It was winter in Luca's heart.

He had spent the night in a cell at the police station. His mud soaked clothes had become heavier and colder with every minute. And he was sure he would never forget the cracking of Raniero's skull.

Alessandro had been taken away separately and was being interrogated by Vito who could add two and two together.

Luca shared his prison-cell with Giano, Tino and Rosso. All three looked as miserable as Luca himself and his brother and friends had suffered several cuts to their faces and hands. Rosso's knuckles were torn and he had smeared blood across his cheek as he tried to wipe away the blood dripping from his nose. Giano's blond hair was a muddy-brown as Luca assumed his own to be. Tino held his elbow and grimaced in pain when he moved it. All four were pale like an icy sunrise in winter and shivered from adrenaline withdrawal. "He's dead, isn't he", Rosso asked soundless. "I heard the cracking."

"Sandro must have hit his temple", Giano said muffled. He held Luca's hands, bridging the gap between the wooden bed to the wooden bed standing opposite on the side walls of the cell. Luca stared at him as if Giano would know the answer to what was going to happen. Would Sandro be sentenced for manslaughter? Or would he be allowed extenuating circumstances because it was self-defence? But what if a clever attorney turned the truth completely around accusing Alessandro and his gang of appearing at the battle field with the clear intention of wanting to kill?

After an endless time the door to the room was pushed open. "Please come out", a voice said and Luca was relieved to see Vittorio and his colleague Carlo Lanfranco. "After I've taken your statement to protocol you all can go home. Your father's here to pick you up", he added, looking at Luca and Giano.

"What about Dante and Marcello?" Giano asked.

"They can go as well. You will all be charged with causing public offence, brawling. . Some of you will have to answer to charges of drug abuse, kidnapping and unlawful detention." Vito locked his eyes with Luca's.

"And Alessandro?" he asked breathlessly.

"I hope he knows a good lawyer", Vito said.

A stone fell into the pit of Luca's stomach. He felt Giano touching his arm. "Can I see him?"

"Not yet. His wounds are being taken care of."

Giano increased the pressure of his hand. "Someone has to look at my friend", he said, pointing at Tino. "His arm hurts badly."

Vito nodded and left Tino to one of his colleagues. "Please call me when you're ready to leave, yes?" Giano said and stroked his hand over Tino's hair. Then he followed Vito across the narrow hallway and entered the visitor's room. Niccolò stood near the door, his face unreadable to the brothers. Only his eyes expressed an all- consuming lack of understanding and something more: a father's hurt pride. Wordlessly he received his sons, Rosso trotted behind them.

Luca didn't dare to ask whether they were waiting for the brothers, but followed Niccolò's broad back which stomped off in front of him. The group reached the deserted Piazza Signoria. It was too early for the gathering of tourist groups. Niccolò stopped at the Neptune-fountain and calmly pulled his handkerchief from his pocket. He wet it and cleaned first Luca's face, then Giano's. As calm as before he took a tissue from Rosso's hand and cleaned away the traces of blood from his face. "No reason to scare Mamma", he said. Then he hesitated. "How about breakfast? You must all be hungry."

Since no one dared to object, they trotted behind Niccolò into the tavola selva. Niccolò loaded his tray with marmalade and honey, cornetti and tramezzini. The boys followed with a jug filled with steaming hot coffee and milk. They sat near the panoramic window. Nobody talked. Rosso hesitated in grabbing something to eat although he was so hungry he could have eaten an elephant.

"And now you will tell me what prompted decent boys like you to allow yourself to become involved in such a fight", Niccolò started. "I'd like to know so I know what to tell your mother. And you, Rosso? it's best you start."

"Alessandro received a SMS from Luca saying that he was being held at the Casino near the stadium", Giano chimed in, putting his hand upon Rossos forearm. "Marcello and Dante stopped him on the streets and kidnapped him. Alessandro gathered us to go rescue him."

Just at the moment he said that, he knew how ridiculous it must sound to his father. Niccolò's facial expression had clouded over to the utmost. "Kidnapped? On the open street? Your brothers? Why would they do something stupid like that?"

"Because they hate us, Pappa. We doesn't work as they want us to be and therefore..." Giano was unsure how to continue.

"Therefore I was to be taught a lesson", Luca mumbled, tugging at his cornetto, plucking the soft content and stuffing it into his mouth. Everybody was looking at him. Lucas' cheeks reddened. "Carmelia was there - or whatever her name was. She..." Luca started to stutter. "She... wanted." Lucas head flung up and he glared coolly at his father. "She was naked and she wanted to fuck me. That I should lose my virginity."

Niccolò gasped. Then he shook his head. Rosso burnt his tongue on the hot coffee. Giano's cheeks were as flushed as Lucas. "Madonna."

"Your brother's ideas are really strange." Niccolò said then, stirring sugar into his coffee.

"Well," Rosso said finally with quiet voice. "I guess that's the final attempt of a heterosexual to cure a homosexual, if you know what I mean, Signore Montori."

Niccolò cursed suppressed. "And then you sent Alessandro this, er, S-thing and he came to your rescue, right? And you were all with him."

"I didn't want to", Luca said. "But things got out of hand."

"And now the Gondi-boy is sitting in custody, being accused of manslaughter."

"It was self-defence!" Giano almost shouted. "We can all give evidence. Riefoli wanted to rape Luca. He was the one who raped Tristano and the callboy."

Niccolò said nothing, just looked from one to the other. "Nonetheless the boy is dead. A mother has lost her son. Alessandro will be punished."

There was silence at the table. Everyone looked down at his plate. What did this mean to the plans Sandro had? Luca thought. For his study. For Leoni and the baby. For the inheritance. And finally, for his relationship with Luca.

"Eat", Niccolò's voice reached his ear. He looked up and saw a well- meaning shimmer in his father's eyes. "He has always been a wild boy. He must do what he has to do." Niccolò hesitated. "Perhaps he did it for love."

Tears shot into Lucas eyes and he blinked.

Giano's mobile beeped. It was Tino telling him that he was out of prison with a chipped bone in his forearm. Fifteen minutes later he joined them at the table, wolfing away the tramezzini and emptying the coffee jug. "Thank goodness no one who knows us has seen us here considering the state we're in", he said, finally leaning back and wiping his mouth with the serviette.

"Right", Niccolò began, "and therefore we should all go home. I hope your mother won't have a fit", he said to Rosso but he waved him off. "Probably we're the headlines in all newspapers today anyway."

Luca shivered. Of course. The newspapers. "What will you do with Dante and Marcello, Pappa?" he asked when they left the self-service restaurant. Niccolò didn't answer.

* * * * *

Arrigo entrusted the family lawyer Stefano Fergola with the task of defending his nephew. Arrigo had been furious to no end when he heard about Alessandro's escapade as he called it. At least Fergola had managed to get Alessandro free on bail with the condition that he had to check in at the police station once a week and he wasn't allowed to leave the town. So he could forget about his studies in Pisa. He could forget it anyway since he was only waiting for the start of his trail which could last until the start of the next year.

Luca waited for him at the entrance of the remand prison on the outskirts of Florence. He watched Alessandro halting his steps, and breathing in deeply the clammy air. It was the end of October and frost hung in the air. Perhaps this winter would be one of the rare ones when Florence would be covered with snow and big ice floes would float down the river. Then he saw Luca and his face started to radiate. He hurried to him, let his bag fall and embraced Luca. "I've missed you terribly", he muttered into Luca's ear, then he picked up his bag and dragged Luca to the waiting taxi.

Although only five days had passsed since the unfortunate night, Alessandro looked as if he had spent three months in jail. He was unshaven - well, one could hardly call it down - but there were rings under his eyes too. He smelled like curd soap, damp bed sheets and sadness. Desperately he held Luca's hand until the taxi stopped in front of his Palazzo. Luca turned the heavy iron key and opened the oak wood door. "You locked it?" Alessandro asked, surprised.

"I always lock the door. It's not a good idea to leave your home open."

"So? You think it will be plundered because the noble Gondi has made a bloody mess of his life?"

"I've moved in with Tristano" Luca interrupted him. Alessandro, one foot already into the elevator, turned to him. "With Tris?"

"Someone had to look after him when he came home." Luca pushed Alessandro into the elevator and pressed the button.

"What about the policeman?"

"Tris is in a bad state, you've seen him. He doubts everything. He can't think of amorous things right now. I thought you'd understand."

Alessandro looked at him all the time. "Amorous things?" he repeated.

"Yeah, how would you feel if your arse had been ripped and torn brutally just because you're gay? Imagine, those straights have the cheek to stuff their cocks into the shit-holes they actually despise so much", Luca spat. "And they actually get a hard on! It should have a meaning to them."

Alessandro stood mute and looked at his boyfriend. He had never heard such obscene words from his mouth. Then he nodded in agreement. "It's not only about getting a hard on, Luca. It's about power." He paused. "Are you sleeping there then? Actually I had imagined my home-coming differently."

"Of course I'm here with you", Luca said impatiently and stepped out of the elevator.

"Is Tris happy about Riefoli's death?" Alessandro stood in the middle of his room and looked around as if he was seeing it for the first time.

Luca didn't answer.

"Fergola told me he will fight for extenuating circumstances", Alessandro said with quiet voice. "Youth custody. You will have to testify in court."

Luca's voice was conciliatory "At least you did it for me. I'll do everything I can." Suddenly weak he stepped forward and fell into Alessandro's arms. He kissed him as if it was the first time and then shoved him into the bathroom where they shared a luxurious bath together. Alessandro had a plaster covering a flesh wound on his side where Raniero's nails hat hurt him, but it didn't seem to bother him too much.

Luca leaned back into Alessandro's arms and absentminded made little heaps from the foam. He sensed more than he saw that his boyfriend shivered inwardly. It was as if the paltriness of the prison's cell was deeply carved into his soul. And Alessandro couldn't let it out.

"Marcello and Dante don't speak to me", Luca started haltingly. "They treat me like empty air. The morning after we had been released I heard Pappa shouting in the kitchen. I've never seen him so angry. I don't know if it's a good sign."

Alessandro stroked Luca's upper body, over his hips and his thighs as much as he could reach. "I did it for you", he whispered, ignoring Luca's words. "Something ticked out when I saw you under Riefoli's body. I saw his naked butt as he tried to enter you. I ... don't regret it."

Luca took one of Alessandro's hands and kissed it. Luca didn't argue that he would have been able to get himself out of the situation without Alessandro and the others coming to his aid. On the other hand - he wasn't sure what Riefoli had in store for him. And he had called for help with his SMS, so wasn't he responsible for all this? He sighed almost inaudible.

"When they sentence me... will you wait for me?"

Luca's heart had never hurt as much before. "I will", he said simply and meant what he said. Despite his constricted throat he turned cautiously without too much water slopping over the rim and kissed Alessandro deeply. "Let's get out of here before we mutate into frogs", Alessandro said after he had caught his breath again.


Luca felt every muscle in his tired body when he woke up to a dull morning. A smell of rotten leaves and exhaust fumes was seeping into the room. Thankfully he remembered that he didn't need to go to work for Coppo been very understanding and had given him time off. Sleepily he snuggled to Alessandro's body who embraced him without waking up.

They were woken up by the ringing of Alessandro's mobile. Blindly he grabbed for his jacket and answered it. It was Stefano Fergola who wanted to make an appointment. He informed him that the trial would start on the 3rd of November, which was in two weeks time. Astonished Luca raised his eyebrows. That early? That had to be a record for Italian law courts. Probably Arrigo and the mayor had their hands in it and forced the early start of the trial. It was embarrassing enough that the mayor's nephew had a charge of manslaughter hanging over him. Fergola had negotiated that the original impeachment - murder - had been dropped. Fergola convinced the public prosecutor that Alessandro and his gang hadn't gone to the Casino with the intention of killing anybody.

Luca lured him back to bed and warmed Alessandro's cold feet. "Two weeks, carino", Alessandro muttered. He had buried his head in the nape of Luca's neck, bathing in his scent. "What do you think I'll get for manslaughter? Five years?"

Luca was startled. Five years? Impossible. "You will certainly get less", he said firmly, but his voice betrayed his emotions.

"Four or five years, it doesn't make much difference." Alessandro stroked his palm over Luca's waist, hip and along his thigh. He would miss the silky feeling for sure. He would miss everything that was Luca's personality.

"A difference in what case?" Luca asked.

"I'll set you free. Who knows who you will meet in the meantime."

Luca rolled upon Alessandro's body. "That's not seriously meant, is it?"

"It is." Alessandro blinked away the pain in his eyes. "If you don't meet someone it will be great. If you do, I won't be mad at you."

Luca closed his eyes. At this very moment he was mad with Alessandro. But deep down he knew that Alessandro was only being fair with him.

* * * * *

Carolina was feeding the fish and watched them for a while. "It was nice of Luca to look after you", she said then. She turned to Tristano sitting upon his sofa with a soft cushion under his bottom. "But Alessandro's been released for the moment and he wants to be with him, he said. He promised to come every day though."

"He doesn't have to. I'll come and look after you." She sat beside him and sipped at her tea cup. Slipping off her shoes she pulled her legs up on the sofa and acted like she felt at home. Tristano had a queasy feeling in his stomach.

"This crap wouldn't have happened if you hadn't decided to be gay", she said calmly. Her face vanished almost behind the big cup as Tristano stared at her. "I didn't decide to be gay!" he exclaimed.

"Well, at first you weren't, right? You slept with me and you were happy."

Tristano inwardly rolled his eyes. Had he been happy? He couldn't exactly remember.

"But if you return to your normal lifestyle you won't ever have fears. You won't be raped again. You know how many morons there are outside." Caro put her hand upon Tristano's arm and stroked it up and down. "We had a good time, Tris. I still love you. We don't have to talk about Luca and all that. He doesn't want you anyway."

Tristano said nothing. He stared at his aquarium.

"And your affair with the callboys... what did you think that you would find there, eh?" Caro continued. "That nasty sex all the time. Wasn't it obnoxious to be with them while tons of other guys had used them previously?"

Tristano's head flung around. "It wasn't obnoxious being around them. They were sexy."

Caro raised her eyebrows. "Sexy?" she snarled as if she was talking about rats.

Tristano brought his face close to hers. "You would find them sexy. You just talk about the grapes that you can't reach."

Carolina cackled with laughter. Somehow it sounded false in Tristano's ears. The doorbell rang and Carolina jumped up to answer the door. When Tristano heard the all too familiar voice his heart started to pound. Vittorio appeared in the doorway, laden with two bags. Irritated he looked from Carolina to Tristano.

Tristano beamed. "Vito! How nice. I see you are going to cook?" Cautiously he rose from his sofa. Vito, instinctively realizing the situation, said, "Stay put. I'll take this in to the kitchen."

Carolina stared at Tristano. "Isn't that the carabiniero, The one who interrogated you?"

Tristano nodded, still beaming.

"Great, then I'm superfluous." She put on her anorak and scarf. "You still haven't had enough, have you, Tristano. It must feel extraordinarily good to have a truncheon up your arse." She opened the door and banged it closed behind her.

Tristano sighed loudly and Vito exited the kitchen. "Trouble?"

"Yeah. But what did you in mind? Did you really came here to cook?"

"Sure. Tonight I'll use up my overtime. Come." Each step gave Tristano pain, but it was getting better each day. Vittorio had spread all kind of vegetables over the kitchen table. "You like tuna? It's fresh from the market." He showed him the dark red pieces of fish."

Tristano nodded. "Can you cook or shall I?"

Vittorio laughed. "I'm old enough to be able to cook. And here," he presented a bottle of wine. "Best South-African wine. What do you say?"

Tristano swallowed and looked at him. Vito's black eyes radiated and the presence of his body so close to his own was overwhelming. And yet, he backed away. He didn't want to be touched. "Great", he croaked. Vito came even closer. "You aren't afraid of me, are you?" he said with his best gentle voice.

Tristano slipped away and examined the vegetable. "This is excellent. How will you prepare the artichokes?"

"Don't evade me, Tris. I see fear in your eyes." But Vito remained where he was and didn't try to press Tristano. "Go and relax for a while. I'll take care of all this. Where are your pans?"

A delicious scent wafted through Tristano's flat as he laid the table next to the window where he had sat with Luca so often. Before all this shit had happened.

"Was she your girlfriend? I've seen her occasionally at the hospital." Vito asked. He cut the tuna which had a small raw stripe in the middle and was melting upon Tristano's tongue.

"She was. And she wants me back."

Vito dipped his leaf of artichoke into a sauce and sucked the bitter-fruity flesh. "She wants you back?" he asked then, putting the remains of the leaf at the rim of his plate. "Why?"

"Why? Because all this would never had happened if I hadn't decided to be gay, to quote her words."

Vito arched his dark brows. "You decided?" he asked in a mocking tone. "I knew right from the start whom to follow."

"Yeah, you. Some people take a bit longer." Tristano slid upon his cushion.

Vito reached out and stroked his palm over Tristano's cheek. "Don't be angry. I can imagine what you have gone through. I've seen many things."

"Nobody can imagine what I've gone through", Tristano objected, flinching at Vito's gentle touch.

"Oh yes, I can. Do you think sexual experiences are always pure joy and fun? I know about sex that hurts."

Tristano looked wide-eyed at him. His broad shoulders under the tight, black shirt. The narrow waist. The deep tanned arms. And his confident, rousing hands.

"So, she thought you would return to her because you don't want to have another nasty experience just because you're gay, right?"


"That's pure nonsense, and you know that, Tris. It's as if a raped woman would turn into a lesbian just because she doesn't want to have anything to do with men anymore. Well, perhaps it's understandable. But that's not what it is about. You are what you are. Right from the beginning. You can never turn back. Or do you feel you are bisexual? If yes, I need to go. I couldn't live with that."

"Bisexual?" Tristano's head was spinning. This was all too much for him. "I'm not." He finished his vegetables and tuna until something kicked in. He looked up. "You couldn't live with that?" he asked. "What do you mean? It shouldn't bother you."

Vito lay down his knife and fork and wiped his mouth with the serviette. A sensual mouth with too red lips. Too red for Tristano not to be tempted. He looked into Vito's black eyes and realized how thick his lashes were.

"I thought you would understand the reason I'm here", Vito said quietly. "I fell in love with you the first time I saw you. But you never called me."

"Never called you? I tried every day but you was always on holiday."

"Ouch. That's right. But afterwards. And then I had to find you this way. At our mutual buddy Sergio's." A small grin graced his mouth. Tristano felt something tugging at his heart. Hadn't Alessandro said that he - Tristano - would feel the same again with the right man? Perhaps he was right. He hoped desperately that it was so.

Slowly he reached out and put his hand over Vito's. "Were you ever that badly hurt?" he asked. When Vito shook his head, he continued, "You think it will be the same as before?"

"It will. But even if you never want to do it again.... you can't get rid of me." Vito's eyes sparkled. "There's so much else we can do." He winked.

Tristano almost didn't dare to look into his eyes. But as he did, he felt a knot untying itself within him.

Inverno 2