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Death Is Not The End

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Digging up the dead with a shovel and a pick
It's a job, it's a job


In one pocket of the afterlife, a forest grows in view of far-off mountains.  Spirits once journeyed here to visit the lakeside resort, mend what life inflicted on them, or cast off the shades of their past selves and be reborn, but the resort closed a long time ago.  Three households remain and though it may be an isolated existence, they live comfortably enough.  There’s the monster complicating everything, of course, but even Dio can be worked around.

Robert bakes and cleans (there’s always someone tracking mud into the house despite his best efforts) and brews endless pots of tea.  Erina mends bodies and she mends the house, always battered by the vampire’s increasingly desperate attacks.  At night, the two of them dream of a kind man kept away from them across the sea.

Donatello keeps the monster imprisoned and hunts him down when he escapes.  Rykiel sits on the roof to whisper to passing skyfish and to track the movement of the stars.  Manami and Tetsuya wait for Reimi to come home, and in the meantime, they tend the orchards.

Josefumi hunts mushrooms in the forest and when he feels up to it, he ventures to the edges of the swamp where lost trinkets of the living end up.  When he doesn’t feel up to it, you’ll often find him at the lighthouse to wait for the Witch of the Westmoreland and to weep.  From his tears, the rokakaka grow.  Narancia’s been plotting ways he can sneak Kakyoin into the house without Leone noticing because they want to play GoldenEye together without the goth sitting between the two and killing the whole vibe they’ve got going.

Moody Blues learns more and more words every day, and she’s teaching herself how to modulate her voice clips into little nonsense songs.  She likes to play with Killer Queen and they roam the woods together when Leone won’t pay attention to her.  Over The Rainbow sometimes flies after them, but more often than not, it’s occupied with its work watching over the living.  The two younger stands explore far and wide.  Once, the yelling thing in the swamp made the river hard enough to walk across it and they made new friends that day!  Their squishy red friend and their little friends who stick to things and sing can’t cross the river, but Hell Broke Luce knows how to fly, so sometimes he flaps across the river and they rest in the shade of his wings.  Moody Blues wants to befriend the yelling thing if he ever comes close to the river again but Killer Queen thinks that maybe it would be funner to chase him with little tanks.  When they walked across the river that one time, they found a funny human who’d been sitting under a tree so long he grew moss and lichen.  He wouldn’t play with them, so they threw pinecones at his head until he made a scary sound and they ran off.  Silly human, you’re doing it all wrong!  Moody Blues knows a lot of things, especially about the sun, and she knows that a human is not supposed to have moss.  That’s for rocks!

It’s a nice enough existence.  Comfortable.  Donatello and Rykiel both agree that it’s probably nicer than what they deserve if you take into account the robberies, violence, attempted child murder, and participating in the apocalypse, but the afterlife operates in mysterious ways.  The woods and the lake are capricious, all too eager to lure someone to their doom, but if you know your way around their tricks, you can make a happy life for yourself in this forest of the dead.

So you wanna get out of the woods a bit and visit a real fuckin’ shithole, huh?

There’s a pile of refuse packed thirty miles high, maybe more, and the junkman picks through the rotting garbage for anything worth a damn and also people who aren’t worth a damn.  Yeah, officially, he’s a reverse gravedigger pulling wayward assholes out of the ground and sending them on their way, but here’s the thing: he doesn’t give a single, solitary fuck about these useless wastes of spirit except that digging up the last of them means his contract with Polpo’s up.  That is, until his manager makes up another bullshit excuse to extend his contract another few centuries like he has all the other times because Rubber Soul’s a obsequious fuck that thinks sucking up to the boss means he’s going to get a promotion.  Go fuck yourself, Soul.  You don’t even have a real name.

He digs up souls and he digs up trash.  Objects that the living have forever forgotten about and objects that the living have destroyed find their way into the afterlife.  Their trash winds up in all corners of this world if you know where to look, but it especially gathers in places like this.  When he’s not digging up souls, he’s sorting through the trash for anything interesting, anything of decent quality, anything with inherent power, though most of it is just junk and worthless to the people who matter.

The souls that wind up here for him to unearth are trash too, aren’t they?  Not a single, solitary treasure to be found in any of their hearts.  He attempted to kill an entire train’s worth of people just to kill some kids –he guesses he went a little off the rails at the very end- and even he didn’t wake up in this joint.  He just wound up here instead, which is maybe better, maybe worse. 

Funny how things work out, huh?  Your swan song’s betraying Passione in one last blaze of glory and you can’t even escape its grasp in death.  Life’s unfair and death’s a joke, so you may as well abandon your humanity, embrace the bullshit, and work your fingers to the bone sorting through the remains of the world.  Don’t worry about his hands, he wears gloves now.

It’s a joke, it’s a joke, it’s all a funny lark, living, dying, this.  Digging through the trash, digging up the dead, it’s a job, it’s a living.  It’s not much but it’s a living, and doesn’t he need all the living he can get these days?  He spent the last few years of his life a dead man walking, the very picture of deadly perfection, but after the job was done, the body cold, the mission briefed, the apprentice berated, he walked back to a shitty apartment in a shitty part of Napoli and stared at the walls until another job came in.

God, he put so much work into tricking the others into thinking he was anything but a walking corpse, and what was the payoff?  What was the point?  Wear all the fancy suits you like, dab cologne on your neck, tie your hair back so tight it pulls on your scalp with every little motion you make, spout off bullshit about what it means to be an assassin, but all that doesn’t change the fact that you stopped feeling anything except anger and irritation a long time ago, so you may as well trade in your Gucci for tatters and scraps, learn to tolerate the smell of rot and damp earth, let your hair –used to be blonde and so, so pretty before you stopped giving a fuck, and now it’s molded green and blue and stained rusty with blood and clay- hang limply around your face, and steal the shovel of some fucker with a bashed-in head so you can hit rock bottom and keep on digging.

So yeah, Lazzaro Prosciutto gave up all pretenses of being debonair around the fifth time his arm fell off while pulling some poor bastard out of the mud, so it’s all trash all the time now, baby, and don’t you ever forget it.

He’s so close now that he can see the trembling of the earth where this final soul rests uneasy so close to the surface, but fuck it, time for a smoke break.  Tobacco’s too precious a commodity to waste on himself.  If he digs up a cigarette stub with the lipstick still on it or, more rarely, a pack with most of the cigarettes still there, that’s getting turned into Rubber Soul to sell and line Polpo’s pockets.  Company rules.  Prosciutto’s always been such a dedicated rules-follower.

No, not tobacco.  Dried leaves wrapped in a scrap of paper, not much of a cigarette at all but he needs something to steady his hands, needs smoke in his lungs, so his poor substitutes will have to do.  Matches are another thing too good to waste on himself, so he lights his cigarette with flint and the steel of the knife he died with.  Prosciutto traded off most of his grave goods thousands of years ago, but he holds onto his knife and necklace.  Other trinkets join the gaudy medallion now: half of a pair of rusted scissors, several keys that don’t open anything and one that opens his shack, the little glass jar where he keeps his original right eye, a magpie pinion that trembles before storms hit, a dowsing rod, an adder stone.  It’s best to keep your treasures close to yourself so no one can steal them while you’re unaware.  Prosciutto knows all about stealing treasures from the unaware.

The cigarette’s smoked, the smoke’s fading, the soul of the damned is still twitching in his grave, and Prosciutto grunts as he grabs his shovel and drags his carcass back up, discarding the cigarette and grinding it into the filth on the ground with his heel.  The train twisted his legs in directions they were never meant to bend, utterly wrecked his body.  After he awoke in the afterlife and heaved himself out of a shallow grave, the first thing he did was spit blood and curse Buccellati’s name, but the second thing he did was make a deal with the first bastard he saw offering deals and promises so he didn’t have to crawl his way through the blood and filth.  Rotten deal that turned out to be.  He sold himself into other contracts to return what he was cheated out of, and thousands of years later, here he is, a shambling husk of a man held together with staples and shoestrings, barely recognizable as something that used to be human, trapped in a bullshit contract to a waste of a man who managed to weasel himself into being king of the trash heap.  Prosciutto's paid off all of his other debt, and only this bastard's contract remains.  Well, that's not entirely true.  There's that other debt, the final thing left over from his life that he owes, and Prosciutto plans on paying that in full.

All he has to do is dig up this last one and get the hell out of town before his manager notices he’s missing, and he’s out of Polpo’s grasp at last.

Stop moving.  Just stay still.

His work voice emanates from the very pit of his soul without him having to even open his mouths, a neat little trick he picked up sometime after he bargained away the last of his humanity.  The man buried in the muck doesn’t listen to a single word he says, his struggling increasing.  Prosciutto bristles at this –why does no one ever listen to a word he says?- and digs into the ground.

You don’t get it, do you?  You need to conserve your energy.  I’m digging you up, but after this, you’re on your own.

He’s already dug up a nice pile of muck and trash, so it’s only a few shovelfuls more before his efforts reveal his target.  He presses his shovel against his neck, not hard enough to break his skin but hard enough to remind him of what he could do if he starts any shit. 

You were called Dmitri Rassolnik once.  You attended one semester at the university in Napoli in the study abroad program as a student of economics when you fell into the grip of one Dr. Cosimo Cioccolata.  You were smart once.  I’ve looked at your records; good grades.  Now look at you.  He did a number on you, didn’t he?  You were his dog.

Secco snarls and spits mud at him.  It solidifies and hits him square in one of his many acid-green eyes.  Ugh, suit stands, always inconvenient, always complicating his job.  They’re tied more intrinsically to the soul, so of course the muddy little bastard retains his powers now that he’s fully made the transition from life to death after being dug out of the earth.  That’s going to make him very valuable to some people here, you know.  There are all manner of bastards who collect interesting souls, even fucked up like ones like him.  Especially fucked up ones like him.  Not for the first time, Prosciutto wishes he still had his stand so he could put this asshole in his place, but he cannibalized Grateful Dead for parts eons ago.  Dead's still out there somewhere, he thinks, but it sure as hell won't do anything nice for him after he stole eyes from it.

Secco, Secco, Secco, I’m gonna be cross with you if you keep testing my patience.  Don’t.  You only respond to Secco now, right?  He trained you good.  Cut it out.  I’m doing you a favor.  Just shut up, stop squirming, and listen to me.

“What the fuck are you, you…you eyeballed freak?!  Get that shovel outta my face and fuck off, I’ll fuck you up.”

I’m helping you, can’t you see that?  Or are you too stupid, hm?  Listen up, I’m the only friendly face you’re going to see for miles around and that’s only going to last so long, so you can either cut the bullshit, listen to me, and get out of this trash heap mostly intact, or you keep it up, I throw you to the wolves, and you wind up devoured by beasts nastier than me or worse.  I’m not emotionally invested in your well being, so it’s your choice if you want my help or not.

The dead gangster shoots him a deadly look but he stops thrashing and spits out the mouthful of mud he was going to shoot at him.  Does a disgusting little creature like him even count as a member of the gang?  Can you rightfully call someone's pet a gangster?

Good.  Glad to see you have some sense.  Who I am, what I am, that’s not important.  You’re not important either, so don’t get any ideas.  You didn’t make it out of Roma alive, but I guess you probably figured that out sometime over the years, right?  You’re not that stupid.  Welcome to the trash heap.  Heaven?  Certainly not.  Hell?  Maybe.  The point is, I don’t want to see your face here and you don’t want to linger.  If you stick around, you’re going to have a worse existence than a few thousand years trapped beneath the ground.  I bet you woke up and the first thing you tried to do was tunnel out of there, right?  But you couldn’t.  Not fun, was it?  Feeling trapped.  Feeling powerless.  Made you feel like the doctor did. Made you feel like what you two did to Sorbet and Gelato.  Do you remember them?  I remember them.

Prosciutto leans in close, so close he can smell the stench of teeth rotting from too much sugar.  Disgusting little creature.  Disgusting, disgusting.

You’re lucky I’m such a nice and forgiving man.  I could break every bone in your body and leave you there, but I won’t.  I’m a gentleman, after all.

That and Rubber Soul will extend his contract another century or so if he damages any souls.  If he breaks him, then what use is he to Polpo then, hm?

But you’ve got your strength back now.  That’s going to serve you well.  Listen up because I’m not going to repeat this.  Now that you’re out of the ground, get out of here and don’t look back.  You’ll want to avoid beasts like me but people aren’t much better.  There’s a town to the north.  Don’t go there.  Its inhabitants can and will eat you.  What you want to do is head south instead.  You have your power again, so tunnel through the ground to make sure no one sees you.  Pop up every now and again to check the sky, but make sure no one sees you.  When the sky’s green instead of red, that’s when you know you’ve escaped this place.  If anyone sees you, anyone at all, you’re going to wind up more fucked up than yours truly.  Do you understand?  Hide in the ground, escape, speak to no one until you’re safe.

“I got you.  Lemme go, okay?  Get that shovel off of me.”

I’m not done talking.  I don’t like being interrupted.  I don’t care what you do with yourself once you’re out of here.  I hope something eats you, personally, but that’s not up to me to decide.  But I bet you want revenge, right?  Revenge for everything Cioccolata put you through.  He’s in the green place.  I’ve seen him.  Sick fuck’s turning into a slime mold but he still has his brains.  Maybe you should pay him a visit, see how he’s been.  I’m going to let you go now.  Remember what I said.

Prosciutto takes the blade of the shovel away from Secco’s neck and pulls him out of the hole in the ground.

First thing though, I demand my obol.  I went through all this work digging you out of the ground when I could have left you there to rot, so I deserve payment.  You must have died with something in your pockets, right?  Empty them.  Give up what’s due to me, mudpuppy.

“Can’t do.  I died naked under my suit,” Secco says with a terrible grin, " so later, Mr. Monster.”

That disgusting creature wriggles from his grasp and dives into the ground, tunneling away.  Prosciutto howls and thrusts his shovel into the ground, but he’s too slow to catch Secco.  At least the little bastard’s tunneling in the right direction.  Most of what Prosciutto just fed him is total bullshit, but he does need him to avoid people and head to the south.  Don’t you believe for a second it’s for any altruistic reason.  Prosciutto doesn’t know if Cioccolata really is down south, doesn’t give a fuck if Secco takes revenge on the dead doctor or if he teams up with him once more if he ever finds him.  All Prosciutto cares about is that the man gets out of the trash heap without anyone discovering him, because if his manager catches wind that he’s dug up his last soul, he’s going to pull him into a one-on-one meeting.  Nothing good ever comes from meeting with your manager. Soul won't be at work right now but for something like this, he'll drive himself back to the dig site.

No, no, Prosciutto’s free now.  Free from Polpo and his contacts and his deals, free from his stupid fucking manager that's got it out for him.  All he has to do is finish his shift, pretend Secco’s still in the ground, head down to the bar to beg for a ride, and then he and Pesci are escaping this place before his manager realizes he’s fulfilled the terms of his contract.  There’s not a damn thing Rubber Soul and Polpo can do to him then, but if they realize he’s dug up that final soul, they’re going to do everything in their power to extend his contract and trap him here further, or, worse, they’re going to enforce the no-compete clause.

He spends the remainder of his shift sorting through the trash pile he accumulated when extracting Secco.  Most of it is just junk, completely useless to anyone, but he does find a few useful items.  They get onto his case about pocketing items from the dig site, but no one will mind much if he takes a few dirty, frayed shoestrings.  After all, he’s gotta keep his arm on somehow, right?  He’s no good to Polpo’s operations if he's falling apart again.  He digs up several small gears, a few pieces for a board game, a knife without a handle, a handle without a knife, and most of a pot.  They’re not much to look at, but he can turn those in, get a pittance for his efforts.

He digs up items with power inside too: a necklace with a single, shining pearl; a record for a band he doesn’t recognize; a packet full of desiccated seeds; a ladybug brooch.  Oh, it’s a lucky haul indeed!  How fortunate.  Sometimes he goes weeks without digging up a single object without the required sentimental value to give it magic.

And what to do with these, hm?  Obviously, he’s going to smuggle one or more of these out; anything else is absurd.  Sentimentality is the currency of the afterlife, after all.  That, and the barter system.  That, and souls.  He’s been smuggling out artifacts for centuries now to pay for his eventual escape out of this hellhole, sometimes going years between being able to take something for his own.  He has to be careful about this, after all, because it wouldn’t do to be discovered.

The record’s too difficult to get out of here undetected, so he’s turning that one in.  He could make a killing from the seeds, but he can’t get the entire packet out undetected and they’re too easy to lose if he takes them out of the packet.  The brooch is nice but too difficult to get down without choking.  The necklace, then.  Prosciutto’s been working alone for hours now, understaffed as they are, but even still, he casts a wary glance around to make sure no one’s nearby that might see what he’s doing, and then he swallows the entire necklace.  Pesci can fish it out later.  Unlike him, Pesci still retains his ability: in fact, he wields it better now, is able to do things with it he was never able to do while alive.  Turns out that Prosciutto and his verbal barbs were only holding the kid back from his true potential, and isn't it funny how things work out like that?  Once he’s done, he carefully fills in Secco’s grave with trash so that no one can tell it had ever been excavated at all.

His shift’s over at last.  Rubber Soul’s not in right now –leaves early on Fridays, you see, a luxury he doesn’t extend to those he manages- so he turns in what he’s dug up to the assistant manager.  Jack’s less thorough than Soul and in a hurry to get home, so he doesn’t bother to even search Prosciutto’s pockets.  Inwardly, he fumes.  If he knew he wouldn’t be searched, he’d have taken the seeds with him too.

“You dig up any souls today?”

“No,” Prosciutto says, this time in his own voice, “not today.  He’s stuck under a great deal of trash.  Next week, perhaps.”

“Better make haste on that.  Wouldn’t want the boss to think you’re slacking.”

“Of course not, sir.”

Prosciutto gave up on his appearance ages ago.  What good did his pressed suits and neat hair ever do for him when he was alive?  Nothing.  He worried over picking out the right cut of shirt, he tied his hair back so tight it started to cause damage, he clung so hard to his image because the only thing he had left in the word was his image, but he still died an empty man crushed by a train.  He lets the dirt cake onto his skin now, lets the muck stain his rags, hardly thinks it matters what a lowly junkman looks like, but the thing is, he’s on a mission tonight, an important one, so he can try to be the man he used to be one last time.  Prosciutto heads to the company showers, lets the water –cold as ice- wash away the worst of the filth, even shampoos his hair for a change and combs out the tangles with his fingers.  He lets it hang around his face and if it weren’t for the mold that still stubbornly clings, maybe it’d be pretty.  The tight buns belong to a different Prosciutto, one who didn’t run off the rails so thoroughly.  He normally wears whatever he pulls out of the trash that’s too ruined to turn into his manager, but again, he’s on a mission, so he dresses himself in his single nice outfit.  He earned the black and white suit in one of his many bargains –it reminds him of a man he once knew, so how could he let it go by?- but he stole the blood red shirt from one of the souls he dug up ages ago.  He keeps the necklace on.  Prosciutto never lets the thing leave his neck if he can help it.

“You don’t look like shit,” one of his coworkers says as he heads out, “so what’s the deal there, huh?”

“If you must know, I have a date.”

There is a town to the north; he didn’t lie about that.  The company town’s an ugly, dusty place, but it could definitely be worse.  Scraggly mint grows by the roadside and he picks a bunch on his way to the bar.  He crunches it between his teeth as he walks, rubs a little of it against his neck like cologne.

O’Malley’s is the only joint in town to get a halfway decent drink, so he heads straight there and hopes his stupid manager isn’t there.  She’ll be there.  She always is on a Friday night.  He heads inside the dimly lit bar, and there she is, the lovely lady in question.  Well, honestly, there’s hardly a lovely thing about her and she sure as hell isn’t a lady, but it’s the thought that counts, right?  He orders a glass of the house red for himself –bitter, nasty stuff, but it beats drinking nothing- and something absurdly blue to be sent to her table.  He even pays his bar tab for the first time in ages, which sets him back a lot, but it’s important he leaves this place without debt.

“Miuccia, amore, cara, cara,” Prosciutto purrs as he saunters over with his wine, “imagine seeing a nice girl like you in a place like this.  Care for company tonight, dolcezza?  You look positively radiant.  Too lovely for words.  Delicious.”

“Oh, Prosciutto.  It’s you.  Been staring at my ass again, huh?  Whatever you’re trying to sweet talk out of me, you won’t get.  Thanks for the drink though, loser.”

“Cara, cara, you know I’d never be so crude.”

She sounds completely unimpressed, par the course for her, but she gestures for him to sit next to her and he does, though not before downing a good third of his wine in one gulp.

“Look at that, you actually took a shower,” she continues, running one hand through his hair.  He sighs and leans into her touch, and she snickers at that.  Miu Miu and Prosciutto have a complicated relationship. She was a prison guard, he was a hitman, she died in a horrific car crash during what may very well be the apocalypse, he died trying to commit mass murder, now they’re stuck in hell together or something like it.  They drink together and sometimes pretend they're not both terrible people who no one misses much, awful people who fucked their own afterlives up.

“So what do you want this time, Prosciutto?”

“Bella, can a man not long for the company of a beautiful woman such as yourself without ulterior motives in mind?  You wound me.  I’m wounded, Miuccia.”

He presses kisses into her wrist, murmurs endearments in Italian and the little bit of French he picked up from Gelato.  God, if only Gelato could see him now.  He'd take one look at him and laugh for days.  Fucker.  He always liked Sorbet better.

“Now, Prosciutto,” she says, removing her hand from his hair.  He makes a grumpy little noise at that, but then she pulls him close enough that he can rest his head against her shoulder.

“Sweet little Prosciutto.  We both know you only sweet talk when you want something.”

“Oh, fine,” he says, “I need a ride to the bus stop.  Now, preferably.  Tonight, definitely.  Won’t you indulge me, my dear?  For old times’ sake?”

“Oh, you’re going to ask me to drive you somewhere right after you buy me a drink?  You want me to drunk drive, huh?  That’s illegal, pretty boy.”

Not like they get drunk, inhuman as the two of them are.  And it’s not as if there are many laws here as long as they don’t do anything that cuts into Polpo’s profits.

“You think I’m pretty?  I’m touched, cara, really.  May I borrow your car then?”

“We both know that if I let you borrow anything, I’m never getting it back.  So no, caro, you’re not getting my car and that’s final.  Where are you going, anyway?  You’re out of vacation days and there’s nothing around to see.”

“Miu Miu, I’m only saying this because I trust you.  Trust you within reason, anyway,” Prosciutto says, and then whispers, “I need to get out of here and quick.  I dug up the last body.  I’m out of my contract.  I’m taking Pesci and fleeing town before those bastards find a reason to extend it.”

“Lazzaro,” she hisses, “are you out of your mind?  If he finds out I gave you a ride out of town, then I’m never getting out of here.”

“Miuccia, please.  If I can just get out of here, I can go.  I’m so tired.

Does she expect him to beg?  Once proud Prosciutto, now reduced to a broken husk of a man –or monster- trying to flirt a ride out of a pig.  If only La Squadra could see what he’s been reduced to.

“Hey, I didn’t say I wouldn’t help you.  I’m just not giving you a ride.”

She ruffles his hair.  A patch of mold dislodges and drifts down to the table, and he brushes it aside before she notices and makes fun of him.

“But,” Miu Miu continues, “I know someone who can give you a ride, and I don't care about his happiness, so if Polpo punishes him, that’s no skin off my back.  And best of all, he’s woefully human still.  He should be in shortly.  He always is on a Friday.  Get him drunk, flirt with him, make a contract, and his horse is yours.  Dumbass has bad taste, so you’re right up his alley.”

Prosciutto doesn’t bother concealing his sneer.

Him?  Ugh, are you sure you can’t give me a ride?  He’s so…him.  Miuccia, have mercy on me, won’t you?  This plan makes me look so easy.”

“You are and we both know it.  Come on, work your magic, and you’ll get out of here with no problems.  Best of luck to you, asshole.  Stay sleazy.”

His mark enters O’Malley’s an hour later, a pale fellow with a mangled face.  Prosciutto grits his teeth, downs the last of the wine even though it’s not going to get him drunk, and gets to work.

“Magenta Magenta, amore, caro, caro,” Prosciutto purrs as he saunters over with more wine, “just the face I wanted to see.  Care for company tonight, tesoro?  You look so strong.  Too handsome for words.  Wonderful.  Would you allow me the honor of buying you a drink?”

One drink in, Magenta’s bragging about working for the president, which seems absolutely fake, especially since that's no American president he's ever heard of.  Then again, who even knows with Americans?  Prosciutto simpers and nods and tells him how brave he must be, to tell him more

Two drinks in, Magenta’s letting him try on his hat.  The man has shitty taste, all things considered, but Prosciutto can’t complain too much.  It’s a nice hat.  He decides at once he’s keeping it.

Three drinks in, Magenta’s trying to get him on the dance floor.  Prosciutto cringes on the inside but complies.  He’s danced with worse partners, sure, but he’s also danced with people who didn’t step on his feet every ten steps or so.

Four drinks in, Magenta’s commenting on how lovely his eyes are.  They’re not really dancing at this point so much as swaying.  Miu Miu smirks at him from the other side of the bar.

Five drinks in, Magenta’s barely on his feet, so Prosciutto drags him off to sit down at a table in a shady corner so the man doesn’t fall on him and listens to him ramble on about his death.  Something about a river, something about slowly aging in the water, some bullshit he doesn't care about.  Prosciutto gets the distinct impression that the pig is making fun of him.

Six drinks later, Prosciutto bats his eyelashes and gets Magenta Magenta to sign a contract in blood promising his horse in exchange for a kiss.  It’s not even a very good kiss, for the record, just a quick peck on the cheek, but it means he’s fulfilled his terms of the contract, so Magenta’s magically obligated to give him what he’s due.  Prosciutto never rode horseback while alive, but it’s something he’s done on a few occasions since dying.  He rides hard and he rides fast back to the little shack he shares with Pesci.

Magenta’s hat is perched at a jaunty angle on his head.  Goddamn, now he understands why the Victorians went crazy over top hats.  He’s feelin’ like a million right now.  The inside of the shack isn’t much to look at but he calls it home or, at least, the place he passes out.  Pesci keeps it in good order because unlike him, Pesci’s a competent human being who doesn’t bargain away his very soul to the first creature offering deals.  Unlike him, Pesci’s still human.

His former apprentice is sitting on the couch looking none too pleased.  The zippers that transverse his body glitter in the small amount of light that the fish tank casts as the thing that used to be Melone drifts by, undulating slowly.  Pesci’s still a little twisted around the neck, but they zipped him back together, so in comparison to him, Pesci’s doing fantastic.  The kid doesn’t work for Polpo and really has no obligation to stay here with him, but maybe he feels sorry for the man he once looked up to.  If Prosciutto still possessed any shame, he'd be embarrassed.

“You’re late, fra,” he says, “and you didn’t call.  Again.  You can’t keep doing this.”

“Sorry, Pesci,” Prosciutto replies and you know what, he really is, “that wasn’t admirable of me.  You worry and rightfully so.  Rightfully so.”

“Just…please stop doing this.  You…fra, is that a horse outside?”

“Yes, I may have acquired one. I didn’t steal it if you're worried about that.  I'm a man of honor.  So here’s the thing, Pesci.  I have to leave town.  Now.”

“Fratello, what did you do?”

“Pesci, Pesci, nothing bad, nothing bad at all.  I fulfilled the terms of my contract and that's a good thing.  I’m free, Pesci, free at last.  That’s why I need to leave town before the boss realizes that inconvenient fact or else he’ll find a way to cheat me out of it.  You know how it is.  Also, the horse’s owner is going to be a pain to deal with if I stick around long enough for him to sober up and realize what an excellent deal I’ve made for myself.  You don’t have to follow, Pesci.  You owe nothing to me and you’re free to make your own decisions.  I’m leaving.”

“I’ll get the emergency bag, fra,” Pesci says with a sigh, “and Melone’s travel tank, which I hope can fit on that horse.  I’ll go with you.  You can’t take care of yourself.”

“You’re a good man, Pesci.  I’m proud of you.  Oh, one more thing, if you don’t mind.  I stole something from the dig site to pay for one last debt I owe.  I need you to use Beach Boy to fish it out of me.”

“Fra, you’re a mess.”

The Prosciutto of old would fight Pesci on that matter, insist that he’s the one that’s a mess, call him a mammone, berate his worth as an assassin, but this Prosciutto’s not so much as gone off the rails as he is a full-fledged train wreck, so hey, kid’s not wrong.  Pesci retrieves the necklace with a minimum amount of fuss, and, after grabbing the essentials, the three of them –monster, man, and whatever the hell Melone is now- ride out of town as quickly as possible to the bus stop to go anywhere but here.


Bloody moon rising with a plague and a flood
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