Fugo in ways that made the 13-year-old boy feel uncomfortable.

“Worry not. You’ll have to learn about it with your teachers eventually. It’s just how things are supposed to be”

Justified him once, after Fugo complained about his touches.

“You should be familiar with the concept in theory. It’s part of any boy’s learning. We’ve been using this method for generations”

Said him again, this time after Fugo told him that he shouldn’t touch him like that during bath.

“Your parents would be proud of knowing I'm teaching you this.”

Fugo was scared at every waking second. He couldn’t pay full attention to any of the lessons anymore and teachers were starting to press him further. Meanwhile, his anger only grew to the point it became unbearable. He was constantly on edge and even the slightest touch to his skin would be enough to tick him off. 

Things became progressively worse until the storm within him couldn’t be contained anymore. 

On the day it happened, Fugo barely remembers anything except the screams of his mother seeing the teacher’s body on the floor and the lukewarm feeling of blood dripping from his hands.

He was disowned after all this and he couldn’t stop resenting himself. He was the only one to blame, according to his family and the law. The teacher was just doing his job since it was common practice that the more experienced master would teach the young student about sex, both in theory and in practice. 

Fugo resented this. 

It was all his fault and he should have talked this through with his teachers so they could help him overcome his inner anger.

His family disowned him and sent him out of Grece to live far away. He was to live at one of their acquaintance’s house as a scholar in practice in Rome. 

Fugo wasn’t sold as a slave as he thought he should have, but his actual position as a simple foreign placed him under an uncomfortable position in which he didn’t know what sorts of rights, liberties, and duties he had. He was just lucky not to be sold into slavery but the cost for him was that he didn’t have a place in society at all. He felt like an intruder watching the daily life of a family unfold before his eyes, but not allowed to be a part of it.

So far he hasn’t been abused, touched without consent or harassed, but sometimes he’s treated as a servant. He could spend a day studying and making translation notes on the scriptures he’s reading, and then suddenly, he’s obligated to do a manual task he had little to no training to do. He was expected not to utter a word to the patrician who was kind enough to accept him under his roof. Unless Dio required him to say something, Fugo should remain silent.

During his stay in Rome, Fugo started resenting his family even more. Every time he saw an enslaved Greek citizen being constantly subjected to all sorts of abuse, his heart would shrivel inside his chest. He couldn’t stand the fact that his family contributed to that grim reality out of pure selfishness. But at the same time, if it wasn’t for it, he might have ended just like them. 

At first, he resented the Romans quite a lot. He blamed the whole ordeal on their violent and imperialistic ways. “If they hadn’t invaded my homeland, my parents wouldn’t have angered me so… Id probably had my anger under control. But those brutes decided to invade and now I’m forced to work for them” he’d say to himself, trying to make sense of his own frustrations. But as months went by and he was requested to be Giorno’s mentor in Greek language and Hellenistic culture, he started changing his views on the Romans.

Giorno was intellectually engaging despite being a Roman. His father was overbearingly concerned about his education and wanted him to have the best possible learning environment. Different from Fugo’s parents, Dio was much less strict and more intellectually engaging with his children, naturally trying to guide them to the best of their potentials without pressing them into meeting an impossible standard.

Fugo learned that the Romans were much more prone to figuring out emotional issues, and they didn’t completely separate their hearts from their minds, which made Fugo much more comfortable to tackle his own anger issues without feeling utterly ashamed for being “irrational”.

“You shouldn’t blame yourself for what happened.”

Said Giorno once. He had recently earned his toga and he finally brought up the subject he wanted to discuss with his greek friend ever since his father revealed the reasons Fugo lived with them.

“I admire your people’s culture, but I’m not uncritical of it… Your methods of teaching are interesting because it unifies body and mind in one singular entity that needs constant training and discipline… But forcing children into sex as a way to teach them is just. Unfortunate. It should be out of love, not out of obligation. At least that’s what us Romans think.”

Said Giorno casually, almost as if he was discussing any common philosophical subject. Fugo never once truly hated being greek, but this aspect of his culture finally made him realize how flawed his culture truly was and how he should stop blaming the Romans for what happened to him. He wanted to learn more about the culture he was currently residing in, despite not having a place in it. Giorno, on the other hand, was very curious about Hellenistic culture and philosophers, so Fugo had a newfound appreciation for the place he came from when remembering the few good aspects of his childhood.

Though when it came down to teaching Giorno, Fugo felt a little useless. The boy was too quick at understanding concepts and applying them to new contexts. Fugo was running out of things to teach him quickly and he was growing restless. When the whole family moved to Pompeii, Fugo thought he’d be left in the capital due to how little Giorno actually needed him, but the youth demanded that Fugo came all the way down to the Campania region with them despite him having little to offer them in return. 

Giorno smiled and Fugo felt warmth in his heart. Someday he’d find his purpose and Giorno’s reassuring smile promised him this.

Though Fugo still struggled to find peace within himself. He was still stuck in a society that had no place for him and he still struggled with a short fuse that he feared would, eventually, ruin his life further. He didn’t know when his next outburst would come and where it would land him. But after they settled in Pompeii and rebuilt their lives in the city, Fugo found a new purpose, or at least that’s what he’d tell to himself.

“Fugo, this shitty math formula ain’t gonna help me with anything.”

Complained Narancia, struggling to focus on the lessons Fugo tried his hardest to teach. The greek sighed, gathering all the patience he had to explain to the young slave, yet again, how important it was for him to have knowledge that might land him outside of his conditions of slavery.

“Imagine you becoming an accountant? Or having your own business? That sounds good, right? But you’ll need to learn a lot of things.”

Narancia was a difficult case to crack, and Fugo being a scholar in training, found his place in teaching him to be the most rewarding. He was finally feeling useful, even though sometimes he’d think he was deluding himself and that Narancia’s future was grim despite Fugo’s efforts.

“If I can’t predict where my path is leading to, at least I’ll try making Narancia’s future brighter with my teachings.” 

Said Fugo trying to justify his efforts. Giorno’s smile held a deep seethed melancholy upon hearing his reasonings. Giorno was the one who convinced Dio to buy the poor abused boy and keep him as a house slave. A much safer and less painful position for a slave to be, sure, but the boy’s future depended completely on Dio’s whims and neither Fugo nor Giorno had a saying on that. Giorno helped him heal from all of his past physical abuse and kept him under his protection in that household, and Fugo tried his best to teach him and make him reach his full potential.

“You’re smart Narancia. You just haven’t yet found the subject that you enjoy the most. I’m sure you’ll find it eventually.”

Reassured Fugo, before losing his patience yet again with the boy’s dismissal and lack of focus on education. 

The greek would often fall back into his violent outbursts and lack of anger management, but fortunately nothing that landed him into a worse living situation. Narancia was a vulnerable slave, but also a very headstrong youth who was more than able to fight back any of Fugo’s outburst at an equal level. Giorno dealt with Fugo’s anger differently, usually withdrawing from conflict and apologizing, which only made Fugo feel guilty about his own lack of self-control. But with Narancia it was different. When they got violent, Narancia responded in the same language, which forced Fugo to rationalize his anger better without the need to second guess himself. 

He’d get frustrated with Narancia because he was a difficult case. Fugo loses patience with him sometimes because the youth refused to recognize his own potential. Narancia is often dismissive of Fugo’s help, and usually mocks the pursuit of knowledge, seeing it as “useless” for him. It didn’t matter how much Fugo tried to explain that they were doing what was best for Narancia, he would come to the same conclusion whenever he failed meeting the expected learning curve. 

“Maybe trying another method will help him”

Proposed Giorno, but Fugo only knew how to teach in a way that he was accustomed to; by unifying body and mind in order to rationalize things the best way. But Narancia was a free spirit. He was bound to chains from everywhere, but he was naive to them. 

“You’re struggling to teach him the truth, like in the cave allegory.”

Commented Giorno one time as they had a little pause from their studies. Fugo sighed.

“I wish there was no bloody cave in this case.”

Responded Fugo. It did make Giorno chuckle, but in truth, Fugo was utterly frustrated. He was offering everything he could to aid Narancia, but the results were slow and Fugo feared that he was being forceful.

Narancia was a free spirit. Despite him being a slave and having been through terrible abuse in his life, he still managed to find enjoyment on the simplest things. His carefree way of viewing life, the way he runs down the streets when accompanying them somewhere, the way he smiles and laughs at the dumbest things, made Fugo realize how much he could be learning with that youth instead. Fugo had no opportunities of feeling liberated or happy about his current state of being. He couldn’t look at his life under a positive light from any angle. Narancia had been through terrible situations, but he felt safe and glad nowadays. Even if he’d be moody thanks to something that could be traumatizing, he’d soon throw his gloom away as soon as he’d get distracted by something fun.

Fugo envied his naivety.

He resented knowing too much and worrying profusely.

Fugo felt like it was his duty to protect Narancia. To teach him. To ensure that he’d have a good and prosperous future. He wanted that smile to last forever, and as soon as he realized this he couldn’t stop feeling his heart beating harder inside his chest. He felt warm and couldn’t help smiling back whenever Narancia gave him that earnest, innocent smile. He wished to learn how it feels to smile like that, without a care or concern in the world. But as soon as he notices how attached he feels towards the teen, who is not only a slave but also his student, Fugo represses himself. He doesn’t want to become a teacher like the one who ruined his life. He doesn’t want Narancia to go through what he went through. 

So whenever he catches himself having those feelings, he’d isolate himself in his studies or would engage with Giorno in some intellectual discussion. Busying his mind helped him keep those feelings at bay.

But Giorno has been distant himself those past few weeks. Ever since the arena incident, he’s been having trouble focusing on their studies and discussions. When he offered to treat Narancia’s nose, he seemed out of himself. Whenever he and Fugo would start a discussion about politics in order to revise their studies, Giorno would eventually stop paying attention. He’d smile out of nowhere and for no reason and Fugo didn’t know how to approach Giorno and tell him that his infatuation over the gladiator was stalling his learning process but…actually... Fugo was a little jealous of Giorno’s feelings.

He wanted to feel like this as well… Or at least he wanted to be guiltless of feeling like this.

“Giorno, do you want to stop our discussion for today?”

Asked Fugo, trying to not sound judgemental. Giorno raised his eyes from the flower he held to look at him and shook his head, trying to seem focused.

“No, by all means, we should continue to discuss Socrates vision about the…

“Giorno, we were talking about Plato’s Republica for the past while.”

Giorno was about to deny that, but he stumbled upon his own words and ended up awkwardly silent. Fugo sighed and decided to bring up the subject he’s been avoiding out of respect for Giorno for the past week. He couldn’t just avoid the conversation forever.

“Giorno… You’ve been out of it for a while now. What’s going on with you?”

Asked Fugo, sitting next to the blond at the bench overlooking the garden. Giorno smiled shyly before responding.

“I have a feeling that you know what’s going on.”

Said Giorno and Fugo felt his heart thumping hard against his chest.

“Is this about the gladiator?”

Asked the greek to which Giorno answered with a shy nod. Fugo was jealous. He couldn’t allow himself to fall like this.

“That’s a terrible choice of person to fall in love with.”

Commented Fugo, knowing full well that Giorno would probably call him out for it. Giorno laughed instead, in an almost self-deprecating fashion.

“Yes. It’s a terrible choice. I wish it was actually a choice but I have only the gods to blame for.”

Admitted Giorno, turning his head to gaze at the flowers dancing throughout the garden. His eyes seemed distant but not saddened. 

“You’ve been seeing him despite the scene your father did back then?”

Asked Fugo, which made Giorno’s expression turn serious. 

“I’m allowed to. I had to bargain with my father back then and convince him to let me meet the gladiator.”

Fugo could feel a sting of pain within Giorno’s words. Whatever it was that Giorno had to use as a bargain coin, it must have been painful.

“Knowing your father I can only offer you my condolences.”

Giorno shrugged.

“I accept them.”

After a moment of awkward silence, Fugo made a daring move with another question.

“Now I’m curious. What made you fall in love with a gladiator out of all people?”

Giorno looked back at Fugo, his face more relaxed now as he seemed to think about an answer.

“I think you’d know it better if you actually saw him but… He’s just that type of person who oozes charisma and smiles widely despite the terrible implications of his own conditions.”

Answered Giorno, a smile appearing on his lips. Fugo felt his heart racing as his descriptions matched that of what he thinks about Narancia.

“He’s stuck in a terrible position he has no way out of… but he still finds enjoyment over simple things and smiles effortlessly despite his numbered days. He inspires me and makes me feel safe. I also feel like I’d have a purpose by staying at his side. Even if this purpose is eventually finding a way to free him.”

Concluded Giorno, his eyes were full of hope and Fugo couldn’t bare looking at them. If only he was able to let his heart express itself like this. If only he could allow himself to love someone despite everything.

“I think you might understand what I’m going through Fugo… We should help each other like this.”

Commented Giorno casually, making the greek youth perk up in surprise.

“What do you mean?”

Asked him, trying to pretend that he wasn’t about to puke his heart out of his mouth.

“I’ve already noticed how you look at Narancia. You just love him way too much but you’re constantly trying to repress this feeling.”

Pointed Giorno, sitting up straight with his back against the column. Fugo just wanted to dig a hole and hide for the rest of his life.

“I’m just his teacher Giorno… and he’s just a slave. There’s no way I’d approach him like this… not with my position.”

Lamented Fugo. He didn’t want to end up forcing Narancia. He didn’t want to repeat what his teacher did to him. He was scared that he was being abusive against that boy who had only suffered in life. He couldn’t. He shouldn’t. He…

“Fugo... Don’t you think you’re over worrying?”

Questioned Giorno, approaching the greek and placing a supportive hand upon his shoulder. 

“Look… those sorts of things aren’t our choices to make. You deeply care about Narancia since the day we first met him, and I’d never forgiven myself if I left him at the hands of someone else.”

Fugo was surprised by Giorno’s words, but couldn’t say a thing as he felt like he was at the brink of tears.

“I have to admit that I was a little jealous. You had someone you love and a purpose in life while safely residing under a safe haven. I had no choice other than to fall in love with someone so distant and unreachable, that I’m having to make sacrifices just for a chance to meet him… I wish it could have been close and easier for me. But here we are. I’m quite sure that Narancia loves you back as well Fugo. You just should allow yourself a little more while worrying less.”

Fugo felt embarrassed by his own selfishness. He was complaining about something so silly and unimportant when there were people around him having it rougher. He should have confessed to Narancia as soon as he realized his feelings, but all of his traumas made this simple task seemingly impossible.

“How can you be so sure?”

Asked Fugo. Giorno removed his hand from Fugo’s shoulder.

“About what?”

“About Narancia loving me back? How can you be so sure about it?”

Giorno stared at the sky, his mind wandering through the winds of Pompeii’s lazy afternoon straight to the Ludus Mista was probably training on.

“I can see it in his eyes Fugo. He looks at you and it’s transparent. When I first met the gladiator in person, he looked at me with love in his eyes despite the pain he was going through. At that moment, I knew that I was losing my time worrying and second-guessing myself.”

With that, Giorno stood up and dusted off the pollen from his toga. 

“I hope you can do better than me and enjoy your chance. Don’t stop living your life, Fugo… just because you’re afraid of what you’ll find in the future.”

And with that, Giorno went to collect his jar to water the plants.

Fugo felt, just a little bit, reassured about his own feelings.





Chapter Text

Bruno’s day started relatively late comparing to the routine of other slaves at the dorms. Which was obvious, since he wouldn’t be able to wake up as early after having worked till much later than the others. The dorms near Diavolo’s residence was supposed to be his resting place every night, but slaves of that area knew that it wasn’t the case. Sometimes he slept there but only when he was around town and wanted to keep appearances. Of course, nobody wanted to denounce him to Diavolo due to him being such a good and caring person. He’d always come back to check on the well being of children, usually with some financial compensation from his “jobs” or some exotic food in his pockets to distribute among his roommates.

He was known to treat all people with kindness, respect, and care, regardless of social status. He was able to win people’s hearts quite easily, and many claimed that he’d be successful in politics if not for the fact that he was a slave. Many wondered why he remained a slave despite having prestige in the city and being paid for his services. Upon being questioned, Bruno would often just smile and answer that his master still finds him useful for the time being. Only people who already worked with illegal activities knew the reason why he was so needed.

During afternoons he’d tend to his daily tasks. All of which were completely legal activities. Only after the sun sets, or when most of the population were in the arena, that Bruno was tasked with illegal trading and other dirty jobs. It was also around the same time in which assassins, torturers, informers, and illegal invaders would partake on their duties. Bruno had to work till unreasonable hours of the night and had so many demands supervising illegal trades, that he sometimes couldn’t reach his dorms for a well-deserving sleep. And even if he was able to return to Pompeii for a night, the cramped dorms weren’t the only place for him to chose.

Bruno disliked many aspects of his job. He was paid for extra services and whenever someone felt like tipping him, but being tasked with such services only proved that he would never be free. He wished he could just partake in his most noble activities such as helping people, listening to their needs, working for the betterment of working conditions and helping slaves feel a little better. But as soon as the night crawled in, he would have to leave the nobleness of his daily routine behind.

“Don’t think much about it."

He'd say to himself, but after a while, he couldn't just ignore the perverse nature of Diavolo's illegal activities in the city. 

Unwanted children were sent aboard ships to become sex slaves for patricians abroad. Guards were constantly bribed to turn their eyes away from cruelty done against lower-class citizens. The local population would be beaten up to a pulp if they couldn't afford their rent. Cheap materials that were not thoroughly checked were constantly used to build and rebuild residences at a low price while maintaining the renting price absolutely unfair. Men sent by Diavolo would partake in the assassinations and torture of whole families who ended up "knowing too much" or having too much debt. Everything about his job made him disgusted with himself, and no amount of justification or good deeds made it any easier on his emotional well being. 

People knew he was one of Diavolo's slaves, but not as many people knew about the actual activities he would partake... at least not many people outside of the underworld. Two of them were boys he'd visit twice a week for language lessons. Giorno and Fugo were both very curious about local culture and Giorno's father was quick to make business deals with Diavolo, seeing in his activities a source of political stability. After Bruno was called into Dio’s Domus to work as a language teacher for them, the boys eventually brought up the subject of Diavolo's illegal activities towards Bruno himself, much to the slave’s surprise.

"At least those are people who still trust me despite knowing what I work with."

Fugo was a little suspicious of Bruno at first and thought that he shouldn't be trusted that easily. But after a while of getting to know him, he began admiring the man and exchanging some knowledge with him about politics. Giorno on the other hand not only knew about Bruno's involvement with the crime scene since the beginning but also decided to share with him all of the criticisms and reformist dreams he had about society.

Bruno was appalled at first.

A member of the elite having those sorts of opinions on their own social hierarchy was pretty jarring for a slave to witness, but the more Bruno learned about him and his upbringing, the more he understood where he was coming from. 

Still, Bruno was concerned about Giorno’s rebellious nature. There were strict rules to follow and everything could be easily seen as treason against the state. And once you are considered an enemy of the state, you have no control over the outcome of your life. Losing citizenship and all the rights associated with it was the least damaging punishment for it. Bruno saw people losing everything for less than that. Regardless, Giorno spoke in ways that made Bruno believe in him and in his dream no matter the obstacles.

“But why are you telling me this? Why do you think this is a good idea?”

Asked Bruno once during one of their language exercises, after Giorno got carried away talking about his plans. Giorno just gave him a stern look before replying.

“Because you’re a good person.”

Those words alone made Bruno realize that he was wasting his time thinking that he was unworthy of redemption for the job he had. Analyzing his current situation, Bruno was far from having any control over what he was tasked to do and what freedom of choice he had when conducting Diavolo’s orders. It was no use resenting himself for not having free will or choice. But thinking like that only made him feel extremely guilty and resentful whenever he offered a hand to help someone he knew was already suffering thanks to Diavolo. 

Bruno wondered what felt worse. Being guilty of putting up a savior façade when his own hands helped Diavolo to stay in charge, or the overwhelming hopelessness when faced with his own lack of freedom. Both thoughts wrestled around his mind and forced him into doing whatever he could just to make people’s lives less miserable. He made choices that cornered him into this lifestyle so the least he could do was trying to make things better, even if he was later obligated to ruin their lives further.

When Giorno recognized good in him despite everything, Bruno felt a strange sense of relief. As if he found someone who could finally see him for what he is and understand his pain. 

“You’re a good person Bruno, and I’m sure that if your conditions were better and you weren’t bound to Diavolo’s orders, you would still be willing to help people.”

Claimed Giorno and Bruno believed in him… even if it was for just a while. Even if it was just for a few hours in which he could forget that he was dying a slow death every passing day. 

“Don’t think about it.”

He’d say to himself as he takes charge of alleviating other people’s pain while ignoring his own needs. 

“Don’t think about it.”

He’d say to himself as he lets himself drown.

“Don’t think about it.”

He’d say as he witnesses horrors being done against people he had recently helped.

---------------------

“Why are you worrying so much about them? Is it any worth it?”

Questioned Abbacchio late at night. He got a discharge from Polpo for a week ever since the Ludus suffered a breach in security. Bruno did all he could in his power to convince Polpo not to punish Abbacchio permanently, but a discharge still came even if just for a few days so Polpo could find someone else to take up the nightshift. Abbacchio was cranky about losing his shift at the Ludus but at least he still got paid by Dio as compensation for bringing Giorno back, so he wouldn’t feel the sudden drop of income by not attending for a week. 

“I worry about them because they have it rough and need to have some pleasantries in life.”

Responds Bruno, as he usually did when questioned. Abbacchio sighed. He was visibly hiding the true meaning behind his question, but as always, Bruno wouldn’t force the truth out of him. 

Abbacchio was a complicated person. He was once a Roman soldier, full of aspirations and hope for the future. He was taught to be loyal to his nation and to bring the benefits of Roman civilization abroad. But his first mission was to fight for the reconquering of Pompeii under Sulla’s dictatorship, and as soon as the legionaries established themselves as the task force after seizing the city, Abbacchio started witnessing the ugly underbelly of the nation he served.

As a roman soldier in a seized city, he was hated by the locals who lost everything to the Romans.

He was resented by those who pledged loyalty to the conquerors out of fear.

He was abused by his superiors.

He was disdained by the civilians who migrated in.

He was treated with suspicion by the elite.

He was disappointed with his peers who took bribes.

He had his hopes shattered into a million pieces.

That rotten world had successfully turned him into a cynical and pessimistic man. 

One day during his night time patrol, he found a man conducting an illegal business. He was one of the locals who lost his previous business as a breadmaker because he didn’t ally himself with the Romans. This resulted in him trying to sell his bread without paying taxes or having the official stamp on his product. The man, like many other locals in Pompeii, tried convincing Abbacchio that he had nothing else to live for and that he wouldn’t have to do anything illegal if “you Romans hadn’t invaded”. After some bargaining and convincing, he offered Abbacchio a small bag of coins as a bribe. Abbacchio should have arrested the man on the spot, but after spending so many months affected by the rotten truth of the system and witnessing all sorts of corruption from other soldiers, Abbacchio accepted the bribe. It was for a “good cause”. The man had lost his previous business and was just trying to make ends meet.

Some nights went by and Abbacchio was making his patrol with a colleague from the same troop. They both heard what seemed to be an invasion of private property and went inside the estate in order to detain the invader. Abbacchio circled around the property and entered the place through the slave entrance, while his partner came in through the storefront. Abbacchio found the culprit only to recognize the man as the one who bribed him a few nights before. The man justified his actions as an act of revenge since the man who currently owned that property was his business partner who took full ownership of the place after allying himself with the Romans.

“Why don't you let me leave soldier? I bribed you… if you arrest me, I’ll let your superiors know.” And for a split second, Abbacchio believed in him and feared for his life. If his superiors caught the information that he accepted a bribe from an enemy of the state, losing his job would be just the first of many punishments. The man approached Abbacchio, searching for something in his pocket that Abbacchio was sure to be another bribe... But he didn’t know that the man had a knife instead. 

A blood bath ensued and the only one who escaped it was Abbacchio, with a dead colleague, a murdered criminal, a uniform full of blood and his own heart completely shattered.

Abbacchio managed to kill the culprit before he escaped. Thanks to that, the truth of what happened was never brought to his superiors.

But he chose to resign from his post anyways. He was punished for this financially and he was thrown to the bottom of the barrel both economically and emotionally. Abbacchio would never be the same afterward. His heart was plagued with deep self-hatred and guilt. His hopelessness evolved into distrust and hatred for everyone and everything. 

When Bruno met him for the first time, he was passed out drunk on a dark alleyway near a tavern that was already way past closing hours. Bruno was requested by the owners of the tavern, a business that had it’s numbers of deals with Diavolo, to remove the drunkard from the area because it was frightening the customers. 

Bruno, as per usual, took the man under his protection and friendship. He had a soft spot for “broken things” anyways. In order to redeem himself from the malicious nature of his daily jobs, Bruno would partake in good deeds as much as he could. Taking care of Abbacchio was just one of those “good deeds”. 

But as weeks and months went by, Bruno found himself fond of Abbacchio. The man had everything he cared about taken away from him and utterly destroyed. He had nothing to live for, except waiting for death. But as soon as Bruno gave him a hand, instead of just belittling the slave and deny his need for help out of pride, Abbacchio accepted that help.

Bruno thought that as soon as Abbacchio took a turn for the better by getting a commissioned job and setting his mind on the right path, he would just be able to let Abbacchio go his own way. But as soon as he noticed, he was going back to Abbacchio’s apartment at the end of the day, pleased by his company and wanting to be by his side regardless of his necessities. Abbacchio was a broken person who Bruno wanted to help as much as possible, but now that the man had recovered to a somewhat livable state, Bruno felt like his only place was to fall over Abbacchio’s open arms, broken and in need. Bruno eventually told Abbacchio about his actual involvement in the crime scene, but instead of distancing himself from the slave, Abbacchio just leaned in and embraced Bruno's living conditions with no criticisms. Bruno didn't know how to feel about it.

“You were using him to alleviate your own guilt… and now you expect this emotionally unstable man to fix you. Disgusting… selfish…”

He’d say to himself whenever he noticed how vulnerable he left himself to be around Abbacchio. He’d share with Abbacchio parts of his own story as a way to help him overcome his own self-doubts. Abbacchio was the one who began opening up in order to receive help, but when Bruno replied to his openness by being open in return, he noticed that there was no way of going back from this.

Abbacchio knew how much Bruno had struggled. Bruno prayed that the man couldn’t see how much broken he actually was even to this day.

“Don’t think about it. Don’t think about it. Don’t think about it.”

“Sounds like a lame excuse. You’re always looking out for those brats. I know they have it rough, but you can’t spend your life being other people’s caretakers or playing matchmakers with them.”

Uttered Abbacchio, taking Bruno’s mind out of his loop. The night was vibrant with people visiting the restaurant downstairs. Bruno smiled before responding.

“I can’t help it. It’s my favorite student and my favorite gladiator. They are good boys and it’s a pity that they need to go through so much trouble just for a chance of seeing each other.”

Abbacchio and Bruno were sitting around a small table next to the only window of the guard’s apartment. They were eating a dish made of grilled cheese and some a sausage cut into tiny pieces. They were having wine diluted with water and the evening was as pleasant as most of their dates were. 

Abbacchio’s apartment was small, like most around that area. It was comprised of a single room with a bed, no impluvium and no place for storage. Furniture wise, there was a table with two chairs by the window, a chest at the corner of the room, a few jars with different contents distributed among some shelves, two oil lamps and a few pillows next to the bed. Abbacchio’s daily work clothes were stored in the chest waiting for when he’d get to use them again. His weapons were rolled together on a piece of fabric and tossed aside next to the chest. There were many characteristics about that place that made it belong to Abbacchio specifically, but there was also so much of Bruno in the decoration itself. The place would be barren if it wasn’t for Bruno, that’s for sure. It was pleasant to be there with him. For Bruno, it was more like a safe haven… A place that he shouldn't, as a slave that belongs to Diavolo, sleep in no matter what. But at this point, Bruno didn’t care. He felt safer there.

“ Still... You’re risking yourself by helping those two. Besides, their little endeavors almost made me lose my job. Don’t you think this whole thing is risky?”

Asked Abbacchio. There was a sign of worry in his voice that he was promptly trying to hide under layers of judgment. Bruno took a sip from his wine before responding.

“Since when did I care about the risks? If I cared about it, I wouldn't be sleeping with you on a regular. It’s not as if I asked permission for my master either, so you shouldn’t be the one to question me. I’m helping them because I care about their happiness, and that’s all.”

Abbacchio blushed heavily with this statement and continued eating sausage bits in silence while ignoring Bruno’s smug grin. Bruno could spend a whole day marveling at the sight of Abbacchio losing his face right in front of him. He wore that moody mask every day to hide how vulnerable he is, just so Bruno can see it unfold. He was the only one allowed to see him like this. Bruno wondered if Abbacchio could see him exactly the same in return.

They changed subjects to something more light-hearted. Pleasant conversations made their road to recovery much easier to follow, or at least that's what Bruno noticed when he was helping Abbacchio. There was no conversation between the two that didn’t turn out pleasant with time, much to Bruno’s surprise.

Though they wouldn’t spend that much time talking. The night was far too precious when they were both available and at each other’s company.

-------------

Abbacchio’s long strands of hair were mesmerizing to look at. When they were out in public, Bruno had to watch himself and contain his urge to touch it, tuck it behind his ear, roll the strands between his fingertips, take a few of them between his fingers and bring it to his face to smell it. Those sorts of delicate gestures had to be hidden from sight. Bruno was a slave and he, legally, couldn’t have a relationship with a free person without his master’s permission. Yet, when they were both alone and safe, Bruno was free to hold entire chunks of his silky hair and gently tug it towards himself, prompting Abbacchio to breathe a shaky moan. He was free to touch Abbacchio in any and every way, as long as it’s out of anyone’s sight. He was free to passionately kiss him, maintaining his steadily flushed against him. They were inside four walls, and even though the neighbors might hear them, they didn’t care at this point.

Abbacchio’s naked back was also a mesmerizing sight to behold. His muscles seemed to create a mind of their own under his touches, squirming and moving under his skin, reacting instantaneously as if being shocked with pleasure at every second. His pale skin was so easily flushed with all that effort, that Bruno could trace back the trail of his own fingers. Abbacchio’s sweat made his moon-like skin glister under the oil lamplight. His back arched with pleasure upon every thug of hair, upon every skin contact and upon every thrust. Bruno took notice of the crease that formed between his eyebrows in a mixture of pleasure and concentration. Seeing him like this really added to the eroticism of their encounter and the nature of their relationship. 

It wasn’t as if the only taboo they were breaking was that of a slave having sex with a free man without his master’s permission… no… the nature of their act was even more forbidden...even more unacceptable. 

A slave should never be the dominant one. Especially in the intimate company of a free Roman civilian. But Abbacchio didn’t care about this. They both couldn’t care less, but the thought of doing something condemned and shunned by society only added to their lust. If they couldn’t be free in this rotten society, they could at least be free with each other. 

Bruno could feel himself melting inside Abbacchio, grasping for control while he let pleasure guide him.

He was paying attention to all of Abbacchio’s moans and groans. All of his quivers and jolts. All of his words and movements. The slick feeling of his member coated in olive oil coming in and out of Abbacchio’s entrance made it difficult for Bruno to pace the thrusts on a regular fashion, so Abbacchio was the one setting a rhythm instead, meeting against Bruno’s bare hips in a teasingly slow pace.

Bruno started growing frustrated and impatient, his length almost hurting from the constant thrusting.

He decided he has had enough of Abbacchio’s slow movements and, by yanking him back by his arms, he quicked the pace, thrusting even harder against his insides. In no time, Abbacchio’s raggedly short moans crawled through the walls of his apartment. His squirming legs, languish head movements and quenching muscles were more than enough indication that Bruno was doing a job well done. Bruno registered that they were both sweaty messes. Their hairs were in disarray and the rhythm of their thrusts made the frame of Abbacchio’s bed hit one of the walls. Bruno would be worried about it if his eyes weren't so lost in that mist of pleasure.

Amidst it all, he only had eyes for Abbacchio and his beautiful state of bliss. 

Bruno’s wet fingers laced around his lover’s stiff and oiled member. Getting him off certainly was what was missing to tip him over the edge. Abbacchio didn’t last for too much longer after this, finally succumbing to his own orgasm and having his release. He instinctively threw his head back, letting his silky hair cover half of his face in a shrowd of erotic mystery. Bruno lamented over not being able to see his expression more clearly, but the smile he gave him afterward, as his shaky breaths met the warmth of the air between them, made everything about their relationship worth the risk.

-------------------------

“So… You’re taking those two lovebirds for secret dates.”

“precisely” 

Answered Bruno, adjusting his position lazily between Abbacchio’s arms. The bed wasn’t big enough for both of them to sleep on without having to embrace each other, but Bruno thought it was more relaxing like this. Abbacchio’s previous grumpiness about touching that subject seemed to have dissolved. The crease between his eyebrows was certainly not there, which was a good sign.

“And your boss gave permission for the gladiator to meet the rich boy because he wants to use their relationship so Mista can approach a target for assassination.”

“Yes… I had to convince Polpo and Diavolo of that idea. Or else both you and Mista would be penalized and they wouldn’t be allowed to meet.”

Abbacchio turned around to face the ceiling, his forearms wiping the sweat that formed on his forehead. His expression was that of thoughtful worry more than judgment.

“That’s an awful lot of obstacles and justifications just for them to be able to meet.”

Commented Abbacchio. Bruno just nodded. He was a little tired and sleepy at this point, his body softly molding against Abbacchio. 

“It wouldn’t be easy for them at all. Giorno is from the elite and Mista is a gladiator. That’s much worse than our case, don’t you think?”

Abbacchio sighed but didn’t want to verbally answer Bruno’s point. Of course, they were in a harsher situation than him and Bruno. Abbacchio would have given up on this if he was that rich brat. It’s not worth it risking everything like this, especially because Abbacchio knows what it feels like to lose his whole world.

“Falling in love with an elite member while being a gladiator… Seriously, that Mista has the worst luck of all.”

Bruno couldn’t help but chuckle upon hearing Abbacchio’s statement. It was no secret that the gladiator had a crush on that young man for months and it was almost unbelievable that they managed a meeting, much less a date. Bruno was really making everything in his power to provide them with this opportunity. 

“Well, he can’t help it. I’m just glad that it’s mutual.”

Said Bruno closing his eyes. Abbacchio turned his body back to the previous position and caressed Bruno’s hair, which made the man smile and lean against his touch. The warmth of their embrace was so comforting and honest, that it made Bruno forget about his unnerving thoughts and the reason why he was so resentful in the first place. He knows that those thoughts wouldn’t go away forever, but at least at that moment, they seemed gone for good.

“If it wasn’t mutual, maybe they would be both much safer.”

Suggested Abbacchio. Bruno sighed against Abbacchio’s neck.

“Surely, but they’d be missing so much. I wouldn’t bare seeing Giorno become a shallow husk of a person who doesn’t know how to feel loved… It would also break my heart to see such an inspiring man like Mista give up on his life as well. Even if their arrangement brings them grief, for them to have each other makes everything worth it.”

Whispered Bruno and Abbacchio noticed that he was almost dozing off, so he made himself comfortable before continuing.

“To risk so much for them... You are truly remarkable Bruno. You are a really good man.”

And Bruno believed him. Even if just for a moment.

  

 

Chapter Text

The dragging of their feet against the dry coarse soil was spreading an irritating mist of dust around them. The clanging of their swords echoed through the training grounds as the scorching sun above their heads drenched their bodies in sweat. The strenuous effort they placed on their bodies made their jaws clench and the callouses of their palm bleed. As far as Mista could tell, this was routine for him. His body was already used to it after so many months, though he knew he’d be dead by now if he didn’t hold onto hope. 

As he continued his training with Formaggio as his “opponent”, his eyes were distracted by a group of newly purchased slaves, all of them tense and clinging to their practice swords. Mista couldn’t recall being this tense when he started… maybe it was because he was daydreaming about Giorno and hoping for freedom. Now that they started dating, Mista would constantly lose focus and...

“Aaand... you’re dead!”

Exclaimed Formaggio, disarming one of Mista’s swords and cornering him yet again. It was difficult for Mista to properly focus when he had so many thoughts on his head. He wondered if he’d be able to fulfill the mission he was given. Mista left out a sigh and went to fetch his sword to restart their training.

“I’ve heard from Nero that you’re in our team now. Though I don’t think you’ll fit in since you’re too much of an idiot.”

Formaggio wasn’t giving many chances for Mista to defend himself ever since they started training dual-wielding combat together that afternoon. Mista was used to the debauchery he so often receives, but since he started dating Giorno for real, the other gladiators turned especially judgemental on him. 

Formaggio was referring to the assassination’s team. It was apparently comprised of a group of slaves under Diavolo’s orders who were tasked with assassinations. The payment for a job well done ranged from benefits surrounding their position in the “slave hierarchy”, to full-fledged freedom with monetary compensation. If you were sold to Diavolo as a slave with a track record of assassinations, you’ll have some chances of entering the team if Polpo or Diavolo sees potential in you. Though most of the team comprised of former assassins, not one-time offenders.

Some members of the team were gladiators, but others weren’t and they would sometimes hold meetings in a room at Polpo’s manor.

Diavolo resorted to this method of commissioning assassinations for a variety of reasons. One of the reasons was the fact that it was much cheaper to have an unpaid assassination team than to have paid commissioners for such jobs. The other reason being that the secrecy of the team meant they could conduct their services in any part of the city and under any pretense without people suspecting the true nature of their activities.

Mista knew that Risotto Nero, Ghiaccio, and Formaggio, all of which were gladiators, were also part of this team due to having led careers as assassins. They were eventually caught, sold to Diavolo and offered the extra job with all the promises surrounding it. Mista didn’t know what to think of his current situation. He wasn’t exactly an assassin before being sold into slavery. But Polpo saw potential in his skills and he was given a special mission despite being a rookie. The reason was obvious. He was dating the son of a target Diavolo intended to kill. Mista knew that being “dumb” wasn’t exactly the reason as to why he wouldn’t fit in.

“I know you guys for a few months already, so it won’t be that hard to fit in. You just have to present me properly.”

Formaggio snickered while his left sword strike was blocked by Mista’s guard. He’s usually much quicker than that. 

“A good introduction won’t win over a group. Besides, you gotta stop daydreaming about your romantic life. You’re losing too much focus and the assassination squad doesn’t need unfocused men like you.”

As expected. The rude way the other gladiators were treating him was a reaction to the “special condition” of his mission. The group still doesn’t know that he only has one target and that, if he manages to kill him and complete the mission, he’d be free from that Ludus. Thinking about it now, it sounds way too good to be true. Way too cheap a bargain. But if things do fall into place and he’s freed from his current position, the others of that group will have all the reasons to be jealous. It’s better not letting them know.

“Aaaand you died again!”

Exclaimed Formaggio, swiftly disarming Mista for the second time during that afternoon practice. At this rate, Mista wouldn’t be able to survive the arena long enough to complete any mission.

---------------------

“So, care to tell us why you received a mission even though you were not an assassin?”

“Melone, you don’t need to press the man like that.”

“Oh, come on Prosci... you probably wanna know that too, right?”

The atmosphere in that room was intense, especially for the newcomer. Mista knew that all of those people were former assassins and were, presumably, slaves with assassination targets to work for.

They were all sitting in a dim-lit room around a low table that had some weapons, cups of wine and coins arranged into small pillars. There was obviously no space for Mista among their seats or floor pillows, so the gladiator was left standing, awkwardly waiting for them to maybe open some space to let him sit.

The assassins were all staring at him expectantly, almost like they wanted to read the gladiator’s mind and uncover the reason why he was brought into their group. 

Mista wasn’t exactly expecting to be introduced to them so early, nor thought that they would actually be a group instead of a loosely connected crowd of assassins who barely knew each other. By the looks of it, they were indeed acquaintances and knew each other by name. 

Mista was a little nervous about commenting on the actual reason for his “employment”. Maybe those guys would force him into some sort of “initiation” or “test” to be accepted into their ranks. Mista took a deep breath and decided to answer the blonde man’s question

“I think I was tasked with a mission cuz I’m really good at knife throwing.”

Formaggio laughed, filling what would be a silent reception otherwise. Mista felt embarrassed and awkward, though he tried to laugh it off before the other gladiator could continue.

“We all know about that.”

Said Formmagio, trying to suppress his laughter. 

“Though instead of putting that skill to use only during arena battles, you waste it with flirting and getting your ass into trouble.”

Continued the gladiator, making some of the others laugh. Nero and Ghiaccio, however, continued either serious or slightly annoyed by this mocking atmosphere. Mista clenched his fists, trying to suppress his anger and anxiety. He dreaded the idea of having to reveal the actual reason as to why he was there.

“Anyways, this isn’t important right now. What we came here to do is distributing the coins among those of us who managed to complete our latest missions and talk about our next targets.”

Said one of the blond men. He had an underbite and his hair was tied into a bun. The younger man who was sitting beside him seemed tense about being in that environment and looked at the older man almost as if he was expecting some guidance. His hair came out of tuffs from the top of his head and he barely had any neck. Mista wondered for a second if he was truly an assassin.

“I’ve managed to kill my latest target last week. It was a young woman who ended up knowing way too much. Just hope her relatives won’t try seeking revenge, cuz that would be a pain to deal later. Anyways, I’m here to receive my share.”

Commented a tall man with long black hair tied onto separate sets of ponytails. He seemed laid back and unworried about killing what was probably an innocent woman. Mista felt a shiver running down his spine when he saw him just reaching out to grab a small column of coins from the table and go back to his relaxed posture at his seat. Nobody really questioned the morality of his actions and Mista felt his throat closing up into a knot when he noticed how little that life was actually worth. Just a few coins. Nothing too expensive.

“So, who else managed to finish their targets?”

Continued Risotto, counting the remaining of the coins on the table.

The blonde man with long hair and loin-clothes spoke up. His name was Melone, from what Mista could tell. He talked and acted in a lascivious and untrustworthy way. Just by looking at his clothes was enough to recognize him as a prostitute. He began explaining how he, Prosciutto, Pesci and Formaggio cornered a target the other day and managed to kill both him and a woman who was accompanying him near a brothel.

Thanks to that they’d have to share the money among the group, and as a result, they were rather disappointed with the low amount of compensation they received this time. Mista was horrified. The woman who was killed just because she happened to be accompanying the target was treated as collateral damage and that's it. They were paying no compensation nor receiving anything for that assassination.

The meeting went on and some of them recounted the targets they managed to kill off recently, receiving the compensation for it until the table ran out of coins. After that, they started discussing their next commissioned targets. Mista was pretty much forgotten, standing near the entrance while completely ignored. Formaggio was right. He wouldn’t fit in.

He was no assassin. He couldn’t bring himself to kill off random people who did nothing wrong just for the sake of money and compensation. But thinking of that, he was tasked to kill a person he doesn’t know and was offered compensation for it… Mista accepted the offer, which made him feel like a hypocrite for judging those men. They were all slaves. What kind of choice would they even have? Being promised freedom might be the reason they accept those kinds of jobs.

“Since we all know what we should do next, Mista, care to tell us finally what sort of target do you have to justify your entrance?”

Now there was no way for him to avoid this subject. Risotto Nero’s eyes were staring intensely. It felt like they were burning holes into his very being. He really wanted Mista to spill the truth, and thus all the other members of the team stopped what they were doing to stare at him again.

“I’m…”

Started Mista, realizing way too late that his throat was painfully dry. He cleaned his throat, took a deep breath and continued.

“I was tasked to kill off a roman politician”

Revealed the gladiator, receiving confused and surprised reactions from the group.

“A politician? Don’t tell me it’s…”

Mista could pinpoint the exact moment Formaggio understood what was implied there. Mista knew he’d have to explain it, but he felt relieved that at least Formaggio understood it.

“It’s a politician who has some affiliations with Diavolo… But he’s starting to do some suspicious stuff and Diavolo doesn’t fully trust him. He tasked me with a mission of keeping my eye on him and killing him if necessary”

Continued Mista, praying not to be further questioned. The remaining of the group stared at each other, sharing their incredulity. Risotto didn't break eye contact and Formaggio looked down slightly worried.

“You know… Attempting murder on a politician is pretty much a death sentence. Even when I had my job as an assassin, I never took the service if it meant I had to take out a man in office. Is this worth it?”

Said the blond man with an overbite. His name was Prosciutto as Mista could tell. Mista didn’t know how to respond to it. He just shrugged weakly.

“Well. Diavolo is either crazy or he’s offering something way too good as payment. What is it?”

Asked the tall black-haired man, finally looking interested in the conversation. Mista was cornered again, this time with words and questions instead of a pair of swords. He surely missed the swords. He was never a good liar and that wouldn’t suddenly change now because of needs. He took a deep breath and prepared himself to what he might hear in response.

“He promised me freedom if I manage to kill the guy.”

The response was a few seconds of utter silence, broken by an uncomfortable wave of whispers and worried stares. 

“Seriously? You’re more of a dumbass than I first anticipated.”

Commented Ghiaccio, looking slightly angrier than he normally is. 

“Diavolo would never promise you freedom for just one kill, even if it’s a difficult assassination. You are way too naive.”

Continued the gladiator, crossing his arms while trying to suppress a smug. 

Mista could barely notice Ghiaccio’s judgemental demeanor. He was too occupied feeling his stomach sink and wanting to bury his head on the ground. Yeah, he had his suspicions that Diavolo was manipulating him since the beginning, and now Mista has no idea how he’d be able to overcome his situation. Before seeing the group’s reaction to his actual mission, Mista held high hopes about his future. Now, it seemed like his only chance of escaping was destroyed right before his eyes. He wanted to disappear right then and there, so he wouldn’t have to face any terrible facts that await him in the future.

“Yeah, he wouldn’t. There were even two people in our group who were killed off just for demanding the freedom they were promised.”

Revealed the tallest man, who earned a censoring glare from Risotto that managed to send shivers down Mista’s spine.

“We don’t talk about that Illuso. If you have nothing good to say, you better stay quiet.”

Everyone seemed uncomfortable with what Illuso just said, and Mista could almost sense the man visibly shrinking in size just from the shame of it. They certainly had a traumatic past as a team and now Mista feared for his life just for the type of mission he was given.

“I mean… Maybe I have a special case in my hands. Killing a politician is difficult, right? Maybe I’ll truly be compensated with this.”

Commented Mista, trying to light up the mood and delude himself with that possibility. The younger man who had almost no neck perked up and tried to play up Mista’s apparent optimism.

“Yeah, maybe you’ll actually get your fair payment. Diavolo might really see this politician as a threat to his power, so if you’re lucky, you might even get your freedom.”

“I don’t think he should stay blindly naive about it Pesci. It’s good to hold onto hope, but he should be realistic about it and prepare himself for disappointment.” 

Commented Prosciutto, twirling a coin between his fingers. Mista was overcome with doubts. He didn’t know who to trust and felt like a caged animal at the mercy of his captor. On one hand, he might have been manipulated to commit a crime that would only result in his death. on the other hand, all the promises must be true if his target really poses a threat to his employer. The price he was willing to pay just to have a possibility of freedom seemed way too high a price right now. Apparently, even professional assassins agreed with this. 

Before meeting them, Mista thought that his future with Giorno was within reach. Now it seems basically impossible and the shadow of doom loomed above his head. Mista wished he was never introduced to that group. Now that he was, he wished he wasn’t forced to fit in.  

“Don’t you think that this is unfair?”

Asked Mista in the spur of the moment.

“What are you talking about?”

Asked Nero, gesticulating for his peers to quiet down.

“You know… Being tasked with such services while you can’t say no, cuz yall slaves… And then have the possibility of freedom stripped away. I’d be angry. I am, in fact, quite pissed right now.”

Mista couldn’t tell how long he’d manage to go without crying out of anger and frustration, but he sure wishes that the group would agree with him. Their conditions of work were absurd and the lives they were taking… Mista could only understand their resolve and motivation to kill that many people if they were striving for their freedom.

The group, however, seemed tense. Nero gesticulated to Formaggio as if he was asking him to check the door and that’s what the gladiator did. He stepped out just enough to look around and check if there were any of Polpo’s guards nearby. He nodded in response and Nero continued.

“We are indeed angry about what happened to our companions. But it’s no use to fill up our minds with the need for revenge. If we’re offered freedom as compensation, we need to be skeptic, or else we’ll count our victory before we’re sure to kill a target. And as I always say, you can only boast about killing someone if you have already finished them. Now go back to the dorms Mista. Learn to control your anger, before it manages to control you.”

-------------------------

Mista couldn’t sleep that night.

His mind was filled with doubts and despair. He had no idea what to do with his life. He’d be called back to the arena for another battle in just under a month and it’s been a week since he last saw Giorno for real. He longed for his touches, but now he only cursed his own condition.

What would truly be the price of his freedom? Would he be able to even have that? Should he go on with his mission? Should he think of something else entirely? 

Those thoughts plagued Mista’s mind throughout the night, denying him of any rest.

Before he noticed, it was already dawn and the first rays of sun cascaded through the tiny window above his bed. As customary, Pericolo slowly dragged his feet and unlocked each cell, causing whining to spread among the dorms. The gladiator was feeling the weight of exhausting already settling in and he hasn’t even left the bed. After much deliberation, Mista sits up and jumped off from his bunker bed to land right next to a grumpy Ghiaccio who refused to get up.

None of the gladiators had left the dorm yet so Mista took this as an opportunity to head out first and wash his face. Maybe he’d wash away his tiredness. But as he felt the cold splash hitting his skin, he noticed that someone was spying on him from not that far. Mista perked up and looked around, scared of whoever might be seeing him. After much scanning around, a figure appeared hiding behind a tree, looking directly at him. 

Mista approached without giving much of a thought. Maybe it was a message from Diavolo. Maybe it was a message from the assassination group. Maybe it was someone sent to spy on him. the gladiator had no idea, but his curiosity was getting the best of him. After he was near enough to identify the person, Mista felt a huge wave of relief. It was just Abbacchio. He wasn’t wearing his uniform, so he was obviously out of duty. He seemed grumpy and slightly sleepy. Two days ago, Bruno told him that Abbacchio would take the afternoon shift, so having him around this early in the morning must mean he was breaking some rules.

“Bruno told me to give you this. Can you read Latin?”

Asked Abbacchio, handing a piece of folded papyrus. Mista knew how to read basic Latin, but he was better at reading Greek texts. He nodded in affirmation, his heart pumping hard against his chest when he opened the folded cloth. 

“Mista, it’s Bruno.

I’ve heard that Giorno’s birthday is tomorrow. There will be a celebration there but Giorno doesn’t seem interested in it. I’m planning on sneaking you in after the party is done with. Tomorrow night, Pericolo will leave your cell unlocked and Abbacchio will wait next to the back gate. He’ll explain to you how we’ll sneak you out and into Dio’s Domus. Don’t talk about this to anyone. Also, take a bath.

See you tomorrow.”




Chapter Text

Giorno dislikes birthdays. 

For most people, they were traditional festivities that anyone should be happy to celebrate. Not everyone had the funds to even throw a traditional celebration, so Giorno was truly fortunate to have the opportunity. It was difficult to preserve your own life for a whole year with minimum ailments and difficulties, much less avoiding other stressful occurrences that could easily claim your life. But Giorno never enjoyed celebrating the date despite all the social importance poured into it.

The festivities in the Brando’s household were always catered to Dio’s public image. The parties were more of a display of wealth and honorable traditions to the public than actual celebrations of the family’s health and growth. Giorno used to find those parties at least bearable when he was a child. However, with time and him entering the public sphere as an adult, the events became almost intolerable.

His 15-year-old birthday celebration the previous year had attracted more than half of the city’s elite, exactly because they wanted to lick his father’s feet and win him favors. Giorno was, like in any other public event organized by his father, used as a prop to elevate Dio’s status. Giorno had no actual friends in the elite that were his age, and the slaves he’s most close to were forced to maintain the distance that fits their roles in servitude.

The party was spent with Giorno surrounded by people who had all sorts of intentions towards him or were only there to pay their respects to Dio. If given a chance, Giorno would have poisoned all the guests with no hesitation. But alas, Giorno was forced to follow all traditions without complaining or treating anyone wrongly.

By the looks of it, he’d have to repeat the same process this year.

“Dio seems to take it very seriously. I have no idea why you Romans take so much pride with this date. It’s so unnecessary to me.”

Commented Fugo, helping Narancia place the floral arrangements over the sacrificial altar. They’d be barred later from seeing the religious ceremony, but at least they were helping with the decoration. Giorno was bringing in a basket of flowers, some of which he planted himself, and Narancia was perched over Fugo’s shoulder, dangerously dangling in the air to place the decoration over an arc. Giorno would suggest them using a small wooden chair or a stair to deal with the service, but their current situation was rather endearing to witness. Especially because Fugo was blushing a little about it.

“You’re just saying this cuz you wanted a birthday party just like this, huh?”

Suggested Narancia, placing a loose petal over Fugo’s forehead, eliciting him to sweep it off and pout, much to the slave’s amusement.

“Shut up. I wouldn’t enjoy being the center of attention like this. This tradition is just way too over the top for me. Besides, it promotes unnatural egoistic behaviors.”

Responded Fugo, clearly wanting to be more opinionated about it, but having to be more discreet. They were indeed surrounded by servants going about their work and setting up for the ceremony. Giorno shouldn’t really be there helping them with the flowers, but he insisted on being the one choosing them so his father permitted it. With the promise that he’d go straight to the ceremonial bath afterward, which the young man found to be absolutely unnecessary. 

But the presence of Pucci perched on the balcony above them was a strong enough reminder. He was the one who insisted on raising them following all religious traditions, including unnecessary rituals. Dio wasn’t exactly the most religious person, but he believed in fate and how one should strive to change it. Dio and Pucci had an enviously balanced relationship, and Dio would often let Pucci rule over his children’s religious upbringing. Giorno was much more of a philosophy and logics enthusiast, but he didn’t have much of a choice regarding family traditions.

Pucci insisted on making them go through all the religious rites, and Dio wanted them to go through the whole public display of wealth. Thinking about it, they both represented aspects of society that Giorno was sick of dealing with.

“To be frank I have to agree with Fugo in this one. I’d do anything for a much-simplified version of this whole ordeal, instead of a city stopping party like my father always wants.”

Commented Giorno, trying to keep his voice low as to not call Pucci’s attention. He’d have to comply with him later, or else he wouldn’t hear the end of it. 

Every birthday ceremony in his family had a ritual tradition that consists of making a sacrifice to the god that protects and guides each member. Giorno doesn’t remember this being a thing during childhood, but it started off when Dio got into law and politics. The practice became even more religious-like when Pucci became an acquaintance. But what was once a practice that only family members witnessed, it became a public show since Giorno turned 14 and got his first toga. 

Well. This is one of the downsides of being an adult in the elite. You have  literally no privacy.

Fugo got a little cocky for having Giorno agree with his remark, but his expression soon turned to that of pain as Ungalo came out of nowhere and started beating the back of his legs with his wooden sword, causing Fugo to almost lose balance, drop Narancia from his shoulder and create an entire mess. Fortunately, Giorno held them in place and helped Narancia get down from his seat over Fugo’s shoulder.

“Ungaro, stop harassing the slaves during work… And Giorno, did you finish choosing the flowers? Your father reserved an hour just for you in the baths. If you’re late for this, don’t expect your fate to be blessed by the gods”

Said Pucci in a stern and clear voice from the balcony above them. Giorno felt the urge to drop Ungalo headfirst into the nearest latrine. The little brat ran off with a mischievous smile, seeking another target to annoy. Fugo was fuming and Narancia was back to solid ground, exasperatedly examining Fugo’s bruised legs. 

Giorno decided to hand them the basket of flowers and just get things done with.

-----------------------------

The most luxurious public bath of Pompeii was reserved entirely for the Brando’s household and acquaintances for an hour. Giorno couldn’t help but feel embarrassed and violated. Eyes were on him at every step of the process as Giorno felt like a lifeless doll, being taken from room to room, being groomed and scented with different types of oils and being fumed with “sacred incenses” that made his eyes tear up.

Pucci was especially enthusiastic about this whole thing, conducting the prayers and offerings to the gods. He was a priest so it was his job. But there was a sense of satisfaction in his eyes that Giorno found absolutely annoying. As if the priest knew that Giorno disliked the whole ordeal but had no choice other than enduring it. Giorno wouldn’t let him win this. He wouldn’t give him the satisfaction, so he maintained a perfect façade through the whole ritual so nobody would know that he was, in fact, hating every bit of it.

The massagist did notice how tense Giorno’s back felt underneath his fingers but made no comments about it. He wouldn’t want to risk losing his tongue and Giorno’s icy stare was enough to keep him quiet.

---------------------------------

The travel back to the Domus was another hugely unnecessary ritual. Four of their house servants carried Giorno around on one of the family’s ornated litters. The carriage had a comfortable reclined seat with silk pillows from the fair east. The frame’s wooden details were engraved with gold, bronze, silver, and several tiny gems. There was a roof in reddish shades and four curtains that could be drawn shut if needed. The litter was only used when Dio wanted to look as wealthy as possible to the locals, but Giorno absolutely disliked being paraded like that through the city. 

“It’s of utmost importance that you show yourself in good health and wealth to the city today. It honors the gods and tells them how fortunate and grateful you are for their blessing.”

Said Pucci, forcibly keeping the curtains open so everybody could just see Giorno reclined on the transportation’s seat. Giorno was mustering all of his strength to keep a serene façade and wave to the curious common folks gathering at the sidewalks to see his “parade”. Pucci was proudly walking beside the litter and Giorno could almost see his sense of accomplishment taking physical form. 

“With all this doting, the population might think I’m lazy instead of fortunate. I have two legs, Pucci. They are made for walking.”

Complained Giorno, trying to keep his voice low and his serene smile still printed to his face for the population to see. 

Pucci’s proudish smile seemed to grow upon noticing Giorno’s annoyance. 

This will be a long day, isn’t it?

---------------------------------

The musicians had ceased their music at this point in the ceremony. All the attendees have been thoroughly greeted and welcomed to the Domus with wine, exotic foods, and empty compliments. Now that the music has ceased, Pucci could conduct the religious ritual of sacrifice at the center of the garden as the guests gathered up in a circle, eager to see the tradition unfolding. Some of the local elite members haven’t attended in the previous year and didn’t know what to expect. Other guests, Giorno noticed, faked being surprised with it by making educated gasps. Though they knew exactly what was going to happen.

The slaves were barred from witnessing the ritual, much to Giorno’s dismay. He’d rather have all the slaves witnessing this absurd display of terrible belief system, than having even one single elite member looking at them.

As customary, Giorno was given a wooden staff and a ceremonial dagger that he only used once a year at this exact rite. Pucci uttered some phrases of religious chants to the god that “protects” Giorno while holding an enclosed casket with both hands. Giorno didn’t pay attention to whatever he talked about, he just looked forward to the end of it so he could steal some jewelry from drunk attendees before the party ends. 

Eventually, Pucci opened the casket and, while dropping the content to the ground, attendees uttered a resounding gasp as soon as they witnessed what slithered out of it. A snake with brown-ish scales unraveled before their eyes making a terrifying rattling noise with the tip of its tail. It turned it’s head around. The pupils were mere thin stripes inside its green eyes, and the bifurcated tongue restlessly tasted the air. It seemed to hate everyone around it, as well as the sunny brightness of that afternoon.

Giorno’s heart was beating strongly against his chest. He had faced many snakes before in his lifetime, due to it always being the creature chosen for his birthday sacrifice. But this was the first time he’d face a poisonous one. And a terribly dangerous one as well, seeing by the sounds the tail emitted. Giorno glanced at his father behind Pucci. He held a malicious look in his eyes as if he had personally chosen that snake in bad faith. 

Giorno shouldn’t show concern to the public. They probably have no actual idea of what he’s facing right now, so he had to play along. Pretending that he’s more than used to it. 

He stepped forward and noticed that the snake had tracked his movement, locking its eyes with the new threat and pulling its body in an attack position. It will do anything to protect itself and Giorno felt his hand tremble while holding his staff. He was reminded of how much he hated this part of the whole birthday tradition. Killing those animals proved to be harder by the year, and not because of how dangerous snakes were… but how bad those sacrifices made Giorno feel.

“You should be glad you’re killing snakes. Snakes feel no love. They are cold-hearted and vicious. They live in solitude and many have wicked poisons that could kill a whole army with just a few droplets. The gods are glad that you sacrifice those lowly creatures. Imagine how much worse it would be if your protective god demanded a human sacrifice instead.”

No amount of explanation and excuses from Pucci was ever enough to relieve Giorno’s guilt.

Those animals are cold-hearted, as Giorno is always told he is.

They live in solitude, just like Giorno preferred.

They want to poison every single threat, much like Giorno wants.

He’s lowly… just like a snake. Feared. Cold to the touch. The scum of the earth.

And now the reptile bared its fangs filled with poison, ready to strike a deadly bite to anyone approaching. Giorno wished he had poisonous fangs between his teeth. Maybe he’d feel less hopeless. 

Who am I kidding? Regardless of how perfectly suited this animal is to fend off against the odds of nature… When it is trapped inside this man-made world, it’s existence is nothing more than just another sacrifice. Just like me.

With a now steady grip on his staff, Giorno lowered himself to kneel in front of the snake. Not near enough to put himself in its range, though not far enough to be unable to reach it with his stick. He made a few movements with his hand to distract the animal, but it wasn’t fazed by it. It attacked only to find air under its jaws and retreated back to its previous position. Giorno could barely pay attention to the crowd cheering and holding their breaths at every move. He only had eyes for its scales. He only had ears for its rattle.

Giorno decided to continue his staring without making any movement until the snake had stopped it’s rattling and calmed down enough to be distracted. Giorno started making some movements with his dagger, which was enough to redirect its attention. Mesmerized by the dagger’s movement and shining details, the snake barely noticed when Giorno slowly placed the tip of his stick over its head and pushed it gently against the ground.

A resounding sigh of relief seemed to erupt from the curious crowd when Giorno stepped closer and picked the animal by the back of its head. Giorno felt the hopeless snake writhing under his firm grip, in a desperate attempt to escape its fate as he stepped towards the sacrificial altar. In its desperation, the reptile griped Giorno’s arm with its flexible body and tail, as if begging him to stop, it’s rattling noise screaming against his ears.

If Giorno wasn’t as used to this whole shit show being a public event, he would have given up right then and there. But any false step, and he risked way too many things he couldn’t predict. His father would have to make him pay for the public humiliation. Pucci would claim that Giorno failed to satisfy the gods, breaking the trust they placed upon him. But Giorno felt like he was that snake, mesmerized by a dagger, unable to fight against its own fate.

Mesmerized by a man who had no bright future ahead of him, Giorno felt like he was running straight into a terrifying end. His fate was like a stick, controlled by the gods as they press his head against the ground. They were taking him away, writhing and screaming towards something he couldn’t control. Was being mesmerized by a simple dagger worth all that pain? Of course, Mista wasn’t a simple dagger. But to a snake, a shinning instrument like that was probably the only beautiful thing it sees in their lives. 

If Mista was there to witness Giorno, would he understand his fear? Would he spare him of this suffering? Giorno doesn’t know.

Mista was the last person Giorno wanted to witness this.

At least those flowers will be the last thing this snake sees.

Reflected Giorno, as he felt the reptile calming down as he held it against the warm surface of the altar.

A quick and precise cut to the back of its neck was enough to kill it.

As Giorno felt the cold blood dripping from its neck, he felt the urge to drink lots of wine just so he could forget it’s coldness.

------------------------

“I’ve heard great things about you from the local philosophers at the academy. They call you a restless soul Giorno. You might shape up to be one of the big names in our city’s academic landscape!”

Cheered an older politician, who had been eating something with a lot of garlic. His breath couldn’t deny it. He was clearly getting drunk and Giorno took notice to it. The young man had already stolen his bracelet without him noticing.

All the people surrounding Giorno at the moment were older men who were all trying to keep conversations as intellectually engaging as possible. As much as Giorno enjoyed talking about philosophy, he didn’t want to be forced into conversation with those men who were all uninterested in the actual academia and just wanted to sound interesting enough for Giorno to desire them.

None of them were good enough, of course. Giorno had no eyes for the elite.

The slaves were all busy, trying to silently serve all the needs of the guests while sporting golden ornated masks that concealed their faces. Giorno hated how his father preferred concealing his slave's identities when throwing parties. It was both a display of wealth and also control over his servant’s individualities. Giorno knew, of course, who most of those servants were.

Fugo was nowhere to be seen. He was foreign, so he was barred from both attending or serving anyone there. He was probably tucked away in his own room reading something. Giorno would do anything to be in Fugo’s place.

Narancia was easily spotted, trying to keep Ungaro from hitting attendees with a stick. His golden mask was a little ill-fitting on his face. Giorno twirled his wine cup slowly as he listened to another man bragging about his military accomplishments.

Giorno would rather just listen to the music played by the group of artists at the back area of the garden than hearing any more word from those drunk, blabbering middle-aged men, but he had to be patient. Making a scene was out of the question and he’d need to be stealth to sneak away without attracting attention thanks to the noise of his stolen jewelry.

After much talk, Giorno used an excuse to leave his seat at the center low bench and wiggled his way through the crowd. Many of whom wanted to interrupt him to talk about their frivolous needs. Dio stopped him on his tracks at some point to show him to a politician who was new in town. He had a son who lived in Pompeii for a few months and was a young man just starting his career in law. 

“My desire is to have Giorno enter this area of work as well, but to my dismay, he prefers being a philosopher. He’s big on Hellenistic culture and I can’t steer him out of it.”

Uttered Dio, keeping Giorno in place under a firm grip on his wrist. The politician’s son chuckled, casting a smile towards Giorno.

“That’s a smart move. Law is indeed a taxing area of expertise. My wife needs all the patience she can muster whenever I’m back from a particularly difficult case. But I digress.”

Commented the man, sounding strange when he mentioned his so-called “wife”. After some more small talk, Dio suggested the man accompany Giorno.

“Giorno, why don’t you show the Domus around. He might find something interesting in the library on the second floor, don't you think?”

Suggested Dio, throwing a conniving smirk towards Giorno. The man was probably a nuisance for the family and Dio wanted Giorno to, most likely, get ahold of what he’s scheming. As much as Giorno hated playing second fiddle to his father’s gamble with the local elite, he would take the opportunity immediately. It promised to be much more fun than staying at the party.

He took his time showing the man around the Domus. People would sometimes stop them for small talk, but not for too long. The man was in his twenties and he was charming but seemingly naive. He had no idea Giorno was reading him all the time while occasionally leaving the jewelry he stole at hidden spots under the furniture and inside plant jars. If the man was smelling something rotten in that Domus, Giorno was making sure not to be on him. Just for good measure, Giorno stole one of the knives from the food table as he explained his father’s weird taste in Nile’s crocodile meat. 

At some point, Giorno noticed that one of the masked slaves, this one he wasn’t able to identify precisely, was looking at them both way more than he should. He might be sensing something wrong, but Giorno smiled as he started conducting the man to the second floor.

He had an interest in knowing more about the art murals decorating the walls of the second floor and took his time to ask Giorno about the choices in flowers hanging from the window frame. He was being way too carefree. Probably, it was just a façade and he was waiting for Giorno to spill something. His smile couldn’t be as genuine as it looked.

Giorno conducted him past Fugo’s bedroom and into the library entrance right next to it. Fortunately, none of the attendees were there, so he would be able to threaten the man if needed be without causing a scene. 

Upon entering the place, the man was seemingly marveled by the sheer number of scrolls, studies and wooden tablets containing all sorts of subject matters. Some were translations of ancient scripts. Others were fairly new texts from family and acquaintances authorship. 

Giorno even wrote some of the studies rolled up in scrolls at the furthest corner of the room. Most of them were on botany, but at least a third of it was in philosophy. The family had a sense of pride in their library, which was something at least positive about their Domus. They continued talking. The man threw him a few questions about the texts in general and seemed interested in borrowing a few of them to study for a current case he was working on.

“You might need to ask for my father’s permission to take this one though. But I don’t see why he wouldn’t accept landing you some knowledge if you promise to be careful with those scrolls.”

Commented Giorno, trying to find any sign that the man was truly ill-intentioned. His suspicions were fading out by the seconds and he started becoming bored.

“I promise I’ll take good care of it. Thinking about it, you’re quite impressive yourself Giorno. You just turned 16 and is already an author. No wonder you have so many scholars wanting to reach out to you. Congratulations.”

Empty compliments from empty men.

“Well thank you. I try my best but some of the attention I get from the upper class of academics can be a little overwhelming.” 

Admitted Giorno, finally starting to drop his guard around the guy. He didn’t seem ill-intentioned at all so far.

Some more conversation ensued to which Giorno gave him the basic premise of a line of thought he was coming up in one of his philosophical essays. He seemed quite interested in what Giorno had to say and the blonde couldn't be more proud of it. He was almost completely forgetting about the party downstairs.

“I have to admit Giorno... I expected you to be a very interesting young man. But I wasn’t expecting to what extent.”

Said the man, rolling back a scroll he was skimming through. Giorno smiled, a little shy about the compliment, but wanting to remain as humble as possible.

“Your manners do surprise me but now… Now I can also understand why you’re able to escape unscathed regardless of your crimes.”

Commented the man, casting a strange and dark atmosphere throughout the room. Giorno could feel his heart skip a beat.

“crimes?”

“Oh don’t try acting surprise. I've been meaning to meet you face to face to see if you’ve been stealing jewelry through the entire Pompeiian elite. I wasn’t sure myself and you were just a suspect. But seeing how you acted today, and how you tried hiding the stollen jewelry from me throughout the house, pretty much confirmed all of my suspicions. Now, what will you say to defend yourself?”

Giorno felt the tension pilling up to a knot in his throat. He felt like that helpless snake, ready to be sacrificed at the altar with no way of escaping its own fate. he needed to think of something quick, to leave the situation with the least amount of damage possible.

Chapter Text

The wooden wagon floor rocked under Mista’s tense body. His hiding spot between a box full of fresh fruits and a number of wine jars was uncomfortably cramped and Mista wondered how long it would take to get there. 

It was mid-afternoon and the wagon was only allowed to cruise around the city under a special circumstance. Diavolo and Polpo were sending a gift of resources and wine for a birthday party, and how else would they transport it without the use of a wagon? Mista wondered if he was part of the so-called “gift” as well, given how he was being delivered. 

Abbacchio was the one conducting the wagon this time around, and he wasn’t too careful with the road bumps, to the point that Mista had to brace the wine jars himself to prevent them from spilling out.

Once Abbacchio maneuvered the wagon so it’s entrance would face the back gate of Giorno’s house, Mista suddenly realized that he’d know exactly where and how Giorno lived. After that invitation the previous morning, he busied himself with planning how to sneak into the party unnoticed, while also stressing on how to look at least presentable. His mind was so busy with worries that he failed to realize that he’d finally know what type of living condition Giorno had. 

Is his house comfortable? Is he well tended to? Is he safe? Is he happy there? Mista suspected that Giorno is scared of living in that place, and now Mista feared for what he’d find out.

It didn’t take long for Bruno to open up the back of the wagon, greeting Mista with a smile.

“I hope you’ve bathed yourself.”

Teased Bruno, offering Mista a hand to help him out of the cart. Mista chuckled. He did spend an hour at the Ludus bathhouse that day, which was more than he normally did. He wanted to be as clean as possible and made sure to accomplish just that. Though not having anything presentable in terms of clothing to wear was an issue he’d yet to overcome.

At first, he thought that he’d only be able to sneak out during the night while risking his own life in the process, but it wasn’t the case. Polpo actually decided to send Mista with the supplies as a gift for the Brando Domus so Mista could make some recon work. So the gladiator was only allowed to “sneak” into that Domus among the servants because he had a target living there and needed all the information possible. Though Mista was barely paying attention to what Polpo said. He wasn’t thinking much of the mission at that point.

“Let’s leave those wine jars to the house slaves, now come with me.”

With that, Bruno led Mista down a narrow corridor and into a maze of small dorm rooms, supply areas, and confusing passage-ways. Parts of the roof were missing in some areas, only covered by cheap tapestries instead. All of the corridors smelled like food, smoke, and sweat. The overwhelming heat made the air damp and heavy to breathe. 

The Ludus was almost like a palace in comparison, with its spacious dorms, proper yet humble bathhouse, and actual airways.

There were a few slaves on their way, most of them wearing what looked like a fancy uniform consisting of perfectly white tunics, golden bracelets, and golden masks. They were either ignoring Bruno and Mista’s presence or quickly nodding towards Bruno as if they knew him from regular visits. Mista followed the slave through a few more corridors until they reached a mid-sized dorm room with plenty of frail-looking bunk beds and working tools scattered around all sorts of personal belongings.

"Hey, I know this guy!”  

A familiar voice could be heard somewhere in that poorly lit room. Adjusting his eyes to the area, Mista soon made sense of who this young-sounding voice belonged to.

“Narancia! It’s great to see you. I’m glad you’re alright.”

Voiced Mista, happy to meet the young man again after so long. Narancia was enthusiastic about the visit, hugging Mista almost immediately, albeit looking visibly confused doing so. 

“He’s the one, Narancia.”

Commented Bruno both answering Narancia’s silent confusion and further shocking him.

“Wait… seriously?”

Exclaimed the young slave, taking a step back with wide eyes. Mista could almost see the mechanisms of his brain collapsing on each other as he slowly tried to process the fact that Giorno was actually dating a man he already knew. 

“Well…”

As Mista dressed up in the same uniform and mask as anyone else among the servant staff, they had to explain everything to Narancia.

The young slave concluded that Giorno had a weird taste in men.

------------------

Giorno looked god-like, even from afar. 

His hair cascaded like liquified gold with braids forming from his scalp to the near tip of its length. His skin was perfectly sunbathed, with freckles speckled over his shoulders and cheeks that made him look almost ethereal. His toga was uniquely embroidered with details that hid inside the folds, only visible to those who paid attention. The air around him seemed to glisten and Mista wondered if he was hallucinating. It was quite difficult to pretend normalcy while witnessing him, but the attendees didn’t seem to care much about the slave who had a hard time listening to their demands. 

Despite everything, Giorno’s expression was that of cold detachment from the world around him. It was his birthday, yet he didn’t seem to enjoy that fact or the company that flocked around him. 

He was smiling yet not truthfully. He was being polite and greeting the visitors, despite not wanting to stick around for more than just a brief interaction. He was receiving gifts from attendees but held almost no interest in them. All of his demeanor seemed way too calculated for Mista, who had already seen him acting more frantically and spontaneously before. 

He was living in a world of appearances and hating every bit of it. 

“Look at how many men gather around him just by his looks. This is just disgusting.”

Commented a middle-aged woman to a slightly younger one. They were near Mista, paying no mind to him as they picked a few grapes from the silver plate he was holding up. At first, he wasn’t paying much attention to what those rich folks were saying, but now that he caught onto what they were talking about, he couldn't help overhearing them...

“He doesn’t seem to be interested in them though.”

The other woman replied to which the older one chuckled.

“Of course not. Haven’t you heard the rumors?”

Mista felt his heart skipping a beat. People wouldn’t recognize him thanks to his mask and the loose clothing hiding his physique. But for some reason, he still thought that he was suddenly found out. If the rumors end up getting traction, Giorno wouldn’t be safe anymore.

“Some say that the Brando boy fancies gladiators. There was even a rumor about him sneaking out in the middle of the night to have sex with them.”

“This surely surprises me. If that’s so, all those men trying to approach him are wasting their time.”

“ I wouldn’t be surprised if it was true. His father has that fame as well, so it might run in the family. Have you noticed how muscular some of the slaves are? Not to mention he’s not married. Maybe the lack of actual roman women in this house is delaying this boy’s growth into an actual man.”

“Oh my, now that you talked about it... Though I never expected the prettiest young man in Pompeii to actually have this type of preference. What a waste.”

The younger woman tried picking up a grape from the silver plate beside her, only to realize that the slave was no longer there. 

What an inconvenience.

------------------

Mista couldn't bare listening to those people anymore. So far, Mista had overheard some of the most absurd claims and terrifying rumors coming out of their mouths about the owner of the house and especially his eldest son. It became even more apparent the drunker they were.

From older men gawking over Giorno’s appearance to intellectuals and women throwing rumors around about his promiscuity, everything that escaped their mouth seemed to exist only to backstab Giorno. It was all about having the weirdest and most disturbing rumors of his personal life as if it mattered to them so much that they couldn’t keep it to themselves even during his birthday. Giorno was a circus they wanted to watch unfold. He was merely entertainment for them, but not the type of entertainment who was trained to fight, defend themselves and kill. 

Being a gladiator sounded way better than this.

And all of that was happening due to Giorno genuinely falling in love with Mista, and the gladiator couldn’t help but blame himself for this.

Mista felt his heart shrinking inside his chest, his anger boiling just under the surface of his very being.

He wanted to kill every single one of them with his bare hands just for looking at Giorno with disdain. But what good would come from this?

I can’t make a scene or else there will be consequences… if I can't control myself, nor stay level headed enough to fulfill my mission, I won’t forgive myself.

Taking a deep breath and thanking the gods that his mask concealed his expression, Mista continued his “job”, observing the architecture of that Domus for his recon work. Taking his mind away from Giorno was an almost impossible task, but as he started paying attention to the structure of that house, including observing the ins and outs of the corridors, doors and where the stairs to the second floor located, he ended up locating Dio.

His target was having conversations with what appeared to be other politicians. He seemed distracted and relaxed, although an aura of pride and narcissism clearly emanated from him. If someone said that he was the current Roman consul he’d believe them, but he knew it wasn’t the case. Nevertheless, the entire demeanor of a strict ruler was present in his eyes. Just one glance at the man managed to shoot a cold shiver down Mista’s spine, and he knew he was in trouble just for being in his presence.

He tried not to call attention to himself and merely stopped nearby, carrying the plate of fruits and trying to be as still as a statue. Maybe sticking around to hear their conversation would help Mista gather some information about Dio’s habits and the places he attends in his daily life.

However, all of his conversations revolved around his job so Mista grew quickly bored and frustrated with the lack of extra information. He preferred keeping an eye on Giorno who was walking around talking with someone while showing the Domus. 

The other politicians eventually left Dio’s presence, leaving him behind with just another man accompanying him. This one was apparently a priest, judging by his clothes. He whispered something to Dio’s ear and left. Mista, losing interest in his boring mission, decided to distract himself looking at Giorno and… Why was he guiding this random attendee upstairs? Mista looked at them disappear from the door frame as they headed upstairs, but before he started following them, a strong hand grabbed him by his wrist, preventing his actions.

The gladiator couldn’t tell what was scarier. The fact that he was surrounded by the very elite who treated him like a mindless animal, or the cold malicious look in Dio’s eyes when the gladiator turned around to meet his gaze.

----------------

“I still don’t know what you are talking about”

Said Giorno, taking a step back while trying to maintain a serene look on his face. Of course, he was anything but calm in that situation. The man who was trying to intimidate him was, unfortunately, being successful in it. 

Giorno’s habits of stealing jewelry from the elite were finally about to surface under their attentive and judgemental gaze. He was about to ruin his own image thanks to an unknown rookie lawyer. Giorno tried his best not to look fearful of his own situation. 

Pretending that I’m no more than just slightly confused might save me from this accusation.

Despite Giorno’s attempts at masking his own distress, the man continued to hold a malicious intent on his face, casting his presence in a much sinister light than before. He knew he was setting up a trap for Giorno to fall into, and he was already savoring the taste of victory.

“Stop painting yourself as innocent.”

Continued the man, slowly but surely approaching Giorno.

“I saw you hiding the stolen jewelry all over the house. For me, this is proof enough to put you on trial, and once we meet again in court, you better pray to the gods for mercy.”

He was taking his steps towards Giorno, essentially cornering him by blocking his path to the library’s door. Giorno felt a knot forming in his throat, his hands struggling not to tremble under that man’s watchful eyes.

“You still have no actual proof.”

Argued Giorno, trying to desperately divert his line of thoughts. The man’s expression turned serious upon hearing Giorno’s words. 

“If you manage to find a proof or another witness to back up your claim, I will comply and defend my case in court. But if you’re just trying to boycott me and my family’s reputation with this, you’ll find no peace for the rest of your life.” 

Warned Giorno, feeling the venomous words pilling up inside his mouth. 

He was enraged with this, and he was ready to defend himself in any way possible, even if he had to kill. The knife hidden inside the folds of his toga might come in hand after all. The man laughed mysteriously, his eyes dark with terrifying intent. Giorno was brave enough to stare back at him, but deep inside he knew he was on the verge of panicking. 

“It’s hilarious how you think you can escape this unscathed. You are just a boy. A very rich one indeed. You have everything a young roman wish to have. Yet, you spit in the face of the very elite that welcomes you. You treat them as tools and resources for your thieving habits. Now if you have nothing to say for yourself, I’ll meet you in court. However, If you have any sense of self-preservation, I suggest you bend to me” 

what?

Suddenly, the man broke the distance between them, his strong hands overwhelming Giorno’s strength. He pushes Giorno against the wall, trapping him with his weight in an instant. Giorno tried reacting by quickly taking the knife from inside his clothes only to be stopped by a calculated twist to his wrist that elicited a muffled scream out of his throat. After losing the grasp of his weapon, which was quickly kicked away from his reach, Giorno felt powerless. His voice was stuck inside his throat and his limbs uselessly struggled under that man’s control. 

He was defenseless. 

Weak.

Pathetic .

“Now if you stay still and let me have my way with you, I might let your crime slide. One faulty word. One misstep from you, and I won’t promise you mercy in court. Now open your legs.”

Giorno kicked, struggled, screamed, scratched. He was trying everything in his power to escape his attacker, but all his attempts were proven to be futile. The more he struggled, the more strength was used to keep him down, quiet and submissive. “You should stop struggling” demanded the man “just take it. I’ll let your crime slide and won't denounce you if you obey me”.

His voice was sultry and calm, yet his hands and actions were brutal and merciless. Giorno felt like a caged animal, struggling to escape from its bounds while a sadistic hunter did everything in his power to harm him. The man was gaining control, and for Giorno, this was a nightmare turned reality.

A part of Giorno’s conscience tried to minimize what was happening to him. The rational part of his mind tried accepting that he brought this to himself and that he had to withstand the consequences of his actions to avoid a much worse outcome in court and possibly jail. 

Another part of Giorno however, was in such an agonizing mess of emotions, that he struggled to make sense of it. 

He wanted to fight back but at the same time, he wanted to desperately cry and give up. 

He wished to kill the man, and at the same time, he couldn’t do it out of fear of heavier consequences. 

He wanted to die, but he also wanted to fight for his life. 

His mental confusion rendered him progressively more paralyzed and unable to fight back his aggressor.

His screams turned into muffled struggles and then derailed to whimpers as the man left bruises on his skin and soul. 

Maybe if I picture the fields far away from here, on a distant land separated from everything, I might forget what’s happening.

Rationalized Giorno, feeling a growing sense of numbness overtaking his feelings.

Maybe if I die here I can dream of this forever. And if Mista ends up there, I’ll feel protected…

Mista

Where was he? 

Giorno felt bad about cutting him out of his life during that day. He hated birthdays. He hated being the center of attention. At one point, he was glad that Mista wasn’t there to witness him during this afternoon. But now he regretted thinking like this. He wanted Mista to save him, to take him far away from that nefarious world. But Giorno had cast him aside. Restraining him from witnessing how ugly that world Giorno lived in truly was.

Giorno would give anything to have Mista take him away. 

Maybe if I think it’s him I won’t go mad.

Maybe if I delude myself I can escape in other ways.

Maybe…

Maybe…

“Give me one good reason not to kill you right here.”

A familiar voice was heard and Giorno snapped back into reality. His aggressor was being constrained by the neck, held up by someone with strong arms and his previously lost knife pointing its tip to the space between his neck and his shoulder.

The man was paralyzed, his breathing shallow and his struggling useless. Giorno could barely understand what was going on for a while before he remembered breathing and rationalizing the situation.

The masked slave who was saving him didn’t hesitate to throw the attacker to the ground, restraining him almost immediately. His back muscles were strong and full of scars. His black short hair poked out of the mask... his physique, his posture, his voice, they were all familiar… there was no mistake.

Giorno couldn’t say a word. His voice failed him and his trembling hands could only try reaching out for him. 

“Hey, Giorno… Sorry for taking so long.”

Said Mista, his voice so gentle despite the brutality of his actions. The man beneath him struggled, trying desperately to save himself like a caged animal. 

useless…

pathetic…

“You… You kept your promise.”

Said Giorno, his voice weak as he fought against his tears. Mista was quick to answer.

“Should have done this much sooner. Shouldn’t have let you come here alone. Now… Give me a fucking reason not to kill you right here.”

Continued Mista, the tip of his knife slowly and agonizingly tearing into the man’s back. The man left out an agonized whimper, as Mista seemed to have fun twisting the knife into his wound.

“Tell me now. I don’t have the whole day.”

Continued the gladiator, keeping a low voice. Giorno was trying to calm himself down and let the anger over what just happened to take over himself at a steady and controlled pace. The man stopped yelling after a while, succumbing to Mista’s threats

“You’ll regret it if you kill me.”

He started, in a pained voice tone.

“Someone will have to pay their price of committing murder against a Roman citizen. Now, release me. You’re just a slave and your master will kill you for this.”

Threatened the man, his anger and desperation clearly present within each word. Mista paid no mind. His threats were not enough reasons to spare his life. Though before Mista tried doing anything more, a voice coming from the door interrupted his actions.

“You deserve death for what you did.”

Said Dio slowly stepping into the library, finally making his presence noticed. Giorno wanted to hide from everyone and everything, but at least his father miraculously said something he agreed with. Mista stopped twisting the knife on the man’s back as if he was waiting for Dio’s orders. Giorno just wanted the man’s head chopped off and hoped his father would request just that.

“However…”

Continued Dio, his sultry and serene voice not belonging to a man who had just witnessed such abuse happening to his own son.

“It would be a little messy if we cut off your head at my Domus.”

The master of the house walked towards the scene, confident and proud as if he just planned every little thing that just happened. The aggressor's expression could only be described as pure fear, which amused Giorno but he’d rather have him dead and his father was delaying him this satisfaction.

“Lucky for you, there are still some guests at the party down below. Even though they are quite drunk at this point, they’d be able to tell what a headless corpse looks like. Besides, I’d rather humiliate your father and your family at the court than looking like an aggressor to the local elite.”

With this, Dio made a gesture and Mista responded to it by silently standing up, letting the aggressor free to leave. Giorno could barely believe what he was witnessing.

“Now. Leave my Domus. You and your whole family will pay for this at the court.”

Those words were more than enough to send the man running. Giorno was still on the ground, his limbs too stubborn to move and his shaky hands to weak to help himself up. Mista kneeled in front of him and Giorno wished he was wearing the mask instead of the opposite. His father’s voice felt almost impossibly distant.

“Take Giorno to his room. He needs to wash his face and compose himself. There are guests he needs to talk to before the end of this ceremony.”

Giorno couldn’t tell what sort of expression Mista had in his face, but he wished he was feeling angry enough for the both of them.

At that point, Giorno didn’t know what to feel.

----------------------------

“He did nothing to you, alright? He just scared the shit out of you and that’s it. You’re okay.”

Said the young greek man while applying some makeup to hide Giorno’s bruises. Mista soon learned that his name was Fugo and he was sent discreetly to Giorno’s room to treat his bruises and hide them from view. 

Giorno was still a little pale and shaken about what happened, his hands slightly trembling when not safe under Mista’s grasp.

Even though the aggressor didn’t achieve what he was attempting to do thanks to Giorno’s resilience and Mista jumping into action at the right time, the situation would still leave a scar on Giorno’s mind and Mista would do anything to make him forget what just occurred.

Mista couldn’t stop blaming himself. He saw Giorno leaving to take the stairs with an unknown man. If he wasn’t stopped by Dio… if he wasn’t told to remain discreet and slowly collect all the jewelry that Giorno hid through the Domus… If he had followed Giorno up to the second floor and prevented all of that from happening… maybe the outcomes would be different. 

But now the aggressor managed to leave almost unscathed after attempting something unforgivable to Giorno. He would most likely run away from Pompeii in the middle of the night just because Dio didn’t want to lose reputation with the elite, even at the cost of his own son’s pride. 

Mista concluded that Giorno was living a dangerous life, constantly trapped in a golden cage while the spectators treated him with both awe and ridicule. Mista was a gladiator, a slave with no name and no rights, but bathed in glories and standing ovations. The crowd of both rich and poor folk gazed at him with awe and admiration. Despite living a difficult and dangerous life, Mista was trained to fight. 

Mista knew how to use a weapon. He knew how to kill, defend himself and stand his ground, and even if he died in the battlefield as many before him, he’d die an honorable death that so many slaves only dreamed of… But Giorno wasn’t given weapons. He had very little ways to defend himself from a merciless world that treated him like an object. Nobody would help him, because to everyone’s eyes, he has everything one could wish for. But appearances are deceiving, and Mista concluded that Giorno was terrified and trapped defenseless in an uncaring world. 

“You’ll be alright. I won’t leave you today.”

Promised Mista, not knowing if he could keep this promise. Fugo made quick work of Giorno’s skin but even though he looked unscathed, Mista could tell that something deep inside him was about to break. 

“Thank you, Fugo.”

Said Giorno, his voice a mere whisper. The Greek man nodded but remained a bit concerned. Noticing that there was nothing more for him to do, he placed everything back into a small bag and left Giorno’s room. Mista still lacked words to comfort Giorno. Instead, he just held both of his hands, trying to catch his drifting eyes.

“Giorno, I’ll be at your side. Don’t need to worry.”

With that, Giorno finally looked back at Mista, his eyes fighting against his tears.

Chapter Text

The night has long since settled over the Brando Domus. Busy slaves, now wearing much simpler clothing, pranced around while tiredly cleaning up the place after the last drunken guests have left. To most attendees, the celebration was something to be commended. To the birthday person, it was something to be forgotten. 

For a while, Giorno couldn’t do much other than sob against Mista’s tunic. His hair unraveled and his face hidden from view, Giorno’s shoulders trembled and Mista could feel his own heart crumbling at every passing moment. Mista couldn’t do much other than comfort him, his arms embracing him close as they both laid down on top of pillows scattered around Giorno’s bedroom floor.

Braving through the rest of the party proved to be exhausting for Giorno, as he had to maintain his composure and keep his small talk with the remaining guests before they left. Mista was there, still keeping up with his façade of obedient servitude to the uncaring elite, which proved to be extremely difficult as well. He’d love to just sweep Giorno off the ground and run away with him, but there he was, having to be a silent servant to the very people who wronged Giorno in the first place. 

Now that all their duties were done with and Giorno was allowed to shed his tears, Mista could only comfort him, fearing the moment he would have to leave him behind to fulfill his own duties. He wanted to hold Giorno in his arms till the next morning. He wanted to be there for him every night to keep him safe from torment.

But they both knew this was an impossible dream to have. Their situation felt more like a sick joke made by the gods just to laugh off the many futilities of mortals. Just thinking that they were lucky to be in the same vicinity in a moment like was enough to hurt their very souls.

With time, however, Giorno started calming down. With his breathing coming back to normalcy and his trembling receding, Mista thought for a moment that Giorno had slept in his arms, but the blond finally broke his silence with a shaky and tired voice.

“I’m sorry that you witnessed all of this.”

Lamented Giorno, his voice muffled against Mista’s chest. The gladiator could barely believe his words.

“What are you talking about Giorno? It’s clearly not your fault and you didn’t deserve any of that.”

Rebuted Mista, already holding Giorno tighter against his body. 

“You don’t need to pity me. I’m a thief Mista. I brought this upon myself.”

Unbelievable. After an entire afternoon of hearing some of the vilest gossips dropping from the filthy mouths of the “so-called” superior members of society, Mista came to the conclusion that they deserved some kind of punishment. Mista would be satisfied with punching all of them to a pulp, but since Giorno decided to go with stealing from them already, this would have to suffice.

“But I would never blame you for what happened. Seriously, even if you were in the wrong when stealing from those awful people, the attack you suffered was undeserved.”

Responded Mista, trying to not let his anger slip through his lips. Showing himself like this to Giorno, who was trying his best to calm down, would probably make things worse. Giorno sighed, his warm breath spreading over Mista’s chest. The gladiator could feel Giorno’s exhaustion exhaling from his body. Maybe continuing with the subject was the last thing Giorno wanted. Mista kissed the top of his head, caressing his beautiful strands of hair before continuing.

“I forgot to tell you before but… Happy birthday. I heard you’re 16 now! That’s awesome.”

Congratulated, trying to cheer the teenager up. Giorno nuzzled his head against the creek of Mista’s neck and the gladiator could feel the shape of a smile against his skin.

“Yes. It’s been almost 2 years since we moved here. It was my second birthday in this city.”

Commented Giorno, lazily and unmoving. Mista felt a sense of relief. Giorno was truly coming back to his normal self despite having a horrible day. 

“To be frank, you Romans have a boring way to celebrate birthdays. Too much talking, very little partying. Where I come from, there’s a lot of dancing, theatre performances, food and wine for the birthday person and then a priestess would pick up our blood into a bowl and use it for some future reading. You know, that’s what I call a birthday party.”

Giorno giggled upon hearing Mista’s words.

“At least you don’t need to make an animal sacrifice turn into a spectacle to the elite during your birthday.”

“Whoa, you do that? This must be awesome. I’ve always wanted to be the one making the sacrifice, but in my area, only the priestesses were allowed to do that.”

Giorno finally backed up and looked at Mista with a severe expression. 

“You probably wouldn’t enjoy it. Killing a living being just because of a belief system might mess you up. It’s sad to see the animal’s last moments as well.”

Commented Giorno, letting a sign of regret escape his lips. Mista’s heart ached upon the thought that his words could have hurt Giorno. He thought carefully about what to say next as he saw Giorno averting his eyes.

“You know, I wasn’t thinking about it in that way. But, sorry for assuming how it makes you feel.”

Answered the gladiator and, surprisingly, Giorno seemed glad about this reaction. He didn’t want to be told his feelings were not valid thanks to someone else’s experience. Especially not after such a harsh day. He couldn’t stop himself from kissing Mista’s lips briefly, overwhelmingly thankful that he was just there, being his honest and caring self. 

----------

“I received some gifts from attendees today. I’m not much interested because those people barely know me. Since they don’t know me all too well, they gave me gifts to impress my father more than to please me.”

Informed Giorno, kneeling down next to a pile of objects scattered around the empty corner of his bedroom. Mista was just glad that Giorno was back to his normal self after calming down a bit. The oil lamps above their heads cast a warm and calm light, and the smell of incenses embraced their surroundings as Giorno sorted through the gifts, taking his time to analyze each one of them carefully. 

“Look at this one”

Urged Giorno, upon pulling a sword from under a stack of new items of clothing and embroidery. The sword was short and well ornated in its handle. It was definitely longer than a dagger, but too short for battle. It would be more fitting for a ceremony than for anything practical.

“I wonder what went through the person’s head when gifting this ceremonial sword to me. I’m not the sort of person who plans to go on a military career.”

Commented Giorno, looking amused with the prospect. Mista chuckled.

“I mean. The image of you brandishing a sword is definitely entertaining. I can’t blame whoever had this idea. ”

Said Mista, making an exaggerated mimic of a war general. Giorno giggled before turning his eyes back to see his reflection on the useless sword’s blade. His hair was still disheveled and his make-up was running, as it should after so many hours. Looking at his own state made him aware of his own fakeness and how Mista didn’t care about it at all. 

Mista had just seen Giorno at his most miserable and vulnerable state and still hasn’t batted an eye. He continued treating Giorno exactly the same as before, never looking down on him, never looking up to him. It was as if they were equals. Despite Giorno’s exhaustion over a simple social gathering, Mista still hasn’t judged him. Despite knowing that he’s a thief, Mista still hasn’t judged him. Despite knowing that this rotten elite lusted for him, Mista still hasn’t judged him.

He remained there despite the abyss that separated them in society. He was still willing to cross that gap to meet him and stay by his side, no matter what. Giorno wondered if that was one of the perks of being in love and being loved in return. He couldn’t understand or put a finger around what it meant. He never felt truly loved before. Yes, he was appreciated by some of his peers. And he appreciated them in return, at least the very few that he trusted… but he never actually felt like this before. 

Mista’s simplicity, charm, and optimism made way into his heart and he couldn’t figure out where they’d go from there.

“Oh crap! I need to give you a gift!”

Remembered Mista, frantically looking around to see if he brought anything with himself.

“You don’t need to…”

Said Giorno, a gleam of warmth in his eyes. 

He looks so exasperated about not bringing me a gift, despite not being needed. It’s so cute.

“Mista I think it’s time for a little lesson in Roman culture.”

Commented Giorno, his ornated sword still in his hands as he noticed Mista’s anxiety. Mista still looked a little worried about coming in empty-handed but settled down to listen anyways.

“Our birthday gifts are all about business and impressing the ones who receive it. It’s not an act of care and has the exact same symbolic value as a transaction. However, there’s a particular gift exchange during a birthday ceremony that is very meaningful. I wish to show it to you.”

Mista’s eyes widened upon hearing Giorno’s words, said in a secret and hushed manner. 

“Please Mista. From all those gifts, what’s the one you enjoy the most?”

Asked Giorno, after placing the sword back onto the pile. There were many options for Mista to choose from. The pile had ornated ceremonial swords and clothing. Practical instruments for grooming and embellishing, as well as scrolls and writing utensils. Even some house objects such as jars, tapestries, and cups were present. There were many beautiful gifts he could choose but his eyes laid upon one in particular. A small portable lyre, ornated with delicate details carved on marble, that Giorno was probably never going to use anyways due to his poor skills with music playing.

“This lyre then?”

Questioned Giorno, picking up the object that was half-hidden underneath a few scrolls.

“Yeah, those remind me of the region I came from. We learned how to play some instruments from an early age.”

Remembers Mista, with a pleasing expression.

“It’s yours now.”

Said Giorno, presenting the instrument to Mista as a gift.

“What?”

“It’s better when the one receiving the gift actually takes a liking to it.”

Mista received the lyre, his mouth agape upon hearing that it was a gift for him. He shook his head and made a motion to give it back.

“No Giorno, seriously? This is one of your gifts. It’s yours, and you should keep it!”

Giorno refused to take it back, a smile growing on his face.

“The gift I’m giving you is a symbol. It’s the only one that means something more important than any other during a birthday ceremony.”

Mista looked at the lyre, confused about what symbolic meaning it might have. He only chose the instrument thanks to familiarity, but now he wondered if there was something more to it.

“A birthday person can only give one gift during their ceremony. And it is given to the one who means the most to them. So please Mista, accept it.”

Informed Giorno, placing a hand over the lyre and gently pushing it towards Mista’s chest. He was clearly blushing and Mista could feel his heart racing upon this view. He ceased his attempts to return it, holding it firmly in his hands instead. Returning it only meant that he didn’t recognize Giorno’s feelings for him, and that was far from being true. Grasping the instrument against his chest, Mista felt like his own beating heart could play the instrument on its own.

-----------------

As Giorno busied himself cleaning his body with a piece of wet cloth, removing all the traces of makeup previously used to hide bruises on his face and body, Mista played a melody on his newly acquired instrument. Gracing the strings with a pick traveling back and forth, and using his left hand to hide the unwanted chords, the gladiator pulled out a calm and soothing melody that sounded both happy and nostalgic to Giorno’s ears.

If not for Giorno’s bruises, they could have easily forgotten about some of the most terrible occurrences of the day. But the patches of clean and bruised skin were a grim reminder of his fragility and vulnerability in that environment. Despite that, the lyre’s melody was managing to calm his soul and bring a serene smile to his face.

“Didn’t expect you to be a great lyre player. You are really a man of many talents Mista.” 

Mista laughed upon his remark. 

“Well, I’m a little bit rusty. I Had to learn some melodies for traditional rites, though I wish I had the talent to create one from scratch.”

Responded Mista, taking a break from playing for a moment to look at Giorno’s serene face.

“You are talented anyways.”

Commented Giorno. He was stripped down from his toga and was wearing only a simple tunic that exposed his back, shoulders, and neck. His hair was completely unraveled but well combed and tended to. Looking at him sitting in front of his vanity, absorbed by Mista’s music while calmly cleaning himself was such a relaxing view. Even though they’ve been through a hellish day and Giorno could have been scarred for life, he seemed at ease within Mista’s company. After a while of comfortable silence, to which Mista played another traditional Dyonisian tune, Giorno stood up and walked towards Mista’s seat among the pillows.    

He said no words but his eyes were gleaming like the stars just before the morning sun cleared up the skies. Mista prayed that he’d eventually forget about what happened, though seeing him with so much love in his eyes, brought hope to Mista’s heart. As the gladiator continued playing the tune, memories of a not so distant past came flooding in, Giorno laid on his side, half-listening to Mista’s music, half resting his mind from a tiring day. 

Mista continued playing the instrument while dreaming of a different life where they both could be free. They’d lay on the grass of some far and peaceful land, overlooking a joyful party full of equally free people dancing and drinking around a campfire. The stars would bless them and they’d be at peace, at each other’s company, safe from this corrupt world that constantly hurts them.

After Mista played the last bits of the tune, he noticed that Giorno was tugging him by the tip of his tunic, urging him to approach. Leaving the Lyre aside, Mista joined Giorno and they laid embraced. It was much more comfortable now that the two of them had calmed their nerves. Giorno’s brought his fingers to caress Mista’s face. There was no sign of trembling anymore and Mista could feel a wave of relief washing over his body.

“I have yet to tell you this Mista but… Thank you. You don’t know how thankful I am to have you here.”

And that was a fact. Giorno was sure that his father was delaying his complaints thanks to Mista’s presence, and the teenager couldn’t fathom spending the night feeling miserable and scared for his life, not after a day like that.

“You don’t need to thank me. I’m just glad you’re safe.”

Responded Mista, planting a small kiss on Giorno’s forehead. Closing his eyes, Giorno leaned into Mista’s touches, bringing his mouth to his own in a prolonged, warm kiss. Giorno couldn’t be more relieved of having Mista in his company at that moment. Giorno could hate this home, family, social status, elite, society... But some of the company he had were the best he could dream of and Mista was like a blessing sent by the gods. 

Mista’s lips were soft and warm, and his arms were both strong and gentle. Embracing him was like hugging the very earth that gives life its meanings. Even his scent was comforting. Giorno felt his heart clenching with the thought of spending the rest of the night without him, but his exhaustion finally overcame his senses. The last thing he did while still conscious and awake, was holding Mista with all his might.

“Please don’t go… Please don’t go…”

Whispered Giorno, repeatedly, until he fell asleep. Giorno could rest assured that Mista wouldn’t break his promise, even if that meant risking his own life.

--------------------------------

“Master Dio, sorry to wake you up so early but I went to leave your son his breakfast and there’s a stranger with him”

Dio knew exactly what the slave meant the moment he stepped into his room so early. Pucci woke up too, startled by Dio’s movements. 

“What’s the meaning of this?”

Pucci asked, turning to Dio after the master of the house dismissed the slave. 

“It means Giorno’s new toy should have been kicked from here hours ago. They were probably fucking the whole night.”

Responded Dio, lazily stepping out of the bed and wrapping himself in his toga. Pucci gave him a judgemental look.

“I highly doubt it. Giorno looked exhausted yesterday. Besides, after what happened… Well, I don’t think he’d be up to it.”

Concluded Pucci, sitting up on the bed as Dio finished making himself less naked. Dio knew how much of a soft spot Pucci had for his spawn, but painting Giorno as an angel was a huge misunderstanding of Giorno’s character. The boy had cunning and perverse habits. He’d steal from people with no shadow of remorse or hesitation, just for the thrill of it. He’d associate himself with criminals and low lives if left unchecked. Giorno was way too similar to his father, and Dio knew what he’d do sharing a bedroom with a complete stranger at this age.

“I would doubt it as well, but I know my son. I’ll take this matter into my own hands.”

Argued Dio, leaving his room and heading to his son’s bedroom. A couple of slaves were walking around, starting their chores as the gentle morning light began gracing the walls of the corridor through small windows. Dio paid no mind to them and continued making his way to where Giorno and the stranger were most likely having more fun than they were allowed in that household.

As he stepped through the corridors, with Pucci hastily following him, Dio remembered the exchange he had with this stranger during Giorno’s birthday ceremony.

One of his servants told him about a slave that was not from the usual staff but came in among the supplies sent by one of the invitees. Dio and Pucci spent an hour paying close attention to all the servants until they noticed one in particular who hasn’t moved for half an hour from under Dio’s shadow. At that moment, Dio knew who the invader was, but after he pulled the man to an isolated room expecting to confront an assassin, he had a surprise when removing his mask.

“You definitely should be at your Ludus and not here.”

Told Dio, giving the gladiator his mask back. The man had a mix of fear and confusion stamped on his face and Dio couldn’t avoid noticing that now, face to face, without his weapons, his armor, and the heat of the battlefield to make him grand, the gladiator was nothing more than a boy. Young and naive. Scared of the outcomes of his actions.

This man is no assassin. He’s more like a loyal dog. Blind to reason and eager to serve. The perfect person to manipulate.

“But tell me, gladiator. What brings you here? Did you mistake a birthday gathering to an arena?”

The look on his face went from fear and confusion to annoyance and judgment. Dio decided to press him further.

“Or perhaps you were sent here by your master? It’s a pity he couldn’t come… I invited him over, but he barely leaves his own home.”

The gladiator remained silent, anger visibly boiling inside him, just like Dio wanted. 

“Instead he sent me wine that I won’t serve, fruits that I’ll feed my slaves with, and a gladiator who should be at his Ludus instead of spying on me. Now tell me. What brought you here?”

Crossing his arms, the man seemed slightly calmer now that the initial shock of being caught had receded.

“It’s not about you and my master. It’s about me and Giorno. It’s his birthday so I came here to pay a visit.”

Surprised by the man’s attitude, Dio had to come up with ways to trap his arguments.

“So you decided to sneak in, in the middle of the afternoon, invading my home while dressed up as one of my slaves, just so you could pay a visit to my son.”

The gladiator hesitated a little to answer but ended up nodding, with downcast eyes. 

“It’s not as if I could just walk in through the front door.”

Argued the gladiator, a hint of sadness filling his eyes. Dio was starting to find this conversation boring.

“Those folks have their seats way too close to the battleground at the arena. They would recognize me if I had no mask on. And you probably heard what they say behind your son’s back. Why won’t you defend your son?”

“Because that’s not my business. My son’s image is dirty, but guess whose fault it is?”

Dio’s words met a silent reception. The man’s expression was stuck in a mixture of anger and sadness as if Dio’s words struck a chord inside him. Just like he intended. Now that the man was filled with a sense of guilt, Dio would be able to manipulate him in any way he wanted. He even managed to convince him to cooperate in order to remain unnoticed at the birthday party, and not only that, he gave Dio his word that, before the night ends, he’d leave and go back to his Ludus before anyone could witness his movements.

Well, apparently, he’s much more stubborn than I first anticipated.

Thought Dio as he opened the door to his son’s chamber. They were both fully clothed, which was less concerning. However, embraced in each other’s arms, they slept like children with no care in the world. Pucci gave Dio a judgemental look after seeing the scene as if he silently said “See? I told you so.” Dio scoffed. They’d have to wait a whole entire day and a few hours before being able to send this pesky gladiator back to his Ludus to avoid being seen.

Giorno was fated to have a happy day despite not deserving it. Having him get his way even though Dio made everything in his power to force his son into a soul-crushing birthday party, was certainly pissing him off. 

“If this gladiator decides to do anything funny in my household today, I’ll have him strapped to horses and dragged through the ground all the way back to his putrid Ludus, where he belongs.”

Commented Dio, going back to his bedroom. Pucci chuckled, walking slowly beside him.

“You do sound protective of Giorno out of a sudden. Leave him to have his fun. He’s sixteen.”

Pucci could almost hear Dio grinding his teeth.