Chapter 1: Numero 0, Il Matto
"Oh…" Felicità felt her face burn as she stomped through some brush, her heels more hindering her than helping, and she regretted being harsh enough with Fukulota to chase her away. It was dark and cold –not that it bothered her- and she could hardly navigate through all the dense brush by herself. It on her dark work clothes and snagged her long hair with branches and the odd bramble clinging to one of Regalo's beautiful trees.
Felicità was tired, and hungry, and she didn't feel worth very much of anything anymore.
"Milady!" Luka whispered harshly, looking around the corridor anxiously. "What are you doing up and dressed at this hour? Is something wrong?" Felicità looked down at her hands, feeling silly for letting Jolly's cryptic words shake her confidence, and felt a heat rise in her cheeks.
"Luka…" She whispered, swallowing around the lump rising in her throat. "may I stay here tonight? W-With you? I don't-" Luka interrupted her:
"Milady," He said seriously, "as your valet, I am to look after you, but here I draw the line on what is appropriate. Please return to your own room."
"But Jolly's story…" And then, to add insult to injury, her faithful servant closed his door on her. Felicità looked down at her toes, checked for any sign of another person, and crept back to her chambers. She resolved to leave the main house and go sleep in her old house tonight; perhaps there she could get away from Jolly's moaning spectre. She quickly pulled on her boots, stocking her knives back into their belt, and used her wide window as a convenient escape from the haunting quality of the house.
Suddenly, Felicità could see a light behind her and she cursed herself for being so slow and clumsy in the woods. She hadn't thought that leaving would be easy, but she hadn't even considered that there might be alarms that would key the security that people had left or entered the mansion. She could hear a low rumble in the distance –was Dante awake?- and she flinched when her name carried on the wind frantically.
Felicità kicked off her boots, grabbing one in each hand, and she picked up her pace with an occasional wince when she put her foot on something harsh. She refused to go back to the mansion house tonight –refused to be humiliated by facing her servant in the light- and rejoiced when she stumbled out the trees near the town.
'Perfect!' She thought gratefully, pulling on her boots again as she surveyed her surroundings and set off toward the busiest part of town. She could get lost in the crowds, maybe find a dark place to sit and lick her wounded pride, and she knew she would need to fix her appearance from tramping through the woods. Ducking into an alley, she paused within the shadow of the buildings and did just that, failing to correct her pigtails and eventually letting her hair hang loose.
"Princess?!" Felicità jumped when Libertà's voice rang out in the cheery city street and disrupted the nightlife bustling about. She ducked down, barely making it out of sight before the blond teen ran by with a silent Nova at his side. Her cousin glanced into the alley, his eyes clashing with hers in a way that made Felicità flinch, but he didn't see her and kept moving.
She went in the other direction, trying to keep to the shadows and maintain her speed. Where could she hide?! Everyone in the family would be looking for- Suddenly, Felicità collided with something she couldn't see.
"Ciao, Bambina," Drawled a familiar voice, "isn't it a bit late for a stroll?" Felicità shook herself lightly, watching as Debito's invisibility melted away and revealed the Hermit Tarocco's smug smirk; she was suddenly conscious of the supporting arm around her back.
"No," She claimed quickly, moving back into her own personal bubble and away from the arm. She didn't want to be cuddled and coddled anymore, not now that Jolly's story had caused her so much grief by giving her that very desire, and she knew Debito would just pet her like a child. "it's a perfectly fine time. I like walking alone at night."
"With your hair down?" Prodded Debito, managing to snag a strand and press it to his lips. "Although I must say the look suits you," Felicità felt her face heat lightly as the gold-eyed man sent her a smouldering look and released the red lock of hair, "everyone is looking for you, Bambina. Luka is-"
"I don't care about Luka!" Felicità snapped suddenly, stiffening and fisting her hands at her sides. "He's the reason I'm-" She checked herself suddenly when she saw Debito's silver eyebrows rise in surprise and looked away, ashamed to have lost control of herself in front of the Coins head. She heard someone call for her again and checked over her shoulder anxiously; she was stuck between a Coin and a search party!
"So, Luka's the reason Bambina is out so late…" Debito murmured, drawing close and placing a hand on her arm, "what did that stuffed shirt do now?" She looked up at him, unnerved by how quickly her emotions were besting her, and swallowed as she tried to go around him. "Hey, hey, hey- I hate to see a singorina cry." She felt the grip on her arm halt her and she tugged once at his grip to test it; she was stuck unless she fought him. "What's your hurry?"
"I need to hide." Felicità told him sternly, not facing him directly, "I don't want to be found." She swallowed around a lump rising in her throat again and glanced at him with pleading eyes. "Please, Debito, say you never saw me." She tugged again, more firmly this time, and bit her lip: "Please, help me hide."
Chapter 2: Numero 1, Il Baggato
She barely blinked before Debito had her tucked under his arm: "Anything for you, Bambina." He murmured above her, and she yelped wordlessly when she looked down and saw their legs fading away into nothing. "One hiding place, coming up," Soon, they were invisible, and she watched Pace and Luka run past them obliviously with anxious expressions. She froze statue-still against Debito's arm, hardly breathing until they passed out of the alley again, and then she looked up at Debito's smug grin in shock.
"Are you going to turn me in?" She asked quietly, preparing to run if the invisible man said 'yes'.
"No, Bambina," Chuckled Debito casually as he started them walking in the direction Pace and Luka had come. "not you. You need a hiding place and what else am I good at but hiding? I'm going to hide you away like buried treasure" –Debito tapped her nose with his free hand and smirked as she scrunched up her pale face.- "and then Bambina will be my little secret."
"Where are you taking me?" Felicità asked, rubbing her nose lightly to rid herself of the tingling feeling. "The Casino?"
"Tempting," Nodded the man, "but everyone will look there," He steered her away from a crowd, eyes on the bald head in the distance, and he scowled when a black mop of hair joined it. "and I doubt Bambina wants all that smoke and noise. You must be exhausted," Felicità shrugged, resisting a sudden yawn, and she let Debito pull her onto a quieter street with a simple chuckle. "so you can spend the night with me, Bambina, and I'll play doorman to these idiots."
Felicità paused, looking up at Debito through her yawn, and he glanced down at her. They stood there for a moment, silent as statues, until she broke the stare when she yawned again and rubbed her eyes.
"Come on, Bambina, let's get you to bed." Debito said softly, letting go of their invisible disguise as they reached his door and entered the dark house in a more comfortable silence. He let her linger in the hall for a moment while he took off his shoes and jacket habitually, but looked back to her when she stayed by the closed door. "Bambina?"
He watched Felicità blink, the bright attention returning to her eyes, and smirked as she seemed to wake herself from a daze. She quietly took off her own boots, her stockings showing dirt and wear from her trek through the woods earlier, and Debito felt his smirk disappear. She would need water for washing, and perhaps a bandage or two, but those could wait until she was more comfortable.
"I'm sorry," She murmured, approaching him again with a small shiver. "I don't know what-"
"It's alright," Debito assured her, patting her hair gently, "you're tired. Make yourself at home and I'll get something for your feet. You know where my bedroom is… feel free to lie down." She protested slightly at taking his bed, but Debito waved it away with another smirk and strolled down the hall to his bathroom for the supplies she'd need.
Felicità watched him until he was out of sight and sighed, looking around the unlit house uninterestedly until she gave in to temptation and did as he'd suggested- she padded down the hallway, passing the bathroom without a glance, and she cautiously pushed into Debito's bedroom.
All was as she remembered it. Purple bedding and walls, emerald curtains, rich woods- everything was the height of opulence and pleasure, from the soft lights to the fully-stocked wine rack and the large, inviting bed. She felt that if she were to close her eyes she could sink into the room like water and be able to relax; it was so soothing, and she lost the hesitation she'd had for curling up to sleep.
She sighed as she pulled off her glove and knife belt, trying to hold back another yawn, and discarded her dirty socks without care as she crawled into the centre of the bed and sank into the covers. She felt her body relax, silently thanking Debito for letting her hide with him, and as she began to drift off she heard the door open with a pair of measured footsteps.
"Hm?" She murmured softly, barely able to keep her eyes open, and Debito appeared at the side of the bed with a small towel and a few bandages. "Ah…"
"Let me see your feet." Debito told her soothingly, sounding like he had at the piccolino with the frightened children. "Walking without shoes is dirty work," His smirk was shadowed in the dim bedroom light and it took Felicità a moment to process his request before she stretched out her legs and drifted off to sleep without concern for the warm damp cloth or Debito's strong hands. "Sleep well, Bambina,"
Luka looked up as Fukulota circled above, calling Pace back to his side and signalling the others. The chestnut-coloured bird of prey came spiralling down gracefully, hooting, and landed on the arm he outstretched for her until the others gathered around. Luka counted them – Libertà, Nova, Pace, Dante- and frowned when Debito did not join them.
"Where is Debito?" He asked hurriedly, trying to ignore the way the owl was nipping at his sleeve.
Pace shrugged: "Maybe he went home?"
"How can he sleep when the princess is missing?!" Libertà snapped, grinding his teeth, "What's his problem?" Suddenly, Fukulota gave a piercing 'hoot!' and she took to the sky, soaring in one dirtection and back to Luka in a straight, unwavering line; Pace's eyes widened.
"Is it just me, Luka, or does Debito…?"
Everyone gasped, most very angrily: "DEBITO!"
Chapter 3: Numero 2, La Sacerdotessa
Debito was enjoying his night so far; he got some alone time with Felicità, who's staying overnight, and she's upset with Luka- what a lucky break! As he lay reclined on one side of the bed, his attention seesawed between a short book and the sleeping girl to his left. She had nodded off while he was cleaning off her delicate little fairy feet and he hadn't managed to stir her, even when he settled down a decent distance from her.
Her breathing was soft and rhythmic, barely stirring a lock of red hair that had fallen across her heart-shaped face and caught on her plump lower lip. The rest of her hair was fanned about her, released from the black ribbons nearly two hours ago by the girl who usually wore them, and it splayed across the back of her dark suit uniform. She had discarded her gloves and stockings while he was gone, unfastening the belt of deadly knives, and left herself in just the usual suit worn by any female in the Famiglia. She looked so small and fragile now, sleeping the stars away in his bed, totally unguarded.
Debito heard someone making a terrible racket at his front door and growled with annoyance when his Bambina stirred faintly, snuffling in her sleep. He vowed to shoot the ruffian massacring his door in the knee caps and elbows for disturbing her even slightly and got up, not bothering with the discarded eye patch at this hour.
"Oi," He snarled, unlocking the chain, "what's all the-"
"Debito!" Luka shouted angrily, obviously beating his fists upon the door from the outside. "You predator! Where is Milady! Unhand her this instant!" Debito took a moment to breathe deeply, sighing at Luka's insistence, and resisted the temptation to pull out his pistols. Luka was an old friend, so the insult meant-
"You letch!" Libertà screeched suddenly, "Unhand the princess!"
Debito threw open his front door, glowering, with his pistols drawn. "You little punk!" He growled, waving one gun at the blond threateningly, "I ought to-"
"Debito," Pace chuckled tensely, "he's just worried about the princess. Well, and mad you're not out searching with-"
"I found her." Debito interrupted casually, leaning on the door frame and holstering one gun. "Why waste time searching for someone that isn't lost?" Debito watched Pace's shoulders straighten, as if he had shocked the strong Club leader with his simple answer, but Pace's caramel eyes were nothing but relieved.
"You found her?!" Libertà gasped, gripping the handle of his cutlass tensely. "Where is she?!" His eagerness brought him forward, but his rivalry with Nova made it hard to get too close without bumping shoulders and growling. "Is she alright?!"
"She was tired," Debito told the blond boy laxly, "so she's sleeping now." Debito knew that Libertà had been pining for the young girl in his bedroom, and that Nova was considering proposing, and smirked at their assumption wordlessly. They didn't know how their princess had unarmed herself willingly for him and drifted off so vulnerably with him right beside her.
Oh, but if they knew…
"Excellent," Luka said, his tone reflecting his trust in Debito –or lack thereof. "I shall collect her then, and take her back to the mansion before- Debito?" Luka looked up from the arm blocking his way to the solitary eye that was peeking from behind Debito's steel-grey curtain of hair. "Why are you-"
"Like I said, Luka, Bambina is sleeping," Debito drawled, using his body and his height to tower over the attendant a little and steer him back over his threshold and into the street. The other men stiffened aggressively as Debito refused Luka entry and blocked the door, his hands toying with his pistols softly. "and I doubt she wants you here. Not after what you did."
"What do you mean, Debito?" Nova demanded seriously,
"Luka," Libertà frowned, turning his accusing teal eyes to the attendant. "what's he talking about?"
"I don't kn…" Luka's voice trailed off and Debito watched the violet pair of eyes catch the fires of understanding within them. "oh." He looked past Debito pitifully, into the house beyond, and he suddenly pushed forward and tried to force his way past Debito. "Move, Debito! I have to-"
"You will apologize," Debito nodded, catching the servant by his collar harshly and looking down at him like something the cat had dragged in. "but Bambina will send for you when she's ready." Debito tossed Luka back into Pace's arms, unsurprised when Pace fumbled their friend –Debito shot Pace a grateful glance masked by a smirk- in shock at the declarations made against him. "Now get lost. Tell Papa that Bambina is just a little upset, so she's staying here with me."
"St-St-'Staying'?!" Luka stammered, his eyes wide in horror. "With you?"
"Sì," Debito nodded confidently, "now get lost." The Hermit Tarocco slammed his door emphatically to end the conversation, but Pace's foot stopped the process and Debito growled as his old friend invaded his home uninvited. "Pace…"
"At least let one of us talk to the princess," Pace said entreatingly, opening his arms, "and get a note out to Papa. He's worried too, and I doubt he'll believe a word from us without proof." And Debito growled under his breath, scratching his own head to stall before he nodded grouchily and told Pace to bring the kids and close the door. "And Luka?"
"Leave the dog outside." Debito muttered, ascending back upstairs to wake the sleeping princess. "And take off your shoes!" He could hear Libertà muttering about the discarded boots and stockings by the door, apologizing to Luka faintly, and sighed as the trio followed him upstairs to his bedroom door. He turned on his heel, facing Nova, Libertà, and Pace gravely, and crossed his arms over his chest. "Stay here while I wake her, and I'll call you in."
Chapter 4: Numero 3, L'Imperatrice
"Why should we wait-" "Luka didn't… hurt her, did he?" Nova asked slowly, interrupting Libertà. "She's not injured?"
Debito paused: "'I don't care about Luka', she told me," He informed the other men softly, "'I need to hide. I don't want to be found. Please,' She was begging, gentlemen. 'Say you never saw me. Please,'" Debito eyed the mortified expressions and sighed. "'help me hide.' I didn't see any injuries, Nova, but Bambina doesn't talk like that, does she?" Debito looked directly at Nova and Libertà, the ones she was with the most, and waited for them to shake their heads mutely. "He hurt her, but not with his hands."
Stepping inside his bedroom, he allowed them the sight of the girl curled up on the bed before he mimed for a moment to wake her and closed the door again quietly. While his back was still turned, he heard the sheets rustle and froze, glancing back at the dazed emerald stare in surprise. She blinked lazily, yawning and mumbling as she rubbed one eye and sat up:
"Debito?" She looked at him again, blinking away the yawn-induced tears, and cocked her head to one side. "Is it Luka?"
"No, Bambina," Debito assured her, approaching the bed again and sitting down at her feet. "Pace and those boys of yours are here; they want to see you." He watched her expression carefully, absorbing her soft face and faraway stare calmly until she looked back at him and sighed, bowing her head until her forehead touched his shoulder. "Bambina?"
"Why?" She mumbled quietly, pulling back and gathering half her hair into a pigtail with her slender little hands. She glanced around for her ribbons, trying to regain her composure and her usual appearance before she had to fend off their questions, and Debito touched her wrist lightly. "What do they want with me now? It's late and-"
"I'll send them away…" Debito murmured, leaving the 'if you want me to' unspoken but with his stare. He could feel the stress starting to pile on her already, having only woken a few minutes ago, and he winced at the idea of forcing her into this now.
"No," He let her pull away, strapping on her knife belt, and watched her pull on her white glove. "I can't hide forever." She pulled the glove tight to her hand, nodded once to herself, and swallowed: "Let them in."
Debito locked his eye with hers, trying to test her, but she didn't back down. "Anything for you, Bambina," He said again quietly, smirking, "anything for you." And then he returned and threw open the door. "You coming or what?"
~ La storia della Arcana Famiglia~
Outside, Luka couldn't help but worry his hands together and fret over the state of Felicità. When she had come to him earlier that night, he hadn't thought that he would cause her so much pain! He had been right; it was not ladylike to come to a man's chambers –her attendant's chambers, at that!- and beg the favour of sleeping in the same room. How could she be so… so… loose?
Luka looked back up at the house-front, biting his lip, and he shook his head. God knows what Debito had done to her! He sighed desolately, plopping himself down on the front steps, and cradled his head in his hands.
He needed a plan.
He needed… Luka stood suddenly and made for the mansion.
~ La storia della Arcana Famiglia~
"Princess, are you sure?" Libertà pressed anxiously, squeezing one of Felicità's small hands in his own. "Here? I have space in my room! You can stay with me!"
"Idiot!" Nova muttered, "Don't suggest something like that."
"Libertà," Felicità murmured quietly, "I can't go back to the mansion. I need to think, and it's just too much to have Luka around every turn. Here, I can think. I can decide for myself."
"I know that the rooms in my wing are quite isolated." Nova piped up seriously, "It would be no trouble for us to commandeer one next to mine. I will keep Luka away for you," Beside her, Libertà snorted at Nova's suggestion and muttered something that ended in 'chickpea'.
"Do not call me a chickpea." Nova grunted, scowling suddenly, and Debito perked up from his false interest in the pages of his book when it made Felicità laugh lightly. Nova and Libertà looked up, taking in her radiantly happy face, and sat back as she calmed down and shook her head. "Fel?"
"Thank you, Nova," She said sweetly, "but you're busy as it is. It's alright."
"But, princess-" "Fel, you-" Pace cut the boys off, catching them by their shoulders and steering them toward the bedroom door again. They looked up at the man in unison: "Pace!"
"Now, now," He chuckled easily as he maneuvered them away from the girl. He had been watching too, doing more listening than ever, and seen the way her body was taking this interrogation; she was exhausted, physically and now mentally, and didn't need her eager suitors hassling her about her choices. "Let the princess decide for herself. She's a strong, independent princess, and she deserves your respect for her choices."
"Pace," Debito watched Felicità raise a hand toward the strong Tarocco slightly, thinking better of it, and saw Pace flash her his most brilliant smile.
"She knows what's best for her," He declared, "and that's what we want, right?"
Under his eye, Nova and Libertà agreed reluctantly, smoothing their proverbial ruffled feathers and their skewed clothes. Pace looked back to Felicità, still smiling, and she nodded affirmatively with a small tired smile of her own; Pace gave Debito a thumbs-up for good luck and departed with a cheery 'sleep well, princess!', dragging Nova and Libertà with him.
Chapter 5: Numero 4, L'Imperatore
When the bedroom door closed, Debito did not follow the other men out of his house. He rolled slightly to look at the young woman who had stayed behind and was surprised to find her staring at him as well.
"Something wrong, Bambina?" He asked coolly, slowly putting a maker in the page he had been skimming and setting the book aside. She didn't reply, her green eyes following his movements as he sat up, smoothed his wrinkling clothes, and approached her; when he touched her arm, she started. "Such an old look for a young girl," He teased lightly, "and you still have the world ahead of you. What are you thinking, Bambina?"
Felicità shook her head, dismissing his question, but Debito persisted.
"Now, now, Bambina," He said a little more seriously, "I'm asking you a question. What is it that's bothering you now that they've gone? Isn't this what you wanted?"
"I don't know." She admitted, "I hadn't really… planned this far." She looked a little embarrassed to have to admit she was clueless and Debito smirked at the cute expression she'd given him. "Debito, may I-"
"Bambina," Debito put a finger to her lips. "before you ask, stay as long as you like. You're more than welcome here," He pressed a little closer, removing his finger from between them, and smirked deeply. "especially for a little siesta." As before, Felicità's face heated a dusky pink and she leaned away, covering her mouth to hide a small yawn that slipped out.
"I'm so- ah!" Debito slyly rolled, taking her out of her sitting position and back down onto the sheets where it was more comfortable. "D-Debito!"
"Go back to sleep, Bambina." He told her, releasing her wrist and getting cozy where he'd rolled to. "Save all that heavy thinking for the morning, eh? At least until breakfast,"
~ La storia della Arcana Famiglia~
Felicità did save it for morning, and then the next morning, and then for a few mornings after, and before she knew it she had spent a week in the house of the Coins leader and had gotten nothing done on the matter. She didn't know when she was going back to the mansion; Nova and Libertà had brought her a bag of clothes –packed by her servants- after the second night, and she had turned away Luca's request to see her many times.
Was it selfish not to want to see him? To hog all of Debito's free time?
Only yesterday, Felicità had gotten out of bed with her hair in such a state that he had helped her smooth out all the tangles before he reported to the Isis, and then he had come back at lunch to help her around the kitchen. They had learned painfully on her fourth day that his kitchen was much different than what she was used to, and that lunches either needed to be pre-made or not need preparation.
However, for how bad she felt, she enjoyed it.
Debito was much different within the walls of his own home; he'd chided her, they'd laughed together, napped together, and she had learned just how hard it was to manage all her hair. If she ever went back, she would have to reward those girls for their hard work. Debito had taught her so many little, seemingly-insignificant things, like when the vendors' produce were ripe and how to bluff in cards, but they all seemed so very important in their newness.
"Ah, that pretty face of yours looks even better over a hand of cards, Bambina," Debito purred, laying down his hand. "But I do believe I have you now."
"Do you?" Felicità laid down her hand matter-of-factly, revealing her smile from behind the playing cards, and spread the winning hand across the table triumphantly. "Royal flush." He raised his eyebrows in shock, looking up as her lips parted and transformed her smirk into a toothy grin, and suddenly began to laugh. At the short reception desk, Debito had quickly engaged the young woman in a few hands of cards while they took a brief lunch and was pleasantly surprised when she managed to beat him.
"Bambina," He chuckled, "I taught you well. Too well," With a sneaky hand, he collected the cards and caressed the young woman's smooth hand as he did so, catching her green eyes with a smile. "but that's to be expected of Papa's daughter."
"No," Suddenly Dante's deep voice interrupted their camaraderie and made them both look up; he stood a few feet away, his arms crossed over his chest, and Luca stood at his side. "Papa's daughter would be taking care of her duties as the Head of Sword and sleeping in the mansion. Not to mention, she would have the sense not to be shaken by Jolly's humor, however dark or bold."
"Dante!" Felicità gasped, jumping under Debito's hand and locking her eyes on the tall man, much to Debito's distaste. "Wh-What are you-"
"Princess, this has gone far enough." Dante said sternly, "As the only daughter of Papa and Mama, I'm surprised at your behaviour. Sword is in shambles with the way you've snuck off to fool about with Debito. Have you no sense of duty?"
Debito saw Felicità wilt under Dante's lecture and tensed furiously. How dare the man ruin his Bambina's good mood? Debito rose, abandoning the cards to the disheartened young woman, and stepped out from behind the reception desk stiffly. "Debito?" Dante saw the defensive posture the Coin took and mirrored it. "Can I help you?"
"No," Debito said sharply, "I want you to leave my casino, Dante." His hand strayed to one shining pistol and tapped an indignant rhythm into the grip. "I don't appreciate the way you speak to my Bambina. No gentleman speaks so crudely to a woman, especially not in front of me." He watched Dante produce a letter from his pocket, suspicious of it until he spotted Mondo's seal on the envelope. "What is that?"
Chapter 6: Numero 5, Il Papa
"A letter." Dante said shortly, thrusting it into Dante's chest and scowling at the man. "Mondo was made aware of where the princess has been hiding, and he has addressed this to you, Debito." The tall, bald man didn't flinch as Debito's face darkened slightly, emotion flickering across the gold of his visible eye, and he glanced at the letter in his hand obviously.
'Read it.' his eyes said, and Debito tore open the letter furiously. He waved away the few Coins men that approached warily, his face blazing with unreleased displeasure, and he snapped at one of them to get back to work. It was unlike Debito to be so harsh.
"'Debito,'" He read aloud, clutching the paper with both hands and looking more and more agitated. "'if what Dante tells me is true, I hope that -for your sake- Felicità is unharmed'" -He glanced up at her, his eyes burning.- "' and that she returns with Dante and Luca when they come to collect her.'" Debito could feel himself shaking and forced down the urge to rail against this letter and Papa's commands. As he read farther on, he bit his lip hand, snarling at Luca, and jumped when Felicità touched his hand.
"Debito?" She murmured, angling her head so that she could meet his golden left eye. He couldn't respond, drowning himself in her emerald eyes for what might be the last in a long time, and he let her take the letter from him numbly. She looked down at it, breaking the spell, and Debito watched a bit of hair fall from its place to hide her expression.
"Papa wants me home now..." She said after a long time, "and you're not allowed at the house anymore..." She kept reading, her little body going tense, and she stared up at him helplessly. "I'm not allowed to leave the house; my patrol duties will be handled by the rest of my division."
With Felicità staring at him so helplessly, Debito felt his heart pound. She didn't know what to do -they might never see each other again except in passing- and she looked to him for the answer. Debito sighed, tucking her loose hair behind her ear.
"I'm sorry to get you into so much trouble, Bambina." He managed to smile for her, patting her cheek, and he pulled back to toss his house keys over to Dante. Purposely to Dante. " If you could, Dante, Bambina has a few things she'll want to take to take."
"But Debito-" Felicità tried to protest, having fought too hard for her freedom during the Arcana Duello to lose it now over all this. She met his eyes and scowled at the easy smile he presented her with. He looked so sad -the cool smile didn't touch his eyes the way she knew it should have- and his usually-confident gaze begged her silently.
'Don't. Just go.'
And she pulled back, mirroring Debito as he turned away and quickly following Dante out of the casino. However, Luca and Debito remained behind the desk, the cards scattered there, and they stared at one another wordlessly until both people were out of earshot.
"This is all you, isn't it?" Debito accused Luca, grinding his teeth together angrily, and shoved a finger in the black-haired servant's face. "What did you tell Mama and Papa?"
"The truth." Luca smiled and tilted his head to one side, clasping his hands behind his back demurely. "I told him what he would need to protect Felicità."
"My ass." Debito rumbled, waving away a Coin who'd looked over anxiously. "What did you say to him, Luca?"
"That Papa's precious daughter was sharing a bed with you every night without suitable clothing." Luca said harshly, "That you two were flaunting your situation openly all over the island. With no regards for Felicità or the family's honor." Luca's expression darkened until it shocked the Coins leader and made his eye widen. The face Luca made was so suspicious- so unsettling- so... Jolly that Debito wondered how much la Luna had taught him. "Not that you care much for the honor of women, Eremita, they way you jump from woman to woman."
Debito recoiled from Luca's harsh tone as if the older man had slapped him across the face, his rage building at the insinuation, and he struck back at his childhood friend blindly. Years of good times and casual teasing fell away as the dark-haired man standing with him now felt alien -like a stranger- and threatening. Luca fell, shocked by the blow to his cheek, and Debito snatched the fallen hat from the floor to inspect it -distract himself with it- while he spoke.
"Luca, we've been friends a long time," Debito murmured, well aware of the circle of horrified Coins and customers as it grew around them. "But I have never struck you until now. And you" -Debito's eye shot down from the brim of the hat and he glared heatedly enough to make Luca flinch.- "have never spoken like that to me before, ever."
"I never had a reas-" "Therefore, I won't shoot you in the knees like I wanted to a few minutes ago," Debito said levelly, twirling the hat lazily on his finger. "but I will say this: Temperanza, never come back here. I don't ever want to see your face in any Coins establishment without an order from Papa to be there."
Luca glared back at him from the floor, growling as the gunman toyed with his hat. "And if I do?"
"Then I'll shoot you like a lame horse." Debito hissed, "You've insulted me once and twice is enough. Our friendship means nothing now if you think that I would stoop to that level and succeed in coercing her into something like that. It's disgusting how poorly you think of Bambina, Temperanza," Tossing the hat to Luca like a frisbee, Debito said no more about the disgrace to his own name and snarled, "now get out."
Much to the one-eyed gunman's satisfaction, the dark-haired servant fled with it hurriedly.
Debito knew he should feel a little bad for using such a blatant threat on a once-good friend, especially in public, but he was too angry to care for Luca's reputation or his.
How could Luca accuse them like that?
Did he think so low of him that he would approach Felicità when she was so obviously hurt?
Did he think Felicità was some common floozy, throwing herself into someone's arms at every turn?
Debito had been sure that Felicità was the perfect woman ever since they had met, only growing more and more certain as she fought for herself in the Arcana Duello. Her face had bought him, but her strength had paid for and shipped him head over the heels of his expensive black loafers. She was everything typical island women weren't: stubborn, independent, so innocent, and so very determined to help people.
She'd worked so hard to help a little kitten find its owner again, and she had praised him so innocently at the Piccolino for being so nice to the children there. She treasured so many little things -card games, tomatoes, toast- that he took for granted as tasks that it was refreshing to wake up with her every day. She was always grateful for what was done, and he had underestimated how eager she was to learn things and repay favours more than once. She had tried to cook once, claiming she felt bad relying on him for so much, and it had been so endearing that he hadn't been able to resist cuddling her sooty little frame to his chest.
And she'd been so small -so fragile- in his arms. She hadn't pulled away, or cried out; she returned the gesture, her embarrassed face hiding in his chest, and eventually they'd laughed it off together and gotten lunch.
Now, Debito didn't feel much like laughing. His mouth tasted like it was full of ashes and he hurried into his office -which he usually avoided- to prevent interaction with his men or the customers. Right now, he wanted to be anything but civil, but he would be damned if he accidentally snapped at someone on the job.
No need to give Luca any more fuel for the fire.
Chapter 7: Numero 6, Gli Amanti
Felicità had been disgraced to let Dante lead her back to Debito’s small home, to collect a few things and hurriedly tidy up as she made her departure. There was no time for big changes, anything to rectify how bad it likely looked to Dante as he came in the door, but she felt a little better about leaving it that way. On went her knives, not having felt the precaution necessary in tow of the other Tarocco, and she was sure to stand tall now as she pulled on her gloves stiffly.
A quick glance around the bedroom and she was sure she had everything, thinking quickly, and she was tense for a moment as a bold consideration came to mind.
Shucking off her gloves again, feeling foolish to be upset, Felicità laid them over one another demurely on the pillow she’d been using and she turned around.
“We can go.” She said proudly, lifting her chin a little as she turned to face Dante and his folded arms. He didn’t approve, an easy deduction from his posture ever since he’d appeared at the Isis, but Felicità made a solemn face at him in exchange. She wouldn’t be cowed, not in this moment, and he nodded once as he stepped aside to lead her back out the front door. She had a shaming walk up the main boulevard to deal with, but the long trek was nothing compared to feeling Luca and Dante watching her. Luca had been waiting at the road for them, looking unruffled, and Felicità had been all too happy to ignore him.
What she couldn’t ignore was the dark look on her father’s face.
“Papa…” She sighed, stopping there at the front doors as the other Tarocco brought up the rear.
“No, do not speak.” Mondo rumbled, standing there and letting his wife touch his arm. She might temper his emotion, might not, but she wasn’t looking at her daughter now as she focused on trying to support her husband. “Running off in the middle of the night, staying out of the mansion for days… taking up some sort of ramshackle residence with someone you are less than politely housed with. It’s unbecoming. Needless to say the duties you ignored, the things you’ve simply left untended in Sword and the needs of the island’s people.”
Muscles tight as she took her scolding, Felicità didn’t look away from the tall man. He was right, even only in the smallest respects. She had neglected her duties, as much as she had helped anyone she came across, and she knew there would be more than her fair share of problems returning to her serie. After all, they had had every right to elect someone else too take her place after such a mess.
“Papa, I understand.” She said firmly, glad to have her chance to speak suddenly as his lecture gave way to a pause for shaming. “It was wrong of me to neglect the duties of my serie. It was wrong of me to leave so suddenly and to leave my duties untended. However, this is unfair.” And, emboldened, she was glad to stare him down and say so.
“Oh?” He questioned, one eyebrow lifting in disapproval as he allowed her to speak.
“Yes, unfair.” She said, nodding firmly. “This wasn’t serious- I should be punished, yes, but I don’t understand why you’re punishing Debito. He was kind to me and he only did what he did because I asked him to. He was a good friend to me. That shouldn’t be some reason to ban him from the mansion when we all work here. That’s unfair! He has every right to be here with the rest of the Family.”
“Luca’s told me about Debito and his acts of compassion.” Mondo told her sternly, seeing her eyebrows rise in confusion and happy to step forward to touch her shoulder. “You’ll be confined to your official duties as head of Sword. I don’t want to see you in town without some event or proper pretense. My decision stands.” He moved past her calmly, happy to converse with Dante to make sure the older man understood his desires to keep the Coin leader from the grounds. She fumed, looking speechless for a moment as she stared at his back, and she was doubly infuriated to see her mother standing there calmly.
“Mama,” Felicità was glad to let her take her hands, hurrying forward to take counsel with the older woman. “this cannot be just. Debito was only doing what a good friend would do. Pace, Libertà… we’re all friends. I asked him for his help and I was upset, and he was very kind, and-”
“Felicità, we can talk about this later.” She murmured, squeezing her hands softly before one hand came up to right her pigtail delicately. She could see she was upset, shocked by the sudden scolding from everyone, but she wasn’t about to disrespect her husband now as his anger still bubbled beneath the surface. “Please go inside, let the girls take care of things… we’ll have tea and talk about today.” She saw Luca approaching, kissing her daughter’s forehead, and she let her go calmly. “Luca, thank you for letting us know about these affairs. You take such good care of my princess.”
Felicità stiffened as Luca approached, happy to take Mama’s praise now as he came to escort her into the mansion, and she turned her head subtly to one side to scorn him.
“Thank you, Mama,” Luca hummed, happy to take a hand and bow his head gratefully. “I only want what’s best for Milady’s well-being. Knowing she was so far from home, in such questionable circumstances, I could do no less.”
“’Questionable circumstances’?” Felicità blurted, looking affronted as she whipped her head around to look at him. She could hardly believe her ears, stunned by the accusation, and her insides bunched up defensively. “You told me you grew up together -you, Pace, and Debito- and he has been a good friend and a loyal Family member.”
“Loyal, yes, but chaste,” Luca corrected, straightening up calmly. “I think not. It isn’t becoming for you to hole up somewhere so salacious on your own.” While his cheeks got a little pink, Felicità was sure her cheeks went the colour of her father’s hair at the insinuation and she gritted her teeth a little.
With nothing coming to her lips, nothing but something she doubted her mother or father would be pleased to know she’d learned, Felicità had to keep silent. Luca had caught their ears, obviously told them something less than what had happened, and she banished the thought now as she bit the inside of one cheek and turned away again. She needed to see her girls, let them know she was alright, and she was looking forward to a long bath and fresh clothes.
Her desk would no doubt be filled with papers, forms to be signed and everything to be read and organized, and she needed to find some composure and time to confront Mama and Papa about this again.
The way she ‘accidentally’ closed her doors on Luca every time was merely a mistake, she assured. She was just distracted. She took quite a bit of pleasure in firmly closing doors behind her as he called out for her to wait.
Chapter 8: Numero 7, Il Carro
The next few days were spent listlessly, though dice rolled and there seemed no end to the paperwork she had missed. After roaming Regalo so freely, free to pause and chat with the people, being confined to the main house and its long elegant halls seemed more like a prison than her home. She missed the carefree feeling of her schedule discarded, time to spend as she chose and to squander, and Felicità spent too much time at her desk.
Boots tucked beneath it to let her feet relax, a break from her stern heels and their confines, she felt comfortably at home sitting there, but she wanted more. She was tired of this, tired of the silence and the feeling of isolation. There were no games to play, no fond chatter or subtle music, and she could feel it now as she bounced her leg and she tried to focus on what she was reading. She was tired of it already, eager to be out of her office, and she was mortified to be so distracted.
Had she known a few days to relax and enjoy herself would have been so detrimental, she would have thought twice to have been gone so long.
Debito, on the other hand, was railing against his restrictions.
The Isis Regalo was busy, bustling, and Debito was quite content to deal cards now. As much as he enjoyed his butterflying, he was tense now as he stood there and he couldn’t help but squirm under the attention. His mind was elsewhere, trapped, and he had to grit his teeth at the thought, dealing a new hand as he proclaimed he winner firmly.
“Debito!” He had to look up at the call, surprised to hear such a cheerful call over the slots, but his frown just shortened a little as he recognized Pace.
“Pace, what are you doing here?” He grunted, looking frustrated as he gladly traded out with another member of the serie. He had to apologize to a few signorinas he’d left flirt with him over their hands, but he was glad to straighten his shoulders and let Pace take a few minutes. “Shouldn’t you be out in the city, having another lunch?”
“Just came to say hello, see how everything is going…” Pace said pleasantly, happy to see Debito at least come his way. “see how you’re holding up.” He added, seeing the twitch of his eyebrow and knowing he was likely in for a characteristic Debito thrashing. “It must be boring now, being so quiet.”
And Debito was glad to be on him, just like that, and he led him outside.
“This is ridiculous!” He seethed, happy to catch him by the jacket as they slid off to the side. He didn’t need problems with business, least of all after being so scolded by the Head of the Family. “I did nothing wrong! The princess did nothing wrong! I don’t see what warrants this punishment! Everyone is welcome at the mansion- everyone! And now I am banned and la bambina is a prisoner- and Luca is the cause of all of this!” He huffed, furious, and he smacked a hand against the wall. “As if I would do something to hurt the princess- the nerve!”
“Debito…” Pace said nervously, letting out a little chuckle. “You know how fired up Luca and Papa get about the princess… she’s the family jewel. I don’t blame Papa for being worried. Luca didn’t help.”
“He accused me- slandered me in my own casino!” Debito blurted, teeth clenched.
“Luca was upset…” Pace said tenderly. “For the first time in seventeen years, the princess turns away from him for someone else? Jealousy isn’t stopped by time. We know how much Luca cares about her.” And he could see it in Debito too -in everyone. “We all care about the princess… Papa will calm down, you’ll see.”
Simmering, Debito didn’t think he could agree with him, but he doubted force would help him here. He wanted to smack him, smack him for being so rational when he was still steamed up over such a betrayal, but Debito was riding that fine line of patience.
“Besides, the princess knows the truth. She knows you wouldn’t have done anything improper, otherwise why would she have been so comfortable?” Pace offered, hoping to cheer him up. “Debito, I bet Luca is so jealous she went to such an ‘awful adult’ instead of him.” And he had to give his shoulder a friendly nudge. “The trust of the princess is a fair prize, isn’t it?”
Debito had to pause, taking a few slow breaths, but his single golden eye regarded Pace critically for a moment before he let his hand leave the stone.
“You really think that?” He questioned cautiously, his face stony as he seemed to set his irritation aside little by little.
“I do,” Pace enforced, smiling for his friend now as he watched Debito peek out from all that frustration. “I really do. The princess isn’t open, not as much as me, but she has a good heart and she knows people. She’s upset, just like you. She argued with Papa and Mama about you being refused entry into the mansion, and I’ve heard from the girls that she’s not happy with Luca.” Pace was happy to give anyone hope, especially someone he was so close too, and he was glad to see Debito drinking it in. “The girls say they’re hardly speaking- the princess is very upset.”
~ La storia della Arcana Famiglia~
“Milady, how was your breakfast?” Luca asked, smiling politely as he came to collect her dishes for her. She’d very much insisted on taking her breakfast away from the kitchen or table, something he’d been hesitant to accept, but that she’d politely had Nova relay the message had been cutting. Ever since her return, she had been quite content to let her attendants or fellow Sword members do her talking for her, and she was always carefully schooling her bright eyes down at her work or up at the wide window.
A few attempts to slip away from her work had been met with countering, some enough to scare her back on its own and some still requiring her to be collected, but Felicità was not about to be contained.
Mondo and Sumire’s daughter was nothing if not determined.
“Fel said it was bland.” Nova said, happy to chime up as she glanced his way and his eyes met hers. The Cups leader had been reluctant to bend to her whims, but he was surprisingly steadfast in his stationing his desk alongside hers. They had been both quite firm that it was no cause for rumor, though some did spread that perhaps the princess had chosen a husband of her own, and Nova seemed to be humoring her in this endeavor.
He was very comfortable giving Luca her opinions and needs, when he was around, and LIbertà had avidly filled in where he could not. He had been itching to see her smiling face again after so long hiding in the casino’s employ, and he was happier still to slight Luca in order to bring her some joy.
She’d spoken to them first, eager to give council to her closest friends and put their worries to rest. She was furious, rightly so, and they’d agreed to be her voice.
“Thank you, Nova,” Luca said, the tight line through his words a harsh tip that he didn’t approve, but the two shared a small glance and Nova was beginning to think his childhood intended was not as innocent as she seemed. She was quite content to scorn her caretaker, especially in light of the egregious differences between her tales of the few days in Debito’s care versus the business Luca had stirred up. “but Milady is quite capable of speaking for herself.”
A bare hand came up, surprisingly casual, and Nova didn’t need to look up. “That will be all, thank you.”
He waited for the door to close and for Felicità to set her pen down before he glanced at the red haired woman to his right.
“Fel, do you really think you can keep this up indefinitely?” He questioned quietly, thoughtful, and she needed a moment to fold her hands together. She had left her glove behind, the thick hawking one she usually wore to let Fukulota land on her arm so regularly, and she had a little bit of bandage peeking from her sleeve instead. “Keeping grudges with Luca… could you not discuss this?”
“He lied. He lied to Mama and Papa to get Debito in trouble.” She said, frowning at her folded hands before she turned a little to look at the samurai head on. “I want to fix things for Debito before I forgive Luca, and Luca… he’s pretending he didn’t do anything wrong. We’re supposed to be a family, and families don’t do that to one another.”
Nova knew just from the look on her face that she expected him to understand, the soft pang he always felt when he considered his parents’ betrayal, and he waited.
“Debito really was kind to me, no matter what everyone says and thinks.” Felicità insisted, “He was kind to me, and he helped me, and he wasn’t like he acts. I don’t regret asking him to let me stay. I wish I could thank him with more besides all this.”
“You could,” Nova offered hesitantly, seeing her earnest desire as she spoke about it. His Fel never left a good deed unrepaid, and he could see the slump of her shoulders as she blamed herself for the other man’s misfortune. “with Fukulota. You used her to arrange a meeting with Dante, and yes, she’s not the perfect carrier pigeon, but why not try?” He offered. “It would be some way to relay your gratitude.”
He almost thought he’d been ignored when she said nothing, sitting there, but he saw the surprise there and her cheeks dimpled a little as a smile broke across her lips brightly. It was a sunrise on a seemingly eternal night, the first decent smile since LIbertà had had her in tears of laughter, and he was glad he’d spoken up.
“Fukulota, of course!” She gasped, clapping her hands over her mouth for a moment, and she went to say more before she paused and concern rose on her features again. With a glance at the door, she hurried to get up and switch seats, sitting next to him on the settee where he’d made his makeshift desk, and she beamed as she spoke hurriedly in his ear. He flushed for a moment at the proximity, flustered, but Nova wasn’t going to recoil from her idea now as she hurried to share it with him.
Nodding softly, supposing he could help gather her components for her on his patrols, Nova was surprised to find her so eager. There would need to be a few trips, perhaps, to ensure the small owl wasn’t intercepted or interrupted, but it could be done. The idea of him delivering it was shot down immediately -too impersonal and filtered- and he was happy to help smooth her overexcited plan with reason until she was ready to act.
“So it’s settled then?” She said hopefully, cheeks a little flushed now. “You’ll do it?”
“Yes,” He was even redder, mortified, but he supposed he could do it for her. “just be sure to tell me the night before and I’ll be sure it’s done.”
With a soft squeal of delight, Felicità had to embrace her childhood friend tightly. She had thought the plan would be too brazen for him, too much to ask, but he hadn’t disappointed her and she was thrilled to know she would be able to repay Debito for his kindness.
~ La storia della Arcana Famiglia ~
It was later that night, as she was putting away her things and getting ready to retire, that Felicità heard Luca’s knock and plainly ignored the sound. She had all her paperwork organized, filed properly as Nova had been wont to help her do, and she had to admit that some of his techniques had helped.
She heard him come in, waiting patiently for him to announce himself and try to engage her, but she was surprised by silence.
Turning finally, looking over one shoulder at him as she finished tensely straightening her desk, Felicità was surprised to see such a dismal expression on his face. He looked miserable, lacking that over-exaggerated air to his despair, and for a moment her heartstrings twanged in his favour. She had grown up with him, known his guiding hands and his gentle eyes, and she knew he was more than upset by her silence, but-
“Milady, is this really necessary?” He questioned, shoulders tight. “I understand that the restriction keeping you inside the mansion grounds must be stifling, but please understand it is in your best interest. Papa means well. He wants to be sure you are kept safe.”
Frown strengthening in disapproval, finding it in herself to resist the sad look in his soft eyes, Felicità was glad to stride forward and march around him. He still refused to acknowledge it, acknowledge that he’d been so out of line, and she saw him shift as she passed. He knew it, knew what she was waiting for, and Felicità’s insides swayed irritably as she left her office and her caretaker in her wake.
“Don’t come to my office again. I can get my own things. I’m sure there’s lots of work to do that doesn’t involve me.” She said brisquely. “I don’t want any more help.”
Chapter 9: Numero 8, Forza
When morning rose on Regalo, the mansion staff were surprised to find the princess eager to see Nova off for his morning rounds. As much as the princess enjoyed being up for her duties, she was up earlier today to see the young man off. Cups had their morning patrols, making sure the city was safe as the sun rose over the island, and surprisingly, Felicità was there to see him off.
It didn’t take much to have word travel around the mansion, seeing their princess up so early, and Luca was stunned to hear it. Milady, up early to see Nova off on his morning rounds? When had she ever been up so soon?
‘Has my sweet princess chosen a groom after all?’ He thought, his heart rate picking up in shock as he considered the idea and got a little emotional. ‘She’s becoming a woman at last, enamored with her intended.’ How could he not be both sad and thrilled for her and her new-found emotions? ‘Do Mama and Papa know about this?’ He wondered hurriedly, wiping his eyes as excitement came in to replace the sadness. ‘Perhaps they’ve kept it so secret…’ He had to smile, encouraged, and he was thrilled to hurry into the dining room to find her for her breakfast.
“Ne, princess, what should we make?”
Luca was surprised to hear Libertà’s voice coming from the kitchens with her, pulling up short as he came into the warm room, but there they were. Felicità was dressed for her day a little early, hair simply pulled behind her for now to keep it out of her way, and she and Libertà were labouring over a mixing bowl and cutting board excitedly.
“An omelette would be yummy, but I was thinking ricotta and spinach tarts!” She claimed, smiling warmly at him as she let him flip through the pages hurriedly. “I got ricotta and spinach, and we can get some cute little tomatoes to add… it’ll be warm and filling before you have to start working. You said it was a busy day today.”
“I thought we were making it for you?” Libertà laughed incredulously.
“Well, I did, if you’re going to help me, you’re going to have some.” Felicità promised, “Here, can you get the eggs while I start chopping up these?”
Stunned, Luca had to pull back and cover his mouth. The princess, cooking on her own? With Libertà to help her? It was no surprise to find her increasing her closeness with Nova, the young man who Papa and Mama had encouraged to marry her as a child, but to see her cozying up to Libertà as well…
Luca flushed, shocked, and he touched one cheek as he hurried to turn back.
‘Milady has been so upset lately… I’m glad she’s feeling better.’ He told himself, trying to relax now as he felt the heat fill his face. ‘She must have missed both boys. They’re very close friends…’ But after the Duello, it was certainly apparent how much they felt for her. ‘She could not be so naive. Milady is an intelligent young woman.’ But she had unknowingly put herself at risk, staying with Debito.
“Ah, what if milady doesn’t realize how it could seem?” He fretted, unable to help it leaving his lips as shock caught him off guard. “After such a time, everything would seem innocent compared to such lewd flirtations!” Eyes watering, dabbing at them, he had to sigh: “The time away from home must have been worse than I thought.”
If Luca had stayed, he might have gotten a better idea, but fortunately for the two teenagers her caregiver had already been swept away by his own emotions.
“Princess, why are we making so many?” Libertà had to ask it, seeing the sheer amount of tart shell she was preparing and fretting how long it would take. A lot of eggs, and ingredients, and she was cutting those little tomatoes for the tops of the tarts so carefully. “We can’t eat all these…”
“No, I know,” She said, smiling, and she had to look a little bashful as she glanced at his concerned expression. “it’s alright, you don’t have to wait for them all to bake. Can I tell you a secret?” She knew she already could, even before he nodded avidly, and she paused her careful cutting. “Some of them are for us, but I wanted to make something to apologize to Debito. I know he’s not allowed at the mansion with everyone else, even though he’s Family, and I feel bad he was punished because of me. Nova said he’d help me have Fukulota deliver them.”
Libertà’s eyes widened, surprised, but he was thrilled to hear it. His princess was more and more mischievous than he expected, and he laughed brightly as he patted her on the back.
“That’s a great idea!” Libertà exclaimed, grinning. “If you need anything, I can help too! I’m glad you’re feeling better now!”
“I’m captain of Sword, I can’t spend forever moping.” Felicità told him sweetly. “Eventually Mama and Papa will lift both punishments, and everything will be just like it was. Until then, I need to be patient, even if it’s frustrating. It’s not just me that got punished.” And she was happy to carefully start filling the tarts. “Will you help me fill these too before you go? I want to make sure you can take some before you have to go help Dante.” She insisted, and the blond just grinned as he took a bowl of the mix to help her.
They made a bit of a mess, not all of the tarts filled quite right, but Felicità was thrilled to offer Libertà all of the ones she didn’t like best. She had set aside a dozen or so for her gift, happy to load him with snacks, and she laughed as he stuffed one more into his mouth and hurried off. It only took a little while longer to add the tomato slices, in the shapes of five-petaled flowers, before she was done, and Felicità nervously packed them up before she set them away in the warmer.
Tomorrow morning, they’d be perfect and she could use the handkerchief Nova was getting for her to wrap them up for the owl to take. Luckily, from the bottom of the mansion road to the Isis wasn’t too far for her, because she didn’t want to tucker the poor bird out.
~ La storia della Arcana Duello ~
“Oi! Pace!” The brunette didn’t think he’d ever heard Debito call him into the casino, not when it was still running, but he was kindly surprised to see his childhood friend coming out to meet him on the road.
“Debito?” He hurried to turn to meet him, promising his men that he’d catch up to him as he met the coins leader at the side. “What is it? Aren’t you supposed to be in the casino now?”
“Who cares.” Grunted the golden-eyed gunslinger. “I have an idea and I need someone else. I wanna talk to that shitty old alchemist… something he did upset Bambina that night and she never said what.” And perhaps he’d get a glimpse of her to wink and send a warm look her way. “If I go myself, they won’t let me in, but if we’ve got business with Jolly.” They’d allow it, barely.
“You want to talk to Jolly?” Pace looked surprised, stunned, and his insides shifted nervously at the idea. “To see the princess, right?”
Debito paused, considering a lie, but he doubted he’d get it past Pace. “Yeah.”
“Papa won’t be happy if he catches you where you shouldn’t be. Even coming to see Jolly might not work…” Pace warned, not refusing him just yet as the idea began to take better form. “unless you have someone to escort you like me.” He was embarrassed to catch on halfway through, and he huffed. “Are you sure this is a good idea?”
“It’s an idea.” Debito smirked. “Who said it needed to be a good idea?”
Pace, looking conflicted, had to glance at the casino doors before he looked up at the mansion and he supposed it would work. If they ran into the princess, it would be by accident, and they had actual business. It might not be a perfect reason, but it might be reason enough to appease Mama and Papa of his presence.
“Okay, okay,” Pace sighed, “but you owe me lunch. If Papa finds out it was on purpose, we’re both in trouble…” But he was glad to see Debito trying so hard. Usually all he was good at was hiding, playing with the casino women to avoid the seriousness of it, but he was surprisingly fixated now. “I’m glad to see you’re so serious. The poor princess has been taking it out on Luca since she came home.”
“Oh?” Debito had to smirk, hands finding his pockets, and he was more than pleased. “Good… that snake is as bad as the old man sometimes.” But they had more important things to do. “Come on, speaking of… I want to see what I can see before Luca puts his nose in it again.”
Smug, laughing a little as Debito urged him on like they were still young, Pace was glad to turn with him and head back up towards the main house. It was a long walk, but it felt so short considering how eager Debito seemed to reach the main house. He walked quickly, urging his friend on until Pace was happy to tease him about his breakneck, desperate pace, and Debito happily chewed him out in return. He wanted to get there; he wasn’t that eager!
However, as they crossed the property line into the main courtyard, Pace had to bite the inside of his cheek to keep quiet. Debito was antsy, practically bursting with excitement as he marched Pace through the yard, and the other Tarocco was just thrilled to see such energy from him. They made their way, Pace quick to explain that Debito was here to see Jolly to anyone who frowned, and he led him the most leisurely route he could until they marched down towards Jolly’s laboratory.
“Now, Debito… poke in, don’t make too much trouble, and we go.” Pace instructed, trying to temper Debito’s energy with his advice. “We don’t want to make more trouble than you already have.”
“Pace, I want to know what he said.” Debito insisted, “Something scared her out, and if she was that upset, Jolly made a mistake.” He didn’t look happy about it, not one bit, and he was glad to saunter toward the door, tugging it open firmly. “He shouldn’t have messed with-”
Blinking suddenly, attention pulling from Pace to fix on the red-haired girl sitting in Jolly’s lab, Debito was surprised to see Felicità sitting there so calmly. Elmo was with her, the boy, and the book in their hands was testament enough to what they’d been doing. How like the princess to make the most of her time, spending it with the young homunculus…
“Ah, Bambina, as beautiful as ever,” He purred, letting the hand that had strayed to his gun drift away just as easily. “and the boy from the Picolino. What are you two reading?” Debito couldn’t help but humor the little boy, sitting down on his other side to leave the child between them, but he leaned back on one hand and happily let it touch hers. It was good to see she wasn’t moping, as much as she had been rumored to be upset, and her eyes widened in surprise as she refused to interrupt the child’s chattering. Debito was listening, nodding, but the princess had his attention and she hurried to agree with Elmo, looking away with red cheeks as she realized they’d been staring at one another.
“Big sis, I’m going to go put the book back.” Elmo told her, looking up at them as he primly got off the settee and stood to face them. “You two look like you should be talking, and I want to be helpful like I help Jolly. I’ll be back in a little while. Thank you for reading with me.”
“Of course.” Felicità said, shocked to hear he had caught on, and she watched Pace step aside to let him go before he closed the door politely. She didn’t need to hesitate, her surprise swinging back around, and her eyes met Debito’s instantly. “Debito, how did you get inside? I thought-”
“I had business with the old man.” Debito said, snorting a little as he glanced around at the lab. “But I guess he’s not here and you’re a much prettier partner. How are you?” He was curious, having grown accustomed to her, and he was glad to see her doing well. Hair pulled back so was a new style, much like her mother’s, and he was unsurprised to see it suit her. Her pigtails were sweet, but as she aged, this new style suited the woman she was blossoming into.
“Frustrated.” She huffed immediately, happy to share her feelings with him. They were both punished, after all, and she made balls with her hands. “I won the Duello and Papa knows I’m strong enough to take care of myself. I’m the leader of Sword. I don’t see why we’re being punished! Me, I could understand, but you were only helping me, I talked you into it.” And innocently enough, she didn’t mind taking his hand for once to squeeze it earnestly. “I’m going to talk to him. You won’t be banned much longer, don’t worry.” She told him.
“Bambina, you’re worried about me?” Debito chuckled, squeezing her fingers, and pulled her hand close enough to kiss her knuckles gently. “Cute. Here I thought you’d be expecting to demand your freedom, but you’d rather be hero for me instead. How sweet, I’ll have to reward you for being so kind.” And he would have gone in for the kiss he’d been planning, but the door came open again and he knew it was Luca just by the sharp breath alone.
“Milady, I’ve been looking for you.” He said sternly, “Debito, I believe being in the mansion violates Papa’s orders.”
“I had business with the old man, but I found a princess here instead.” Debito said, not letting go of her hand now as he turned to look at Luca where he stood. He was practically vibrating in the doorway -how sweet- and Debito smirked before he made his move smoothly. One kiss, just to her rosy cheek, and he let her hand go with a parting squeeze. “Arrivederci, Bambina, many thanks.” He told her, rising to his feet. “Pace, you’d better bring me back to town before Luca wants to get rough.”
He’d gotten to see Felicità again, even just briefly, and seeing her so red and silent was a reward all it’s own as he let Pace hold one shoulder and ‘escort him to town’. She hadn’t kicked, or fussed, and Debito knew Luca would take it all too personally. He was certainly proud of that bright eyed little gasp, and how her hand hurried to cover her cheek like his lips could make a mark for everyone to see.
Oh, he wasn’t going to be able to stay away now.
Chapter 10: Numero 9, L'Eremita
“Debito, you know Luca isn’t patient all the time.” Pace warned tensely, feeling his insides wriggle a little. “Temperance is his card, not his rule… he’s only so patient.” He could see the plans forming in Debito’s head, just by the set of his shoulders, and he had to admit he was a little worried. He would be the first one Luca questioned, especially after today, and he didn’t know how much of a straight face he could keep. “What if you push him too far?”
“Then that stupid stuffed shirt will figure it out that he needs to back off. It’s his fault in the first place that I have to sneak my way in.” Debito said, snorting at Pace’s hesitance as he hurried back down the hill and happily admired the view of the mansion from the bottom gate. “Bambina will be waiting, I bet.” And he could only rely on his smug intuition, on the look in her eye when he’d kissed her and made both their pulses jump, and he was thrilled to know Luca had damn well seen her not even raise a hand against it.
If that wouldn’t steam him up, what would?
~ La storia della Arcana Famiglia ~
“Milady, what was Debito doing here? Alone? With you?” Luca demanded, looking distraught as Pace and Debito made a quick exit. It was unsurprising, especially considering that they could be in serious trouble, but Luca was more troubled to find her calm. Flushed, even, and she was sitting there waiting for it like she had expected it all; had it been some kind of plan, to have her steal away to Jolly’s laboratory of all places to meet with him.
She was just sitting there, letting them do as they pleased suddenly as Luca felt his insides squirm, and his cheeks coloured as she glanced at the door before she turned to look at him. Ah, his precious charge, how could she have fallen so far?
“He came to see Jolly.” She offered, feeling a little flustered herself but trying to keep herself casual as she sat there. “Elmo went to get another book from the library for us to read and I was waiting.” She could hardly believe she had to explain herself, flustered, and she clenched her hands into fists as she tried to make herself relax. What was it any business of his?
“Did he tell you that? Him, to see-” Luca had to choke on a snort, derisive, and his expression twisted as he tried to sort out his issues with Debito. It wasn’t polite but- disrespectful, loose, corrupt- “Milady, your father’s decisions aren’t something you should just be ignoring. This isn’t right for the next Donna to be doing! What example does it set for the rest of the family?”
“Not to make harsh judgments before you’ve considered all the people involved.” Felicità had a feeling she would regret being so harsh with him in return, but her insides were still squirming and she could hardly believe she hadn’t swatted Debito away for his embarrassing teasing. “Not to turn your back on the family or to look away from what really matters to shun someone undeserving.”
And this time it was Luca to feel that irritation rise, clogging his throat as his hands made tight knots at his sides.
Rising calmly from her seat, Felicità dusted off her skirt politely as she made him sweat and she was the first to take her leave. Approaching, still feeling flushed after Debito’s bold display, she tried to be as casual as she could be facing her caretaker and she stepped around him.
“Milady-” She was stunned to feel him touch her, catch her arm in the gentle circle of his hand. When she looked at him, she had to admit that such a serious expression on his face made her insides squeeze through a small straw. He looked so determined, so stern, and her mouth tightened uncertainly for a moment before she forced herself to relax. This was Luca, after all, not Jolly or some stranger. ”Felicità…” She could hardly remember a time he’d been so inclined to say her name, least of all now.
“Luca, let go of my arm.” She said quietly, flustered all over again, and she stood her ground until his grip relaxed completely.
“Felicità, please consider how reckless these actions have become.” You know Debito and I are good friends, but this is not wise.” Luca said sternly, feeling his guts bunch up into knots. “He is… brash. He’s brash and charismatic, and yes, handsome, but roguish charm should not override your good sense. What would your father say?” Felicità was momentarily affronted by the question, stunned, but she wasn’t completely silent as his questions prompted a squeeze to one of her hands.
“Excuse me?’ She blurted, straightening up.
“What would you father say about this dalliance with Debito?” He questioned more pointedly, face flushed. “It is sweet, while it lasts, but-“
“Why” – Felicità shoved herself back and scowled at him a little.- “does everyone think I’m involved with Debito?” She squinted, frustrated, and her hands found her hips firmly. “He was kind to me, and he let me stay a while even if I was a burden, and you all just threw that kindness in his face!” She threw up her hands in dismay. “He’s always flirted with me, as he does with every other woman on the island! All this- he’s not acting any differently than usual and everyone is losing their minds over something that didn’t happen!”
“You were gone a week,” Luca told her, “so what else were we to think?”
“That I know what’s best for me, and that I’m not completely senseless.” She told him firmly, letting the shouting subside now as she scolded Luca in return. “When Papa can no longer lead our family, I will be Donna. I fought everyone for it, I worked so hard, and I will take care of everyone… all of Regalo, because I have the capacity for so much kindness.” She was happy to finally have a proper argument with him, even if it had her emotions skyrocketing, and she pulled away from him a little more. “Punishing Debito is not kindness- not at all. I’m embarrassed to think this is how we treat our family.”
Throwing open the door of Jolly’s study resolutely, storming out into the hall as she hurried to leave Luca’s presence, Felicità shook her head at his foolishness. She wasn’t looking where she was going, not at all, but a firm hand on her arm caught her before she walked right into him.
“Princess, what a surprise.” Jolly hummed, letting Felicità go as his sudden appearance made her nearly jump out of her skin. “Were you looking for something? You don’t come to my study for any small matter…”
“No, thank you,” Felicità said stiffly, eyes focused on his tie. “I was just leaving. Luca is her, though. He may have business to attend to. I was just going to find Elmo. He had some other books he wanted to read together.” She didn’t want to look at him, not with that casual smugness and undercurrent of laughter hinted in his tone, and she tried her best to keep her expression passive. She didn’t dare give Jolly an inch today.
“He’ll enjoy that.” He told her, smiling slightly as she hurried around him and back up the corridor. “It’s very kind of you, princess… I appreciate your time with him. Time well spent is a comfort and a kindness.”
“Kindness is the only gift everyone should receive.” She quipped back, feeling her insides push through a straw as she met his stare. She could remember his expression, the dark look on his face as she’d chosen to speak to him that night, and he didn’t look any less malicious now. He looked amused, like a fat cat with a struggling rodent prize, and her frown lightened with confusion before she hurried up the stone steps and out of the basement.
Elmo could read in her office, eat some of the spinach tarts she had leftover, and she would gladly open her windows to let the sun and warm breeze ward off Jolly’s chill.
~ La storia della Arcana Famiglia ~
“I just need to find something she likes. Something small, easy to hide… Luca gets wind of this and Papa will let me go- family or not.” Debito muttered, looking back and forth at the market stalls lining the main road. There was so much to choose from, so many little things he could give her, but he needed the perfect present to delight her with.
“The princess would like anything, anything pretty, shiny… she’s a girl, under it all.” Pace said, regarding Debito and his choices with interest for a moment before he gave it deeper thought. “But I suppose she’s special. Our princess isn’t like every other girl.”
“Oh, I know that.” Debito muttered, pausing over a barrette thoughtfully for a moment, twisting it to see how it sparkled in the sun. “She’s a special signora who needs a special gift. She shouldn’t be trapped.” And he was thrilled to see something catch his eye- not a fine gem but a pretty length of ribbon as green as he’d ever seen. It was gorgeous, not patterned and gaudy like some of the others,, and the delicate hints of leaves patterned on its length complimented it well. The soft material was one thing, but he knew that telltale green anywhere and he was happy to call over the merchant. “I need a yard of this.” He told him certainly, watching as he measured out what little was left and gave him it all.
Not much, unfortunately, but more than enough.
“Ribbon, huh?” Pace asked, and Debito tensed a little before he glanced at Pace.
“Yeah, Bambina is a princess, but she doesn’t need everything fancy. This is perfect. Pretty, but subtle about it…” And, rubbing it between his fingers, he could feel the soft leaves leap out at his touch. He kept it wound back around the spool, not wanting to ruin it just yet, and he tucked it into the inner pocket of his jacket. “She can wrap it in her hair, use it to mark a book place, and I’ll tie it around some cards.” Debito elaborated. “A little present for a pretty girl, among other things.” He already had his plans cooking, ready to be set in motion; all he needed was a little alone time with Fukulota when it wouldn’t raise any suspicions.
Pace was surprised, watching his childhood friend wander back and forth, and he smiled a little as he picked up his pace to match Debito. “This isn’t just you flirting, is it?” He questioned lightly, smiling as even Debito frowned. “You’re being so nice… this isn’t like the girls in the casino or the plaza… or anywhere else on the island.”
“Why would it be?” Debito scoffed. “Bambina isn’t like anyone else on this island..”
“And you love her for it, don’t you?” Pace teased. Debito had to stop, scowling as he ducked his head a little, and the derisive snort was telling enough for Pace. He’d known Debito far too long to miss how he acted, how much more this meant, and he beamed as he watched him bundle everything into his pockets. “You do, don’t you?”
“Pace, you talk too much.” Debito complained, standing up straight as denial had him avoiding Pace’s eye. “Go stuff your face, you’re bothering me. I’m busy.”
The scolding he received from his darker companion had Pace laughing, happy to take advantage of his seeming bashfulness as they headed back towards the casino. He didn’t think he could remember Debito being so evasive about a girl, least of all someone so special, and it warmed his belly to think of Debito and Felicità being good to one another.
Debito needed someone to turn to, someone to take care of him and understand, and maybe someone to help smooth out his rough edges. Felicità needed someone with kindness, someone she could learn and grow from, and someone to pour her overflowing tenderness to without having to stifle her spark. She was reckless sometimes when she was worried about others, and Debito was just wary enough to keep her out of harm’s way.
“I won’t tell anyone.” He called after him as he finally managed to catch up. Trotting behind him at a safer distance, Pace was thrilled to compare them in his heart. “Your secret’s safe with me if you really mean well for the princess.”
“’If’? I-“ Debito spun at the question, at the insinuation he could intend anything untoward, but he saw the grin on Pace’s face. It confused him only for a moment as his irritation faded, but then his embarrassment seeped in and he huffed irritably at him. “You… stop that. Don’t look at me like that.” He told Pace seriously, pointing a finger at him instead of a pistol.
Pace held his hands up, relaxing, and he let his shoulder sink a little as he apologized. “I’m sorry, Debito, I shouldn’t tease you…” He admitted honestly, smiling. “It’s good to see you so interested… the Duello really put us all in our place.” He just hoped Debito wouldn’t lose interest, or that Felicità wouldn’t be too put off after all this mess. “You’d take good care of the princess if she let you.”
Debito, snorting, dropped his accusing point casually and straightened his lapels. “Of course I would. Bambina needs someone to take care of her sometimes too. Even la Donna needs someone.”
Pace, amused, just hummed in agreement and assured Debito he’d find Fukulota.
~ La storia della Arcana Famiglia ~
Felicità was just bursting with excitement by the time Nova came back from his rounds, tense and eager to pack up all her presents. She’d been trying to keep Fukulota indoors all day, not wanting the owl to be lost when she wanted to send her tarts away in the morning, but the bird of prey was restless. She wanted to fly, to hunt, and Felicità had finally let her out to fly before dinner
Stealing away, seeing Nova glance to her every now and again, the red haired girl was thrilled to round the corner and see Nova standing there.
“Nova! Did you-” “Yes,” He told her, happy to slip an envelope out of his jacket and offer it to her. “I got what you asked me to, Fel, and I don’t think anyone knows.” He was surprised to see her eyes light up, hurrying to open the packet to inspect its contents, but her sweet smile was rewarding. She was always friendly, but that deep, sincere expression always took him off guard. She’d smiled like that when they’d woken up, alive, and she did it now as she hugged him tightly.
“Thank you, Nova,” She hummed, happy to hold him. “I’ll let you know when I’m done.” She pulled back, looking hopeful, and she had to let him go now as she hurried back towards her rooms to back everything up. The small packet had what she needed, if not everything, and she was just beaming as she admired the silky kerchief she dumped out onto her bed.
She had to hurry to wrap everything up, stacking the tarts carefully back into the little wooden bento box Nova had given her, and she tied it with a bit of ribbon hurriedly before she tied the familiarly purple handkerchief around it all. A perfect knot, just like Nova had taught her, and now all she needed was her trusty bird to deliver them. She tried to wait up, expecting Fukulota to come pecking at her window, but she drifted off before she returned and Felicità woke in the early morning, shocked to find a gift for her instead.
Chapter 11: Numero 10, Ruota della Fortuna
Felicità needed a moment to collect herself as she woke up fully, hand brushing the token and her diligent pet. Rubbing one eye tiredly, she picked up the tiny token and her lips curved upwards as Fukulotà’s disappearance started to make more sense. She flipped it over in her hand, admiring the tiny gold pyramid stamped into the middle, and she recognized one of the Isis’ poker chips without difficulty.
As she turned it over again to admire it, she realized belatedly that there were letters scrawled on the edge of it, one in each stripe, and she squinted faintly to read the outer edge.
12 stripes, 12 letters; she tried her best to ignore her flushed cheeks as she read it out loud.
“’Ciao Bambina,’” As her soft smile grew, delighted, she had to toss it up and catch it with a giddy little laugh. It felt good to hear from him after spending a few days in one another’s company. She had missed his humor, missed the candid comfortable atmosphere of Debito’s routine, and she was surprised to miss all his teasing.
He had become so much a part of her life, even if it was just a stop by the casino, and staying under his roof had gotten her better acquainted with the hermit Tarrocco. That gregarious personality of his never emerged before his morning coffee, as much as everyone would doubt it, and their mornings were usual soft and quiet. She could wake up, take her time, and wander down to find him sipping on a cup of something steamy in the half-light.
Glancing up at her window, she supposed it was a bit too early for her maids to be waiting, but she was glad to see her room vacant. She needed to get dressed and see Nova off, make sure he had the tarts and knew the story, and Felicità pushed herself up out of bed. Fingers moving tentatively over the token, grinning as one letter came off easily, she decided to play a little game with him now.
Replacing an ‘a’ with an ‘o’ was easy enough to do.
Hurrying out of her bedroom, having squeezed into her clothes for the day, Felicità was just tying up her second pigtail as she rushed out he door, passing her maids. They were surprised to see her up so early, expecting to wake her, but she apologized over one shoulder as she made a beeline for the kitchen. She had kept them in the warmer overnight, not wanting them to get cool and ruin the gift, and she laughed breathlessly as she ran into her co-conspirator in the hall.
“Ah, Nova, good morning,” She laughed, “I was just coming to get them for you. Wait just a moment.” She was a little flustered now that it came down to the wire, to have to trust Nova with her gift and hope that Debito liked them, but she tried to compose herself. Everything was packaged, the tarts wrapped in paper, and she took a deep breath before she tucked a sprig of lavender into the knot and presented Nova with his mission.
“Thank you for this, Nova,” She said sincerely, eyes bright.
“I know this means a lot.” Nova countered, taking it from her carefully. “You’re right about it being unfair… Debito is family.” He was surprised to get a hug from his childhood fiance, face going red as she held him for a moment. “I’ll… tell Debito you day ‘hello’. You should get to work before Luca comes.” Nova set his free hand on her back bashfully, patting, and she let him go with a soft giggle into his shoulder.
“Have a good day, Nova.” She said, encouraging as she hurried along to her office, and Nova was just glad to see her spirits lifting. He didn’t think that a simple handkerchief and some tarts would clear her conscience so much, but if he’d known, he would have done so much sooner. He needed a moment to relax, to clear off the pink dusting his cheeks before he left on patrol, but he didn’t manage to completely recover before he gave it up entirely.
It was more and more apparent that Nova and the princess were getting close since her return, especially for those who saw the two of them every day. Luca, in his exile from Felicità’s side, had seen them together almost too often, and it had him worrying his hands. Nova had been her fiance before, so why would he not be now? It was a prospect he’d been prepared for during the Duello, but it hadn’t been an idea he relished. His sweet princess finally getting married? What would become of all their time together, all those precious memories?
He had tried to put it from his mind, but this time with the other Tarrocco was changing her.
Perhaps bringing her to the mansion was a risky decision.
Nova, slipping out of the mansion calmly, was glad to keep moving. A few soldiers in his squadron looked oddly at the lunchbox he was carrying, but he was quick to dissuade them. He had their loyalty, and a secret could stay a secret for now. He was just glad to walk into the Isis that afternoon and find Debito in a seemingly good mood.
“Oh hey, chibi, come for a hand?” He hummed, eye slyly considering the wrapped lunch in his hand. “Did Mama pack you some treats?” He knew how to toe the line with everyone, even if he didn’t see them often, but even Nova could surprise him.
“No, Fel made it.” He told him, sounding equal parts sheepish and proud. “It’s for you.” Setting it down on his counter as Debito’s eyebrows rose in surprise, Nova turned away casually to make his exit. “She says thank you for all you did, and she apologizes for Papa. She’s still determined to change his mind.”
Smirking, tugging at the kerchief to admire the carefully wrapped tarts within, Debito had to trade his smirk for a real smile. She was sweet when she wanted to be, when she set her hard edge demeanor aside, and he would have to commend her on her carefully sliced tomatoes when he got the chance. He tucked it out of sight calmly, eager to dig in, and he watched Nova walk smugly.
“And she asked you to play messenger… against Papa’s wishes.” Debito remarked. “Give her my thanks. Seems us two are the grateful sort.”
Getting a rather confused look from the samurai, something that only made Debito more content, the casino called and he had to wave him goodbye. He had women to entertain, things to do, and Debito was quite happy to submerge himself in it all; the perfume, the music, the dance of flirtatious words and just enough aloof behavior to have them continue to play.
It was a dance he knew well, of give and take, and he was rewarded by getting something else today.
Looking up as wings fluttered in, surprising a few players, Debito raised an arm for the owl as she came fluttering in and he was surprised how long it had taken. Nova had likely left the main house with the tarts this morning, which meant she had to have been up early, but it was already after noon.
Taking the chip from her before he escorted the bird out the front doors again, Debito was keen to glance at the chip. Had she seen it, or simply sent the bird back to return his trinket?
His eye widened at the small change, nearly losing hope she had caught on to his sneaky ways, but the sight of her correction had his pulse quickening.
“’Bambino’, hm?” He had to admit it had been a long time since anyone had called him that, tugging his lips up into a smile, and he tapped the small chip against his lips once before he deposited it into his pocket and he returned to his duties. He’d be sending more tonight, when Pace coaxed Fukulotà out with treats, and he was thrilled to send her more. “Looks like my Bambina has a bit of play in her after all.”
He sent her another token that night, a little earlier to hope she’d get it before bed, and he teased her for her words. It was hard to fit much on the side of a casino chip, but he didn’t dare send a letter that Luca could intercept. At least the chip was junk, easily discarded or hidden, and something a pretty bird would be attracted to.
He sent them to her that night, and in the morning, and they kept their correspondence. She snuck a few more treats out with Nova, happy to hear that she had improved from her other attempts, and she was thrilled to find Nova and Libertà willing to play accomplice to the secret gifts.
She had been surprised the first time she received a trinket of her own, the cards and ribbon too gorgeous, and she had nearly given herself away when Fukulotà flew into her office to drop them on her desk. She had to shove it into her desk drawer quickly to avoid being caught with it, and she despaired until she had a free moment alone to admire the careful bow tied in the ribbon. A real note was scrawled on one Joker card, advising her that the ribbon would look pretty in her hair, and she was keen to have it done the next day.
She’d been happy to make him something yummy the next morning, puttering in the early hours as the sudden idea came over her. She and the boys had to deal with more than their fair share of embarrassing commentary, as much as Felicità implored them not to give it all away, and she was becoming just as mortified about it as they were.
No, she was not domesticating.
No, she was not choosing a husband.
Why on Earth would she favour one of her friends over another?
She would have been much happier to be out on her rounds, out doing something constructive, but there were only so many family members willing to spar with her in a week and she could only sneak so many messages to Debito. Cooking and sending Nova and Libertà away with full bellies at least meant that she could keep improving, keep herself busy and out of Luca’s way.
She still hadn’t forgiven him, not quite yet, and by the way he avoided her eye, she assumed he had a bone to pick with her as well.
She just wished she hadn’t been so easily frightened; when she lay in bed, rolling their conversation chip around her fingers, she could only think of how silly she was to let Jolly terrorize her like he had. Sure, he may not have meant it, but she should have been more mature.
“Hope to see you soon. Papa is much calmer.” She read, staring at the last bit of space. “I…” She had a lot to fill the space with, but she decided against it for now and sent Fukulotà out to take it away.
Rolling, staring out her window as she lay there in bed, she sighed and she tried to get comfortable. She missed it, missed being able to chat with him and leave the house, and if she was locked up here much longer she knew she was going to go crazy. She should be out defending Regalo, helping her fellow Tarrocco, not cooped up in here.
“I miss laughing with you.” She said, testing it on her lips, but the sentiment made her cheeks burn and she squeezed her eyes shut. Ridiculous, really, and unbecoming of the next Donna. She put it out of her mind and she was glad to find sleep came when called, setting her worries aside until tomorrow.
Chapter 12: Numero 11, La Giustizia
For GhostSoup, and the fanfic I never thought I'd come back to.
The next day, Felicità woke to an invitation in her maids’ hands. She expected it from her father, who had been reserved since she had returned, but to see her mother’s delicate handwriting on the letter was a surprise. She and her mother were close… and the invitation letter made her nervous. Felicità let her maid return her hair to its pigtails, though she was eager to use sections of green ribbon to offset her uniform, and she gladly let them retreat to fetch her breakfast. She was itching to read her mother’s note, find out why she was being so formal, and she tore open the little envelope as soon as the door closed.
Why don’t we have tea together, just us? There’s been a lot that has changed since we had time to ourselves. I’ll be sure to keep the boys busy so that we can talk openly.
I’ll be in the hedge garden at 3:00pm. Come see me.
She had to put it away sourly, frowning as her mother’s vague wording left her too much room for suspicion, but she couldn’t put the note out of her mind. She hurried to carry on with her day, spending more time with Libertà and Nova to try and quell her unease, but as the afternoon carried on and the time drew near, she couldn’t keep her mind to her own work. Even Fukulotà was still, resting in her perch with no new notes from Debito. The one person who she desperately wanted to hear from was silent, and yet everyone else seemed to need to bend her ear every time she turned a corner.
At long last, Felicità set her pen down and looked at the clock -2:58- with a final sigh. Her curiosity was getting the better of her, sitting there and chewing over her mother’s invitation without getting any answers, and she needed to talk to her now. If nothing else, she could try once again to explain that Debito didn’t deserve to be punished like this and that he should be allowed to come freely to the family home. She left her office stealthily, expecting more of her friends and family to accost her in the halls, but the closer she got, the more she relaxed. No one seemed to be around, or at least no one seemed to be seeking her out… she had to admit to herself that it was what she wanted, but it made the big empty house just seem bigger and emptier. She missed the bustle of town, the noise…
She hurried to try and push her longing from her mind as she stepped out into the courtyard, and she spotted her mother sitting in the shade immediately. Her mother smiled at the sight of her immediately, expecting her, and Felicità calmly took the seat next to her as the clock tower in town chimed for the 3rd time this afternoon.
“Right on time.” Sumire said with a knowing smile as Felicità made herself comfortable. “I didn’t know if you would come see me. I’ve heard you’re still ignoring Luca.”
“Luca did something unforgivable and he knows it.” Felicità admitted, folding her hands and trying her best not to let it ruffle her feathers. “So I won’t forgive him until he admits that what he did was wrong. It’s unfair.”
“Admirable.” Sumire’s smile didn’t fade at all, making Felicità’s forehead crumple, and she frowned at her mother’s taciturn tone. “I knew you had a kind heart, but I’m surprised to see you take such a serious stance on this. You will make an excellent head of the family when your papa retires.”
“Debito is family.” Felicità couldn’t help but put her palms on the table firmly, determined. “I don’t see how family helping family should be punishable like this. Mama, why would you let Papa-”
“Felicità,” -She couldn’t help but pause as her mother spoke, voice softer, and Felicità was stunned to realize how tense she was. “I understand. You don’t have to defend Debito to me. While Luca and your father have their doubts, I couldn’t see you letting your guard down around a truly unscrupulous man.” Pouring a cup of tea for both of them as her daughter’s shoulders sank in shock, Sumire continued, “If what Luca claims to have occurred had occurred, and I trust you would tell me now if it had, you wouldn't have such conviction. You’re wonderfully upfront, my dear, sometimes to a fault. I know you aren’t lying.”
“Then why did Papa punish Debito?” Felicità gasped, stunned as her mother defended her. “Why didn’t you say anything?”
“Your father is in charge of the family, Felicità. What he decides will be done, no matter what I can council him to balance the scales.” Sumire sighed, exhaling through her nose as she met her daughter’s stare. “You know how he is… and after the Duello, perhaps he is a bit more concerned about you.” She shifted, lips quirking pityingly, and she admitted: “It is hard for a parent to admit that their sweet little girl is becoming a woman all on her own. You’ve always been our treasure, the precious princess of this family… I think your father forgets that he too was once a ‘nefarious young punk too full of sp-’” “MAMA!” Felicità went red, her brain jumping ahead of her mother immediately, and Sumire changed the subject slightly. “What I meant is, it isn’t that he doesn’t trust you. This is certainly an overreaction. He’s just very concerned that, should you find yourself feeling more comfortable with Debito… things might change. You two did get very close very quickly.” And she raised her eyebrows at her daughter slightly, expectant. “What happened?”
Bashful, Felicità took a sip of her tea, eyes darting around the courtyard, but true to her mother’s word, the house seemed to have emptied. Staff weren’t bustling by, eager to greet them and offer assistance, and she hadn’t seen any of the other Tarrocco about since lunchtime. ‘So we can talk openly’, indeed.
“It wasn’t like that at all, mama. He wasn’t like that.” Felicità said first, trying to temper herself and avoid jumping into another rant about how unfair the punishment was. “When I bumped into him in the alleyway, I asked him to hide me because I didn’t want to see anyone. I was going to go to the cottage and sleep there, spend some time somewhere comforting, but Debito found me first. He offered me his hospitality, and he let me use his bed to rest. He even offered to send everyone away if I didn’t want to see them still, and he was there to keep an eye on them.” Just the memories made her stomach swirl, how Debito had banished her concerns after seeing them and coaxed her into sleeping away her fatigue and distress, and her lips tugged upwards out of the thoughtful frown from before. “I know it sounds awful, but afterwards, he stayed with me and made me lie down again until I wasn’t worried about how things would go. He said things would be better in the morning, and they were. He taught me to play cards, and I learned to make different recipes, and he helped me feel… lighter. I didn’t feel so chained down to what was bothering me. It didn’t seem like anything could bother me either. He didn’t do anything like Luca said, or really like the others tease him about doing. I never once felt like I was at risk, or like I was being taken advantage of. He’s…”
“Debito is a good man.” Sumire finished, smiling as Felicità looked up from her tea. “I knew it, but hearing you talk about him, my darling, tells it to me even more. Your father says you aren’t old enough to know how to recognize someone taking advantage, but I highly disagree. Do you think Debito was doing anything untoward? Can you think of anything?”
Felicità, eyes drifting up to the shade above them, frowned, but she tried to wrack her brains. “I… Well, I offered him the other half of the bed when he let me stay longer.” She admitted, hurrying to continue despite her mother’s silence. “but Libertà and Nova brought me plenty of clothes, and he never put his hands on me then either. I felt terrible making him sleep in the armchair in his own home, so…” She sipped her tea, ashamed, and tried to salvage the truth. “It was only fair.”
“Were you comfortable?” Sumire asked, seeing her red face and unable to help but prod her a little. “With Debito, of course, but I specifically mean to have someone in such close quarters? You’ve always been such an independent girl.” She knew she caught Felicità off guard by the way her eyes widened, and it only made her happier. “Did you sleep well?”
“...yes?” Felicità answered uncertainly, puzzled by the question. “I drifted off easily and it was very comfortable. Because the bed is so big, there was still room to be comfortable without being pressed together.” But that hadn’t stopped her from waking up comfortably sprawled through her side of the bed, blankets kicked aside. Debito was too warm, his body heat under the covers too much when he laid beside her and their backs just about touched. In winter, perhaps she would have been thankful for the body heat, but now- “Why?” She had a feeling her mother knew, knew what she was thinking, and she tried to enjoy her tea more. Perhaps enough hot tea could dissuade her from blushing and help her keep her composure.
“I was just wondering. It must be lonely sleeping by yourself again.” Sumire hummed around the rim of her cup, but Felicità wasn’t convinced. “I know when your father and I were courting, it was awful to-”
“Mama, we aren’t doing anything like that!!” Felicità blurted, mortified as she set her cup down.
“Aren’t you?” Sumire teased again, happy to wind her daughter up with this unexpected development. “What about those gifts?” She had noticed Fukulotà's more regimented comings and goings, noticed a few things in her claws, and she couldn’t have missed how much more cooking Felicità was up to lately. “You are your father’s daughter, my dear. Did you think you were sneaky?” She tittered and she just watched her daughter cover her face a little with embarrassment. “It’s sweet, really. And I haven’t told your father, don’t worry.”
“Please don’t…” Felicità sighed, “If he thinks I like Debito like that, he’ll-” “Don’t you?” Sumire wasn’t about to let her daughter out from under the lens just yet, seeing her recoil a little from the question as it made her uncomfortable, and she folded her hands demurely on her lap, tea aside. “My sweet Felicità… how do you feel about Debito?”
“He’s family and-” “No, darling,” Sumire corrected her gently, seeing confusion break up her embarrassment, and she set a hand over one of hers. “Debito is part of our family, but he isn’t family like you and I. You and I both know that your father would not have allowed you to marry someone unfitting. Debito is a man, and a man… you seem quite fond of.” She tried to be delicate where she could, eager to hear her daughter’s feelings. “You spoke with a great deal of tenderness when I asked you about what happened. I didn’t even ask about Debito himself, but he was your primary topic. You’ve admitted you were quite comfortable to sleep alongside him.”
“Nova, Libertà, and I have fallen asleep together before.” Felicità argued, though her stomach fluttered as she tried to think of a better defense. “We’re just friends, like we have been since before the Duello.”
“But do you feel the way about Debito that you do about the boys?” Sumire countered, brushing back a stray lock of her own hair. “And just because you were friends once does not mean you cannot become something more. Perhaps, in light of all this, it’s time to start really looking at the kind of man Debito is.”
Felicità frowned and tried to word a careful response, speaking slowly. “Mama… are you saying I should… that Debito and I should be courting?”
“Not like you think.” Sumire had to be honest, even though she knew she was giving her daughter too much to think about. “Felicità, I want you to find your happiness with whoever truly makes you happy, be it Debito, or Dante, or some mystery man. All I want to encourage you to do, as your mama who loves you very much, is to look at the bonds you’ve formed with others first… and if you might see something in them that makes you regard someone like Debito in a more romantic way, then I’m happy that you’re happy.”
“I thought you were upset, like papa.” Felicità admitted. “I know I neglected my serie and that is an unacceptable thing to do.”
“No need to apologize.” Sumire, rising, comforted her and she gave her daughter’s hands a fond squeeze. “We all do things rashly sometimes. Just… think about what I’ve said. Seeing how insistent you two are on finding a way past your father’s decision… I can’t say I’m not amused.” She winked, even as Felicità scoffed softly, and added: “Young love is always so entertaining. Try to be a bit less scheduled, dear.”
Leaving the courtyard, she left Felicità in a state and she knew it. The red-haired young woman was partially fuming and still struggling with her own embarrassment. Not only did she have everyone in the main house talking about whether she would choose Liberta or Nova, but now her mother was teasing her about Debito too?
There was nothing to tease! They’d slept together, and lived together, and he had banished her worries for the time being! There was nothing there, nothing romantic like her mother was hinting at!