Characters: S. Italy & America
Rating: PG-13/R for Romano's mouth
Warnings: Lots of Catch-22. So much Catch-22. And mood swings galore.
Summary: It's WWII, the Allies have invaded South Italy and America is hanging out with Romano on the Mediterranean shoreline because they are the best of buds. Except not, because Romano is going to go all Vito Corleone on him if he doesn't stop whining about how bad his espresso tastes. Not to mention South Italy doesn't cope well with invasion. Also there's a war going on you guys. Based on the true story of the Caffe Americano's magical creation.
Glass of wine, cigarette, glass of wine, cigarette—this endless chain lasted from Romano’s mid-afternoon wake up to his bedroom retirement at early dawn. South Italy’s right hand was never empty.
He knew that without his soothing, doctor-prescribed addictions there would be little to distract him from the fact that his cities were captured and claimed by nations he could not possibly give less shits about. ‘Axis’? ‘Allies’? It made no difference. They were intruders, and he’d had enough of countries barging into his personal space and demanding his time, his armies, his government for a stupid war that never seemed to end. After a few glasses of wine it didn’t seem to bother him as much—or at least, it prevented him from loading a gun and setting aim on every foreign soldier that trotted down his streets (like they owned the place, the bastards).
Sometimes, on especially trying days (when he couldn’t get the sound of airplanes and gunfire out of his head), he’d supplement a thick cigar or a nice, rich pipe in place of his delicate cigarettes; other days, vodka and scotch would find their way into his wine glass. Today, though, he’d settled for an ordinary glass of Sangiovese and a cigarette, which he allowed to dangle between his fingers as he watched with solemn amusement at its attempt to escape. It drooped, letting little flicks of ashes spiral to the patio ground, but it never fell from the Italian’s loose hold. He figured one of the more frou-frou countries, like France, would’ve been inspired to say something precious about metaphors and bullshit symbolism, but he didn’t have time for that Confucius crap. Philosophy was for pretentious assholes.
If Romano had anything to be thankful for, it was that he was not, at that moment, resigned to sitting with one of the more pretentious European nations, and was therefore not being subjected to longwinded speeches about the tides of change and the winds of the fat lady’s ass or whatever. Still, he wondered if he’d have been better off trading his red wine for a shot of vodka, or maybe a whole fucking bottle if America didn’t shut up for one fucking second.
“Wow, I can’t believe we’re where Rome was, man! Rome! I mean, we’re not in Rome, but I’m talking about the whole empire, you know? It was right here! Unbelievable! Do you ever wear togas, just for the heck of it?” The enthused American leaned back in his chair until he was balancing precariously on the two back legs in a way that made Romano want to reach over and smack him. Just whack him across the cheek like a parent punishing a hyper child who couldn’t sit still.
“No,” he answered in a deadpan voice. A slow drag from his cigarette replaced whatever angry words would have normally come after. He closed his eyes and willed the tobacco to prevent him from wringing someone’s neck.
“I’d wear a toga. I’d walk around in a toga every damn day if I could get away with it. The weather here is just,” he whistled (he had a habit of replacing words with whistling that brought him closer to death every time he dared to do so in front of Romano), “Just perfect. Reminds me of California a little. All this sunlight, I’m definitely getting darker, aren’t I?” he laughed (he had the loudest laugh Romano had ever heard, even more aggravating than Spain’s), “I’m starting to look like an Indian. England’s not gonna recognize me when he gets here!”
Oh, England was coming back. Joy to the fucking world, praise to the Virgin Mary and all the beautiful saints, more people were going to grace him with their presence.
“Say, mind if I bum a cig?” America held out his palm, obviously not expecting to hear ‘no’.
“Esattamente.” Get your own damn cigarettes. Romano was an invaded nation; he didn’t have a magically infinite supply.
“Ah, okay. It’s fine, I just left mine…” The blonde trailed off and let his eyes wander to his fidgeting hands before he gazed up at the unfamiliar sky and down below at the foreign city that lay before them. The café Romano had chosen—the café he’d always gone to, spending long afternoons sitting outside in the baking sun and slowly getting wasted—had the most beautiful view of Salerno that ended in the gorgeous blue line of the Mediterranean sea. And nothing, not even Americans, could ruin that for him.
“Hey, they sell coffee here?” America asked as Romano continued to stare out across the blue and wonder what it would be like to be on a ship right now with a hundred bottles of wine and a thousand cigarettes and not a single fucker in sight. “I could go for a cup of Joe.”
“Who the hell is Joe?” Romano crushed his cigarette against the table and added it to the already full ashtray.
“Huh? I mean coffee, man. I’m dying for some, haven’t had any in days.”
“We don’t have coffee,” he uttered the word with some contempt. “We have espresso.”
“But they’re in the same… category, right?”
“Sì. A woman’s ass and a elephant’s ass are in the same category too.” He tipped back the last of his wine.
“Which one’s espresso? The lady or the elephant?”
“If I get it for you, will you promise to keep your shit-eating mouth shut for five whole fucking minutes?” Romano’s patience was beginning to snap.
“Temper, Romano. Jesus, you’re the most on edge guy I know, you know that? You’re real hard boiled though, I mean… I remember back not so long ago when you’d show up with booze and I’d pretend to be mad. Prohibition, what a crock of bull. You sure know how to fire a Tommy gun, shi-it. Crazy times.” America grinned at him and winked like they’d just shared an inside joke. Romano glared.
“Cut the nostalgia shit, I’m not here to tell stories around the campfire. Do you want me to get you a damn espresso or not?”
“Sure, I’ll try one.” Jesus, Mary and Joseph, did he have to make everything so difficult?
The Italian went back into the Café, muttering under his breath. America wondered what the word vaffanculo meant because he seemed to be saying it a lot. South Italy was always a bit strange to him; he was a nation he felt he knew well but was often intimidated by. So many of his people came from Italian lands, bringing pizza, pasta, and occasionally crime with them. But after a few years in his country they belonged to him, and true Italians, Italy Italians, remained a mystery.
What Romano set on the table before America did not look like coffee. The tiny cup, balanced on a miniature saucer and accompanied by an odd little spoon, looked like it belonged in a child’s tea set, and the odd, tan-ish brown liquid inside did not have the same consistency or look of the watery, dark coffee he was used to. He carefully held up the cup for further inspection. Well, at least it smelled like coffee.
“Are you gonna drink it or smell it? It’s not a fucking candle,” Romano scoffed, raising his own cup to his lips.
After one last final inspection, America closed his eyes and took an unwisely large gulp. He swallowed, his nose scrunched in distaste until he looked on the verge of retching. Coughing, he shoved the cup and saucer across the table like a picky child rejecting a plate of broccoli (a vegetable America still refused to swallow). It took every bit of Romano’s restraint to prevent himself from throwing the boiling liquid back in America’s face.
“Yuck! Ugh, what is that? It’s so…” he smacked his lips “bitter! It doesn’t taste like coffee at all! How do you drink that?”
“I don’t have horrible taste, that’s how!” Romano slammed his cup on the table. “You shouldn’t have asked for it if you don’t like it, asshole!”
“You said it was like coffee!” America whined, his mouth still puckered from the lingering aftertaste.
“I never said it was like your coffee! If you’re too pussy for espresso then don’t fucking drink it!” They were fortunate that there were no other customers in the café, because Romano’s voice was steadily growing louder.
“Coffee is not for pussies!” America banged his fist on the table. “It’s for cowboys and soldiers and presidents! Espresso is for girly Europeans. Just look at this cup!” He raised the evidence with his thumb and forefinger.
The iron chair screeched as Romano jerked up out of his seat and leaned against the table, a murderous flame in his eyes. “Excuse me? You want to say that again?”
America looked a clueless. “Say what?”
“You want to insult me one more time, huh?” Romano grabbed America by his collar and pulled him over the table until he was practically breathing in his ear. “Go on, insult me. Insult me in my own land. I fucking dare you.”
To Romano’s surprise, America laughed. “This is just like old times, man. You never change.”
The Italian’s grip loosened. He took one look at that smug face and, for a moment, could not come up with what to say. So he sat back and lit another cigarette.
“You think you can win.” He blew a low cloud of smoke from his lips. “This war. Every war. You really think you are the goddamn best at everything.”
“Well…” America decided not to question the shift in conversation. “I haven’t exactly lost anything yet. So yeah, why shouldn’t I believe I’m the goddamn best at everything? I’m pretty damn good at winning.” He gave that million dollar smile—the one worn by only the most blindly confident, and America certainly fit that description.
Romano looked out across the ocean and prayed his wine cup would be magically refilled. “Why do you care about winning?” He finally asked, his eyes still on the Mediterranean.
America acted like it was the dumbest question he’d ever been asked. “Because it’s winning, and losing is the pits?” There was an implied “duh”. What was Romano on about? How many glasses of wine had he had by now anyway?
Romano chuckled. “And what happens to nations that win, huh? What happened to Rome, and Greece, and fucking Spain? What did winning get them in the end? What makes you think you won’t end up like them?”
“Well it’s better than sitting back and doing nothing!” The accusation was clear.
Romano gave him a glare that, ordinarily, would have silenced a country. Not America.
“My brother and I know what is really important. Winning is bullshit. Success is staying alive.” He’d stopped smoking and was holding the forgotten cigarette by his face, letting the smoke waft up to the darkening sky. “Feliciano and I will be here long after this war is done. We’ll be here for centuries. And we won’t make thousands of idiots die for stupid reasons.”
“Those soldiers are dying to protect you!” America was up in arms again. “You’re the cause they’re fighting for. What’s wrong with you? You should be proud that your people would die to protect you!”
“What the hell are we, America? What is a country? It’s a piece of fucking land. Englishmen are dying for England, Americans are dying for America, Germans are dying for Germany, Russians are dying for Russia. There are about fifty countries fighting in this goddamn war. We can’t all be worth dying for.”
America shook his head fervently from side to side, trying to shake what he’d just heard from his ears. It was blasphemy. How could a nation be unpatriotic? “Anything worth living for is worth dying for.” He thought his voice would come out strong and reassured, but it sounded strangely small.
“And anything worth dying for is worth living for.” Romano blotted out his cigarette.
America continued to glare at him with eyes wide and naïve. He was practically shaking. No one had ever spoken to him like that. No one had ever made him consider his own mortality. “I won’t end up like them. Like Greece and Rome.”
“Why the Hell not?” Seriously, what was America’s plan for eternal success? Why was he so fucking special?
“I don’t know,” he admitted. “I just know I won’t.” His stare turned distant.
For a second Romano felt sorry for the boy, so jubilant and determined and trusting and full of shit, that little brat. It was about time someone slapped him up with a dose of reality and stopped sucking up to him the way he’d seen those desperate Allied nations do.
But he still felt a little bad. He wasn’t a monster for Christ’s sake—he had empathy.
“Merda,” he huffed, pulling himself from his seat. “Stay there, I’ll…” Shaking his head, he mumbled to himself as he walked back into the café, leaving America in his state of worried contemplation.
When Romano returned with a mug of steaming, dark drink, America was in the process of practically biting through his lip. What he was thinking about Romano could only guess, but he knew it wouldn’t stay long in the zealous boy’s mind. Whatever existential thoughts were currently floating through the United States’ head would pack up and leave within the hour to be promptly replaced by visions of battle plans and war propaganda. They’d visit him again, though, during quiet, dusky moments. They’d keep him up in the early hours of the morning, when no sound could drown out the chant that tortured every nation: memento mori, memento mori.
Remember you will die.
But could they die?
Romano set the mug in front of the daydreaming country and took a deep, unseemly gulp from his new glass of wine. He hadn’t wanted to fill America with those thoughts, though he couldn’t say he regretted it. He had no admiration for innocence.
But he wasn’t a complete ass.
“Try it.” He pointed at the mug.
“I don’t like it,” America muttered. He caught himself biting his lip and felt the chewed wreckage with his tongue.
“It’s not espresso. Just try it.”
“But I don’t—“
“Fucking try it! What are you, five? I made the damn thing for you!” Romano turned red with either anger or embarrassment. Or both.
Sighing, America doubtfully obliged. His face turned from unsure to surprised to ecstatic as he almost drained the mug. “Coffee!” he exclaimed. “This tastes like my coffee—I mean, the coffee I’m used to drinking. It’s almost better! Why didn’t you just give me this in the first place?”
“It’s espresso and water. Since you couldn’t handle just espresso,” he sneered. “I made it up.”
“Neat!” America’s interest noticeably grew. Inventions always fascinated him, especially when they could be patented and sold. “You should sell this stuff! You’d make a ton.” Romano mumbled against his glass.
“What’ll you call it? Oh, oh! I know, you should call it—“
“The Shut Up and Drink the Damn Thing Before I Shove it Down Your Throat?”
“No, no. Call it a… um…”
Romano blew a gust of exasperation that almost qualified as storm-level wind. Nothing, nothing could keep the damn kid quiet. If he hadn’t figured out by now that Romano was not and would never be in the mood for conversation… well then he’d probably end up killing him at some point. Might as well please him before his throat was between Romano’s hands. “I’ll call it a fucking Americano. Will that make you happy?” Americans were the only ones who would order the sorry excuse for a drink anyway.
“A Fucking Americano? You might wanna just go with Americano. My soldiers aren’t going to order something with profanity in the name.” He took another sip of the new drink. “Can I put sugar in this?”
“I thought cowboys drank it black,” Romano jeered.
“Well…” the American blushed. “Yeah, but…”
“I’ll get your damn sugar, princess. You want lipstick too?”
“Shut up!” America sounded whinier than he’d meant to.
“What, are you on your period or something?” Romano mocked as he stomped back in the café to get his majesty her sugar.
“Asshole…” America uttered under his breath when he thought Romano was out of hearing range.
“Bitch!” Romano shouted from the kitchen and threw a mug out the window toward America’s face, where it would have landed with a violent smack if he hadn’t ducked under the table at the first sound of Romano’s attack.
Romano would get him his damn sugar, though. They’d sit on the patio for another good hour and watch the pink rays of sunset spread across the sea. America would ask a dozen pointless questions and one or two actually decent ones, but mostly questions about pasta and wine and espresso and where he could go on one of those boat rides in the canoe where the guy with the mustache rowed it for you while singing songs and whether or not Romano would please, please, please go on it with him because he didn't want to go alone because being alone was no fun. Romano, in return, would call him an idiota approximately fifty-four times but would not raise a hand to strike him once, as tempted as he would be. He would, however, throw the last of his wine in America’s face when he threw his legs across the table and asked him what was for dinner.
“I’m not your wife, porca!” He’d snarl before storming inside and snatching a towel off the counter. A flying object would hurl toward America’s head for the third time that day, and he’d peel the towel off his face with a surprised look at the Italian that would be sitting in his chair yet again, his gaze focused on a spot just above America’s head, a cigarette in his right hand and what he would go to his grave swearing was not a small smile on his face.
- Caffe Americano, if you haven't had it, is pretty much espresso and water. It was created for American GIs in Europe during WWII who didn't like the taste of straight espresso, and was meant to mimic the taste of American coffee.
- "We No Speak Americano", or "Tu Vu Fa L'Americano" is a classic song by Renato Carosone.
- A great deal of the conversation between Romano and America comes right from the novel Catch-22, which if you haven't read it then go read it. Now.
- Italiano time: Che cosa? = "what?", Essatamente = "Exactly", Vaffanculo = "Fuck you", Merda = "Shit" and Porca = "Pig"'