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The room smelled of fresh blood, and the source of it was lying on the table right in the middle. Risotto strolled thoughtfully towards the young man. As bad as his state was, it was still quite clear that he was a man, and a young one. They didn’t have to check if he was alive, as his heavy, harsh and pained breathing was quite audible.

“I would like to stay here for some time, probably an hour, please, inform the others,” said Risotto.

“You want to heal him? We could call an ambulance….” Prosciutto wasn’t very eager to stay around any longer.

“And see all this mess in the evening news? No, that’s out of the question.”

“Alright then.”

On his way to the door Prosciutto stopped by a pile of torn and discarded clothes that looked like a uniform. He rummaged through them, then rose, holding an identity card in his hands.

“Leone Abbacchio, Police Academy trainee,” Prosciutto read out loud. “Nineteen years. A cop pup, how cute.”

“Is there a photo?” asked Risotto, who had already started mending the boy’s body with Metallica steel threads. The boy was still conscious, groaning quietly, as if he had no power to scream.

“Yes. You want to have a look?”

“Uh-hm.”

Prosciutto came back to Risotto, handing him the card. The boy in the photo had a handsome face, his expression haughty, with a slight grin and a cheeky glint in his eyes. That was probably what had drawn Cioccolata to him.

Risotto paused, looking at the card and tracing the young man’s face with his fingers, probably trying to figure out how to restore it to its original shape.

“The nose will be tricky. I will try some methods I have never used before.”

He gathered medical instruments that were scattered around and studied them.

“Fine surgical steel, should work well.”

“Eh, we could probably find some anaesthetics here, just, to….“ ventured Prosciutto.

“You know, I sincerely doubt that Cioccolata kept any painkillers at hand. That was not the idea. But you can have a look.”

Prosciutto studied the room, opened a few cabinets and drawers, rummaged through them. Cioccolata had a… generous supply of various medicine-related things, including ampules of drugs. Some of them had factory labels, others contained concoctions made by Cioccolata himself, labelled in his incomprehensible handwriting. It occurred to Prosciutto that he didn’t have the knowledge to identify anaesthetics, and then to determine how much of it to use not to overdose. He dropped the idea, so much for mercy today.

Back in the car Prosciutto lit up a cigarette, opened their laptop and started typing a message to the boss. They have disposed of both Cioccolata and Secco quietly, as ordered, without losses. Their hideout is full of evidence (remains?) of medical experimentation, one living victim found. The boss should send someone to clean everything up, probably burn the building….

Prosciutto paused for a minute. It didn’t look like Cioccolata had completely gone off the rails, no, he had been trying to achieve something practical. There were lots of video records and papers around, research protocols or something, yet… it wasn’t their job to think about it. The whole situation was terribly messy. Five months ago the boss ordered Cioccolata to murder two of La Squadra members. They had been too nosey, pried into wrong matters. Yesterday La Squadra was ordered to get rid of Cioccolata. What had he been prying into?

Prosciutto rubbed his temples. Passione was not the efficient and well-oiled criminal machine he had hoped it would be when he joined. The higher up into the hierarchy the more bizarre it got. He hoped at least that tomorrow they wouldn’t be ordered to kill themselves.

Closing the laptop, he turned on the radio and lit another cigarette. The smell of rot, blood and chemicals still lingered in his nose.

The wait was rather long and boring. The others entertained themselves with cards while Prosciutto cleaned his clothes and boots from the blood stains. Such things are better done quickly, especially if you value fine things.

At last Risotto came out of the house, carrying the bloody boy in his arms bridal style. He even wrapped him in his own coat, and Prosciutto felt a slight pang in his chest. Something about the view affected him in strange ways, his capo’s upper body completely exposed to the sunlight, his face carrying a hint of an expression. It was impossible to say what expression exactly, but it wasn’t as blank as usual, brows slightly pinched and mouth tight.

The boys dropped their cards and straightened to greet their leader.

“Oh, c-capo, I-I have done well, haven’t I?” Pesci stuttered.

“Ah, yes, Pesci, no one would have dealt with Secco better than you.”

“Thank you, capo!” Pesci gleamed and his cheeks got slightly pink.

“And thank you, Melone, no one would have led us to the target better than you! “ The fourth member of their little hit squad praised himself in a sing-song vioce.

“See, you already know your worth, Melone. You will be driving, I take the front seat. Pesci and Prosciutto, I hope you will take care of our guest in the back.”

The backseat was cramped with the three of them, and the boy, being half-conscious and leaning on Prosciutto with all his weight, made it even worse. Prosciutto sighed and reached for the water bottle, than made Pesci search through their supplies bag, which thankfully did have a pack of painkillers buried deep inside.

Some water on his face, the boy stirred with a low moan. Prosciutto put a few pills into his mouth and made him swallow them with water. Then he pushed him over to lean on Pesci and braced himself for a long ride.

They were not far from Florence when Prosciutto watched from the back seat as Risotto took the laptop and read the draft of their message to the boss. He deleted most of the text but for the bare minimum before sending it.

***

“Got those bastards?” Ghiaccio greeted them at the door, Formaggio and Illuso hovering behind him.

“Yes, wasn’t even that hard, once I located them,” Melone was always happy to boast.

“They were busy. It gave us a head start,” explained Prosciutto.

 “You should have taken us! It was fucking personal!”

“It was a hit mission, not a corporate party. Four was enough,” said Risotto.

“And what the fuck is this???” Ghiaccio turned his attention to the body draped over Risotto’s shoulder.

“Ah! That’s what Cioccolata busied himself with. By the way, someone has to take care of him. Wash off the blood. Any volunteers?”

Risotto leaned the boy against the wall and looked at his subordinates, who showed very little desire to take the job.

“I have supper cooking.”

“I drove all the way!”

“The fuck, I’m not a nurse.”

At last, Pesci quipped “I-I could do that. It’s not that hard.”

“Fine. Take him to the bathroom.”

Risotto bumped into the boy in the hall, and was quite surprised to see that he was actually able to walk. Well, not really walk, just crawl along the wall, but it was still impressive. The boy was clean and wearing a white bathrobe that Formaggio once stole from a fancy hotel. Risotto unceremoniously grabbed him, carried the boy into the common room and dropped him on the sofa.  He groaned but made no protest. Risotto undid the bathrobe and took a good look at the stiches. Their condition mostly satisfied him, but some of the worst cuts were bleeding slightly. Risotto hummed thoughtfully and decided to leave them be. Just give the boy some liquid, and Metallica can restore the iron.

“My, my, how do you expect us to behave if you give us such an example, and right in the main room, capo?”

“Oh, Illuso, so nice that you dropped by. Can you please fix our guest something to eat; liquid and warm will be perfect. “

“Shit, I know, should have kept my mouth shut.”

“But you haven’t, so you make the food. “ Risotto put the bathrobe back on the boy and straightened it, making him decent. He didn’t really want to hear any more comments.

“I think there is some broth in the fridge, and I can add croutons to it.”

“Do.”

Illuso left for the kitchen, while Risotto poured himself some whiskey and settled in his usual chair. The boy fidgeted on the sofa, probably trying to find a comfortable position. He hadn’t so far uttered a single word and shown any resistance. His mind must have been in shambles.

Illuso appeared a few minutes later, carrying a small bowl. Risotto watched as his subordinate kneeled by the boy saying:

“Hey, how you doing? Can you eat this?”

The boy straightened, looked at the bowl for some time, then drew out his hands and took it.

“Thank you,” he managed in a whisper.

“Oh, polite and grateful! Such qualities are a rare sight in young people these days!” mockingly chided Illuso.

The boy stared at him for a moment, then brought the bowl to his lips and took a sip, then a few more.

Risotto leaned on the back of the chair and let the whiskey warm him from the inside, rubbing his temples. He was supposed to be feeling better now that those two were disposed of, but tension refused to leave his body.

 “Oh no, you are what, crying? How old are you? “

Illuso took the bowl from the boy who was making strange noises, as if he was trying to drown himself with the remnants of the broth. Illuso sounded genuinely annoyed, but he bothered to find some tissues and handed them to the boy, who was already shaking and sobbing violently, snot mixed with blood running out of his horribly swollen nose.

“That must be a shock reaction or something like that, leave him be,” said Risotto. “Just bring him some cloth to wipe the mess.”

Listening to the boy’s stifled sobs and the faint bass beat coming from the room that Illuso and Formaggio shared, Risotto finished his whiskey. Then he picked the boy once again and carried him to the master bedroom.

Prosciutto knocked on his door a few minutes later.

“You are, what, gonna let him sleep in your bed?” he said, looking incredulously at the boy’s new situation.

“Yes, that’s the best way to keep an eye on him. I won’t trust the others. Unless you want to?”

“Hell, no! But… how are we supposed to…?” Prosciutto’s face got slightly red.

“If you mean our private encounters, then I could drop in at your room. And he won’t be staying for too long, I think.”

“Well… anyway,” Prosciutto took a pack of pills out of his pocket. “I’ve brought these. I’ve already given him four, and it says not to take more than eight per day, so you can give him four before tomorrow.”

“Ah, yes, sure. I’ve broken most of existing laws, but I will certainly follow label claims.”

Prosciutto, who sometimes amused Risotto with his orderliness in small matters, cringed, wished Risotto good night and left.

***

Moans coming from the neighboring room were extremely annoying. Prosciutto was 200% sure that nothing sexy was going on there, still, they drove him nuts. Moaning in Risotto’s room was his and only his privilege. At last, Prosciutto lost his patience and went to check on them.

The boy was lying in bed, apparently asleep, breathing through his mouth. The breaths often came out with a sickly, whiny sound. Risotto in his pajamas was half-sitting in bed, a glass of whiskey in his hand. He was looking at the boy.

“I’ve given him four,” Risotto raised his eyes to Prosciutto with an odd expression. Prosciutto thought that is was probably called “shared concern”.

“Well, I’m not a doctor. It says they are bad for liver, or kidneys, or something. Maybe he just needs something stronger. Anyway, why do we care about him?”

Risotto didn’t say anything.

“You can just leave him here and go to sleep in my room,“ suggested Prosciutto.

“I can,” said Risotto, remaining completely immobile.

Prosciutto stood by the door for a minute, listening to the moans, then came up to Risotto and picked up his bottle of whiskey. There were no spare glasses around, and he took a swig directly from the bottle, then looked at the label.

“This is some shitty whiskey.”

Risotto shrugged. “Good enough for me.”

***

Leone woke up before dawn. It took him some time to comprehend who he was, where he was and why he was feeling so damn ghastly. His head was a huge pillow filled with boulders and razors, his mouth and throat felt like sand-paper, his whole body was made of mismatched pieces sewn together. Ah, yes, it actually was, as far as he remembered. He would have preferred not to remember.

He managed to rise a bit and look around.

There was enough grayish light coming from the window to discern that Leone was lying in a king-sized bed, and there were two people in it beside him. He strained to have a good look at them. He remembered the one lying closer to him, the huge one with demon eyes, who had somehow stitched Leone’s body into one piece. The other one, sleeping in the crook of his friend’s (friend’s?) arm, had given Leone water and pills in the car.

 So, he was sleeping in bed with two other men, who were clearly quite comfortable with each other. Leone decided not to think too much about it, his head was not good enough for thinking anyway, and looked the other way. There was a glass of water on the bedside table to the left of him, and it was a blessing. Leone took the glass with his aching arm and made a sip, swirled the water in his mouth, than swallowed it. His mucosa was so dry it seemed to have forgotten how to get moist. He took another sip, hoping that eventually it will get better.

“It’s four in the morning.”

Leone startled. The big guy was awake and looking at the electronic clock on the wall.

“There are pills on the table near you. You can take a few. They are for the pain.”

When Leone woke up again it was late morning, the sun was shining into the room through cracks between the curtains. He didn’t feel any better, hurting all over and terribly dry in the throat, and a desperate desire to take a leak added to his suffering.  Leone struggled hard to push himself up and off the bed. Thankfully, the toilet was only three steps away, he could see it through the half-open door. The one who had placed him in this bed had been considerate.

Still, even those three steps were a challenge. Leone’s head was spinning and he could barely keep himself upright. In the end he managed it, sat on the toilet (manly pride be damned) and relieved himself, trying hard not to look in the mirror.

The way back was even harder. Leone groaned as his body hit the bed.

On the bedside table he noticed a large cap covering something that must have been food. Leone had very little desire and power to eat, but common sense told him that his body needed it. He rested for some time, then pushed himself up and removed the cap, finding a plate of omelette, a glass of water, some bread and olives.  The water was extremely welcome.  Leone slowly drank it all, till his mouth and throat finally felt more or less human again. Then he took a fork and tried some omelette. It was cold and rather tasteless, but easy to eat without straining his aching jaw too much. He was almost finished with it when someone entered the room.

“Glad to see that you are eating. Hope it is edible, Ghiaccio isn’t the best cook.”

Leone recognized the big guy’s voice.

“Thank you. It’s very good,” he said, trying to turn around and look at the man without causing himself too much pain.

“U-hm. You seem a bit stronger today. I’d like to take a look at your stitches.”

“Ah, ok.”

Leone was lying quietly while the big guy carefully examined him from the legs up, running his hands over the stitches and humming to himself. At last he came up to the face, gently tilting it from side to side, touching Leone’s nose and cheeks with his fingertips.

The examination was extremely uncomfortable, and it wasn’t just the pain. Obviously, the guy had already seen all this mess, but Leone felt a powerful to desire to hide his body. In the end he spilled out the thought that had been tormenting him all this time. It had been running through his mind ever since he had been strapped to the table, and the first cuts were made. “Am I completely ruined?” He sounded pathetic, weak and scared as a child.

The big guy gave a small laugh. “Oh, no, it’s not that awful. You’ll scar, obviously, but it won’t look too ugly. The cuts were not that deep, mostly, and were made with fine instruments. And my stitches are very precise. I have used steel implants to restore the shape of your nose bones and cartilage. I don’t really know how it is going to look when the swelling goes. We’ll have to wait and see.”

Leone let out a deep sigh. “Thank you.”

“You’re welcome.”

***

The money transfer from the boss was finally there by midday (almost 24 hours of waiting, Ghiaccio nearly bit everyone’s head off), and they sent Illuso and Formaggio out to buy food and booze. They had to celebrate.

The celebration wasn’t a particularly joyful one. Risotto was reserved as always, sitting in his usual chair, resting his forehead on his hand. Melone gave a detailed and inaccurate account of their fight with Secco and Cioccolata. Ghiaccio furiously drummed his fingers on the table. Pesci looked the happiest of all, smiling to himself over his vanilla milkshake. Even Melone’s colorful descriptions of Cioccolata’s bloody den couldn’t through him off, though he vomited on site the day before, a fact that Melone didn’t fail to mention to the others.

“Ah, I always tell my mother that our job makes the world much better and cleaner,” mused Illuso, swirling his white wine in the glass. ”By the way, who is that guy you’ve rescued?”

“No idea, maybe Risotto and Prosciutto know,” answered Melone.

“A fucker who was way more lucky than Sorbet and Gelato,” said Formaggio.

“True,” said Prosciutto. It was better not to speak of the boy’s identity. “To Sorbet and Gelato!” he said, raising his glass.

“To Sorbet and Gelato!” echoed the gang unevenly.

 They sipped their drinks in silence for a few moments.

“Capo, I should say that the work you’ve done on the boy looks pretty amazing,” said Illuso. “Pity you weren’t there for Sorbet, could have stitched him right back while it wasn’t too late.”

Risotto raised his head and gave a bitter little laugh.

“Risotto really worked a miracle there, you should have seen the boy’s face when we just found him,” said Prosciutto.

“It’s always useful to hone one’s skills,” said Risotto. “You see, I thought I could consider changing occupation. I hear that plastic surgeons are raking in money these days, and the job will be easy for me.”

When Risotto was speaking like that, with his level voice and deadpan expression, it was impossible to say if he was joking.

“I doubt that anaesthesia-free plastic surgery will be very popular,” said Formaggio.

“It doesn’t have to be, I can hire someone to cover that part,” replied Risotto, looking intently at Ghiaccio for some reason.

Ghiaccio shifted under the gaze and finally snapped. “Raking in money, you say? Those two were the worst fucking people in Italy, no, in Europe! Cioccolata’s stand, what did it do, again?”

“Caused some kind of rot to body parts that you lowered. Good thing we figured it out fast,” said Melone. “My baby died of it though, and what a baby it was!”

“Melone, not that again!” said Formaggio.

“Oh, fuck that!” Ghiaccio went on. “Those two were the worst of the fucking worst, and what did we get for them?! And the wait, it was a fucking insult!”

Risotto gave a very long and emphatic sigh, put his empty glass on the table with a loud clank, and stood up.

“Ghiaccio, too much is coming out of your mouth, but I could add something still.”

Those who knew Risotto’s style understood what that threat implied. Ghiaccio scoffed, finished his drink and stormed out. The party dispersed soon. Risotto and Prosciutto went to their respective rooms, and the rest, except for Pesci, went out for the night to hit the local bars.

With the loudest part of the gang out, it could have been a nice quiet evening to relax over a book with a glass of wine, but Prosciutto was uneasy, going over all the recent events in his mind. When he finally got sick of it, he decided to speak to Risotto, who calmly agreed to have a little private talk in Prosciutto’s room.

“So, we have an injured cop in our hideout. What are we going to do with him?”

“He is not a cop, just a cadet.”

“But I doubt that he is dumb. If he spends some time here and hears things, he will be able to figure out a lot about us.”

“What? That we are hitmen with magic powers?”

“Yes. Our strengths, our weaknesses. Our tasks, our plans. Stands are not common knowledge in the society yet, you know. They are our secret power.”

“Well, you didn’t say anything against it when we were taking him here.”

“I am having second thoughts.”

Risotto rubbed the bridge of his nose.

“First of all, I have used some interesting techniques to mend his body, and I want to see how it is going to heal. And obviously, I wouldn’t want to kill him after that.”

“Then what, we keep him in the basement like a lab rat? He will need a lot of foodstuff.”

“Second, doesn’t it feel kinda good to save Cioccolata’s last victim? A bit of sweet revenge.”

“Unless that victim causes our own demise later. A perfect circle.”

“I don’t think it’s likely. There are very few people who can be dangerous to our group, and they all have nothing to do with the police.”

“You think we can just let him go free and be fine with that? What if the boss learns about it?”

“How and why should he learn, and why should he care?”

Prosciutto sighed in frustration and shrugged his shoulders.

“Alright. You are the capo here, and it’s your pet, so we do as you say. But the consequences....”

“Prosciutto, you are forgetting yourself.”

Risotto hardly ever used his commanding voice, but Prosciutto had finally managed to drive him to that. It was high time to pull back.

“I am sorry, no disrespect meant.”

“Fine. I’ll go now.”

Prosciutto stayed in his room that night. Risotto came to him in the morning.

The next day the boy developed a high fever and spent three days in bed, shivering, sweaty and weak as a kitten. Pesci used it as a wonderful chance to put his ample stock of herbal teas to good use. Pesci’s nonna sent him those at every opportunity, accompanied with detailed information on their healing qualities. The boy didn’t protest and drank whatever he was given, so Pesci provided him with a new pot every couple of hours, happy that he could finally pump into someone the stuff that everyone else in the house firmly refused to even smell.

It was hard to tell if those teas were really potent, or antibiotics that Prosciutto bought did their job, but on the fourth day the fever subsided. A few days later the boy was able to get to the kitchen and make tea for himself.

***

It wasn’t hard to figure out who they were. Especially when a certain someone was screaming at the top of his lungs that the murder of a member of parliament cost way more than what they were given. They didn’t pay Leone much attention and didn’t bother to hide much from him, and he decided that it was best to keep his mouth shut and his ears wide open. He was probably going to take all the information to his grave, though….

They didn’t let him get near the phone or the door, and handcuffed him to the bedpost when there was no one around to keep an eye on him. Besides, he had been kindly warned that if he tried to run away he would be dead in minutes. “I have lots of you genetic material stocked!” said Melone, as if it meant something important. But if Leone really wanted he could have found a way to contact someone. It just seemed more sensible to stay put. Leone was too proud to fancy a rescue mission for himself, and bold enough to fancy himself an agent undercover.

As days passed, they established a kind of camaraderie, and Leone often found himself chatting with some of the assassins amiably, especially Pesci, who provided a great deal of care for him, Illuso, who let Leone borrow his clothes, and Melone, who was simply glad to talk to anyone who would listen to him.

Risotto didn’t seem to mind that Leone occupied half of his bed.  He examined him regularly, checking all the stitches, and one day it suddenly dawned upon Leone that there he was, lying in bed, naked, and a very attractive, tall and muscular man in scant clothes was carefully running his hands all over Leone’s body. And one part of his anatomy decided to prove that it was already perfectly functional. And Leone had absolutely no way to hide it. Risotto wasn’t polite enough not to notice, he gave a slight smile and said, “Well, I see some proof that you are really getting better. I’ll leave you in privacy now. There are tissues on the table. Don’t overstrain yourself.”

Leone could have murdered him there and then.  He just didn’t have proper means. And that neck was too thick to strangle. Thus, when Risotto left, Leone had to wrap himself in a blanket and try to will his hard-on away. He will not jerk off thinking of a mafia assassin. He will not jerk off thinking of a mafia assassin. He will not jerk off thinking of a mafia assassin. Or maybe he will….

After that, Risotto’s inspections got a great deal more perfunctory. He never made Leone fully undress again, and he was grateful for that. Things were already dreadfully complicated; they didn’t have to make them even more complicated.

He’d been there almost a month when Leone felt a distinct shift in the atmosphere.  Everyone suddenly got twitchy, falling out of their usual habits and clashing over things such as which records belonged to whom. Leone didn’t have to wonder what was going on for long, as Risotto called him for a private talk in his room.

“It looks like the cuts have closed. Your nose seems to be shaping well too. I’m going to remove the stitches now. And we are moving house tomorrow.”

“I see…” Leone paused. “Will you let me go then?” He tried to sound nonchalant, but it hardly worked. There was too much behind the question, too many issues that they never discussed.

Instead of answering, Risotto took a card out of his pocket and put it on the table in front of Leone.

“I believe it’s yours.”

Leone stared for a moment at his own Police Academy ID. He never told anyone the truth about his background. When asked, he said he was a math student. It turned out that their leader knew all along.

 “I guess that by the book you should have disposed of me.”

“Well, we are gangsters, but it doesn’t mean we have a code that forbids us to ever do a single good deed. Besides, we have a very personal grudge against Secco and Cioccolata. To snatch their last victim right out of their teeth, and let it heal, and live on, and maybe even join the police force is a very satisfying final “fuck you” to them.”

“Ah, yes, I guess. But… you will certainly have some conditions. If I were… to walk out of here alive.”

“Hm… I hope you understand things fine on your own. You can go to the police and tell them about us, but I doubt they will do anything. Because if they do, that will only end in loss of life. And not on our side. But they won’t, they are not stupid and we already have a reputation.”

Leone sighed.

“I won’t tell anyone anything about your group.  I owe you and… I will sound delusional anyway. There are rumors, but… they are trying hard to stifle them.”

“You got hit on the head, was drugged and lost a lot of blood. You could have been hallucinating as a result.”

Yes, Leone had a lot of hallucinations. For a long time. Of things moving on their own, shrinking and expanding at will, people walking out of mirrors, working on invisible laptops, and, as a particularly nice touch, making ice for a cocktail with a flick of a hand. Not to mention all the metalwork in his own body.

“I don’t remember seeing or hearing anything unusual.”

“Good.”

“Then… should I get ready for the procedure?”

“What procedure?”

“The stitches.”

“What stitches?”

Leone blinked, confused. Risotto looked completely calm and neutral. Was it some kind of a trap? Leone looked at his left forearm, where two long cuts had been made, and saw healing gashes, no sign of metal threads. He coughed.

“Nothing unusual.”

Risotto gave a short laugh. “Try to sit low today. I will personally take you to the train station tomorrow morning.”

***

Prosciutto was quite sure that Risotto deliberately tried to keep him as busy as possible that day. First he sent Prosciutto to buy boxes and bubble wrap, then sent him to go burn a few bundles of papers in a quiet place, and then made him oversee the packing.

It was a madhouse. Formaggio argued that he could only shrink a few things, and if he did Illuso’s favorite wall-sized mirror and Prosciutto’s antique wardrobe, than he couldn’t add Melone’s beloved sofa to them. Illuso and Pesci couldn’t agree who borrowed music records from whom. Pesci, normally timid, fought like a tiger to defend his Edith Piaf albums. Melone was pestering Ghiaccio, trying to make sure that he could keep all his samples thoroughly frozen on the way. In the end, Ghiaccio snapped and froze half the house. Risotto, whose room was affected, finally came out to restore order himself, and Prosciutto found a moment to grab that boy, Leone, drag him to the bathroom and lock the door behind them.

“We need to have a talk.”

“Ye-yes, what is it?”

The boy looked quite flustered, even though he had been hiding in Risotto’s room all day. Yet, he didn’t react to Grateful Dead when it suddenly appeared in front of him and lunged at his face. It was a good sign.

“I’ll try to make it quick. Our boss, as you might have noticed, has a sentimental bone in his body. I don’t. But I want to see him happy. And, even more than that, I want to see all of us alive and safe.”

“If you wanted to threaten me, I am already thoroughly intimidated. I just saw giant spikes of ice come out of the walls.”

“I still want to hammer that in. I know who you are. You’ve seen a lot, but not enough. You don’t know what I am capable of. You don’t know what Risotto is really capable of. We could make you wish you were back in Cioccolata’s sweet and loving arms.”

“I don’t doubt it. I’ll keep my mouth shut.”

“As if it was that simple. And it’s not about the police. You know nothing.  There are other people who could find you, and make you spill everything on us, very effectively.”

“I know nothing. You just said it.”

Prosciutto huffed in irritation. “You are quite tough, I should say. Anyway….”

He walked right up to the boy and put his lips to his ear. “I never make empty threats. Every second that you live from now on, you will live because I will be actively restraining myself from killing you.”

Prosciutto hated this. He never believed in death threats, he believed in actual murder. There wasn’t much he could do to make this lovely-puppy-cop-boy fear, after he had lived a month with them, shared their meals (and Risotto’s actual bed, goddamn it), witnessed their stupidity, and probably heard him and Risotto fuck in the next room. At least Prosciutto had been careful not to let him know what his stand could do.

The boy took a breath. “I’m….”

And just then, the lock on the door opened with Metallica’s power, and Risotto appeared in the doorway.

Prosciutto, aware that their position looked somewhat compromising, immediately stepped away from the boy, who stared at Risotto and got very red in the face.

“We are done,” Prosciutto said sternly as he walked out past Risotto, who was drilling him with an intense glare. Damn it! He was trying to be menacing, not seducing the boy!

***

Risotto woke the boy with the first light. He had nothing to pack, just put on the clothes Illuso gave him, and they were out of the house in ten minutes.

After a short drive, Risotto parked near a small station.

“The early train will be here soon. Take this.” Risotto gave the boy some cash. “This should be enough to get you home.”

“Thank you. I… I will never return this debt because I will never know how to contact you.”

“Good.”

They stayed in the car for a few more minutes. Risotto studied the boy’s face. His nose was almost normally-shaped, but dark bruises below his eyes still remained. There was a healing gash on his nose bridge, a long gash running from his temple to the jaw on the left side, a short one on the chin. All in all, he looked like a normal guy who had recently been in a really bad fight. Now that the swelling subsided, the boy’s eyes got more prominent, and Risotto took a note of their color. It was an interesting mixture of purple and gold. Risotto felt that he had just restored something beautiful. He wished he could do it better, with no marks left.

The boy’s face got very red again, as it tended to do now every time Risotto looked at him for more than five seconds. Clearly, he had no problem with lack of iron in his blood. The boy coughed, fidgeted, and moved to open the car door.  When he was out, Risotto called to him through the window.

“Leone.”

“Yes?”

“Try not to get stabbed to death in some back alley.”

“I’ll do my best.”