Actions

Work Header

Singles

Chapter Text

Prologue

My name is Antonio Fernández Carriedo.

My appearance? It's nothing special. I am just a twenty-five years old male with messy, chestnut hair, green eyes and a smile that can sweep anyone off their feet. Okay, that sounded a little bit too cocky, I give you that, but I believe my smile to be a great asset of mine. You see, I am not your typical muscular guy, I am not taller than the average Spaniard and I can be pretty dense sometimes, or so they say. It seems that ladies (and gentlemen too) find my cluelessness adorable, though.

Why do they love me? I seriously don’t know. I think it’s because I let out an exotic kind of vibe. Frankly, my Spanish accent helps a lot when I'm flirting. Ladies swoon just because I greet them with ‘hola’ instead of a simple ‘hello’, and it’s easy to get to second base just from that, no kidding. I've been speaking English since forever, but the accent stuck and I learnt to use it to my advantage over the years. I sometimes pretend to not know a word of English just to get closer to them and impress them. Actually, that’s one of my favorite “let’s hook up” techniques, but let’s not get too deep into that.

If there is anything strange about me? I'm very fond of children. No, you perverts! Not like that. I just love to have kids around, to hear their innocent laughter, to see their eyes fill with wonder at the simplest thing… it’s so refreshing, and many ladies do cartwheels when I tell them so. You can see it in their eyes: the moment they realize they are probably not going to meet another man like me ever again, someone who can effortlessly be both the perfect husband and the father of five. I've managed to dodge that particular marriage-coated bullet several times until now.

I have two best friends who I’ve known since kindergarten. Sure, we had our ups and downs, but we remained close friends despite our differences. Our personalities and interests clash more often than not, but we do have a lot of things in common. The three of us are true troublemakers. Ever since we were little toddlers who couldn’t properly speak, teachers never liked us all that much, especially Gilbert. When he comes to vindictive, he is in a league of his own, and teachers fell victim to his payback pranks so many times, I’ve lost count.

We built quite a reputation and everyone called us the 'Bad Touch Trio' when we were younger. Fine, they still do, but now it has acquired a totally different meaning… I’ll leave the rest to your imagination.

I guess it’s time for me to properly introduce my friends. Let’s start with Francis Bonnefoy, the older one of our group.

He's French, as you probably guessed. He is quite tall with shoulder-length blond hair and blue eyes. He considers himself a “big brother” of sorts to all of us, both mentally and physically, and has even let a faint shadow of stubble grow on his chin just to prove his point. It makes him look sexier and wiser, he says; I disagree. When it comes to relationships, Francis has no preferences and he often declares that love knows no gender, no age, and no race. His favorite flower is the rose, by the way. He told me that, every time he sleeps with someone, he puts a single red rose on the pillow as a gift, before he leaves the morning after. I think that’s bullshit, because where does he hide the roses when he gets naked? How does he keep them from wilting? Is he able to conjure them out of thin air? I mean, that would be so cool, I never thought it could be possible. I need to ask him to teach me one day. I wonder if I can conjure animals like turtles out of thin air too and give them to my lovers as a gift… They will surely like it. Turtles are funny creatures, really cute.

Forgive me, I seem to have lost my train of thought. Anyway, Francis. Francis is such a romantic –Gilbert endlessly teases him for it- but everyone actually likes how classy and loving he can be. He pays a lot of attention to the way he looks, talks and dresses. He even has a ridiculous variety of fragrances to choose from. Gilbert finds that nauseating.

But don’t let that fool you, he is not much of a gentleman. He likes to touch people, it doesn’t matter where. Gilbert says that Francis often cups a feel of my butt too, but I never really noticed him doing it.

My other friend is Gilbert Beilschmidt. He moved in from Germany with his little brother when he was five or six years old. Francis and I were already friends back then, but Gilbert made his way into our duo easily. He is that sort of guy. He is able to fit into any group, because he is very social and talkative, but I have to admit he can be really annoying sometimes. Gilbert is deeply in love with himself and he would ask for his own hand in marriage, if he could. According to him, people are either “awesome” or “not awesome”, there is no in-between, but even if he puts you into the first category, you will never, ever even achieve his own levels of awesomeness. Those are his words, not mine.

Relationship-wise, he claims to be straight, but Francis caught him hit on guys sometimes, so I can’t really say. Gilbert has a weird opinion on how flirting should be done, which makes Francis’ hair stand on edge, but it works. I guess some people do feel attracted to arrogant, narcissistic jerks, who have one too many dirty pick-up lines up their sleeve. Don’t tell him I said that.

Anyway, that's us. We are three friends who like to have fun. As you can see, we are very different, our interests may diverge at times, and we probably would have gone our separate ways, if it weren’t for that incident ten years ago.

What incident? Well, when we were fifteen, the three of us suffered our very first heartbreak, and we made a pact to never fall in love again. A pact to remain single till Death tear us apart. I know it sounds impossible, but we did great so far. None of us has been in a stable, long-lasting relationship; everything has been nothing more than a fling, no strings attached. It worked splendidly up until now.

Key phrase: up until now.

Chapter Text

Chapter One

If we forget for a moment the pact that binds us together, Gilbert, Francis and I are completely normal guys. Contrary to popular belief, our lives don’t revolve around meaningless one-night stands and who’s-going-to-get-the-girl-staring-at-us-from-the-far-end-of-the-room-first kind of contests.

Gilbert, for example, works with his little brother, Ludwig, in a small bookstore specializing in self-help manuals situated right at the center of the city we all live. Francis, on the other hand, is a columnist, whose articles appear daily in a very famous magazine. What he does is stating his opinion on fashion and giving out relationship advice to his fans. He goes by the name of ‘Joan Red’, if you want to read his articles. Last but not least, I am a simple child care worker and work in a childcare center some couple of blocks away from my apartment.

Our daily routine is no different than that of any other working man our age. We wake up. Sometimes there is an unfamiliar face snoring slightly next to us, sometimes we both are brutally awoken by someone pounding at the door of a cheap motel’s room telling us check out’s in ten… fine, not everyone wakes up next to strangers thrice a week, but that’s not the point. The point is that we wake up, shower, put some clothes on, take the bus and go to work like most people do. We are busy men. Come on, don’t look at me like that, we are! We see each other in the evening, have dinner together, go to the movies or hit the dance floor in some fancy club after a couple of drinks.

Gilbert is the one that loves nightclubs the most. Among the three of us, he is the one that stands out the most, what with his white, almost silver hair and red like blood eyes. It’s impossible not to notice him and many are afraid of him when he walks down the avenue, but in the club, his looks don’t matter. The flashing disco lights and the alcohol induced dizziness makes the club a great place to mingle with the crowd, and no one fears Gilbert’s crazy eyes that much while grinding on the dance floor. Moreover, he loves to dance, although, between you and me, I am a much more skilled dancer.

Francis is more a seduce-them-with-food-in-fancy-restaurants type of guy, but he does agree that flirting in nightclubs is easy-peasy. There is no way you can end up alone in a place like that. If you play your cards right, there is a high probability you’ll get out of there with a sexy chick’s arm around your waist. As Francis says, nightclubs are like deafening supermarkets: you have a wide variety of products to choose from, and the price does not matter.

There are people drinking alone, because they are lonely and want to be noticed. Gilbert says they are easy prey, and seducing them is not much of a challenge. They can be interesting people, sure, but they are sometimes so desperate, you end up feeling guilty for taking them home after using just one cheesy pick-up line. Of course there are people drinking alone, because they just want to have a private conversation with their glass of cheap looking gin and tonic, and they will kick your ass for disturbing their peace. It’s hard to break the ice with them, but once you do, you find out they are so full of pent up energy, they end up being fiery beasts in bed.

There are girls standing close together, drinking fancy cocktails named after cities and colors, giggling, wearing fabrics that don’t leave much to the imagination. There are men looking around for an easy hook up, who end up confessing that experimenting things with a guy may not be an awful experience as they first thought it would be. There’s the nerd and there’s the diva. There’s the shy and there’s the extrovert. Beautiful, ugly, short or tall. Pick one and make them yours for one night or two, as Francis says.

Dating is not really our thing, as I told you before, but it happened. Many hope to have found the love of their life, the partner they dreamt of as a teenager, and dump us the moment they realize we are never going to love them back. This has been our life for the past ten years. It’s crazy, wonderful, and adventurous. We love it.

We really did.

I guess you noticed the sudden change in tense. Well, it’s time to tell you the story behind this, the moment I made a big mistake and destroyed my perfectly happy life.

It all started in a nightclub.

As I mentioned before, Gilbert loves nightclubs, and that night, after gulping down some beers (or wine, in Francis’s case), Gilbert suggested we should go to a new one we have never visited before.

“Nightwave” he said. I gaped at him.

“Nightwave?” I asked.

“That’s the name of the nightclub I want to go to tonight” Gilbert explained.

“Another one?” Francis complained loudly, sighing in his wine glass. “We went yesterday. Can we do something else for a change?”

“Come on, you call that pathetic hole a nightclub? The DJ was so lame, I fell asleep in the middle of the dance floor. Let’s try the Nightwave, doesn’t it sound cool, pretty boy? It’s probably going to be awesome”

“Fine” Francis agreed, and I went along with it too. If I had known what was going to happen, I probably would have never, ever agreed as easily as I did in that moment.

Let’s face it, the name ‘Nightwave’ has a very peculiar ring to it, and I really thought it was going to be one of those places where waitresses dress up as mermaids and serve you drinks on plates crafted in the shape of a shell. Gilbert was sure I was one hundred percent right with that, and added that the waitresses should be wearing shell bras as well and sing you the jolly sailor song sensually in your ear as they pour you a drink.

Anyway, the Nightwave promised us great things: good music, sensual mermaids, and a dance floor the color of the sea, but it did not. It was a completely, normal looking nightclub. Sure the entrance was nice and there was indeed a mermaid blinking at us next to a gorilla of a man standing by the door, but they were just LED lights shaped as a mermaid flickering or blinding people at the most inopportune moments. It needed work.

But we were already there, the gorilla man has already let us in, and it would have been a waste of time to just turn around and leave without checking the interior first. It took me a couple of minutes before my eyes could adjust to the strange blue lights, but when I finally did I could see that the place wasn't that bad. Sure, there were no waitresses in shell bras, but the place was crowed and the DJ was doing a pretty damn good job at holding the crowd’s attention.

Francis was the first one to leave our group. A moment he was holding Gilbert by the arm, telling him that he shouldn’t feel let down that no one was going to sing sensually in his ear, unless he wanted Francis to do it, the next he was grinding against a nice looking, red-headed man on the dance floor. It’s marvelous, really, the way Francis can spot the one that just wants to get laid, cut the crap, in the middle of a crowd.

We already drank on our way there, but since Francis doesn’t let me have more than two cans of beer (because he says I get a little bit violent and aggressive when drunk), I was thirsty again. I turned around to tell Gilbert so, when I noticed he wasn’t by my side anymore. I let my eyes wonder over the dance floor, but I couldn’t see him anywhere and I forgot about him soon after. I probably should get it on as well, I though, and spotted two ladies sitting at one of the tables lining the wall at the furthest end of the nightclub. As I made my way over there, I noticed they were leaning a little bit too close towards each other, and that one was even running her hand up and down the leg of her "friend", so I decided to head to the bar instead.

And then I saw him.

A handsome, dark haired man was drinking alone right by the bar, his back to the bartender, watching the crowd dancing with a frown on his face. There was nothing special on him except for that strange curl sticking up from his hair. He was maybe one or two years younger than me, and he was cradling his drink and toying with the straw with a bored look on his face, swirling the ice cubes around his glass. He looked like he was drinking orange juice, which struck me as odd. I never saw someone drink such a simple beverage in a nightclub, and his whole appearance intrigued me. The bartender touched his shoulder and leant over the counter to tell him something in his ear, and he turned his head slightly around to hear him better. The frown didn’t leave his face, but the more I stared at him, the more I found that little pout cute and fascinating.

Suddenly I wanted nothing more than reach him and start talking to him. I tried to get through the crowd as fast as I could before I could lose sight of him, but a pair of hands unexpectedly took hold of me around my waist and I was pulled into the dancing mob again.

“Hey, gorgeous” someone whispered in my ear and I turned around, thinking for a moment that it was Francis who was groping my butt. It was not. A woman with almond shaped eyes and long, wavy hair smirked at me and pulled me closer to her. She was drunk and I could smell the alcohol every time she breathed into my ear.

“Let’s dance” she said and pushed her breasts against my chest. She was sexy, and my eyes roamed over her figure, approving. My hands found their way to her hips, and she giggled delighted against my cheek. Her hair smelt wonderfully, but no matter how much I wanted to stay pressed to her like that, my head turned slightly away from hers to search for the dark haired man standing alone by the bar once more. I couldn’t see him.

She stroked my face to get my attention, and I smiled brightly at her, making her swoon in my arms. The music was loud and perfect for dancing so close together, and we started to move in time with the music. She was a great dancer, and I thought it wouldn’t hurt to follow the lead of this drunken girl.

“What’s your name?” she asked in my ear, and I pressed my lips slightly above her temple before I answered:

“Antonio”

She moved her head up and down, her hair like silk through my fingers, and her thighs aligned perfectly with mine. At some point we were so into it and our moves were so in sync with each other that it looked as if we had been dancing together since forever. I didn’t even realize people were standing in a circle around us and were cheering on us, whistling appreciatively and admiring our bodies with hungry eyes, until a girl with choppy hair broke into the circle and pulled my partner away from my embrace.

The woman put up a pathetic fight in her friends’ grasp. It was not clear whether she wanted to punch her in the face or start crying on her shoulder. What was obvious, though, was that she had completely forgotten about me in a matter of seconds. The crowd started to dance around us again. Everyone whispered to each other discussing what they had just witnessed, disbelieving, but otherwise pretty unconcerned that our sexy dancing has been so rudely interrupted. The girl with the choppy hair saw her opportunity, put a firm hand on her friend’s shoulder and pushed her farther away from me.

“Let’s go, Mei” I heard her say before they left.

I remained in the middle of the dance floor all on my own, uncertain on what to do next. My face was dripping sweat and I was in serious need of a drink. So, instead of searching for another partner to dance with, I made my way over the bar once again. The guy I had spotted before that woman forced me to be her dance partner was still there, checking his smartphone.

He didn’t look up from the screen of his phone when I sat down right next to him. I shot a glance over his way while the bartender -a tall, blond man with blue eyes and a permanent smile on his face- moved closer to get my order. The man behind the counter flashed me a thumb-up and started to prepare my drink while the dark haired stranger kept his eyes glued on his texting.

I must have been staring a lot, because when the bartender put the glass in front of my face and I didn’t turn my head to thank him, he looked up to shot me a disbelieving, if not angry, look. There was a knowing glint in his eyes and he scanned me up and down with those hazel eyes of his before he snorted and went back to texting. He must have seen me dancing with that sexy woman, and I wondered whether he had appreciated the show or thought I looked simply ridiculous.

I took a sip of my drink as he put his now empty glass on the counter. He then leaned over to grab a coat hanged on the back of a chair next to him, a clear sign he was leaving. Quick, I need to do something before he flees! I thought.

As I watched the man sitting beside me put his coat on and hide the smartphone in his pants’ pocket, I went through all the possible ice breakers I could come up with to start a conversation with him. I could go with the Spanish trick, as Francis calls it. At the end of the day, it does work on a lot of people, so why not with this guy too? I moved closer to him, slightly invading his personal bubble. The man froze, and looked at me annoyed, moving a little to his left to put as much distance between him and me as possible.

"Hola, ¿que tal?" I asked. "I'm new in the city. No hablo Ingles”

He raised an eyebrow at me, this time a little bit more interested in me. His shoulders seemed to relax and my heart raced in my chest. I’ve got his attention, great!

"I know it might sound weird, but you seem such a nice guy” I continued in Spanish. The guy looked at me. Confused, of course, because he didn't understand a word I was saying, but interested. Confused but interested is good. “But would you like to meet tomorrow?” I asked. “You can show me around, be my personal guide” I suggested.

It was then that the man opened his mouth and tugged at his shirt in a way I found really sexy. My mouth was suddenly dry.

"You don't understand a word I'm saying" I continued in Spanish, at loss with words but determined to go through with this. I opened my mouth to say something else, when, suddenly, the guy spoke:

"Does this really work to get into people's pants or is it the first time you hit on strangers with this I-am-a-tourist crap?" he asked. In Spanish.

To say I was shocked would be a misunderstanding, and I stared at him with my mouth open and a goony look on my face. No one had answered me in Spanish before, and I felt kind of thrilled when I realized that this guy could speak my own language. I was so amped up that words started pouring out of my mouth before I could think them over.

I said: "Are you Spanish? Where are you from? My name is Antonio and-!”

In English.

I wanted to slap myself so fucking hard. I shut my mouth, and the guy’s frown deepened.

"So you do speak English" he said mockingly and turned around, pulling out his smartphone once more. No good. I wasn’t done with this guy just yet, but I was suddenly unsure whether I should laugh it off, apologize and run away from the nightclub as fast as my legs could carry me, or stay there and try again. I opted to stay.

"Ok, I'm sorry" I apologized and laughed, nervous. "That sucked"

The guy just huffed and didn’t deign to look at me. No good. No good!

"But I do think you are a nice guy and I-!" I tried again. Suddenly a girl got closer to us, sighed loudly and ran a hand through her thick, blond hair. The dark haired stranger I desperately wanted to hit on looked at her while she straightened out her skirt.

"I'm ready to go!" she said.

No, no she , he said. She was a man. The guy nodded, put his smartphone back in his pocket again and stood up. The blond guy caught me staring at them and he turned to his friend with an amused look on his pale face.

"Do you know him?" he asked. The dark-brown haired man shrugged.

“He hit on me” he admitted, and his blond friend burst out laughing so loud and hard that the bartender snapped his head to look at us.

“Hey, hey!” the bartender asked with a big smile plastered on his face. “What’s so funny, guys?”

"Oh, Alfred! This guy-!" the blond turned to explain to the bartender, but the dark haired man just grabbed his friend by the shirt and pulled him abruptly away.

"Let's just go, Feliks" he ordered. Feliks snickered once more and waved at Alfred, the bartender.

"See you tomorrow, Alfred!" he greeted with a singsong voice. Alfred enthusiastically waved back at them and said, his booming voice rising above the deafening music:

"See you, Feliks! Lovino!"

The two men disappeared into the crowd, and I remained staring at my still full glass, feeling dizzy. Alfred was now humming a song under his breath, filling a glass to another customer, but I managed to get his attention immediately when he got closer to me again.

"Does he work here?" I asked.

"Who? Feliks?" he asked back, clueless.

No, no, Feliks was the blond one.

“The other guy” I explained.

“Ah, you mean Lovino”

Lovino. Lovino. Lovino. I repeated his name in my head time and time again. It sounded Italian. So the boy was Italian? Why did he speak Spanish so well then? I shook off these trivial thoughts.

"Lovino" I repeated out loud, loving the way it rolled off the tongue. Alfred looked at me sympathetically and patted my shoulder with more force than was strictly necessary.

"They both work here, buddy" Alfred said. "I couldn’t help but notice the way you tried to hit on him. Oh, boy, that was redonkulous!” he exclaimed and laughed, "Spurting mumbo jumbo at him will get you nowhere, trust me"

Mumbo jumbo?

Well, anyway. He was probably right. There were plenty of fish in the sea, and it was not like I was going to see this Lovino again. Tomorrow is another day, I thought. I won’t even remember his name by then.

I paid for my drink and decided to call it a night. I couldn’t see Francis or Gilbert anywhere, and I supposed they were probably sealing the deal somewhere. I didn’t bother with them. I actually was happy for them.

Chapter Text

Chapter Two

Saturday is a holy day. Fine, Sunday too. All in all, weekends are holy. Everyone knows the saying: here’s a forewarning, don’t wake me up on a weekend morning. You don’t know the saying? I probably just came up with that.

The fact is that I love sleeping in on weekends, and Gilbert and Francis know just how cranky I can be, when I don't sleep enough. Therefore I was pissed when I heard my cellphone ring right next to my ear and saw Francis’ name popping up on the screen. It wasn’t even noon yet.

I groaned, covered my eyes with a hand and massaged them slightly, as if that simple, soothing movement could completely wake me up. I reached over my pillow to the smartphone lying on the bedside table and yawned. It stopped ringing, but then it started all over again a moment later. I answered, ready to insult Francis for his morning prank, but my friend didn’t even let me speak.

"I know you were sleeping" Francis exclaimed from the other end of the line, he sounded amused, "but you have to see this!"

See what? I wanted to say, but I yawned again instead. I didn't even have the strength to inform him of my complete lack of interest in whatever was amusing him so much and so early on a Saturday morning. I just remained still with the phone pressed against my ear and closed my eyes again. Francis snickered.

"Come on, sleepy-head!" he shouted right into my ear, I flinched. "Come to Ludwig and Gilbert's bookstore right now. We're waiting for you"

"I swear, Francis! I am going to shove that phone right up your—"

Was that Gilbert shouting? I thought furrowing my eyebrows.

Francis hung up, and I was left propped on my forearm in a side-lying position staring at my tousled sheets, wondering what the hell was going on. What happened? What did Francis want to show me? For one fleeting second I thought of switching off my phone and just go back to sleep, but then again, something big must have happened, if Francis decided to break the rules and called me so early.

I sighed. My curiosity got the best of me; I massaged my eyes again and finally got out of bed.

The Beilschmidts brothers’ bookstore is situated in the center of the city, but it is a ten minute ride with the bus from where I live, so it usually doesn’t take me long to get there. Nevertheless, Francis wanted me to be there as soon as freaking possible, so I decided to skip breakfast in order to gain some time. I hoped Ludwig would be kind enough to offer me coffee or something over there. I didn’t trust Gilbert to do it, and I could already picture Francis throwing a tantrum because I showed up an hour later than agreed. Did we agree on a time to meet? I didn’t remember, I was still sleepy.

Ludwig usually keeps the bookstore open on Saturday mornings until noon, so when I finally arrived the ‘sorry we are closed’ sign was already on the door. I didn’t panic, though, as I spotted Francis waving at me behind the glass. I pushed the door to get in and the little bell above it chimed. As soon as I stepped in, three pairs of eyes turned to look at me.

Actually, no. Two pairs of eyes turned to look at me, and then there was Polyphemus staring at me as if I had burned down his house and killed all his sheep.

"Oh, my god, Gilbert! What happened?” I exclaimed running to his side.

The Beilschmidt brother’s bookstore is a small, cozy shop with an open reading space right in the middle, where Ludwig put some couches that are the definition of comfortable. All walls are lined with white shelves, which are filled with row after row of perfectly aligned books. Everything is spotless and in order, all Ludwig’s doing.

I saw Ludwig standing behind the register next to the door searching for something in one of the drawers under the counter, but I didn’t rush over to greet him. Francis sat down next to Gilbert on one of the couches, and I took the seat right in front of him, leaning over to take a closer look at his black, swollen right eye.

He had a wound on his lower lip; his nose was a little bit red, but not bloody, and glancing down at his hands I noticed that his knuckles were bruised. He even had a Mickey Mouse plaster above his left eyebrow, which was kind of cute. I couldn't understand why he looked like this and raised an eyebrow at Francis in question. The blond grinned at me from ear to ear, and Gilbert shoved him violently aside.

"Stop making fun of me!" Gilbert shouted.

“I didn’t even say anything” Francis complained.

"What happened?" I asked looking up at Ludwig who approached us holding a bottle of lotion in his hands.

Maybe it’s time I introduce you to Ludwig Beilschimdt. This man with his blond hair gelled back, cold azure eyes and intimidating pose is Gilbert’s younger brother. At first glance, you would never guess they are related. They are so different, like night and day, and not only physically but mentally as well. I know it sounds weird coming from me, but Ludwig is the most responsible and mature one out of all of us. I know them both since I was a kid, but the fact Ludwig is indeed three years younger than Gilbert baffles me to this day. One time Gilbert even shoved his passport under my nose to prove their age difference, but I couldn’t read it. It was in German. He said to just look at the numbers, but still…

"He got into a fight" Ludwig explained startling me out of my thoughts. He kneeled down next to Gilbert and firmly grabbed his face to make him turn and look at him. Gilbert rolled his sane eye in annoyance, but remained perfectly still as Ludwig applied the lotion on his swollen eyelid.

"I’m not a baby, Ludwig!" Gilbert complained weakly, but Ludwig gave him a stern look and Gilbert shut up, hissing when Ludwig touched a particularly sensitive spot on his cheek.

"You act like one" Ludwig said and Gilbert pouted. Francis snickered, and Gilbert tried to free himself from his brother’s hold to look at Francis better.

"Shut up, Francis" Gilbert growled between tightly clenched teeth, but Francis softly laughed once more and turned to me.

“So, what fight?” I asked.

"Our dear Gilbert here decided yesterday to take the wrong lady home " Francis started, and Gilbert groaned.

"At least let the awesome me tell the story!" he exclaimed. "You are just going to make an ass out of me"

“You are perfectly capable of doing that all on your own” Francis sniffed. Ludwig sighed and shook his head. He let go of Gilbert’s face and screwed on the cap of the bottle muttering something under his breath. I didn’t pay any attention to him as he made his way back to the register.

“I met this really gorgeous girl standing all alone at one of the tables yesterday. It was obvious she wanted to dance, I could see the way her eyes scanned the crowd getting their groove on. Her eyes, bro! Oh, her eyes! She could melt ice with them! She was sexy, blond and had two long legs that begged to be touched… long story short, I decided to make a move on her”

Okay, I thought. Blond and sexy is Gilbert’s type, nothing weird about it.

"I think she was Russian” Gilbert continued. “She spoke with a really strong Russian accent, but her voice was so sensual, it made my hair stand on edge. I started to talk to her, she ignored me. I offered her a drink and she immediately ordered a whole bottle of vodka. She gulped it down all in one go, Francis. You should have seen her. I thought she wanted to show me that she could… well, you know. I asked her to dance, she stared at me and ordered another bottle. Man, I think she wanted me bad, and then…"

"And then?" I asked.

"And then here comes her brother!" Francis cut in opening his arms wide and bouncing in his seat like an overstimulated baby. "He was standing there in some dark corner, and when Gilbert attempted to put his hands around his sister’s waist to dance with her, he just jumped out from the shadows and tapped him on the shoulder”

“He was huge” Gilbert said, “but I looked at him fearlessly and he just-!” he punched in the air.

“I suppose you didn’t provoke him in any way” Ludwig comments from the other side of the room.

“He started it” Gilbert defended himself.

“And look where that got you” Ludwig said.

"You should see the other guy” Gilbert boasted.

"Sure” Francis piped in and snickered. "What about you, Antonio dear? Did you meet anybody interesting at the club?" Francis asked changing topic while Gilbert started thoroughly describing to Ludwig his fight with that Russian man, who looked more like a bear than a human being. Ludwig didn’t look impressed in the least.

I stared at Francis and the name ‘Lovino’ flickered before my eyes. Lovino, Lovino, Lovino, Lovino. I couldn't stop thinking about that guy all night. He just made himself cozy in my head, taunting me, tugging at his shirt in that sexy, teasing manner of his. I didn’t really mind the way I metaphorically got my ass handed to me the day before. I was sure he was going to treat me like dog food next time we crossed paths again, but I couldn’t care less. Strangely enough, I did want to see him again. God. I wanted to see him again so bad.

"Antonio? Are you still with us?"

I blinked at Francis. What? Did he say something?

"Oh, let him be, Francis" Gilbert teased me. "Don't you see he is still basking in the afterglow?"

What? It took me a while to understand what Gilbert was hinting at.

"Nothing happened" I confessed at last, and both Gilbert and Francis looked at me, stunned. I gulped and licked my lips nervously.

"So why the dreamy look?" Gilbert asked.

"It's…" I started but the words stuck in my throat. Well, why couldn't I brag about shit like Gilbert always does? "Oh, nothing" I said in the end, laughing. "It's just a boy I met. He humiliated me in front of the bartender yesterday"

Gilbert and Francis shared a long, meaningful look and burst out laughing. I didn't get the joke.

”Some people can’t take a hint” Gilbert teased me.

"He is… was…"

I wanted to describe him to them, I wanted to tell them what exactly attracted me to him, but there was nothing I could say to make me sound sane. Was it his frown? His angry face? The way he spoke Spanish to me? No, nothing made sense. I just wanted to see him again. He was not my type, but I desperately needed to talk to him again.

"Oh, come on, Antonio!" Gilbert exclaimed. "You've been rejected before! Looking grave doesn’t suit you, so stop thinking about him"

"He's right for once, dear" Francis said ignoring the whiny sound coming from Gilbert’s lips.

“Excuse me, what do you mean for once?” Gilbert yelled, but Francis shook his head and continued, unfazed:

"You'll find someone else soon enough. You are gorgeous, Antonio, and you do have a pretty ass. If that boy didn’t want to tap that, then he was not worth the chase" he said. “Give it a couple of hours and you’ll even forget this boy exists”

"But I want him!" I suddenly exclaimed –fine, I whined- and Francis and Gilbert stared at me genuinely taken aback. The words left my mouth before I decided to speak them, and I furrowed my eyebrows, seriously doubting my own sanity.

"I mean", my mouth went dry, "you don’t know the whole story. He really gave me a hard time, and… I really want to… err…" I hesitated, I didn't know what to say.

Lovino was not special in the least, and Francis was completely right when he said I had been rejected before. I just had to accept the fact that Lovino was not interested, period. He probably wasn’t into guys anyway. Tonight I was going to meet someone else and let’s move on. The problem was that I was perfectly aware I was lying to myself.

"I guess you are just fed up, right Antonio? You need to spice up your life" Francis said with a knowing glint in his eyes, and I couldn’t help thinking he was right.

I loved my life, but there was not enough room for change. You just dance and flirt and drink and have fun and either they accept the metaphorical ride or hop into someone else’s car. It’s hard for some people, but it was never difficult for me. I enjoyed it. Nevertheless, it does get boring. There is no challenge when some just says yes or no.

Then this guy came into the picture that got that look, that one little thing that could make things interesting. He was worth the chase, I was sure of it. If I managed to go all the way with someone like Lovino, wouldn’t that be a big hit?

"Let me get this straight” Gilbert suddenly said. "You want to hit on this guy”

“Yes”

“But you don’t know how to find him again, is that it?” he asked.

“I do know. He works at the Nightwave”

“Oh”

A moment of silence.

“You want to go back there?” Gilbert said looking panicked.

"Are you afraid that big Russian brother is going to be there waiting for you?" Francis asked putting a hand on Gilbert’s shoulder. Gilbert clicked his tongue in irritation and shrugged Francis’ hand off.

"No, of course not!" Gilbert exclaimed. “In fact, let’s go again tonight!"

"You are not going anywhere" Ludwig said from his place next to the register. Gilbert opened his mouth, ready to complain, but Ludwig didn’t even look up from the papers he was checking and continued: "Not until that eye is healed"

"But, Ludwig!" Gilbert whined and stood up from his seat. "You can’t tell me what to do!”

“I can and I will” Ludwig calmly replied. Gilbert stomped over to where Ludwig was minding his own business, and I watched them bickering for a while before I turned my attention back to Francis.

"I guess it's going to be just you and me " he said.

I nodded, but I was still upset over what I said earlier. My stomach grumbled violently, and I finally realized why I was so grumpy all of a sudden. I had skipped breakfast, after all. Lovino had nothing to do with it. He definitely didn’t have anything to do with it. Francis looked at me concerned and then stood up, sighing loudly as a mother who had to deal with her absent-minded child on a daily basis would.

“Come on, let me treat you to lunch”

“Thanks God” I whispered.

We agreed to go together to the Nightwave later that evening. Francis even offered to pick me up with his car and promised me that, if things didn’t work out, we would just get out of there as soon as possible and go somewhere else. He probably meant to imply that he wouldn’t drink; that he was just going to be my wingman and that he would not think about partying or hitting on people all night long. I highly doubted things were going to end this way, and I brought my driver’s license with me just in case.

When the time came, and I was waiting to spot Francis’ red Renault Mégane IV driving around the corner, I suddenly felt nervous. I was fidgeting like a schoolgirl and I started making up scenarios in my head for what was going to happen when I would see Lovino for the second time. Finally Francis stopped the car before me; I tried to calm myself down as soon and I got in. I didn’t think Francis noticed the tension in my shoulders, because he didn’t point it out to me. On the contrary, he was too excited to notice I was nervous.

"He must be really handsome!" he kept saying. He wanted to hear the details. He wanted me to describe Lovino to him and to tell him how exactly did Lovino humiliate me in front of the bartender. He was having a blast.

"Is he blond? A brunet?"

What a funny guy.

“Is he muscular? Is he tall?”

What a funny, funny guy.

The Nighwave looked duller than it did the night before but there was a long line out the door all the same. It took us more than an hour just to get in and by then my anxiety had turned into honest-to-God excitement.

People were dancing maniacally on the dance floor; the DJ was good, and flashing lights throbbed above us in time to the music. I looked at Francis and pointed towards the bar. He grinned at me, grabbed my arm, and we pushed through the dancing crowd together.

I tend to get lost in my own thoughts quite easily, and that time was no exception. For a moment I completely forgot where we were, I couldn’t even hear the music or feel Francis’ arm around my waist. All I could think of was what I was going to say. Should I go for a really witty pick-up line or should I apologize for the night before? Should I smile? Should I ask him to dance? Should I just stand there and sip my drink until he spotted me?

I recognized at last Alfred standing behind the counter, laughing at something one of his customers said, and I picked up the pace. Francis whined something in my ear, but I ignored him, and I was ready to snap at him when he pulled me violently into his arms to stop me.

"What?" I mouthed, and I finally noticed that Francis’ arm was not around my waist anymore. I looked up and I saw him standing by my side, face-to-face with a blond man with really thick eyebrows. He looked kind of familiar…

"Francis?" the other man exclaimed, loud enough to be heard above the music.

"Arthur?" Francis asked, uncertain. He blinked in surprise and a smile touched the corners of his mouth. "Arthur!”

"Bloody hell! What are you doing here?" Arthur exclaimed in reply. I couldn’t decipher the look on his face, but it must have triggered something in Francis for let go of me right away and completely forgot my existence. Arthur let his eyes linger on me for a second and his impressively big eyebrows jerked up. Arthur… I knew an Arthur long ago…

"I'm dancing, of course! This is a nightclub after all!" Francis said laughing and moved his hips sensually. Arthur didn’t look impressed. "It’s been, what? Almost seven, six years since we last saw each other, and this is how you greet me? You should be throwing yourself in my arms!”

Arthur’s lips quivered, but I couldn’t tell if he wanted to smile or frown. In the end he said:

"You didn’t change a bit, frog”

Did I hear right? Did he say frog?

"Neither did you" Francis said and a grin spread on his face. My eyes darted between them and I finally remembered.

This guy standing before us was no other than Arthur Kirkland.

How could I even forget him? We went to school together and parted ways on the last day of high school. We never liked each other much, although we were good friends before we hit puberty. At some point our friendship (or passive acknowledgment of each other’s existence) turned into rivalry, and we started bickering over the most ridiculous things. We competed for everything: who was more fashionable, who had the most expensive things, who was faster, who was strongest? It didn’t matter. I had to beat him, and he didn’t want to lose.

Gilbert enjoyed our fights, but never interfered. Francis, on the other hand, was more emotionally involved.

Arthur and Francis’s relationship has always been complicated. They were rivals, but when it suited them they would be the best of friends. They would insult each other, but I caught them hugging many times, gulping down alcohol and apologizing between sobs. They disagreed in everything and loved to piss each other off even when the other was right. They publicly agreed only when they had to face someone they both didn’t like. They kept getting into huge fights all the time, but sometime they would suddenly team up for whatever reason. In other words, it was difficult for Francis to pick sides when Arthur and I dropped gloves.

I stopped caring at some point. Just as suddenly as it started, our rivalry stopped, and we went back to that passive acknowledgement of each other’s existence. It was not the same with Francis.

Remember the pact? It was Arthurs's fault that Francis agreed to it. He confessed to me when I asked him one day. Francis was in love with Arthur, he told me. One day he mustered the courage to confess his love to him, and Arthur harshly rejected him. They probably never talked to each other since that day, and now, seeing them chatting like long lost friends, I couldn’t stop thinking that it was true: time indeed heals all wounds.

Francis didn’t stop me when I decided to continue my way to the bar. It was better to let him reminisce about his past with Arthur instead of having him perched on my back like an overgrown condor watching my every move.

When I finally reached the bar, Alfred had already spotted me pushing my way through the crowd. He made a weird face and he didn’t try to hide the pitiful look in his eyes, but all in all he looked pretty content to see me. He grinned and motioned me to sit down.

"It’s nice to see you again!" Alfred exclaimed cheerfully and laughed. "I thought you’d never come back!"

"Why wouldn’t I?" I said returning the smile. "This place is not that bad”

"Thanks, pal! I am the owner! I bought the place some months ago from a sleazeball for a really good price" Alfred revealed disappearing for a second from my view. He kneeled down under the counter and stood back up with a full bottle of mojito in his hands. “It still needs a little bit of work, though. I want to get rid of that mermaid at the entrance, for instance, and replace it with a cowboy or something really hardcore, like… I don’t know I still didn’t come up with anything good” he blabbered. “I even thought of changing the name into something cooler, super-hero level kind of cool. Hey, buddy, what can I get ya?”

I opened my mouth to retort, but he suddenly laughed, held the fingers of his right hand in a shape of a gun and pointed his index at me.

"No, I know what you want!” he exclaimed. “Don’t tell me I didn’t warn you yesterday, but this is bound to get interesting anyway and I don’t want to miss the show. Hey, LOVINO!” he shouted so loudly than many customers stopped what they were doing to look at him.

"I-!" I squeaked.

“WHAT?” someone shouted just as loudly, and I saw Lovino coming out from a room behind the bar. It must have been the storage room, because he was carrying a whole case of beer in his arms.

"Don't you see I'm bu—" Lovino yelled and stopped shouting the moment he saw me. I stared at him with my mouth slightly agape, my mind went blank. He was handsome.

“Oh, the Spanish bastard” he commented and shot a murderous look at Alfred as the bartender grabbed the case of beer from his grip. He picked it up with one hand, as if it were light as a feather, and Lovino remained standing with his arms raised in the air.

“Gimme that” Alfred said, cheerful. “Take his order, will ya?” he said then, immensely enjoying himself. Lovino huffed and came closer to me, but it was clear he wanted nothing more than to be back in the storage room.

“Are you here to teach me some more Spanish, or does this shithole remind you of home?” he asked.

"Lovino, be nice to the customers!" Alfred shouted and Lovino's glare darkened. His hazel eyes were lovely.

"What do you want?" Lovino asked harshly.

"Your number”

Damn, my brain-to-mouth filter.

"If I wanted to give my number to someone, I would have given it to a pretty lady and not to a guy with an ego larger than his tiny brain like you, Spanish bastard" he said.

“Antonio” I said.

“What?”

“My name’s Antonio”

“And I should give a damn, because…?”

"It's only fair since I know your name, Lovino" I said, tried to sound self-assured and sexy.

Lovino just snorted and glanced at Alfred, who was serving some other customers some feet away from us.

"Whatever, Spanish bastard" Lovino said rolling his eyes to the ceiling. "Tell me what you want so I can look at something else that’s not your ugly, stupid face"

"I want to start afresh" I said.

"I meant what you want to drink, for fuck’s sake!” Lovino exclaimed, annoyed, and grabbed the first bottle he saw on the counter. He took a glass and filled it with liquor. "Take this, and don’t tell Alfred I haven’t been nice to you!" he added and slammed the glass on the table, almost hitting my hand. The drink fizzed, and some drops fell on my arm.

"Thanks" I said and wrapped one hand around the glass. "I'm not going to drink tonight, though, because my friend Francis is probably getting really drunk right now and someone needs to stay sober so we can safely return home by car-!" I stopped, sensing his glare on me. "I guess that’s too much information”

"You must be very good at ‘What am I?’” he said and made to leave. I panicked and almost fell off my chair in my attempt to get his attention.

"Do you like to work here?" I blurted out. He just raised an eyebrow at me.

"Are we playing Twenty Questions now, bastard? I am not here for your personal enjoyment. I am working, and I am not interested in you"

That reminded me…

"Some people can’t take a hint” I said laughing. He blinked in surprise at my reaction and then his lips turned into an angry frown.

“Are you taking the piss out of me?”

“No, I am just really dense” I said. “That was a joke, wasn’t it? I am really good at ‘What am I?’ because I said ‘I guess’ and ‘What am I?’ is a guessing game, right? My friend always tells me some people can’t take a hint when I don’t immediately get the joke, but not this time, because that was the joke, wasn’t it?”

Lovino’s expression was priceless, although I didn’t know what I said exactly in order to earn that disbelieving look. I didn’t have the time to ask, though, because, just in that moment, someone bumped into me, put an arm around my shoulder, and sighed loudly against my ear distracting me from Lovino. The smell of alcohol was nauseating, but I recognized Francis’ cologne under all that booze.

"Oh, is this the scandalous boy you told me about?" Francis exclaimed and looked up at Lovino, whose eyes were wide as saucers. “I thought it was just one boy, Antonio, naughty fellow” Francis slurred and pressed his cheek against mine. I tried to look over his head in case Arthur was with him, but he was alone.

“I see two” Francis commented and pointed at Lovino with an unsteady finger. “You are both handsome” he said and started giggling.

“We should probably get going” I said and stood up. Francis leant all his weight on me and it was difficult to hold him up without stumbling. Lovino stared at us and shook his head at a loss for words. Francis was so drunk he let me drag him away without putting up a fight, and I smiled apologetically at Lovino.

“See you around” I told him.

"See you never, Tony Baloney" I heard Romano shout after me. I felt like carrying a dead weight for the way Francis clung onto me, and I was drenched in sweat when I finally managed to push him unceremoniously into the car. I searched through his pockets, ignoring his sounds of dissent, and let out a triumphant yelp when I finally found the car’s keys. He moaned and laughed from his place in the back as I got into the driver’s seat and started his car.

"You know what's funny, Tony boy? Arthur always hated", hiccup, "nightclubs! He always said it’s not a gentleman’s place or something”, hiccup, "just as ridiculous. Guess what? His bestie is the owner of that club! Isn't life strange?" he asked, laughed and hiccupped again.

“Some things never change” I muttered to myself remembering all the times Francis and Arthur Kirkland spent together drinking.

I was glad that I had taken my driver's license with me.

Chapter Text

Chapter Three

That Tuesday was Lilly's birthday.

Lilly Zwingli is one of my co-workers, and she is a really charming and cute girl. Kids love her because she looks more like a child than a grown-up, and they feel much more at ease with her than with any other adult they know. Before you ask, I never tried to woo her; she is not really my type. I don’t know if anyone actually tried to flirt with her, because she gives off a sibling kind of vibe, and you must be a little messed up, if you desperately want to hit on your underage little sister.

But I guess that doesn’t really stop people, does it?

All that aside, she has a very possessive brother, Vash, and if you really want to ask for her hand in marriage, you must face him first. Those who dare probably have a death wish. He will let you date Lilly over his dead body, and even in the most far-fetched worst-case scenario in which Vash and Lilly’s man-to-be engage in a hand-to-hand combat, Vash is definitely going to be the last man standing. He really loves her, I understand that, and he wants to protect her at all costs, but he does tend to exaggerate.

I invited her out for coffee when we first met, and he tagged along. I mean, I didn’t see anything wrong with it, because there was nothing sexual about it. I just wanted to know my co-workers better, and if Lilly’s brother wanted to come too, fine. The more, the merrier, I said. Long story short, I almost ended up in the hospital, because I dared to pass the sugar to her and accidentally touched her hand. He wanted to cut off my… well, you know. It took Lilly more than two hours to convince him that I was not ill-intentioned. I was lying unconscious on the cafeteria’s floor, so I didn’t hear which facts she submitted in evidence, but I am sure she made her point.

Vash doesn’t trust me, but, then again, he doesn’t trust anyone. He has a very unique way of holding the knife when someone stares at Lilly too long, but I am sure he is a really nice guy underneath all those layers of hostility. He doesn’t talk to me much, but Lilly talks about him a lot, so I know what he’s into. If it were Vash’s birthday, I would know what he would have liked to receive as a gift, even if it would be too expensive for me.

But that day was Lilly’s birthday, not Vash’s; I got no present, and I had no idea what to get her.

Fortunately, it was my day off work, so I had all morning to think of something good. The problem was I sucked at shopping. It’s not as if I don’t like it; in fact, I know exactly what to buy… at least, I have a vague idea of what I should buy when I leave home. Managing distractions, however, is so tough, and I end up forgetting what I need too quickly. I tend to buy whatever catches my attention, and by the time I remember why I went to the mall in the first place, all shops are closed. That is why I usually go shopping with Gilbert, because he sticks to the list and doesn’t let me spend unnecessary money on the first cute thing I see.

That Tuesday, though, Gilbert and Francis were working, and I had to go shopping all on my own. I could always drag Gilbert away from the bookstore, but even I could see it was not a good idea, since Ludwig tends to be a little bit over-dramatic when someone skips work.

I didn’t want to go to Lilly’s party that evening empty-handed, although I knew she wouldn’t mind. Vash would, however, and a displeased Vash was a murderous Vash, and I was not ready to kick the bucket just yet. So, I made my way to the mall, sure that nothing would ever distract me from my mission. I didn’t have a list, but I had a purpose, and that would be…! Oh, a puppy…!

Damn it.

Next thing I know, I was staring at a pair of really tacky shoes. These sparkling red ankle-strap high heels had even little smiling faces on them, but I doubted Lilly would ever wear them, so I decided to move on to the next shoes. I was leaning towards a pair of extravagant women’s ankle boots, when I heard a familiar voice shouting at the store clerk behind me. I put the boot back in its place and turned my head to the source of that shrilly voice.

"What? You don’t have them in red?” the blond man shouted aggressively brandishing one blue stiletto shoe in the air. “This is, like totally outrageous!”

I totally forgot about the shoes and headed towards them. I heard the store clerk apologize as she tried to get the blue stiletto back before the man could hit her with it. I stared at them for a long moment and smiled, as soon as I remembered the man’s name. He looked a little bit different from the last time I saw him, since he was wearing pants now, but he was definitely Lovino’s friend, Feliks.

“What about this pair, sir? They are comfortable and stylish” the clerk said opening another shoebox. “Your girlfriend will love them”

Feliks looked at her, unimpressed.

“First of all, how dare you?” he said squinting at the shoes the clerk was trying to sell him. “They are completely out of style, girl. You probably have them on some shelf gathering dust since opening day. Do you take me for a fool? I am not wearing them unless-!” he stopped. We locked eyes and his mouth formed a little o of surprise.

“Hi” I whispered raising my hand in greeting, but he didn’t wave back and just turned back to the clerk once more.

“Never mind. I’ll come another time” he said and flipped his blond hair as he turned his back to her.

“The nerve of some people” he sighed as soon as he stood by my side. “They think you can’t tell good brand from shitty brand and try to shove things into your shopping bag not even Richard Simmons would buy” he complained grabbing my arm and dragging me out of the shoe shop. The clerk watched us leave and I shot a last glance at her before turning my attention back to Feliks.

“You are the Spanish bastard, right?” he asked, his face morphing into a grin. “Lovino told me you tried to hit on him a second time. I don’t work on Saturdays, but man! I wish I had been there”

“Lovino talked to you about me?” I asked, flattered, but he snickered.

“You don’t want to know” Feliks said and raised his eyebrows. “What’s your name again?”

“Antonio” I said and smiled brightly. Feliks gazed at me with half-lidded eyes, deep in thought.

“Ah, yes, Tony Baloney” he said in the end.

“No, just Antonio”

“I like Tony Baloney better. I’m Feliks by the way” Feliks said. ”So, what are you doing here? Are you planning to, like, conquer Lovino’s heart with shoes?” he teased. “FYI, that’s not going to work”

“It’s my friend’s birthday today, and I am looking for a gift” I explained.

“You are much more naïve than I thought” Feliks commented.

“Thanks… I guess…”

“So what are you really? A stalker, a pervert? I might look fragile, but I will kick your ass if you dare hurt my friend”

Funny guy.

“I am a childcare worker”

“A pedophile?”

“God, no”

“Good” Feliks said, and only when I saw his shoulders relax, I realized he had been wary of me the whole time. “So what does your friend like? Is he your boyfriend?”

“She is a friend from work” I said and started describing her to him. Although his face wore a slightly bored expression, Feliks listened to me attentively, and burst out laughing when I started talking about her brother, Vash.

“Oh, then it’s going to be really easy!” Feliks said and his tone of voice was much more cheerful than when we started talking. “I bet she would love a pony! I would”

“I can’t buy a pony”

“All men are the same!” Feliks exclaimed rolling his eyes to the sky. “Toris is totally against ponies too. He says we don’t have room enough for one at home, but they are so tiny and cute. I bet he would change idea as soon as we get one”

“I don’t think Vash would appreciate it” I said, and Feliks shook his head.

“Nonsense”

We kept walking arm in arm, and I finally realized that we had left the mall for good only when Feliks stopped at the crossroad and looked up at the red traffic light.

“Are you really interested in Lovino?” Feliks suddenly asked glancing at the cars rolling past us. “You don’t even really know him and you already hit on him, like twice” he continued as if this explained his curiosity. I didn’t know what to say to that, so I just shrugged. Feliks huffed and crossed the road as soon as the light turned green.

“This is my favorite café!” he exclaimed suddenly, turning cheerful once more. I looked over to where he was pointing and almost tripped over my own feet when I saw a guy sitting on his own at one of the small, round tables lining in front of a Parisian-style café. I heard Feliks giggle besides me, and pushed me back up on my feet. “Don’t get your panties in a knot” he said and walked faster towards the guy playing with his smartphone.

When the guy raised his head, I finally got a good look at his face. The first thing I noticed was the curl, which curved the same way Lovino’s did, just on the wrong side of the head. He wasn't as tanned as Lovino and his hair was more auburn than dark brown, but he physically looked like Lovino’s twin brother.

“Hi, darling” Feliks greeted him, and sat down next to the guy. “This is Antonio, I hope you don’t mind”

“I am always happy to meet new friends!” the guy exclaimed reaching out and grabbing my hand. I shook hands with him, foolishly dazzled by the bright smile on this guy’s face. He was nothing like Lovino, but, boy, he was cute.

“Antonio, this is Feliciano” Feliks introduced him. He paused dramatically. “Lovino’s brother”

My hands were shaking when I grabbed a chair from another table and pulled it next to Feliciano. I was so stunned I couldn’t speak.

“Oh, you know my brother?” Feliciano asked oozing charm. His smile was blinding. “Are you his friend? I didn’t know Lovino had friends, but he is very protective of his privacy, so there are many things I don’t know about him, but-!”

“Now don’t jump to conclusion” Feliks interrupted him, his eyes glinting in amusement.

“I just met him twice at the Nightwave” I said before Feliks could tell him the exact circumstances under which his brother and I met. Feliks looked even more entertained.

“Oh, the nightclub” Feliciano commented, his voice betraying disappointment, and then shared a look with Feliks, as if he needed details but he wasn’t sure how to ask for them in front of me. I must have misunderstood his expression, though, for he looked as happy as a clam immediately after:

“So where are you from, Antonio?” he asked me.

“I have been living here for a lot of years, but I am originally from Spain” I answered and then I started to describe them the little town I grew up in.

A waiter came to our little table and took Feliks’ and Feliciano’s order as I gave a not so brief account of my experience in this foreign land when I first moved here, although I was too young to remember every detail. By the time I was done talking, the waiter had already came back with the hot chocolate and the cappuccino the two had ordered, but neither of them seemed interested in their beverages. Feliciano hung on my every word, nodding enthusiastically when he recognized himself in my story and making surprised noises when he did not, while Feliks remained completely in silence.

“I get you” Feliciano said, leaning closer to me. “I grew up in Italy, but we moved here because of my father’s job when we were fourteen or something. I don’t remember exactly. I miss Italy, though. The food there is great, although I can make everything on my own, so it’s not as if I miss it that much. We speak Italian at home, so it feels like we are still living in Rome when the three of us are together. My dad, my brother and I, I mean. My dad lives out of town, by the way, but he comes visit us at least once a week. When he does, we eat till we’re stuffed. By the way, do you like pasta? You could come over to dinner sometimes. The pasta here is awful, if you eat out. I prefer to make it on my own, or I just use Barilla”

“I never ate handmade pasta” I said.

“You’re missing out” Feliciano said shaking his head sympathetically. I smiled, he was so cute. The dimples in his cheeks deepened when he beamed, and he was so attractive that I wanted to lean closer and pet him on the head as if he were a puppy.

We started talking about food, and this time Feliks decided to join our conversation. Food brings people together, I thought, as Feliks started talking about different Polish dishes.

Chitchatting with them, especially with Feliciano, was really nice and reinvigorating. He bounced off the walls with contagious enthusiasm, his talked a mile a minute, he didn’t swear, he didn’t make fun of me, and he looked really interested in what I wanted to say. I felt completely in sync with him. If someone came to our table to learn something about us, I would probably introduce Feliciano as my friend to them without a second thought.

Then we started talking about Lovino: a conversation I actually didn’t want to have, not with his brother at least.

“We got off on the wrong foot” I admitted when Feliciano asked my opinion on him, his eyes bright with interest.

“He is that type of guy, don’t worry” Feliks piped in. “It’s like, difficult, if not impossible, to get in his good graces, especially when you try to woo him in a nightclub” he added and his lips curved slightly upwards in a teasing manner.

“What did you say?” Feliciano asked, confused.

“You know what I mean” Feliks said with a nonchalant wave of the hand. “He doesn’t like people in general”

“It just takes him a while to open up” Feliciano said.

“He doesn’t open up to you, and you are his brother!”

“You said you live together” I said joining the conversation.

“Yes, and I don’t mind. I mean, for the most part he is easy to deal with, once you know which buttons not to push. He can’t afford to rent an apartment, so we just live together for the time being, but he is a messy person. I do all the housework. He hates it, and when he wants to help, which is rare, mind you, he ends up breaking something up”

“My little Cinderella” Feliks teased him. The way Feliciano stuck his tongue out at him in a childlike manner was endearing.

“My father doesn’t really like the fact he is working in that nightclub” Feliciano continued. “He says that he never tried hard enough, that he should find what he really wants to do instead of settling for the easy way out”

“I don’t think working with Alfred is easy” I said replaying our second encounter in my mind.

“Tell me about it” Feliks said. “You work for him, not with him. He is one of a kind” he added evasively.

“What do you do for a living?” I asked Feliciano.

“I am a fashion designer” Feliciano said with a smile. I was impressed, and we started talking about work. I didn’t realize I was pressing my shoulder against Feliciano’s until I noticed the raised eyebrow on Felik’s face. I immediately moved my chair away from his.

“Are you hungry, Antonio?” Feliciano asked unaware of Felik’s amused expression. “Feliks and I were planning to have lunch together”

I looked at the time and realized it got really late. Lilly! I still needed to buy Lilly’s present before tonight’s party! Damn it, I got distracted.

“I am sorry” I said smiling apologetically. “I need to go shopping today”

“Oh, yes! Your friend!” Feliks exclaimed. “Buy her a pony, she will like it” he added, and Feliciano raised an eyebrow at him, confused, but he didn’t read too much into his friend’s words for he said:

“That’s too bad” Feliciano said, pouting. He searched for a pen in his jacket’s pocket and grabbed a napkin from the napkin holder. “You are such a nice guy, Antonio” he said scribbling something on it. He handed out the napkin to me, on which he had written his phone number. “We should see each other again sometime!” he exclaimed with a grin as I stood up from my chair.

I said goodbye to them and left with the napkin in my jacket’s pocket. I felt elated, and wondered if that day could get any better than that.

Frankly, it did. Lilly loved the stuffed pony I bought her, and Vash even smiled at me for making his sister happy. It was a blink and you’ll miss it kind of smile, but it was a smile nonetheless.

Maybe being easily distracted is not a bad thing after all.

Chapter Text

Francis 1

Bonjour! How are you, my lovelies?

My name is Francis Bonnefoy. Antonio has already talked about me, so I don’t need to bore you with unnecessary trivia about my life. If you want to get to know me a little bit more, however, my number is 202-555-0154. Call me, and I’ll treat you to a candlelight dinner. Who knows, my love, maybe things will get interesting between us…

But first things first, there are some things Antonio doesn’t know, and that is why I was asked to tell you my version of this story. Before I begin, however, I would like to make it clear that I am much more handsome than how Antonio described me, and that I am indeed the most responsible one out of the three of us. Another thing he failed to mention is that he has never read one of my articles; otherwise he would be aware that I sometimes write about Gilbert’s lack of fashion sense and his tragic love life. I love them both dearly, so I won’t take their lack of interest in my job the wrong way.

Anyway, my version on this story is of vital importance. You must be aware that Antonio is what we call an unreliable narrator. He lives with his head in the clouds every now and then, so he might misunderstand people’s actions and words. I am here to save you the trouble of making sense of what he says, my love. Trust me on this.

My part in this story has been significantly underestimated. I don’t understand why everybody claims I am guilty of all the bad things that happen around here, when it’s them who are so cavalier with my advice.

Everything started that Saturday night, when I had the displeasure of meeting no other than Arthur Kirkland in my quest to push Antonio in that bartender’s arms. Was he a bartender? I didn’t know. Antonio just said he worked at the Nightwave, so to the Nightwave we went.

What were the odds of meeting Arthur after so many years, and in a nightclub no less? Granted, I have no recollection of that night, and I still don’t know how I managed to get home all on my own, but I did remember Arthur the morning after. I even found a crumpled piece of paper in my jacket’s pocket, on which Arthur has scribbled his address, and I laughed so loudly when I saw it I woke up my neighbors. Arthur must have been three sheets to the wind the night before, or he would have never, ever told me where he lived.

I had to make the most of it. It had been at least seven years since I last saw him after all. At this point, I am sure most of you wonder why I bothered, since Antonio told you about my past with Arthur.

You see, saying that my relationship with Arthur was complicated would be a huge misunderstanding. I didn’t enjoy his company, and he didn’t enjoy mine, but I loved teasing him, and it’s difficult to tease someone by ignoring them. If I hated him, I would have thrown that crumpled piece of paper away, for instance. He was serving his ass on a silver platter, and I couldn’t miss his outraged expression for anything in the world.

Despite leaving home in a hurry that Sunday morning, I tried to make myself presentable. Having no time is no excuse for neglecting one’s look. You are all exceptionally beautiful; all your flaws make you unique and perfect, and you need to value your uniqueness. Therefore it’s your duty to take care of yourselves, my lovelies. It’s just time management, really, and if you disagree with me, well, then you are on Arthur Kirkland’s team.

As soon as I arrived in front of his building, I rang the buzzer and waited. I heard his voice croaking from the other line of the intercom not soon after, and my imagination went wild. I could picture him perfectly in my head: his disheveled hair, his disheveled bushy eyebrows, his terrible morning breath… although he probably already had his morning tea, so he should smell more like burnt scones and Earl Grey than anything else.

"Who is it?"

I wondered if his morning routine had changed in the last ten years, but a creature of habit like Arthur couldn’t even change favorite brand of tea, so I doubted it.

"Bonjour, my love!" I exclaimed into the intercom. There was a long moment of silence, but I knew he was still listening.

“I didn’t order any frogs, thank you” he said and cut off communication. I remained staring at the buzzer for a while, and pressed the button once more.

“I said I am not interested” Arthur screeched from the other line.

“Don’t lie to me, mon cher. You practically begged me to come home with you last night”

“I did not do such a thing” he said after a moment. “Did I?” he asked, unsure. “You know what? Just leave the way you came”

He cut off intercom once again.

I rang the buzzer.

“What?” he slurred, annoyed.

“I can stay here all day long” I teased him. “Someone is bound to come through this door, and I’ll make sure to describe to all of your neighbors every detail of your body, how it looks like when squirming under me, begging for more. I’ll focus on your lips. Oh, your lips! Opening slightly in order to..!”

The door buzzed, and as I triumphantly pushed it open, I heard Arthur shouting from the intercom:

“Third floor. Don’t use the lift”

When I saw the ‘out of order’ sign on the door, I realized that Arthur must have been in a really good mood if he warned me about it beforehand. I decided not to overthink it and made my way up the stairs, climbing two steps at a time. When I reached the second floor, however, I was gasping for my life. My heart was hammering, but it was not because I wanted to see Arthur in his flannel pajamas with that classic tartan pattern he loved so much, although not as much as his older brother.

When I finally climbed up to the third floor, breathless, Arthur was already waiting for me with his arms crossed, lips curled down in displeasure and his hair messed up as always. He was wearing pajamas with a classic red tartan pattern, and he was a sight for sore eyes. I smiled at him; he glowered even more, turned his back to me and stepped into his apartment. I followed him inside and closed the door behind me.

"So" I said making a bee line to the sofa, “how are you?"

"I’m angry at you, pervert” he said. “How the blood hell did you know my address?”

“I told you”

“Don’t feed me that shit” Arthur said disappearing in the kitchen. “Would you like some tea? I made scones”

I knew it.

“Yes for the tea, no for the scones. I value my life”

“I could always poison your tea, Francis” he said, and I could tell he was smiling by the tone of his voice. Now I had proof: he was definitely in a good mood, if he called me Francis and didn’t throw a tantrum for indirectly insulting his culinary skills.

“Very funny, Arthur” I said making myself comfortable on the old sofa. God, my heart had never beaten faster. I really needed to get in shape. “My, why does your apartment look like an old granny’s house? Where’s Tweety?”

“I ate it for dinner” he said from the kitchen and I burst out laughing.

"You haven’t changed a bit” I commented hearing him tinkering in the kitchen, but I didn’t dare go and see what exactly was he doing.

“You haven’t either” Arthur said. “How much cyanide do you take in your tea?”

“Just the normal amount” I said looking away from Arthur’s ugly curtains when he came back into the living room carrying two cups of steaming tea on a plastic tray. He put them down on the small coffee table in front of me and sat down on a beige colored wing armchair. He didn’t serve me, just added a splash of milk in his tea and wrapped his hands around his cup.

How many years have passed again? I wondered. For some reason, it felt as if we had never drifted apart. His facial features weren’t those of a teenager anymore, obviously, but they were definitely still his. Despite the old man’s pajamas and his gentlemanlike manners, I could still discern the little punk he had been in high school. I could still see right through him, and that was what disconcerted me most.

“Aren’t you going to drink your tea?” he complained. “It’s getting cold” he said and put down his cup to add two teaspoons of sugar in mine. I thanked him and hoped he didn’t notice me blushing, because I got distracted reminiscing about our past together. He ran a hand through his blond hair, something he used to do when he was stressed.

I see, I though.

For some reason, Arthur was in a good mood, but at the same time my presence was making him feel apprehensive. It wasn’t difficult to understand why. We haven’t spoken in ages, and this conversation could either go really well, meaning we could go back to the way we were before, or force us to fill the awkward silence with pleasantries, because neither of us had something to say to the other anymore. I feared the sense of dissatisfaction that would follow, if that was going to be the case.

He suddenly looked up from the coffee table and caught me staring. He didn't say anything, however, and just started stirring absentmindedly his cup of hot tea. The only sound was the clock ticking away the minutes.

“The weather is nice today” he said suddenly, breaking the silence. I had to snort.

“Are we really going to talk about the weather?”

He shot me a dirty look.

“Yes, it’s pretty nice” I said, obliging him.

"I've never saw you with a stubble" he said, ignoring me.

"It makes me look mature, doesn’t it?" I grinned.

“You look like an ass to me”

"Said the caterpillar"

“Your jokes on my eyebrows are getting old”

“These are jokes that will never fall out of fashion, my dear” I said.

“Speaking of fashion, I heard you are a columnist in a fashion magazine…?”

“The best, in fact” I boasted.

“I doubt it” he said. “I never read one of your articles, though. Your name doesn’t appear in any magazine”

“I use a pen name” I explained, “Joan Red”

He furrowed his eyebrows and slowly put down his cup on the coffee table.

“Are you still not over Joan of Arc?”

“Of course not, darling” I said. “She is my hero and always will be”

“Let’s not get started” he huffed. “What about Red?” he asked.

“What about it?”

Another dirty look.

"Oh, it’s just a color" I said, trying to sound nonchalant. "There are many reasons for that. Roses are red, red is the color of passion, Gilbert's eyes are red or…"

"So it’s not because it’s Antonio’s favorite color" Arthur interrupted me, his beautiful green eyes glinting in amusement. The bastard. He knew the real reason but pushed me to say it. I shrugged, playing it cool.

“You are still friends with them, aren’t you? I must say I was surprised to see you with him last night” he said, and I recognized the worry in his voice. I can’t say that I wasn’t touched.

“We are great friends” I admitted. “We are still the infamous Bad Touch Trio”

He groaned and rolled his eyes to the ceiling.

“You three are mad as a bag of ferrets”

I laughed, and his shoulders suddenly relaxed.

“I guess it’s not my place to say this, but it looks to me as though you have never told him”

“Why should I?” I asked inadvertently getting defensive.

“Are you still…?” he asked looking at me straight in the eyes, searching for something I didn’t know was there. I didn’t take my eyes off him, but when he finally relaxed, I realized I had been holding my breath.

“No” I confessed, although I knew I didn’t need to say it out loud. Arthur had already figured it out anyway. “That’s why I won’t tell him now. I got over it”, I shrugged, “I was just a stupid teenager”

“Stupid indeed” he said, irritated. “Wasn’t he the reason why you agreed on that pact? The reason why you told everybody that you had confessed your undying love to me and I had rejected you?” he asked, disdainfully. “Why would I?”

"Are you telling me you wouldn't have?" I grinned.

"Stop twisting my words!" he exclaimed and blushed furiously. "You know what I meant!”

I snorted, but I couldn’t come up with any good comeback. I perfectly knew what he meant, but I didn’t want to agree with him so easily, so I took a sip of my tea to put an end to this conversation. Figures, Earl Grey.

We have already gotten into this little spat once, and I was not ready to go through this again. I didn’t want to go through this again, because it wouldn’t change things anyway.

The fact was this: ten years ago I had a big crush on Antonio. I was totally smitten, actually. Antonio was, is and always will be my best friend, but I can’t deny he is a very handsome and loving guy. He is easy to fall in love with; his radiating smile conquers hearts. I thought I would never fall for him, but in the end I became one of his victims too. At fifteen love doesn’t make sense, you fall and you fall hard. It’s beautiful and painful at the same time, and you commit many mistakes in its name.

At sixteen it wasn’t just a crush anymore. I was head over heels for my friend, Antonio, and it pained me to see him hand in hand with someone else.

When Antonio told us to go to Gilbert’s house that fateful day and started complaining about how life was unfair, I couldn’t help feeling happy. He was single again. It was selfish, I know, but I was so in love, I couldn’t see the big picture.

The pact was Antonio’s idea.

I immediately agreed, and when I did, Gilbert did too.

So, in the end, some things are indeed my fault.

That day, though, the pact was too good to turn it down. I didn't want to see him with anyone that wasn’t me. I would never be his, but thanks to this pact, no one would. Stupid teenagers; I should have thought it over better.

Because, in the end, just as easily as it started, I fell out of love with him. I care for him, obviously, but I don’t see him through the eyes of infatuation anymore. Antonio and I were never meant to be, but it was already too late when I realized that. Arthur told me I was a fool, when I confessed the pact to him. We fought about it a couple of times, and maybe that’s one of the million reasons why, we drifted apart so easily.

"How's the bastard anyway?"

Arthur's soft voice brought an end to my nostalgic thoughts. He was staring at me, but I could discern neither pity nor mockery in his eyes.

"Which one? Antonio or Gilbert?" I asked with a playful grin.

“That’s a good point” he said, the corners of his lips twitching upwards.

“They are doing great, thank you”

“Don’t thank me. I asked out of courtesy”

“There is nothing much interesting to say” I continued, ignoring his little sarcastic retort. I told him what they did for a living and about our most recent adventures. He didn’t look particularly interested, but he did raise an eyebrow at me, when I said:

“Antonio is infatuated with one of the bartenders in that nightclub, by the way"

"You mean the Nightwave?” he asked, looking alarmed.

"Yes” I said trying to read his expression. He took a sip of his tea. "He doesn't know it yet, but he fell for that guy hard”

"Who is the unlucky guy?" he asked, but it was now obvious to me that he didn’t really want to know the answer to that question.

"He is a short man, dark brown hair, if I remember correctly" I told him. "His name has an Italian ring to it” I added expressing this more as a question than a statement.

“Don’t tell me it’s Lovino!” he exclaimed, his eyes brightening with amusement. He put his now empty cup down on the coffee table again, and burst out laughing. In that moment I realized that Antonio has fallen for the wrong kind of guy, and I couldn’t help but worry.

"That guy is crackers. I’m not even sure he is gay, because he is such a ladies’ man” he said. “Come on, Francis! You can’t be serious. Antonio made many bad decisions in his life, but I would have never thought he would end up flirting with a guy so unpredictable, irritating and arrogant like Lovino!”

“Is he that bad?” I asked.

“He is never going to win him over, rest assured” Arthur said. “Unless…”

“Unless what?” I asked, already feeling intrigued by the way Arthur’s eyes danced with mischief. “What are you thinking of, Arthur?”

"I could give Antonio a hand" he said, and I suddenly grew suspicious.

"Why the sudden interest?"

"Antonio’s humiliation would amuse me greatly"

“What if Lovino doesn’t reject him in the end?” I asked.

“Please, that’s never going to happen”

“Do you want to bet on that?” I asked, and he smirked, accepting the challenge with just one look.

That moment of embarrassment we both have felt in the beginning was finally gone, replaced by that familiar sense of belonging, of mutual understanding, that has always characterized us, despite all our fights and petty bickering. It was like going home again, and my heart started beating fast in my chest. I knew Arthur felt it too, but didn’t comment on it.

“Deal” he said, and the way he pronounced that simple world sent shivers down my spine.

Chapter Text

Chapter 4

"They are late. Why are they late?”

"Jeez, relax! Maybe there’s traffic"

“I hate waiting”

“Mr. Awesome has no patience”

“Mr. Awesome is hungry”

“I told you we should have brought something too, Gilbert, but do you ever listen?”

“Fine, Ludwig. You were right, Ludwig. Is it that what you want to hear?”

“You sure are grumpy when you are hungry. Hey, guys, that rhymes!”

“Antonio, just, no”

“Why? I just wanted to make you laugh”

“It’s not working” Gilbert said and sighed. “What did you bring anyway?” he asked trying to peek into the picnic basket I was carrying.

“I thought it would be a lovely idea to bring some tomatoes. I grow them myself” I told them, proud. Ludwig raised a perfect, blond eyebrow at me.

“Where? In your apartment? Do you really have all that space?”

“Of course not” I said laughing at the silly question. “My neighbor owns a little rooftop garden on our building, but she is getting old and she can’t take care of it as she used to, so she told me I could have it and allowed me to grow whatever plant I wanted in there”

“But what about the high level of cadmium present in the air, especially in a city like ours!”

“Ludwig, please” Gilbert interrupted him, and grabbed a tomato from my basket. He took a bite and wiped off the tomato sauce dripping from his chin with the back of his hand.

“So?” I asked.

“Delicious” he said taking another bite. “I wouldn’t mind a Bratwurst, though”

The three of us together were quite a sight, what with Gilbert pacing back and forth to kill time, reminding people of a white lion trapped in a cage. Ludwig and I, on the other hand, were just sitting at one of the picnic tables, but the way we both observed Gilbert pacing back and forth was an amusing sight in itself. It was as if we were watching a game of tennis with just one player, no rackets and a tomato for a ball.

At this point, it would be better if I explained to you why we were in the park with nothing else but my tomatoes to eat in the first place. You see, Gilbert, his brother and I were supposed to meet with no other than Francis and Arthur almost two hours before.

Francis called us early that Sunday morning to tell us what a wonderful idea it would be to picnic in the park that very same day. What was surprising, though, was that Arthur was expected to come too and that he was going to bring some of his friends with him. Francis dictated when and where we should meet and just hung up without adding any other information.

Gilbert liked picnics, so he easily agreed to the idea. He didn’t care that Arthur was coming too, since he hadn’t seen him in years and had forgotten he didn’t really like the guy. Ludwig did, however, and decided to tag along, because he was worried about leaving Gilbert alone with us. I believe that the fight with the Russian man had significantly lowered his trust towards Gilbert’s self-control.

I, for my part, just thought that Francis was taking too many liberties with me and my don’t-wake-me-up-on-a-weekend-morning rule. I would have passed up his invitation, if I weren’t such a curious guy. It was clear that Francis and Arthur had organized this impromptu reunion together, but I couldn’t see the logic behind it. Their plans and schemes, especially when they came up with them together, don’t usually lead to good things, and I really wanted to see what they had in store for us. Call me stupid, but I don’t like living in curiosity forever.

Gilbert was right when he said they were quite late, and not the fashionably kind. At the beginning I thought it was because we were ridiculously early, since both Ludwig and Gilbert are extremely punctual. I would have left home later, but they picked me up, so I didn’t have any other choice.

Now, though, I was regretting giving in to Francis’ pleas.

"That guy is pissing me off" Gilbert suddenly said, breaking the comfortable silence once more. Ludwig and I shared a confused look, and I craned my neck to see who Gilbert was talking about. I couldn’t see anyone other than a bunch of children playing on the grass while their mothers gossiped sitting at another picnic table, and I turned to look at him again.

Gilbert sighed, irritated, and pointed somewhere on my left.

"That one!" Gilbert exclaimed. "He's been staring at us since we've got here!"

"Gilbert, don’t point at people!" Ludwig scolded him.

“Where?” I asked, standing up.

I honestly couldn't see anyone, but when Gilbert grabbed me by the shoulders and turned me around to where he was pointing at, I finally noticed a guy wearing a red shirt sitting alone under a tree. The man had blond, curly hair, just like Francis’, and wore glasses just like Alfred, the bartender. In fact, he resembled Alfred a lot, minus that air of arrogance about him like his look-alike had.

"He's coming!" Gilbert whispered. The guy looked at us and started walking towards our picnic table.

"That’s what happens when you point at people!" Ludwig said, but shut his mouth when the guy finally stopped in front of us.

"I'm sorry" he said, his voice a tiny whisper. "Are you by chance Arthur Kirkland's friends?"

We looked at each other, dumbfounded.

"Ah!" Gilbert suddenly exclaimed as a grin formed on his lips. "Are you waiting for that bastard too?”

“I-!” the guy stuttered and blushed when Gilbert patted him hard on the shoulder.

"I'm Gilbert Beilschmidt!" he introduced himself standing tall. "This is my brother Ludwig and this is my friend Antonio blah blah Carriedo! We are… yeah… Arthur's friends. You are?"

"My name is Matthew" the guy replied. "Alfred’s brother” he added after a moment of thought.

"You are the bartender's brother?” I exclaimed, unexpectedly excited. I shook hands with him and told him to sit down with us. “Have a tomato!” I told him pushing the basket towards him.

“Thanks, but no, thanks” he said, shy. Poor child, I wondered if he too was worried about the level of cadmium in the air…

I wanted to reassure him that there was nothing wrong with my tomatoes, when we distinctly heard two familiar voices having an argument somewhere behind us. I looked around and saw no other than Francis and Arthur standing nose-to-nose, their hands tangled in each other’s shirts.

"What took you so long?" Gilbert shouted, and the bickering suddenly stopped. Arthur gritted his teeth and shoved the other aside, but Francis just shot him a murderous look, his hand still holding onto the front of Arthur’s shirt. Although he seemed ready to start arguing again, he finally let go of Arthur, and smiled brightly at us instead.

“Good morning, lovelies!” Francis exclaimed, although it was already past noon. Francis’ eyes fixed on Matthew sitting quietly in front of me, and his smile grew even bigger.

“You must be Alfred" he said, warming up his voice. He walked to him and shook Matthew’s hand. Before Matthew could say anything, however, Arthur interfered:

"That’s not Alfred, you twat”

“Wasn’t he supposed to be here?” Francis asked immediately letting go of Matthew’s hand and forgetting about his existence not soon after. Arthur rolled his eyes to the sky and finally noticed my basket on the table.

“What’s that?” Arthur asked, wary.

“Tomatoes” I promptly answered, and Arthur’s eyes fell upon me. “Long time, no see, Arthur” I said with a smile.

“Guys, I am very happy to see you,” Gilbert said, “but you still didn’t answer my question. What took you so long?”

“It’s not my fault” Francis said, sniffing. “Arthur has a terrible sense of direction”

“Excuse me?” Arthur exclaimed, his eyes wide as saucers. “If you had asked for directions, we would have been here at least four hours ago!”

"I did ask for directions!"

"How? By being a world-class creep?"

"I was merely-!"

"Just shut up and admit that you don't know a fucking shit about-!"

"Are they always like that?" Matthew whispered staring at Francis and Arthur, alarmed, as they went back to their vicious bickering. Gilbert breathed out noisily and sat down next to him.

"That’s Francis and Arthur for you” he said. Ludwig sighed and stood up, walking over to Francis and Arthur, ready to intervene in case the two decided to get into another fight.

“Wow, I feel as if we have turned back time” Gilbert commented watching his brother putting an end to Arthur’s and Francis’ silly bickering.

"Dude! You are all so early!" someone barked suddenly, and we all turned around to the source of that loud voice. Alfred came running to us, laughing, and patted his brother on the shoulder. Matthew winced. “You are here too-!”

I have no clue what Alfred said to his brother that day, because my mind immediately focused on the two men standing not too far away from us, and I couldn’t hear anything else but my heart galloping madly in my chest. I shot up from my place, kicking my knee on the table in the process, and earned a disbelieving look from Gilbert’s part.

Lovino saw me first. His eyes became wide and he abruptly turned around set on going back the way he came. Feliciano, however, grabbed him by the arm and dragged him to where we were. As soon as he spotted me, Feliciano waved enthusiastically at me.

“Antonio!” he exclaimed, and Lovino finally stopped struggling to get free.

“Hi, Feliciano!” I greeted back. Feliciano immediately let go of his brother and ran towards me to kiss me twice on the cheek.

“Am I missing something here?” Gilbert asked, snickering, and he looked towards where Lovino was glaring at the two of us.

Feliciano opened his mouth to say something else, but let out a whine instead, when Lovino yanked him from the back of his shirt and pulled him away from my open arms.

“You!” Lovino exclaimed.

“Oh, yeah!” Alfred immediately interfered. “Arthur told me you would be here, so I thought it was going to be a great idea to-!”

“Shush!” Lovino shouted pointing an index at him. “I don’t want to hear it”

“Hahaha, you are such a hoot, Lovino!” Alfred exclaimed, looking completely pleased with himself.

"How the fuck do you know my brother, Spanish bastard!" he practically screamed in my ear. Everyone in the park stopped what they were doing to look at us, and Ludwig sighed, ready to interfere in case Lovino assaulted me.

“Antonio is a friend of mine” Feliciano said grabbing my arm. “Feliks introduced me to him a week ago. He comes from Spain, and he is a childcare worker, and he-!”

Lovino grimaced.

“That traitor!” he exclaimed, and then turned suddenly pale. “What did you do to my brother, you bastard?” he whined. “Oh, my God! You have a kink!” he stated covering his mouth with both his hands.

“What king? You mean Felipe VI?” I asked. I couldn’t understand his line of thinking and just blinked at him. Someone burst out laughing behind me, but I didn’t dare to take my eyes off Lovino’s ones.

“Step back, Feli” Lovino ordered. “This guy’s dangerous”

“Okay, enough is enough” Ludwig suddenly said and walked to Lovino.

“Party pooper!” Gilbert exclaimed standing up from his place next to Matthew. He strolled casually towards where Ludwig was standing and looked Lovino up and down with an amused smirk gracing his lips.

"Oh, Antonio" Gilbert said. "Is this the guy you talked about?"

Lovino scooted closer to me.

"Err…" I mumbled. “Gilbert, this is Lovino and Feliciano. Guys, this is… Gilbert” I introduced.

Ludwig coughed, and my eyes fixed on him.

“And Ludwig” I added immediately. “They are brothers”

“Nice to meet you, Ludwig! Nice to meet you too, Gilbert!” Feliciano exclaimed untangling himself from my arm and shaking hands with the Beilschmidts, stepping into their personal space nonchalantly. “My name is Feliciano”

“And I am Alfred Jones!” Alfred shouted making everyone turn to look at him again. He laughed loudly and put his hands on his waist, pleased to have everyone’s attention. “Good, now that presentations are over, weren’t we supposed to picnic? I am fungry as hell! Hey, Arthur! Did you buy something to eat? I hope you didn’t bring anything homemade, did you…? Buddy?” he asked, uttering the last words less confidently than usual.

Arthur snapped to attention and scowled deeply at Alfred.

“What do you mean by that?”

“You said you’ve got it all covered!” Francis exclaimed, but I was not sure whether this statement was directed at Arthur or at Alfred.

“What did he mean by that?” Arthur asked again turning to Francis.

“Next time you organize something, you must warn me about it in advance. Let’s say, at least a week before” Ludwig stated, crossing his arms over his chest.

“I brought tomatoes if you are hungry” I dared to say.

“Guys” Matthew piped, “it’s fine, we could always-!”

“There’s a McDonalds just around the corner!” exclaimed Alfred silencing his brother. “I am going to buy something to eat! BRB! Matthew, Arthur, Francis! Come with me” he commanded with a big smile on his face, probably already thinking what he was going to order. Arthur raised his eyes to the sky, grabbed Francis’ arm and followed Alfred to the Southern exit of the park. I heard Matthew sigh, but when I turned to look at him, he was already gone.

“I am not going to eat that shit” Gilbert said, pulling out his smartphone. “I am searching for a bakery in the vicinity, or something better than McDonalds, anyway” he explained.

“We could always order pizza!” Feliciano exclaimed walking over to him with Ludwig in tow. The three of them started talking animatedly together, and I sighed, turning to look at Lovino, who was still standing next to me.

Wait. Lovino was still standing next to me?

Lovino ran a hand through his hair and exhaled soundly. He looked up at me, and for one fleeting second a grateful glint appeared in his eyes, as if he was glad that there was at least one reasonable man in the whole park: me. Probably I read too much into this, because it was gone a moment later.

Whatever the case, there was something more pressing than that.

I was alone with Lovino. It was my chance to make him change his not so good opinion of me.

“Are you hungry?” I asked smiling encouragingly at him, but he just shrugged. “I have tomatoes” I told him walking over to the picnic table and showing him the basket. “I grow them myself”

Lovino followed me and sat down at the table, pulling the basket closer to his face. He took a tomato out and inspected it as if he had been handed a grenade. I took the liberty of sitting down next to him, and he didn’t complaint. He kept observing the tomato in his hands for a while, but then he finally gave in to temptation and took a bite. Some tomato sauce started dripping down his lips, but he immediately wiped it away with a flick of his thumb.

“Is it good?” I asked.

“Even shit is better than McDonalds” he answered.

“Take as many as you want!” I exclaimed, happy that he seemed to appreciate them. Lovino shrugged, and as soon as he finished his first tomato, picked another one from the basket. I looked up towards Gilbert, Ludwig and Feliciano, but, as they were talking all together, I couldn’t understand a word they said, so I gave up.

“My brother is going to convince them to order pizza and get it delivered here” Lovino said, looking up as well. “I don’t like that blond guy” he added after a moment of thought, squinting his eyes at Ludwig.

“Ludwig?” I asked. “Don’t worry about him. He might be a little bit bossy, but he is a good man… I mean, sure, he sometimes pisses me off, because he is such a neat freak and wants everything to be perfect, but I am sure he has good intentions”

“Do I look like I am interested in what you are saying?” Lovino asked. “Don’t try and start a conversation with me”

“Okay. I am shutting up” I said, and he snorted, making my heart beat a little faster in my chest. I should have felt angry at him, but I couldn’t. When I saw him reaching out for a third tomato, moreover, I felt a smile slowly grow on my face.

“Lovino!” Feliciano exclaimed sitting down in front of us. “We ordered pizza!”

“Great” Lovino mumbled between bites. Ludwig and Gilbert sat down with us too, and I scooped closer to Lovino to make room for Gilbert. Lovino didn’t even look up from his tomato, and I took it as a good sign.

“It’s a good thing you brought tomatoes, Antonio” Feliciano said opening the basket and taking one out. “Lovino loves them”

Lovino gagged and started coughing violently. I immediately ran to his rescue and started patting him on the back.

“I-! I don’t!” he tried to say when his coughing fit finally subsided, and Feliciano furrowed his eyebrows, completely taken aback.

“Isn’t it your favorite food?” Feliciano asked. “You say tomatoes are a very versatile vegetable, and-!”

“Shut up! I’m dying here!” Lovino exclaimed.

“It’s a fruit, Feliciano” Ludwig said, and Feliciano turned his head to look at him. The two of them started talking and completely forgot about the rest of us within minutes. Lovino didn’t seem particularly pleased by that, but he looked glad to be left on his own again.

Just when Alfred and his friends came back carrying two bags full of McDonald’s take-away, a man with a helmet on arrived with three pizza boxes in his hands. Lovino had eaten all of my tomatoes, so we put my picnic basket aside to make room for our food. It was the weirdest picnic I ever had, but it was fun, although I didn’t get a chance to talk with Lovino much. He didn’t give me much choice in the matter. He really didn’t want to talk to me.

It didn’t matter, though. I was too busy trying to convince Alfred and Matthew that not all Spaniards can dance the Flamenco. (“No, not Flamingo. That’s a type of bird”). I must say I have never seen Ludwig as talkative as in that day, but I suppose Feliciano’s constant blabbering can have that effect on people, including men as serious and composed as Ludwig. He seemed to enjoy it, though.

We called it a day when it was almost sunset. Alfred, Matthew and Arthur left together first, while Feliciano accepted Francis’ offer for a ride home, in spite of Lovino’s protests. I went back home with Ludwig and Gilbert.

“What a day today!” Gilbert exclaimed getting in the passenger’s seat in Ludwig’s car. “Guess what, Antonio?” he asked turning to look at me, his eyes gleaming with mischief. He waited until Ludwig sat on the driver’s seat before he continued: “Ludwig’s got Feliciano’s number!” he exclaimed waving a small piece of paper in the air.

“Gilbert!” Ludwig rebuked, tightening his hold on the steering wheel. “Where did you get that? Give that back”

“You scored, man, aren’t you happy?” Gilbert teased.

“I didn’t score” Ludwig said, blushing ten shades of red. “It’s not like that” Ludwig mumbled and started the car. Gilbert shook his head, disappointed, and put the piece of paper back in his pocket.

“Oh, Feliciano is really cute, isn’t he?” I asked, but Ludwig didn’t dignify my question with an answer. His expression spoke louder than words, anyway.

“What about you, Antonio?” Gilbert asked putting his seatbelt on.

“What about me, Gilbert?” I asked back. He made himself more comfortable in his seat and shared a look with his brother.

“You know what?” he said. “Never mind” and switched on the radio, leaving me wondering what the hell he meant by that.

Chapter Text

Chapter 5

It soon became apparent to us that Francis was set on hanging out with Arthur and all of his friends. He used any excuse possible to make plans to meet all together. Our equilibrium, the way we led our lives, was suddenly disturbed. The dynamics of our trio shattered overnight, but it took Gilbert and I an awful amount of time to finally realize that they did. It was not a question of foolishness, on the contrary. We just trusted Francis too much to question his real intentions.

Whatever we decided to do, from going to a bar to movie marathons, Francis would always come up with something else, something that involved Arthur’s presence. Gilbert and I found Francis’ sudden interest in Arthur strange, but we let it slide.

Of course, Arthur didn’t always join us. Sometimes Alfred took his place and brought Feliks with him, or Matthew, or Feliciano. The only times I was really happy about it were when Lovino followed his brother in order to check on him and make sure Feliciano didn’t do anything stupid. For the most part, Lovino ignored me, but it was nice to see that his dislike for me was slowly turning into passive acceptance. Day by day I was getting closer to my goal, but even that couldn’t bring me joy. I was more preoccupied with Francis.

“I think he is still in love with Arthur” Gilbert confessed to me one day, away from prying ears, and his words felt like a slap on the face.

“How can you say something like that?” I asked, shocked.

“You know” he trailed off and shrugged, as if he was trying to show me that his words didn’t affect him much, “it was unrequired love… the kind that never, ever leaves you” he added, facing away from me.

“We have a pact” I reasoned.

“Yes, sure” he said rolling his eyes to the sky, “but you know Francis”

“I don’t think that’s it” I said. “He probably just wants to get into his pants”

“Think what you want, Antonio” Gilbert said, not reassured in the least, “but you can’t deny he’s been acting weird the last couple of weeks”

I couldn’t object to that.

“Fine,” I said in the end, “but I still don’t think he is in love with Arthur. Come on, Gilbert. I am trying to woo Lovino too, but that doesn’t mean I’m in love with him, right?”

“Well, you came up with the pact in the first place” he said, as if that explained everything.

I might be dense sometimes, but even I could see that Gilbert was getting upset about Francis’ behavior. He doesn’t like to be bossed around by anyone but his brother, and even in that case it’s because Ludwig has Gilbert wrapped around his finger. Gilbert tried to confront Francis about his real plans many times, but our friend kept his mouth tightly shut. The damage was done: our little trio was not a trio anymore.

Therefore, it was only a matter of time before Gilbert let the anger in him blow.

One day, Francis invited Gilbert and I for lunch, nothing fancy. It had been a long time since we last ate all together, so we agreed to it almost immediately. Francis is a great chef, and we were in a good mood until Francis suggested we went to the Nightwave later that evening.

“Arthur will be there” Francis said, casually, when Gilbert finished his dessert. “Of course we are going to see Alfred, Feliks and Lovino too, since they work there, but Feliciano told me he might come as well, and-!”

“So, are we not good enough for you anymore?” Gilbert asked, his voice harsh, putting his fork down on his empty plate. Francis raised an eyebrow in surprise.

“What gave you this idea?” he asked, but Gilbert just exhaled deeply through his nose, as if he had expected that kind of reaction.

“Why don’t you just admit it then? Admit that there is something going on that you are not telling us” Gilbert declared, coldly. “I don’t really get you. You know what makes Arthur tick, you know what he likes. If you just want to sex him up, you don’t need to drag us into this!”

“What’s this?” Francis asked, narrowing his eyes at Gilbert, who just threw his arms up in the air, clearly irritated.

“This, Francis!” Gilbert shouted waving his hand. “Ruining all of our plans, asking Arthur, or Alfred, or whoever, to come along... It’s like you don’t want to be alone with us two anymore! I don’t know what to make of all of this. Either you are still head over heels for Arthur, or you just don’t like to hang out with us, and both possibilities piss me off. I am at the end of my rope here”

“Guys, you don’t need to fight over this” I tried to say, but both of them ignored me.

“I am shocked” Francis said. “Do you really think it is because of Arthur that-!”

“So you are saying you are fed up with us” Gilbert interrupted him. “Are we boring you?” Gilbert asked raising his eyebrows. “What’s the problem? Are we too immature for you? Do you need more serious friends? Is our little circle too suffocating for you?”

“Gilbert, you are not making any sense” Francis said. “You are just proving to me that you are indeed immature!”

“Indeed” Gilbert repeated. He stood abruptly up and disengaged from the table. “Fine, Francis. Go have fun with your new friends, who are much better than us, apparently” he added making a bee line for the door, slamming it violently behind him on his way out.

“Should I go after him?” I asked, unsure of what to do, but Francis shook his head no.

“He’s just afraid of change” Francis said, sighing. “He’ll come around”

I helped him clear the table, and Francis didn’t talk to me until we were done drying the dishes.

“You don’t really mind Arthur and his friends, do you?” he asked, unsure, and I immediately shook my head.

“Of course not”

“So, are you okay with going to the Nightwave tonight?” he asked.

“Yes, sure” I said and I meant it. Lovino would be there, after all. Who cared if Arthur would tag along?

It had been awhile since we last went to a nightclub, and it made for a nice change, to be honest. The silly mermaid at the front entrance was still there, and there was once again a long line chomping at the bit to get in. It was my third time visiting, and I didn’t care about the good music or the crowd sweating on the dancefloor anymore. I just wanted to go to the bar. Francis followed me, and we got around the dancers together.

I had a feeling of déjà vu when I spotted Lovino leaning against the counter, smartphone in hand. Behind him Feliks was talking animatedly with a customer, serving him a drink and laughing at something the other said. He was wearing a frilly dress and his hair in a bun that night, and the flashing lights made him look like a young girl even more than usual. Feliks looked up and waved at me, a wide grin on his face.

“Hi, Antonio!” he shouted loud enough to be heard over the music. “Francis” he added, coldly.

Lovino didn’t look up from his smartphone or otherwise acknowledge our presence. Francis sat down between him and me, and leaned over the counter to get closer to Feliks.

“Why are you so cold to me, my love?” Francis asked, to which Feliks just clicked his tongue in irritation.

“You ruined my favorite skirt, that’s why” Feliks replied. “When Alfred told me about how much fun you had picnicking, I was like, OK, next time I’ll join the party, but I never expected that one of the perks of making new friends was meeting you” he said, bringing his lips into a tight line.

I winced at his words. How Feliks met Francis for the first time will forever be remembered, and I bet Francis will never forget the pain of being kicked in the nuts with a stiletto heel. It was his fault, anyway, for trying to pull up Feliks’ skirt in order to ensure the absence of lady parts. Feliks yanked down his skirt so hard it slightly ripped and then proceeded to kick Francis in the groin and hit him on the head with his elbow. He is a strong guy. It must have hurt.

“Oh, come on, Feliks” Francis slurred, smiling sensually at him. “Let me make it up to you”

Lovino snorted next to us, and I couldn’t refrain from smiling too.

“Your dress is lovely tonight” Francis said, and Feliks rolled his eyes to the ceiling. “I bet it would look lovely on my bedroom floor too”

“No chance, Francis” Feliks said, amused.

“Then would you honor me with a dance?” Francis asked, but Feliks just snorted. Whatever Francis did, it worked, because Feliks began to warm up to him.

“No, darling” he said, laughing. “My shift is not over yet” he explained. “Lovino would be happy to dance with you, though”

Lovino’s snapped to attention and he looked at Feliks with eyes as wide as saucers. Francis turned his head to him, and I suddenly got a tight knot in my stomach. I couldn’t see Francis’ expression, but a glance at Lovino’s terrified look was enough to make my blood boil.

“Francis” I warned him, and Francis shot me a pondering look before he turned his attention to Feliks’ again.

“I don’t think Lovino would like me as his partner” Francis said. “What about you, Antonio? Do you want to dance?” he asked, turning unexpectedly towards me.

“I, well, if you want” I said, at a loss. My eyes drifted to Lovino for one fleeting second, but I couldn’t read his expression at all.

“Great” Francis said standing up and pulling me up along with him, just when Feliks exclaimed:

“Come on, Lovino. Don’t look at me like that. You need to like, loosen up a little!”

“That he must” said Francis, and before either Lovino or I could understand what was going on, he grabbed Lovino’s hand and pulled him to a standing position.

Next thing I know, Francis was pushing us both towards the dancing mob. He let us go only when we reached the middle of the dance floor, and in one swift move, managed to get us in each other’s arms. He disappeared from sight without another word, engulfed by the dancing crowd. Lovino pushed me violently away, but a guy dancing right behind him pushed him back into my arms again. He swore under his breath and put his hands on my chest to keep himself from falling.

“I swear I didn’t plan this!” I exclaimed, noticing the angry look in his beautiful hazel eyes.

“This time I’ll believe you” he shouted right into my ear. “Fuck!” he swore.

People kept dancing wildly around us, while we remained standing completely still in the middle of the dancefloor. The flashing lights above us made everything look surreal. Lovino tried to get away from me, heading right towards the exit, but there were too many people and he was shoved back into my arms again.

Lovino suddenly faced me, unwillingly pressing his body against mine. I could feel every curve of his small frame. I have never stood so close to him and I could clearly smell his intoxicating scent; even when we were surrounded by people, sweating, dancing, stinking of booze and smoke, his scent was the only thing I could sense. His brown hair tickled my nose. It was inebriating, arousing, and he noticed.

Too many things happened at once, and I was too dumb to interpret each and every flicker of emotion on Lovino’s face.

“You don’t really get it, do you?” he shouted at me. “I tried to tell you. I tried to ignore you, and now this” he exclaimed as if it was my fault. He was angered, confused, sad, pissed off, I didn’t know anymore. I felt dizzy. I couldn’t think.

"I swear I didn't tell him to do that!" I muttered, pathetically, and he suddenly stopped struggling to get away from me.

“People like you don’t get a hint” he said. “I can’t be interested in you”

His choice of words caught my attention, and I suddenly looked down at him. His expression was unreadable. It was obvious he noticed my arousal, but I was too dizzy with everything happening around me to care.

“Let’s get out of here” he said grabbing my hand, and I nodded, shoving people away in my attempt to get out of the nightclub as soon as possible. His fingers intertwined with mine, and I looked at him in astonishment.

“I told you, I fucking tried to ignore you” he said, his cheeks flushing red. He was cute, and sexy, and beautiful, and exciting. He was all I could think about.

“So you didn’t mean it?” I asked, at loss for words. “You really want me?”

“Let’s go to your apartment” he only said, and I lost the game. I wondered if I should go back to Francis and ask for his car keys, but when I fumbled to zip up my jacket, I realized his car keys were already in my pockets. I hadn’t noticed him slide them in there and I wondered if this had been his plan all along. Did he realize that Lovino was just pretending not to care? Did he know that, if he gave him a little push, Lovino would just give in? What was happening? He tried to tell me and then tried to ignore me, he said. It didn’t make any sense.

“I’ll drive” Lovino declared, grabbing the keys from my hand and shooting a knowing look at the problem between my legs. I followed him outside, but the cold night air didn’t clear my thoughts. I followed Lovino like an idiot. I got into the car. I showed him the way to my apartment.

Lovino’s driving was reckless, and we arrived in front of my apartment in less than ten minutes. I couldn’t speak, and he didn’t try to make small talk with me. I just did as he ordered: open the door, climb the stairs, open the door, where’s the bedroom? Undress.

I watched him checking out my apartment with half lidded eyes. He followed me to the bedroom and didn’t comment on the unmade bed in the middle of the room. The closet was still open from when I left in a hurry to meet Francis downstairs, and he made a bee line to one of the dressers. I was still fumbling with my buttons when he finished opening one drawer after the other.

“Your apartment is quite spartan” he said, sounding impressed. “I imagined it very differently” he added taking four of my ties out of a drawer. “You are not an indoor type of guy, are you?” he asked, amused, walking slowly towards me. I dropped my hands to my side, and my shirt slid down on the floor.

“What did you mean when you said you tried to ignore me?” I asked. “Did I make it difficult for you?”

He didn’t answer and just looked at my naked chest for a long moment. His cheeks turned red, and without looking at me in the face, he pushed me down on the bed.

“Hands up” he ordered, but he sounded unsure. I did as he told me, and he tied my hands up to the headboard using two of my ties. He then took the third one and blindfolded me. I let him do it.

“You have never been with a man before” I said. “Is that it?”

Lovino definitely knew what he was doing. His knots were tight and impossible to untie. I couldn’t move my hands, I couldn’t see, I just felt his presence and heard him open another drawer. I felt one of his hands gently grab my feet, and I didn’t struggle when he tied my legs together with a cloth.

“Don’t say I didn’t warn you, bastard” Lovino said suddenly pushing my trousers and boxers down to my ankles.

You little devil, I thought, panic rising in my throat.

I remained completely still when I heard the click of a camera.

“Don’t mess with me, motherfucker” Lovino said. “I am not a fuckboy like you and your friends are, got me? When I say no, it’s no. If I see you try something funny on me or on my brother again, you piece of shit, I’ll make sure this goes directly to the police”

I tried to free my hands, but it was futile. I heard him slamming a door, and then everything became still.

The fucker, I thought, and then I had to laugh at my own gullibility.

Fuck, I said out loud, trying to unravel Lovino’s knots. Not even sailormen could be so good with knots! I thought. I couldn’t do anything but wait for someone to come and save me.

Needless to say, I didn’t sleep well that night.

Chapter Text

Gilbert 1

Antonio asked me to introduce myself before I started telling you my version of this story, but I told him, why should I? They know me, and he said: no, they don’t. I mean, I told them some things about you, but I probably forgot to mention something anyway, and I said: they know me, Antonio. To which he said: why? Are you famous? Do they already know you from one of your blogs? And I replied: I’m Gilbert Beilschmidt, man, everybody knows me because I am the most awesome guy on Earth.

To say Antonio wasn’t satisfied would be a huge misunderstanding. He kept smiling at me, but I could see it in his eyes that he didn’t want me to start my version of this story with that sentence. He wants details, the kind of useless information that helps you form an opinion on the characters based on very superficial impressions of their personality. This is too deep for him, so I bet it was Francis’ idea.

So, here goes nothing.

First of all, I am extremely handsome. I am good at everything I do. I can sing. In fact, I’m an awesome singer, and people just want to put me down when they tell me I am really not. I always wanted to ride a motorbike, but my brother doesn’t want me to even touch one. I love Germany, my fatherland. I love Currywurst. I love beer. Reading and studying sucks, which is king of ironic since I sell books. I am easily bored. My favorite color is Prussian blue, and that’s just because of the name, it’s really cool. I have a short tempter, but I can be patient when the situation demands it. I love cute thing. Forget I told you that. I have a little pet chick my brother doesn’t approve of. His name is little Fritz. He is really a sweetie. I love nature. I keep a journal. I love strategy games. The Internet is man’s greatest invention after fire.

Man, I could go on for hours!

But, enough with that. Story time!

My family moved in this country because of my parent’s work. My brother was still a baby and he doesn’t remember how things were before, but I can tell you that living in Berlin was much better. Adjusting to a new culture is frustrating, to say the least, and even more for a five years old boy. I didn’t want to stay here and I threw a fit every chance I got. Nevertheless, we couldn’t go back, and I got used to my new surroundings sooner or later, but it was no easy task.

It was our neighbors’ daughter that made it all a little bit more bearable for me. When I first saw her, I really thought she was boy. Our neighbors were Hungarian, they had recently moved in too, and they had this little girl my age that moved like a boy, talked like a boy, looked like a boy, and declared she was a boy. It’s only natural that I considered him a boy too, and I realized my mistake only when her mother introduced her to me and told me her name was Elizabeta.

She had big, green eyes and short chestnut hair, and wanted to be a pirate when she grew up. One summer, while we were playing in the swimming pool, she confessed to me that she couldn’t wait for her ‘peepee’ to grow. Yes, she called it that, the idiot. We were eight at the time, and she still identified herself as a boy back then. You couldn’t reason with her, and when I told her that ‘peepees’ don’t work like that, she called me an ignorant pig. ‘Ignorant’ because I said so, ‘pig’ because I tried to cup her intimate parts to prove my point.

No matter how much we fought and disagreed on some things, she was my best friend. Francis and Antonio were my friends too, but Elizabeta held a special place in my heart. We were closer than we appeared at first glance.

We went to the same school, we took the same classes and did everything together until that martyrdom ended. She liked Antonio a lot, while she couldn’t stand Francis. She had a bad habit for slamming our heads on hard surfaces when we did or said something she didn’t approve. She was a fucking strong girl, and she didn’t need to train for it.

When we were twelve, and her body started developing in that of a beautiful woman’s, I even helped her cut her hair to look more boyish. It sucked, and her mother didn’t approve of her new look, but Elizabeta liked it. Seeing her so happy made those two months with no television worth it.

Elizabeta, Antonio and Francis were the key figures in my childhood. My brother was too, but we didn’t play together much anyway. He preferred spending his time with a little girl he met in kindergarten, whose name I don’t really remember. Ludwig was so cute back then, and it was obvious he had a crush on her. I don’t know what happened exactly, maybe her family moved to a new town, but all of a sudden Ludwig stopped mentioning her.

Anyway, let’s get back to me.

Everything was going great until we turned fifteen.

That year, after spending her vacations in a summer camp in Hungary or Austria, Elizabeta returned to school completely transformed. She wasn’t my tomboy anymore; she became a completely different person. She threw away all of her old clothes, started wearing frilly dresses, skirts and ballerina shoes. She stopped wearing her long hair in a ponytail, and whenever she got the chance, she started applying make-up on her pretty face. The point is: she was extremely beautiful, and I had never noticed her until someone stole her away from me.

I didn’t know I was a jealous guy, but man, was I furious. She had always claimed that she hated looking like a Barbie doll, and here she was, looking and acting like one. When I pointed that out to her, she just shrugged and told me people change.

"Are you saying that I look funny?" she asked, clearly offended.

"No!" I immediately replied. "No! You are more beautiful than-!" I added, at a loss for words.

"Than ever?” she interrupted me. “Was I ugly before?” she asked, gritting her teeth and crossing her hands in front of her chest. I knew that stance. It was her say-something-stupid-and-I-swear-to-God-I-am-going-to-hit-you-so-hard-you-will-forget-your-own-existance stance.

“No! I didn’t say that!”

“So, you realized I am beautiful only when I started acting more feminine? Is that your idea of beauty, you macho pig?”

“God, stop it!”

Damn girls! They twist men's words around and make us look bad. I was angry, but for some reason I couldn’t comprehend, Elizabeta was angry at me too.

Be that as it may, I found out why Elizabeta acted so out of character soon enough. Sometime in mid-November, a new student from Austria arrived to our school, the very same who managed to steal Elizabeta’s heart. They had met at summer camp and, apparently, immediately hit it off. When Elizabeta knew that this guy was going to transfer in our school, she instantly opened her heart to him and let him into her life as if she had been waiting for him since forever. These are Francis’ words, not mine. I am not so cheesy, but I don’t doubt for an instant that this is how things really went.

The new student’s name was Roderich Edelstein. Stupid, stuck up, pianophile Roderich Edelstein. Honestly, he acted as if he were royalty; he even had a ridiculous mole on his face, dressed really nicely and looked down on you, if he didn’t deem you worthy of his respect. What’s worse, Elizabeta loved that guy to bits.

I complained about him so much that even Francis and Antonio, who is a pro at hiding his real thoughts, got fed up with me.

“Just face the truth, Gilbert” Francis told me in the end. “You love her”

“I do not!”

“Keep telling yourself that”

I didn’t love her. Even the mere idea of loving my best friend was ridiculous to me, but I couldn’t deny it pained me to see her spending more time with him than with me. When she confessed to me they finally kissed for the first time, I was going to puke. When she told me they were dating, I wanted to destroy something, anything, just to have something to do with my hands.

Jealousy is a bitch, guys, but it was my fault. I am old enough to see this now. I took her for granted, and then she was gone. I wanted to be her first kiss. I wanted to be the first guy she dated. I wanted her to stand by my side forever. I wanted her to look at me like she looked at Roderich. I even believed she could be the one I could have married one day, which meant I had totally lost my mind. The concept of marriage makes me cringe; to dedicate your whole life, body and soul, to one person until the day one of you is dead, it’s oppressive and just plain cruel. Nevertheless, I would have done it for her gladly.

There were so many feelings inside of me, I was bound to explode sooner or later, but I never expected it to happen like it did. It was early June, and I was already pissed at the world for an upcoming test. She was waiting for me on the schoolyard to show me the necklace Roderich brought her for some kind of anniversary or whatever. I don’t remember how we started to fight, but I do remember me saying:

“What do you see in him, anyway?” I shouted. “He treats you like a doll! He doesn’t know the real you. He doesn’t know you like I do. You deserve much better than that”

“First of all, how dare you badmouth him?” Elizabeta shouted right back. “You’re the one who treats women like dolls and changes girlfriend every two weeks! He appreciates me, and if I don’t deserve him, who do I deserve, oh wise Gilbert?”

“Me!” I exclaimed. “It should have been me!” and I immediately bit my tongue, hard. She stared at me, thunderstruck.

"Why?" she asked looking at me, sternly.

I wanted to tell her there was a multitude of reasons why she should chose me instead of that pansy, but I couldn’t even come up with one. The only thing I could think of was telling her that I loved her. Maybe I should have just told her that she was my best friend. Still, I considered her more than that. Her smile, the way she danced, the way she put on her make-up, her frown when she was angry, all of these are silly reasons for loving someone, and for me that wasn’t it. It was just her, you know? Does that make sense to you? I wondered if she loved me too, that even though she liked me more than a friend, even though she cared for me more than she did for Roderich, she just didn’t want to ruin our friendship. I didn’t either, so I remained silent.

She stared at me. I could see the hope in her eyes turn into disappointment. She wasn’t going to cry, because she didn’t cry easily, but I still felt like she wanted to. We fought many times, I angered her many times, but I never, ever made her cry. She never cried for me, and that time it was a first. It was worse than a knife to the heart. Suddenly, she turned around and left me alone standing on the schoolyard, and I didn’t run after her.

After that we didn’t talk anymore, although I wanted to apologize to her every day. Every time I looked at her walking side by side with Roderich, however, I couldn’t allow the words to spew out of my mouth. She had the power to make me feel weak, pathetic and stupid. It’s a terrible feeling, and I wish you will never experience it.

When Antonio asked us to meet at my house that day, everything changed. My heart turned to stone.

Antonio told us what happened to him, and for the first time I felt free to confess my true feelings for Elizabeta.

And then Antonio said:

“Let’s make a pact- no more heartbreaks. Let’s not fall in love ever again and stay singles forever”

“What?” I asked, taken totally aback. “That’s insane”

I looked over towards Francis, but his expression was unreadable. He looked at Antonio with eyes full of wonder, and mouthed:

“Fine”

In the beginning I doubted this was going to work, so I was a little bit hesitant to agree, but when I saw the determination in Francis’ eyes, I made my decision and nodded.

The last time I heard from Elizabeta was approximately three years ago. She called me home telling me she got my number from my parents, who still live in our old house next to hers. She asked me how I was, I told her I was doing great, thanks for asking, what about you?

“I am getting married to Roderich in a month” she told me. “I want to invite you to the wedding, but I would love to see you sooner than that. Do you have-?”

“Oh, I’m sorry” I interrupted her. “I must go back in Germany for a while and I will stay there until the end of summer. Family matters, you see” I lied.

“I do” she muttered after a long pause.

“But, congrats” I said. “I am really happy for you”

“Really?” she asked, her voice hopeful.

“Of course” I reassured her.

“It’s a pity you can’t make it to the wedding,” she said, “but call me as soon as you get back, okay?” she gave me her number, and I hung up.

I never called her back.

I don’t think I will anyways.

Don’t worry, though. After that phone call, I was doing great without her. I got over Elizabeta, and the pact was a great reminder on past mistakes, so I wasn’t going to fall for some beautiful eyes twice. If only Francis hadn’t gotten on my nerves, then everything would have been simply perfect.

I always thought we were special, the three of us against the world, but then, all of a sudden, Francis had to remind me that we were not. I was always afraid that one of us was going to break the pact sooner or later, because it’s impossible to let your head rule your heart forever, but I wasn’t ready for it. I wasn’t ready for new friends; I wasn’t ready to see one of them hang out with someone else. It was Elizabeta all over again, and that just scared me.

After lunch with Francis and Antonio, I really needed to clear my mind. On the one hand, I didn’t believe Francis was really fed up with us, or in love with Arthur. On the other hand, I was afraid that that was exactly the case, and I felt helpless. I couldn’t push Francis away from Arthur or Alfred or whoever, but that was exactly what I wanted to do. No way out. I was going to lose them.

I was so deep in thought I didn’t see the bicycle coming my way. I just heard the tires squealing against the asphalt and someone shouting at me to watch out. I recognized the voice immediately and I looked up to see a pair of violet-blue eyes staring at me in wonder.

“Gilbert?”

“Matthew” I said moving out of his way. He got of the bike and slowly approached me.

“Are you alright? I almost run you over, man” he said.

“Fuck” I swore and ran a hand through my hair. He looked at me, genuinely concerned, and then beckoned me to follow him.

“I know a great brewery just around the corner” he said. “They serve the best craft beer in town. Do you want to join me?”

“Sure” I said, and he smiled.

Sure, why not, I thought. I can’t say no to beer.

Chapter Text

Chapter 6

I woke up to someone laughing really, really loudly. I knew that booming, but shrieking sound and I didn’t need to have the blindfold untied to know it was Gilbert.

“Just help me out of these” I said, groaning and trying to shift in a more comfortable position. The joint in my arms ached, my back muscles were stiff, and I really wished I could put my pants back on, because I was freezing. I heaved a sigh of relief when the bright sunrays hit my eyes and saw Gilbert working at the ties around my hands.

“Man” he huffed, “I’m afraid I have to ruin your ties. This is a Gordian knot right here”

“Whatever, Gilbert” I declared, “just help me out”

“Who did you sleep with yesterday? Was it a climber, a hunter or a sailorman?” Gilbert teased me and left the side of my bed to go to the kitchen.

“No one” I replied trying to push my pants back on with my hands and legs still tied. I don’t know if you ever tried this at home, but let me warn you. You look like a stranded dolphin trying to dive back into the sea and not only it’s not pretty, but it just doesn’t work. In fact, my boxers and pants remained close to my ankles. Gilbert came back with a pair of scissors in his hands and snickered when he saw my pathetic attempt at dressing myself.

“So you want me to believe you managed to tie yourself to the headboard all on your own?” Gilbert asked, carefully cutting the ties.

“I didn’t sleep with anyone last night” I told him, squealing with joy when my hands and ankles were finally set free. I pulled my pants up and immediately stood up to stretch my aching legs.

“What happened then?” Gilbert asked, putting the scissors down on the bedside table.

“How did you get in?” I asked instead.

“The front door was open” he answered.

“Damn him” I muttered under my breath and I finally noticed my wallet lying on the floor near the wardrobe. I picked it up and laughed when I realized Lovino had stolen every cent I had in there.

“Damn him?” Gilbert asked, now openly disconcerted. “What happened, Antonio? Stop being a prick and tell me”

“Lovino!” I exclaimed, stepping out of my bedroom and checking around to see if he had stolen something else. Gilbert followed me and rolled his eyes to the ceiling when I stormed back into the bedroom. I picked up my jacket from the floor and searched the pockets for Francis’ car keys.

“Since you are not in the mood for small talk” Gilbert said, “let me fill the awkward silence, will you?” he asked, sarcastically. I didn’t pay him any attention and kneeled down to search under the bed. “Francis called me this morning” he started. “He told me that you two went to the Nightwave together yesterday, but that he lost sight of you after an hour or so. He wasn’t worried at first, not even when he left the nightclub and saw his car parked on the very same spot he had left it in, whatever that meant. Were you supposed to drive somewhere with his car? Antonio, what the hell are you doing?” he asked as I stood up from the floor.

“I’m searching for Francis’ car keys” I explained.

“Dumbass” he muttered. “Were you listening to me at all?”

“I was, I was” I reassured him, but Gilbert just clicked his tongue in irritation.

“Anyway” he continued, “Francis started being truthfully distressed when he called you like, twenty times this morning and you didn’t answer the phone once”

“Really?” I asked and left the bedroom once more. Gilbert followed me to the living room and watched me with furrowed eyebrows while I checked my telephone device. Lovino had pulled the plug out of the phone, and when I searched all over my apartment for my smartphone, I found it under a pillow, uncharged. I laughed.

“Why are you laughing?” Gilbert asked, and I beamed at him.

“Lovino” I told him. “He is… wow!” I exclaimed, snickering.

“Should I call a doctor?” Gilbert asked.

“What for?”

“Anyway!” he sighed, making a very good impression of his younger brother. “Francis decided to call me, although why he didn’t come check on you himself is beyond me. I told him I’m on it and… here I am. The door was open, and you are acting weird”

“I need coffee” I declared.

“You need therapy” Gilbert spat back.

“What for?”

“God, you know how to annoy a man, don’t you?” Gilbert exclaimed, raising his arms to the air. He fell down on my couch and put his feet on the coffee table in front of him. “Will you tell me what happened? From the look of it, it wasn’t as fun as I first supposed it had been”

“Lovino happened” I explained. “Francis pushed him to dance with me, and he tricked me into thinking that he really wanted me, but in the end he really didn’t. He tied me to the bed, blindfolded me, snapped a picture of me, threatened me, stole my money and left” I said as Gilbert’s face paled considerably. “Okay, I guess it was bad if you look at me like that…”

“You guess?” Gilbert screeched, disapprovingly. “Do you really think this is funny?” he asked then, and I shrugged.

“It’s probably my fault” I tried.

“Hell no, Antonio” Gilbert stated turning his head to face me head on. “That boy is crazy, man. It was really funny at first, and I get it, I really do, if you want to get into his pants, but it’s not worth it. He isn’t going to give in and you are just going to hurt yourself in the process. If he can pull something like this, imagine what he could do to you if you keep pursuing him. Let him go, Tony” he groaned. “Forget about him, move on, find someone prettier, like his brother, he seems to like you”

“Feliciano is cute, yes, but-!”

“No buts” Gilbert interrupted me.

“Okay, fine, you are right” I said. I hated it when I had to admit Gilbert was right out loud, it meant fueling his already too big ego and that he was going to brag about it for years. He didn’t, though. He just stared at me, his eyes calculating. “Fine!” I repeated, laughing. “I won’t try to flirt with him ever again. Promise”

“Good” he said.

“We could still be friends, though” I said.

“Are you serious?” Gilbert asked, disbelieving.

“Well, since I am bound to meet Feliciano and Feliks again, it’s just going to get awkward if Lovino and I don’t get along” I reasoned. Gilbert sighed but he didn’t argue with me. “Are you still mad at Francis, Gilbert?” I asked sitting down next to him.

“Just a little” he admitted. “Although this morning, when he called me to check on you, he told me why he acted so oddly these past few weeks, so I can’t hold it against him anymore”

“What did he say?” I inquired.

“He told me he made a bet with Arthur” he replied looking at me. “They made a bet on you, whether you were going to bang Lovino or not”

“And what does that have to do with them?” I asked, taken aback, but Gilbert shrugged.

“I don’t know and I don’t care. It’s actually his fault if you ended up tied like that, so I don’t really want to hear any of their excuses” he said.

“I feel like you are still mad at him in the end” I said, and he snorted.

“What did you do yesterday?” I asked, changing subject, and Gilbert’s lips curved into a little smile.

“I went drinking” he said, “with Matthew”

“Who?”

“Alfred’s brother” he explained, laughing.

“Cool” I said. “Listen, I need to call to work, shower and eat something. Do you want to stay with me for a while?” I asked.

“Sure. I’ll make some coffee” he said and stood up, “and I’ll call Francis too. He must be worried sick” he added, and I smiled. It’s great to have friends like them.

That day I was too late for work to go, so I called in sick and stayed with Gilbert until lunch. When we called Francis to reassure him I was alive and well, I had to keep the receiver far away from my ear for most part of the conversation, because Francis kept bawling and asking for forgiveness from the other end of the line, as if he thought I was angry at him for what happened. Okay, it’s difficult to deal with me when I am angry, I’ll give him that, but I am no Hulk, and besides I wasn’t even upset. I didn’t approve of what Lovino had done, obviously, but all in all it was my fault too, at least a little bit. So, I wasn’t angry. I was curious. Actually, I couldn’t understand my own feelings too well. I knew that the most logical thing to do was forget about Lovino immediately, but he intrigued me. Everybody talked so ill about him, and here I was, thinking that there was something else hiding behind that wall of self-declared toughness and hostility. I saw it, or at least I thought I saw it, and I wanted to go around this wall and meet the real Lovino once and for all.

Was I allowed to? I wondered. Probably not.

The first thing I did when Gilbert left me alone again was to search all over my apartment for Feliciano’s number, which was still scribbled on that paper napkin he gave me when we met for the first time with Feliks, because I still hadn’t added it in my smartphone’s contact list. I wondered why I hadn’t. Sure, we met many times after that, but there had been plenty of times when I could have asked him out by myself. Odd.

I finally found the napkin hidden in a book under my bed, and I lost no time in calling him. I checked the clock hanging on the wall, thinking absentmindedly that it was time for siesta, and waited. I wasn’t sleepy and hopefully no one else was too.

Feliciano answered after the third ring.

“Hello?”

“Hi, Feli. It’s me, Antonio” I greeted him.

“Oh, hi, Antonio!” he exclaimed, his cheerful voice warming my heart. “How are you? Hey, about yesterday-!”

The words brought a lump in my throat. Did Lovino tell him what happened last night?

“Did you see the picture?” I interrupted him, not helping myself.

“What picture?” he asked, confused. “I didn’t see a picture. I just wanted to tell you that I am sorry I couldn’t come to the nightclub yesterday. I know Francis wanted me to, but you see, I don’t really like nightclubs, the music is too loud and Alfred intimidates me. Although it wasn’t just that, I couldn’t come because I already-!”

“It’s fine, Feli” I immediately reassured him. “You didn’t miss out on anything important”

“Great. Hey, Antonio” Feliciano started again, “I talked with Feliks, and he came up with this wonderful idea. We should definitely go to a karaoke bar one day. Do you like to sing?”

“Yes, yes, I do” I dismissed him, feeling a little guilty about it immediately afterwards. “Listen, is Lovino home? Are you home?”

“We both are, yes” he replied, taken aback by my question. “Lovino’s sleeping right now. Do you want to talk to him?” he asked, and I could hear the wonder in his voice.

“I do, but” I bit my tongue, “no, I want to speak to you first” I said, changing my mind.

“Okay…” he hummed.

“What does Lovino think about me?” I blurted. “He doesn’t seem to like me that much” I added, just in case.

“Oh, Antonio. He doesn’t like a lot of people” Feliciano said, laughing softly. “Don’t take it personally”

“Did he say something?” I tried again, and this time Feliciano paused for a long moment before answering:

“Not really, no” he confessed. “He complaints a lot about Ludwig and Gilbert, and Francis, and Alfred, and sometimes Feliks, and of course me, but no. He just calls you a bastard. Sorry”

I laughed.

“I actually think he is kind of scared of you” he suddenly said, and I almost dropped the receiver in shock. “I know you are a great guy” he added, misunderstanding my silence, “and that you wouldn’t hurt anyone, but I feel like he considers you a threat. I don’t know what gave him the impression, though”

Feliciano paused again.

“Don’t take it personally” Feliciano repeated. “Lovino loves his privacy, and he doesn’t talk to me much, so I just have a vague idea of what’s really going on in his mind. He values family, but he values his wellbeing much more. He’s that kind of guy. If he thinks you could hurt him, then he will make sure you stay out of his way”

I didn’t know what to make of that, but to say I was hurt by his words would be an understatement. I nodded, although I knew he couldn’t see me, and then said:

“Do you think I could drop by in half an hour?” I asked. “I would like to speak to him”

“What?” Feliciano exclaimed, shocked. “Oh, well. Sure. Of course. I’ll be here. Do you know where we live?” he inquired and gave me directions to their apartment without waiting for my answer. I was surprised to hear that they didn’t live far away from the childcare center I worked for, and I wondered why I never crossed paths with Lovino on my way there. Our schedules must be completely different.

Half an hour later I was standing in front of their door with my finger in the air, wondering if I should ring the buzzer or not. I could hear Lovino shouting at Feliciano on the other side, and I finally made up my mind. I rang the doorbell and the shouting immediately subsided. I didn’t have to wait long as Lovino opened the door a second later, leaning against the doorframe menacingly. I heard Feliciano say my name behind his brother’s back, but Lovino stepped out of the apartment and slammed the door closed before I could greet him.

“I am going to call the police” he said, spelling the words out, coldly.

“No, you don’t need to. I’ll leave in a few” I said. “I just want to apologize to you first”

Lovino’s eyes widened, but then he turned distrustful again.

“We really started off on the wrong foot” I said, not really knowing how to deal with Lovino without angering him. “You said you weren’t interested, and yesterday I acted just like Francis, and I am quite ashamed of myself”

“No, you’re not”

I looked at him, he stared right back.

“Okay, I am not. I misunderstood, though, and I probably scared you, so all in all I do own you an apology” I said with a smile, but he just scowled deeper.

“You just want me to delete that picture” he said, his eyes narrowing.

“I don’t care about the picture” I lied. “I just thought it would be best if I told you that I honestly was interested in you and that maybe I-!”

“Bullshit” he interrupted me. “You are not really interested in me. I know your kind. You and your fucking friends just like to play around, and all you do is bothering people until they give in because you are such spoiled fucking brats who can't take no for an answer. You don’t use your brain, because you don’t fucking have one, so you use your dick instead, and you know what? That’s not fucking fine by me. You can plea all you want, but you don’t really care who I am, only what I can give to you. Keep wishing, fucker” he swore and made to go back to his apartment.

“That’s not true!” I exclaimed. “I swear I am not going to bother you again, seriously, I get it. You are not interested. You made yourself perfectly clear yesterday, but you don’t need to act all tough on me to prove your point anymore. I know you didn’t want to go that far, I saw it” I said. “I saw it” I repeated, feeling more confident by the minute, “and I think we could be friends. I do want to meet the real you. I don’t believe for a second that you are as unpleasant as everyone says you are. I got a glimpse of it and you know what? You are interesting. You have a great sense of humor, you care for your brother a lot and I wish I knew more so I could make a whole list out of it!” I exclaimed, enthusiastically. I didn’t know what got over me, but now that the words were out, I had no intention to take them back. I felt like smiling, but I promised myself to act serious and try not to rub Lovino the wrong way by saying something inappropriate.

“I don’t want to assist at a conversation between you and my brother” he muttered, rolling his eyes to the sky. “You both talk too fucking much and say nothing. What a bunch of losers…” he trailed off, shaking his head and turning around to face the door.

“I guess I’ll be going then” I said and smiled uncertain at Lovino’s back.

“Don’t ever try to enter a guessing competition, because you are just going to make an ass out of yourself” Lovino muttered, irritated, and turned to look at me with a sigh.

“Are guessing competitions for real?” I asked.

“Guess” he said.

“I don’t really know”

“Why do I even-!” he swore again and rolled his eyes again. “Okay, listen” he said pointing his index at me. “I- I…” he bit his lip, blushed, and coughed, “I’m sorry, okay. Jeez, I didn’t snap a picture of you, so don’t bother”

“But I heard-!”

“It’s just an application I have on my phone” he explained, blushing even more, if that was possible. “It reproduces sounds”

“Wow, cool” I said, and he huffed, reaching for his back pocket. He took out a wallet and opened it in front of me.

“Here’s your money” he said in a whisper.

“You don’t need to-!” I started taking the money, bewildered. He looked at me as if I were crazy and showed me his open palm.

“Fine, give it back. Come on” he ordered, but I put the money away and in a swift move shook his hand. I bet he wanted to bite my head off in that moment.

“As I said, we got off to a bad start” I said and smiled brightly at him. “No more Spanish this time, okay? My name is Antonio Fernández Carriedo” I introduced myself. His hazel eyes were as wide as saucers as he stared down at our intertwined hands. He pulled his whole arm swiftly away and scrubbed it against his shirt.

“I thought you said no more Spanish” he said.

I kept smiling at him; he blushed again.

“Lovino Vargas” he said, unsure, and almost collided with the door in his haste to get back inside. He swore under his breath, opened the door and disappeared into his apartment.

I didn’t saw Lovino for a whole week after that.

It happened again on one of those rainy days, when the air smells musty and the sky is completely covered by dark, gloomy clouds.

Me and rainy days, we don’t really get along. In fact, I sometimes feel as if they want to make a fool out of me. Every time the sky threatens rain and I have an umbrella with me, the weather clears up eventually, but if I don’t, it’s pouring. Apparently, my optimism is in ample supply, for I fall for the same trick over and over again, and that time was no exception.

That morning there were no menacing clouds covering the sky, but it soon changed when I was returning home from work. Of course, I had no umbrella with me, and, of course, it started raining cats and dogs before I could even reach the bus station. The rain was so heavy, I couldn’t see across the street. I had two options: either I returned back to the childcare center and ask Lilly for an umbrella or a ride home, or I just followed my nose and keep walking. I opted for the second option, which, in hindsight, was not a sensible one.

I was walking with my hands stretched out in front of me like a zombie in some apocalypse movie, when I almost collided into someone rounding a corner. The rain suddenly stopped as the guy unwillingly held his umbrella above our heads.

“What the hell!” the man shouted, and I looked down to see Lovino gaping at me. As if sensing the sudden tension between us, the rain tapped on the umbrella much more vigorously than before.

“Oh, Lovino!” I greeted.

“Are you stalking me?” he asked, clearly annoyed, but then he took a good look at my white shirt drenched in rain and exclaimed: “You’re soaked to the bone, bastard”

“I forgot my umbrella” I explained, and Lovino massaged his temple with his free hand.

“Didn’t you hear the weather forecast?” he asked with a heavy sigh.

“I defy the laws of weather forecasts” I said, and he snorted.

“I was returning home from work” I explained. “The childcare center I work for is just around the corner, but I preferred going straight instead of going back and ask Lilly, my co-worker, for an umbrella, so I lost sight of the bus station and-!”

“Why do you speak so much?” Lovino whined, and I shut up. He rolled his eyes to the sky and started walking again. I remained still in my place and let out a yelp, when Lovino suddenly yanked me by arm and put the umbrella back over my head. “You are such an idiot” he commented and beckoned me to follow him.

I didn’t know where we were going, and Lovino had no intention of telling me. He kept complaining about me, about the rain and his luck the whole time, but I liked the sound of his voice too much to shut him up. I was so focused on what he was saying, I recognized his apartment only when we stopped at the front door.

“Take your fucking shoes off” he ordered. “Don’t sit on the couch” he added as he welcomed me into his apartment.

He left the umbrella open on the porch and closed the door behind us. I stood in the middle of the living room, unsure of what to do, while Lovino disappeared into a room on our left. I decided to take a look around me; my eyes wandered over the old couch to the television set and the beautiful paintings on the wall behind it. On the other side of the room, closer to the front door, there was a big bookcase, which was filled mostly with framed photos and cooking magazines. I walked over to them and smiled as I recognized a younger Lovino looking straight at the camera with a big man raising his hand in greeting behind him. In another photo, that very same man was grinning widely with one arm around a younger Feliciano’s shoulders, while Lovino stood detached, his lips curved in a small frown.

The lights were suddenly off, and I raised my hands to grab the towel Lovino had dropped over my head. I turned around to look at him, and he pushed something in my arms without a word.

I looked down at the pink sweatpants and green sweatshirt, and opened my mouth to thank him, only to realize that Lovino had disappeared again. I changed, right there in the living room, and although the clothes didn’t fit me perfectly, it was nice having something dry on. I continued my inspection of the room and squeaked in delight when I spotted the classic guitar lying against the wall, well hidden behind the television set.

I couldn't resist to temptation and picked it up. I sat down on the cold marble floor and plucked one of the strings. I haven’t touched a guitar in ages and it was nice to see that I haven’t forgotten how to play one. My fingers moved on their own accord, and the first chords of a Paco de Lucia’s song echoed in the room. My eyebrows furrowed in concentration as I tried to remember some other song. I found it and started playing, muttering the words under my breath.

"That's an Italian song” Lovino said, and I looked up from the floor towards him. He leaned against the doorframe with a strange look upon his face, and I smiled at him.

“Is this yours?” I asked, but he shook his head.

“No, my father’s” he replied with a scoff. “I don’t even know why we keep that damned instrument”

“Do you know how to play?” I asked. “Does Feliciano?”

“Feliciano can do a lot of things” he said, sitting in front of me on the couch, and his eyes lingered on one of the paintings on the wall for a moment, “but no. He can’t play”

I followed his gaze, but then I decided that playing the guitar was much more fun than staring at boring paintings. Lovino looked at me with a faraway glint in his eyes.

“I can teach you some basic chords, if you like” I offered, but he just snorted.

“No, too troublesome” he said, “besides, I doubt a bastard like you can keep up with a student like me”

I laughed.

“You know, when I was a teenager, I dreamed of being the best guitarist in the whole world” I said looking up again, smiling widely at the memory. “I think I could have been, don’t you think, Lovino?”

“So humble” he muttered. “What else can you play?” he asked, his cheeks turning red.

“Oh, I know!” I exclaimed and started another song.

“When did you realize you weren’t rock-and-roll material?” Lovino asked unexpectedly, and I didn’t stop playing as I replied:

“Music can’t always pay the bills”

“Wow, not only you are humble, but you are oh-so mature too” he teased me, and I shrugged, amused.

“Do you have a dream, Lovi?” I asked then looking up once more.

“W-why the hell do you care about my dreams?” he asked, honestly shocked and embarrassed. “And don’t call me Lovi! In fact, why don’t you address me as Mr. Vargas instead?”

“Lovi is cute” I said. “Like love, only spelled differently”

“The name is Lovino. Lo-vi-no!”

“You didn’t answer the question”

“Well, it’s not any of your business”

“Did you really want to work in a nightclub?”

“Of course not. That’s Alfred’s dream” he said, “Although I believe he secretly wants to become the next President of the USA”

I laughed and nodded.

“Yes, I believe that too”

“Anyway, I don’t want to talk about my life with you”

“If you want, I could talk about mine”

“Is that a threat?”

“Of course not, Lovi” I said. “So, I was born in a-!”

“In a farm” Lovino interrupted me. “And it’s Lovino”

“Don’t spoil my story” I reprimanded him, and he burst out laughing. I stopped playing and watched in wonder as Lovino tried to regain composure. He was so cute when he laughed. Scowls didn’t suit him at all.

“Don’t look at me like that” he barked. “Fine, I always wanted to run a restaurant” he admitted in the end, crossing his arms over his chest.

“Cool” I replied. “Why didn’t you?” I asked, but he just rolled his eyes to the ceiling.

“You need money for that, idiot” he replied. “And, as my father and brother always say, I am not good enough to reach the top. So I am stuck in a nightclub instead. My fate is to deal with horny idiots like you and take orders from a guy with a hero-complex” he blurted. “Whatever” he scoffed, looking away from me. He looked incredibly sad there, slumping on the couch, and I couldn’t stand it.

“All this talking about food made me hungry” I said, just to distract Lovino from his sad thoughts.

“I already gave you clothes. Now you want free food as well?” he asked, annoyed. “Fine. Do you like pasta?” he asked standing up. “You know what? Don’t answer. I don’t care. My roof, my rules, buddy” he exclaimed and went to the kitchen. I put the guitar back down in its place and I followed him, my heart beating wild in my chest. Everything about that place made me giddy, and I felt so much at home it was ridiculous.

I shouldn’t have felt like that, right?

Right.

Chapter Text

Chapter 7

After those few hours spent with Lovino eating pasta and talking nonsense, life started to suddenly make sense. It is extremely difficult to explain the feeling that overwhelmed me in those days, and no adjective would ever get close to the real thing. Everything around me was pumping new life into me. Everything was beautiful; sugar, spice and everything’s nice kind of beautiful. It was wonderful. Life was wonderful.

“You always were a happy-go-lucky person” Gilbert commented once, “but now you are freaking me out, man”

When I asked him why, Gilbert couldn’t really say.

“So maybe it’s nothing” Gilbert told me in the end. “Just forget about it”

I didn’t want to start a fight, but in that moment I really wanted to tell Gilbert that he had turned distant and was now acting weird too. In the beginning, I believed it was because of that not-so-friendly exchange of views he had with Francis, but even I could see that Gilbert was truly making an effort to make things right again. After Gilbert walked in on me tied to my bed in that compromising position and talked to Francis about it, Gilbert seemed keen to move past their misunderstandings. Nevertheless, as if he wanted to give Francis a taste of his own medicine, Gilbert started spending most of his free time with Matthew. Francis, though, didn’t seem to mind, and I was too much in my own world to care.

I didn’t want to face the truth, but our trio was really not a trio anymore. We were probably in some kind of experimenting phase. We were testing the waters. We wanted to see if we were capable of moving on from each other, make new friends and start a new life, one that was closer to our own nature. Unfortunately, our pact was still binding us together, and Gilbert was feeling the full weight of it on his shoulders already. I am saying this now that I can interpret the situation much more clearly, but back then I didn’t see anything wrong with the pact and our way of living.

The only thing that was already clear to me was their attitude towards me. Neither Francis nor Gilbert had any idea of my little conversation with Lovino yet, so to them my optimism went completely against the resentfulness I should have been feeling towards Lovino. They couldn’t understand why, whenever they started speculating about Lovino’s mental instability, I looked ready to punch them in the face instead of joining their conversation. I kept silent. I wanted to keep Lovino’s true self for myself for a while. It was no secret, but I didn’t want to share the image of a blushing Lovino with the world just yet.

When Feliciano called me to remind me of Feliks’ idea to go to a karaoke bar one day, I realized it was time for the truth to come out. I had completely forgotten about Feliciano and Feliks, but as much as seeing them again made me happy, I wasn’t really in the mood to go anywhere with them until he said:

“Lovino said he’s coming too”

“Great” I agreed. “I’m in”

“You can ask out Francis too” Feliciano said after telling me the karaoke bar’s address. “I don’t have his number, or I would have asked him out already” he explained.

“What about Gilbert?” I asked.

“Oh, he said he is not interested” he replied. I was shocked, to say the least. I couldn’t comprehend how Gilbert, who liked to show the world how much of a terrible singer he was at any chance he got, could turn such an offer down. I had to ask him myself. I assured Feliciano that I would try to change Gilbert’s mind and hung up, after we agreed to meet on a Friday evening.

“No, thanks, pal” Gilbert said when I called me immediately after.

“You know I love singing” he explained when I asked him why, “but I have other plans, buddy. I am going to see Matthew that day”

“Who?”

“Stop acting clueless, and admit that the only reason why you sound so let down is because you are going to miss my voice a lot”

“Yes, we are” I lied.

The karaoke bar resembled one of those old, Japanese-style guesthouses you see in movies. On the outside it was kind of depressing, the kind of bar where people with suicidal tendencies liked to spend their last night in before deciding it’s not really worth it and go home. The inside, however, promised great things. It was obvious the owners were going for a Japan theme, and even hanged different anime posters on the walls to make it look homey. The waiters and waitresses were all smiling and likable, and they showed us to our private room talking to us as if we were long lost friends.

Feliciano and Feliks were already there when Francis and I arrived. Lovino was sitting right next to his brother on a vivid pink coach with his arms crossed. He didn’t look up to greet us, because his whole attention was locked on the guy sitting on the other side of Feliciano.

“Ludwig?” I asked, completely taken aback. The blond man looked up from the leaflet Feliciano was showing to him and nodded at me in greeting.

“Antonio! Francis!” Feliciano exclaimed and stood up to kiss us on the cheeks, much to Lovino’s annoyance. “We already ordered something to eat and to drink, and we were now deciding what songs to sing” he explained, took me by the arm and pointed at Feliks, who was standing beside the karaoke equipment with another guy. It was obvious Feliks couldn’t get his head around the proper use of the karaoke set, and it was entertaining to see him brandishing the mike around in irritation.

“This thing is broken” Feliks was saying when Feliciano dragged me over to them.

“No, Feliks. You just switched the mike off on accident” the brown haired guy replied, his voice resigned. “Let me see” he added and almost bumped his head on the TV above him, when Feliciano shouted his name.

“This is Toris!” Feliciano introduced me to him. He turned abruptly around, startled, and smiled at me shyly when he noticed my presence.

“Hi, Antonio” Feliks greeted. “Meet Toris, my maid and roommate”

“Will you ever stop calling me that?” Toris asked, although his voice lacked any sign of annoyance at Feliks’ antics.

“What? My maid or my roommate?” Feliks teased, and Toris shook his head and sighed.

Toris Lorinaitis, Feliks’ friend, roommate and apparently maid, is your average man: chestnut hair, chestnut eyes, average height and average job. Nevertheless, I believe he is some kind of Clark Kent in disguise. He is stronger than he looks, and he is really patient, considering he is the only one who can deal with Feliks on a daily basis. That day we didn’t speak much to make judgements, but I met him quite a few times after that, and I must say he is the most anxious guy I ever met in my life. He worries pretty much about anything, and having a bubbly guy like Feliks constantly around doesn’t help. Still, he is doing just fine, and he doesn’t look like he is going to have a mental breakdown anytime soon.

The truth is it is impossible to think that a guy like him, someone who is the complete opposite of Ludwig, for example, can put Feliks in his place, but he does. It was a little bit like that karaoke bar: it was a relationship that looked unhealthy on the outside, with Feliks having Toris wrapped around his finger, but nice and balanced when you looked at it a little bit more closely. To make a long story short, I liked Toris straightway.

I left Feliks and Toris to deal with the karaoke set and returned back to the pink couch with Feliciano, who sat immediately next to Ludwig again and forgot all about me the moment after. Francis, on the other hand, was trying to have a conversation with Lovino, which immediately stopped when I flopped down between them. Francis shot me a worried look, but then his eyes turned wide when Lovino scooted closer to me and said:

“So, what did my brother threatened you with?”

“I just thought it would be fun” I admitted, much to Lovino’s amusement. I could see the question marks popping out of Francis’ head, but I just smiled at him in reassurance.

“Do you really think karoke-ing is fun?” Lovino asked raising an eyebrow. “Are you that dumb?”

“So, why did you come?” I asked with a grin, and Lovino’s eyes lingered on Ludwig sitting beside Feliciano a moment longer than necessary. I followed his line of vision and furrowed my eyebrows, uncomprehending. Francis was ready to pass out next to us.

“Ludwig?” I asked.

“I-it’s not any of your business, bastard” Lovino said blushing, and Francis put a hand on his heart.

“You don’t like him?” I asked.

“Shit, Sherlock” Lovino said, ready to spurt something insulting again, but bit his lips instead and whispered, after shooting an annoyed look Francis’ way, who scooted closer to listen in to our conversation: “I wouldn’t have come if he wasn’t for that potato head. My brother asked him to come here twice. Twice! Can you believe that? The first time he said no, but then it turns out his shithead of a brother had plans, and that kraut-eater was immediately okay singing with Feliks” he said gesturing towards Feliks, who was still on stage fumbling with the wires with Toris.

“Wait, wait, wait” Francis said leaning closer to Lovino than was strictly appropriate. “When Gilbert said no, Ludwig said yes?” he asked.

“Fuck off” Lovino swore pushing him out from his personal bubble, but Francis seemed too lost in his world to mind.

“Why did Ludwig say yes, when Gilbert said no, Antonio?” Francis asked, his blue eyes glinting with mirth.

“Is this a joke? I am supposed to say something now?” I asked, not really getting why Francis seemed so happy.

“Lovino, dear” Francis said turning his attention back to Lovino, “are your brother and Ludwig a thing now?” he asked, wiggling his eyebrows, and Lovino became ten shades of red.

“What thing?” I asked, but just in that moment the mike in Feliks’ hands futzed out, making so much noise that we had to cover our ears in shock. We all turned around to face the stage, and Feliks talked into the mike, counting numbers out loud to make sure the thing was indeed working. Toris was sitting with his legs crossed on the floor, a leaflet very similar to the one Feliciano was still reading in his hands. Feliks suddenly pressed a button, and the television set suddenly came to life. Feliciano started bouncing with joy next to me, while Ludwig was chugging beer like there was no tomorrow. I had been so focused on Lovino that I hadn’t noticed the waitress leave our drinks and food on the table in front of us a couple of minutes before.

“Okay, Toris! Let’s get this party started!” Feliks exclaimed directly into the mike as the first notes of Pink’s ‘Let’s get this party started’ came out from the stereo behind them. Toris shook his head no and was ready to come back to us, when Feliks suddenly grabbed him by the arm and yanked him to a standing position next to him.

“Jeez, relax! Don’t be like, a party-pooper!” Feliks exclaimed, handed Toris another mike and started singing. They both were off-key, but when Feliciano started clapping to the song, they were so into it, they decided to dedicate the next song to Feliciano. Feliks went for ‘Happy’ by Pharrell Williams, and Feliciano and I started to sing along too. There was a round of applause, and Feliciano and Francis took their place.

“Hey, Lovi!” I exclaimed. “We should sing something too”

“What the fuck? It’s Lovino, you bastard” he said gulping down some French fries. “Anyway, I am not singing”

“Come on, it’s no big deal” I prompted him. “Don’t be shy. I am sure you have a beautiful voice”

“You don’t know shit about me” Lovino said grabbing another French fry. “I am not shy, I just don’t-!”

“Just one song” I interrupted him before he could say something else.

“No” he insisted.

“Come on, Lovino!” Feliks exclaimed. “It’s totally fun!” he added pushing the leaflet with all the songs available towards us. “Ludwig is going to sing too, isn’t that right, Ludwig?” he asked with an amused smirk on his face.

“I am not going to sing” Ludwig immediately replied.

“Of course you are” Feliks said. “You promised our dear Feliciano, remember?”

“What do you say, Lovi?” I asked opening the leaflet. Lovino rolled his eyes to the ceiling.

“It’s Lovino. I need to be drunk to go through with this” he said, leaning over to fill one of the glasses with some kind of alcohol.

“Is that a yes?” I asked, giddy.

“I think it was a no” Ludwig commented next to us. I looked up where Francis was singing loudly with Feliciano. I wanted to go on stage so bad.

“You are not picking any songs” Lovino said taking the leaflet from my hands, and I looked at him.

“Just go for something we both know” I told him, and he rolled his eyes to the ceiling once again.

Feliciano called Ludwig’s name, and Feliks immediately pushed a very nervous Ludwig towards the stage. I watched as Feliciano, Francis and Ludwig went through the leaflet, searching for a song that the three of them could sing, and I suddenly wished I had a camera to film all of this. Gilbert was going to be so jealous! No wonder Ludwig had agreed to come the moment his brother told him he had plans for that day. I was still picturing in my head how Gilbert was going to react to what I was going to tell him, when Feliks’ voice got my attention again.

“Come on, Lovino. Don’t tear that leaflet apart and chose already”

“I am not singing” Lovino exclaimed, blushing.

“But you’ll do it for me, right?” I asked, and Lovino looked up at me in disbelief. I took the leaflet and opened it to a random page. Feliks closed his eyes and put his index on the paper.

“Sweet” Feliks said opening his eyes and reading the song he had randomly chosen. “Heartbeat by Enrique Iglesias” he announced, looking at me.

“I don’t want to sing that dumb song” Lovino complained. “Pick another one”

“Too late” Feliciano grinned sitting back down on the couch. “It’s your turn now!”

Lovino opened his mouth to complain again, but I grabbed Lovino’s hand and led him to the stage before he could bail on me. I gave him the thumbs-up, and he blushed again, holding the mike Francis had given him as if it were garbage. He looked so unsure, what with all those eyes looking at us in expectation, and I put an arm around his shoulders to make him relax. Our song started playing on the stereo, and after a moment of hesitation, Lovino started singing. He had a wonderful voice, and everyone fell suddenly silent to listen to us in marvel.

My heart was beating madly against my chest. He was so handsome, I couldn’t stop staring at him. His voice was so beautiful, I almost forgot I was supposed to sing too. I rushed to sing my lines. We were the perfect duo, him and I, but at some point, right in the middle of the song, he shut up, shove the mike into my arms and shouted:

"No, I can't do it!"

Lovino turned abruptly away and in his haste to get off stage, tripped over a wire and fell face down on the floor. I immediately went to his rescue, dropped both mikes and kneeled down next to him.

“Fuck!” he shouted trying to get back on his feet, but he bended over in pain when he made a step forwards. Ludwig was by our side in a moment, and together we helped Lovino stand. Lovino muttered something under his breath and grabbed my arm.

“Are you okay?” I asked, worried.

"Let go of me, bastard!" he shouted and tried to walk to the couch clutching Ludwig’s shoulder with one hand. "It's nothing!"

"Lovino, do you want to go home?" Feliciano asked running towards us.

"I'm perfectly fine, you idiot! Stop worrying" Lovino said.

"Maybe we should accompany you to the hospital…" Toris said, but Lovino shook his head no.

“Lovino, you might have twisted your ankle” Ludwig said, matter-of-factly.

"I'm fine!" Lovino exclaimed, his cheeks red from all the attention he was getting. “Stop bitching, you all. Keep having fun. I’ll go home by myself”

"I will take the bus with him and accompany him home" I offered. Lovino opened his eyes wide at me, as if I came from another planet, but I was so used to that look from him, I insisted: "I'll take care of him!"

“If you want, Lovino, I can give you a ride home” Francis suggested.

“No fucking way!” Lovino exclaimed.

“Should I give you a ride to the nearest hospital?” Ludwig asked, unsure, but Lovino shook his head.

“I don’t need a hospital” Lovino spat.

“I’ll accompany him home” I said, smiling reassuringly at Feliciano and Ludwig. “It was fun, but I think it’s time I go home as well”

“Fine” Feliciano agreed, his lips twisted downwards from worry. “Call me when you get back, Lovino”

“Don’t leave me alone with him!” Lovino exclaimed. I smiled at Feliciano again and I helped Lovino walk towards the door. He was limping, and every time he made a step, he winced in pain. Lovino put his whole weight on me, and I held him by the waist to prop him up.

“Let me go, bastard” he said almost resigned when we stepped out of the karaoke bar. “I’m not a baby”

“No, you are not” I said. “I wish you were, though. It would be easier to carry you around”

“Are you saying I’m heavy?”

“Lovi, I think you ate too many French fries today”

“There was nothing else to eat, and I was hungry. I don’t fucking photosynthesize”

I laughed.

The bus stop wasn’t far away from the karaoke bar, and we didn’t need to wait long for the bus. I helped him get in, paid for his ticket as well, and ignored his constant complaining throughout the ride. I couldn’t hold it against him, because I could see he was insulting me to make me forget he was really in pain. He was holding his leg in a weird ankle, and I felt suddenly guilty. It was my fault that this happened, after all. I shouldn’t have insisted so much.

“I freaked out” Lovino muttered so suddenly, I wondered whether I had been thinking out loud or not. He stared the landscape passing by, and I noticed the small displeased scowl reflected on the window.

“I should have used my arms to break the fall” I said, and he turned to look at me with both eyebrow raised, but he didn’t speak.

Ten minutes later, we were getting off the bus and walking slowly towards his apartment.

“Fuck, fuck, fuck” he swore and stopped suddenly mid-way. He looked down at his sprained ankle, but before he could make another step forwards, I said:

"I’ll give you a piggyback ride, Lovi!"

"It’s Lovino” he reminded me, “and no! That would be too humiliating, and-! What the fuck!" he shouted when I lifted him up on my shoulders. I bended my knees slightly and used my shoulders to support his weight. Lovino moved his arms around my neck to secure his hold, and taking advantage of his surprise, I joined my hands under his legs to keep him steady.

"There you go!" I exclaimed in victory. Lovino was too stunned to talk, and I started walking towards his apartment again.

"Let me down, goddammit!" he shouted straight in my ear.

"You can't walk, Lovi" I reasoned, ignoring the way he squirmed against my back, trying to get off me.

"I order you to let me down!" he shouted again. "I don't need your fucking help, bastard! I can walk perfectly on my own, THANK YOU!"

"Okay, don’t be such a-!" I reprimanded him, but the words died in my throat when I noticed the menacing stray dog blocking the way. “Dog!" I exclaimed.

"What do you mean by 'don’t be such a dog'?" Lovino asked angrily. “Oh” he mouthed when the stray dog suddenly growled at us.

"Err… I don't think it likes us…" I whispered making a step back. “Maybe it has rabies” I added when the dog started barking.

"Let’s go! Let’s go!” Lovino suddenly shouted, and I agreed with him. I started running as fast as my legs could carry me, keeping a steady hold on Lovino.

At this point I would like to remind you that running away from an angry dog is never a good idea. They might take it in the wrong way and start hunting you down, and humans are not as fast as they think they are. Secondly, don’t run while giving a piggyback ride. It’s going to hurt like hell the morning after.

Despite my aching joints, though, I managed to reach Lovino’s apartment just fine. We had been terribly lucky. As soon as we started running away, the dog decided we weren’t worth the chase and turned the way he came, but I didn’t realize it wasn’t behind us until I fell in front of Lovino’s front door, gasping for breath. If I had, I wouldn’t have ran as fast as I did.

Lovino’s arms were still squeezing the life out of me. I patted his legs to let me go, but he remained stuck to me like a baby koala for a couple of minutes more.

"Are we still alive?" he asked in a whisper, and I nodded.

"Yeah…" I gasped. "You can let go now”

"Oh!" he exclaimed, blushed madly and abruptly slid off of me. I remained on all fours, and he sat down next to me. I heaved a sigh and turned to look at him. We stared at each other for moment, and then we suddenly burst out laughing. Lovino slapped a hand over his mouth to make the laughter stop, but I could see his eyes still twinkling with amusement.

"You’re home” I said standing slowly up. I stretched a hand to help him on his feet, and he took it.

"How did you…" he asked, his voice muffled behind his hand. I laughed softly and moved his hand away from his face.

"Well, I have a great sense of direction" I said. Lovino’s hand was warm in mine, and I wondered what it would feel like to be able to that hand every day for the rest of my life.

"You were just one lucky bastard" he muttered. I smiled sheepishly at him, and Lovino’s hazel eyes found mine. I studied his features under the street-lamp's light. Unconsciously, I made a step forwards, but Lovino remained still in his place, even when I was so close I could feel his breath against my skin.

“I am not going to karaoke ever again” he said, softly pulling his hand away from my grasp, and searched for his keys in his pockets.

“Oh, come on. It was fun” I said stepping away from his personal bubble. “You are an amazing singer. It’s good Gilbert wasn’t with us, otherwise he wouldn’t have given any of us the chance to sing”

“Good night, bastard” Lovino said rolling his eyes to the sky and opening the front door.

“Are you sure you are okay?” I asked, glancing down at his ankle.

“I don’t need to go to the hospital” Lovino said. “Good night” he repeated then, resolutely, and opened the door. He made to step in, but then turned to look at me again.

“Good night, Lovi” I told him.

“It’s Lovino, you fucker!” he shouted, and slammed the door in my face.

Chapter Text

Francis 2

I really couldn’t wrap my head around it.

When Gilbert told me he found Antonio tied to his bed, naked and blindfolded, and stressed it was all Lovino’s fault, I really thought that was it. I lost the bet, and Antonio lost his chance with the younger man. It was obvious that Lovino had done it in order to scare Antonio away and to assess the power he held in the situation he unwillingly found himself in. I didn’t know Lovino too well to judge his personality and way of thinking, but I was sure even a naïve guy like Antonio would understand that it was time to cut the crap, as Gilbert would vulgarly say, and forget about Lovino completely.

So you can imagine the shock I felt when I saw Lovino and Antonio talk as if nothing had happened, as if that terrifying incident was nothing more than an episode of their life they will remember with fondness forty years from now. They sat right next to me and even flirted with their eyes, although neither of them knew they were doing it. To someone who didn’t know all the facts, they looked like friends, who might be lovers if time allowed it. Something must have happened between them, I was sure, but Antonio kept his mouth shut, and no one could explain Lovino’s sudden change of attitude better than Lovino himself.

I tried talking with his brother, but Feliciano just shrugged and told me Antonio dropped by one day and had a ten minutes conversation with Lovino on the porch. No, he didn’t hear a word they said.

Feliciano is more tightlipped than I first supposed him to be. He really looks all innocent and naïve on the outside, but, in reality, he is much tougher. I don’t know if he likes me all that much, honestly. I probably wrote a bad review or two about his fashion designs once, although I didn’t know him personally back then, and he must still be sour about it. Anyway, everyone knows the French are better fashion designers; we do have a keen sense of style and we don’t blindly follow trends like other people do. Italians are second best at most.

But let’s leave this conversation for another time. This is not about fashion.

I was keen to believe Feliciano knew something I did not, but he didn’t want to share it with me. Little did he know I had seen through his façade. He was in a relationship with Ludwig and didn’t want his brother to know. Of course, both of them completely denied it when asked, but it’s clear as day that there is something going on between them. Ludwig just doesn’t want to admit it yet. Gilbert would have been thrilled to see his brother step on stage and sing with Feliciano. Too bad he preferred Matthew’s company that day, because he really missed the show.

Anyway, this is not about Feliciano and Ludwig either. It’s about Antonio and Lovino.

At this point of the story, I really couldn’t wrap my head around these two.

Right until Lovino tripped, fell flat on his face and twisted his ankle, I couldn’t stop staring at them. When they left together, I couldn’t stop noticing the way Lovino trusted Antonio and let Tony put his arm around his waist for support. They were cute, and the way Antonio looked at Lovino, as if he were his moon and the stars and everything in between, really broke my heart. Lovino didn’t look at Antonio like that, but it was evident he liked the guy. I can read between the lines, and Lovino’s insults don’t fool me.

“How can you be so sure?” Arthur asked when I told him one day, when we met in one of his favorite pubs.

“Trust me, love was my major in college” I boasted, and he clicked his tongue in annoyance.

“I think you are just jealous and that you see things where there is nothing to be seen” he reasoned.

“Of course I am not jealous” I spat, frowning.

“Lovino doesn’t care about him” Arthur said. “You said so yourself. He doesn’t look at Antonio as if he were the moon and the stars and everything in between”

“Please, when you quote me, could you sound more romantic and less sarcastic?” I asked.

“I am not promising anything”

“You just want to win the bet and get this over with” I told him.

“I already won the bet” Arthur declared. “Antonio is never going to get into Lovino’s pants, and that is why I am sick and tired of listening to you talking about them as if Lovino is going to fall in love with Antonio in the end. This is not some cheesy romantic comedy. No one is wasting their time writing a scenario for them”

“Why do I feel like you are the one being jealous?” I asked with a smirk.

“I am not” he spat. “I am concerned

“Concerned about what?” I asked, taken aback.

“You tend to ruin relationships” Arthur replied. “Maybe Antonio and Lovino are never going to be lovers, but I don’t want to see you interfere with their soon to be friendship”

“Do you really believe I would sleep with Lovino because I don’t want Antonio to be with anyone else but me?” I asked, disbelieving. “Do you really think so low of me?”

“You did it before” he said, a frown on his thin lips.

“Oh, please. Don’t tell me you are thinking about Victoria?” I asked. “That was ages ago, and she kissed me first!”

“Victoria and I were dating” Arthur said. “You didn’t like me spending time with her and slept with her”

“It didn’t go like that” I told him. “You broke up and she came to me crying”

“We didn’t break up” he said. “That was after you slept with her”

“She kissed me first and kept complaining about how lousy you were in bed. That was obviously after you broke up. How was I supposed to cheer her up?”

“Oh, really?” Arthur said, raising one eyebrow. “What about my brother? Was he complaining about how lousy I am in bed too?”

“That- that-!” I tried to defend myself but I was at a loss of words. “When did that happen?” I asked.

“You are such a git” Arthur spat. “Do you really like to hurt me so much?”

I remained silent for a long moment, trying to recall the last time I met Arthur’s older brother William. We haven’t seen each other since high school, and I remembered suddenly prom night, when William was forced to chaperone. We were pissed, we danced together the whole time and decided to go home together. I was stunned. I had completely forgotten about it, but Arthur hadn’t and that felt like a stab to the heart.

“William was drunk” I said.

“William is always drunk” he retorted, his voice bittersweet.

I wanted to apologize, but no words came out of my mouth. Arthur stared at his half-empty glass of ale and absentmindedly wiped the rim with his index finger.

“Still that was ages ago” I told him, “and I don’t understand what that has to do with Antonio and Lovino”

“I am just worried for Antonio, that’s all” he said taking a sip from his drink.

Since when are you worried for him? I wanted to ask, but I decided to remain silent.

“Don’t you have any good memories of me?” I asked. I wanted to change subject fast and smiled when Arthur snorted in amusement.

“Of course not” he said. “Why do you have any?” he asked with a tiny smirk on his face.

“No, actually, I don’t. Remember when you almost burned my hair in Chemistry class?” I asked. Arthur tried to remain serious, but his lips quivered slightly upwards nevertheless.

“What about that Indian guy?” I asked then, feeling relieved as soon as I noticed Arthur’s mood lightening up.

“And what about that project we did together? No, scratch that” I said, laughing at the memory. “The project they forced us to do together?”

“I still have a scar on my elbow as reminder” Arthur said.

“Hey, guys!” a voice suddenly startled us from behind. I looked up to see Alfred sitting down next to Arthur and calling the waitress for a drink. “Man, this place smells funny” Alfred said. “Like old and depression”

“Well, you could have turned the invitation down. I didn’t order you to come” Arthur said, scowling deeply, but Alfred laughed and patted the other on the back.

“I’ll stay just for one drink” Alfred said. “I am going to the movies after this. The new Captain America movie’s out and I don’t wanna miss it. Do you want to come?” he asked. “No, I know you don’t give a shit, man, but I promise you. It’s going to be great!”

“No, thanks” Arthur said, but my heart skipped a beat at the way he said it. Alfred started blabbering about the whole Marvel franchise, and although Arthur pretended to be uninterested, he was biting his lips and throwing attentive glances Alfred’s way when he thought no one was looking. Alfred stopped talking just for a moment, when the waiter came with his drink, and then turned his attention to me, trying to persuade me to go to the movies with him.

I suddenly felt really awkward. It wasn’t the first time I spoke to Alfred, but it was the first time Alfred, Arthur and I were alone together, and I had never seen the dynamics between the two when no one else was around. Arthur didn’t seem to notice my sudden silence, and that was because Alfred was capable of filling it for both of us. I couldn’t stop staring at Arthur, but the confirmation that something was going on came only when Arthur finally accepted to go to the new Captain America’s movie with Alfred.

In that moment, I knew.

An hour later, just before we called it a night and Alfred and Arthur left for the movie theater, Arthur excused himself and went to the bathroom, and I was left alone with Alfred.

“Hey, Al” I said, trying to sound nonchalant and not at all enquiring. “Arthur never told me how you two met”

“Oh, it was some years ago” Alfred said with a grin. “I went to some boring wild animals’ exhibition in a park in Colorado. It was Matthew’s idea to stop there. We were on a road trip down to Texas, you see. There was this bison, it was so big! And Arthur happened to be there right when I was reaching out to pet the thing on the head. He told me to watch out, but the bison was fake, you know, and I touched it anyway, and Arthur almost had a heart attack when I took that plastic thing in my arms and lifted it up”

“Are you serious?” I asked.

“God, you had to see his face!” Alfred laughed. “We started talking then, and it came as a shock to us when we realized we were practically neighbors. One thing led to another and… well, we really hit it off. I told him I wanted to open a nightclub, he told me he knew a guy who wanted to sell his old shack he had used as a club for years, and next thing we know, we are besties”

“Was the nightclub already called ‘Nightwave’?” I asked out of curiosity.

“Dude, that lame name was Arthur’s idea. The club was called something extremely vulgar before, and I wanted to come up with something better. I was so busy with renovations, though, that I left Arthur deal with it. I sure regret my decision” he said and laughed loudly.

“I see” I said, although there was something off to this story.

“What about you?” Alfred asked, suddenly. “How did you two meet?”

“We are just childhood friends” I replied. Arthur returned from the bathroom just then, and I waved them goodbye, wishing them to have a good time.

I suddenly wanted to leave and never see Alfred’s face ever again. It wasn’t that poor guy’s fault, but it made me uneasy to stand by his side when Arthur was there, looking at him with those eyes full of admiration. It made me sick, and the fact it made me feel like that nauseated me.

I didn’t want to be jealous of Alfred, but here I was, and I had no idea why I felt that way. I needed to speak to someone about it, and Gilbert and Antonio were out of the question. There was only one person I could openly speak to, and that was my mother.

It took me a few days to gather the courage to call her.

My mother and I have a great relationship, but it was not always so. When I was a kid, my parents were so busy with work, they didn’t care about me that much. I am an only child, so you can imagine how lonely it had felt not having anyone to play with. This was long before Antonio and I met Gilbert and became the Bad Touch Trio, and Antonio lived too far away from me to be with him all the time.

I remember I was very jealous of the other kids, who I believed were praised by their parents on a daily basis. Nevertheless, nothing could be compared to the envy I had for the family living in the house in front of ours.

They had five children, and I wished I could see what it was like being surrounded by so many people every day. I could stay up for hours, wondering what they ate for dinner, picturing them all chatting merrily together and ask each other about their day at school. My theories, however, were far off from reality.

One day, when my parents started bickering about the bills, I sneaked out and walked over to these neighbors living across the street. Without anyone noticing me, I opened the gate and stepped into their little garden. I found the youngest of the Kirklands playing alone with his bunny, sitting quietly behind some rose bushes. He was so engrossed in his games that he didn’t realize I was there. When I made a step closer to him, though, the bunny felt my presence and jumped out in fear. Unfortunately, I had left the gate open, and the poor animal, probably thinking it was his only way out, attempted to hop towards the street to find a safe place to hide.

Arthur sprang into action. With an alarmed cry, he ran after his terrified pet and grabbed him by the ears before he could leave the garden. I remained standing there like some fancy statue and felt my cheeks flush slightly, when Arthur came back with the bunny safe in his arms. He was scowling.

“He almost got killed because of you!” he reproached me.

I stared at him, thinking how ugly that little boy was, what with his bushy eyebrows and messy sandy hair. He looked as if no one had ever introduced him to a brush before, and I immediately disliked his obvious disinterest in his outer appearance.

“You are the French kid, aren’t you?” Arthur asked, his frown deepening.

“My name’s Francis” I said.

“What? Francis the French?” the boy asked, amused.

“And what’s your name? Sconie the scone eater?” I asked back, offended.

“No, it’s Arthur, you prick” he said, and without another word ran back into the safety of his house with his pet bunny.

They say that first impressions have a significant effect on the future of a relationship, which means we weren’t supposed to meet anymore after that. I almost killed his bunny, he insulted me, and I insulted him back, so I am not supposed to cherish this memory as much as I do. I don't remember the bunny’s name, what day it was, whether we were six, seven, or eight, but this is the first memory I have of Arthur and it speaks to me on a very spiritual level. You might say I am embellishing the whole thing, but it’s true.

Arthur became part of my life step by step. We crawled into each other’s lives without us knowing. In the beginning, we just stared at each other across the street, but then we started hanging out, if not to play, just to piss each other off. School probably played a major role in our friendship, if someone could call it as such. If we hadn’t gone to same school, we would have probably ignored each other much better. Being neighbors was a definite plus.

Thinking back on it, however, I probably would have sought Arthur’s company anyway. I was a lonely kid without Antonio or Gilbert by my side, and Arthur’s large family was my idea of perfection. It was not until I officially met Arthur’s brothers that I realized how wrong I was.

Arthur has three older brothers and one younger one. Their parents were almost never home, not before ten in the evening at least. The kids had to provide for themselves and none of them was too keen on taking care of their sibling, if they could help it. It’s impossible to keep a family like that together. Arthur tried, but always ended up being ridiculed for it. He probably wasn’t doing it right. His brothers probably thought he was just being a stuck-up bitch that wanted to order them around. Arthur can be bossy, but I can’t justify the beating he got for it. Fine, you probably think I am being a hypocrite, seeing Arthur and I ended up fighting most often than not, but we are not related.

I didn’t live with Arthur, but even I could see how much the bullying affected all of them. The only one who seemed to think highly of Arthur was his younger brother, Peter, who idolized him and wanted to become just like him. Unfortunately, Peter was born when Arthur had already given up trying to restore his family closeness. Arthur looked down on Peter’s optimism, and Peter flipped him off one day and ran away from home when he was still too young to live on his own.

Arthur told me he was practically adopted by a gay couple living in the outskirts of our town. Peter is happy.

“Maybe it was the fact you both felt so alone that drove you close together” my mom said from the other side of the line. “Eventually you became friends”

“Mum, be serious” I told her.

We weren’t friends. We just bore each other. We grew up together, we knew each other weaknesses and strong points, we tried to help each other out, or stand in each other’s way, when it was convenient.

You can’t call what we had ‘friendship’. Friends don’t treat each other like shit. Friends don’t do what we’ve done.

I tried to teach him to cook, he almost burn my house down. I tried to cut his hair, but it was like taming a monster. He taught me to sew and almost shoved the needle up my ass when I did a better job than him. I chose his clothes for him, when he needed to dress smartly. He was there when my parents divorced. He called me when he had a mental breakdown before finals. I stood by him when his pet bunny died.

“But doesn’t that prove you like him?” my mother asked.

“He can be funny, when he wants to” I conceded.

Maybe I like him, but to love him? No, that never ever crossed my mind.

It’s easier to fall in love with someone like Antonio. It’s much less sudden, less upsetting. Antonio is my best friend; he is a passionate, live-in-the-now kind of guy. He is unpredictable. It was easy to fall in love with him, and I always thought that, if I was going to fall in love for the second time, it would be with someone like Antonio again. Someone as handsome as him. Someone, whose smile, like his, can brighten anyone’s mood.

Arthur is the antithesis of Antonio, and that was why it freaked me out when I realized I was upset by the way Arthur looked at Alfred.

In fact, I can understand why Arthur might fall in love with someone like Alfred in the first place. I can understand why Arthur would never think of me as a lover. By the same token, Arthur can understand why I fell in love with Antonio when we were teenagers and was upset when I confessed I told the guys I was in love with him instead.

“Still, if you think back, Arthur never liked the idea of you loving Antonio so much” my mom said.

“I bet he was too turned on by the mental image of Antonio and I in bed together” I joked. My mother laughed.

“Anyway, you never told me about the pact” my mother said, when the laughter subsided. “What were you thinking?”

“I don’t know” I said.

When I told Arthur about the pact, he too replied with a:

“What the fuck were you thinking?”

Arthur stared at me. I was sitting comfortably at the little, wobbly table in his kitchen while he was washing the dishes. When I told him I was never going to fall in love again, one of the cups he was holding slipped from his hands and smashed into a million of tiny pieces on the floor. I remember he didn’t immediately kneel to pick them up and just stared at me as if I were crazy.

“You three are going to fall in love eventually” Arthur said.

“This is not like Gilbert begging me not to tell about his wet accident a couple of years ago. This is real, Arthur”

“So you are never going to love anyone else for the rest of your life” Arthur stated kneeling down and temporarily disappearing from my view. He started picking up the cup’s broken pieces, and I stood up from the table to help him out. I couldn’t see the expression on his face, but I somehow knew I had disappointed him greatly.

“No, not anymore” I said.

“Are you sure you can do that?” he asked. “Are you sure you are not going to fall in love for a second time or a third?”

“I don’t think I will love anyone else after Antonio, Arthur. Deal with it” I snapped, and he shut his mouth.

He swept the floor and returned back to his dishes. I helped him dry them, and when we were done, Arthur sat down on one of the chairs.

“Did you at least tell him it’s his fault you are agreeing to this?” he asked.

“No, I told them you rejected me” I said.

"WHAT?" Arthur screeched.

"Arthur, I couldn't think of anything else! It makes sense, right? We hang out a lot and-!”

“You are not in love with me, are you? Are you?” he asked.

“Be serious” I told him.

“Of course” he said, calming down. “I’m not your type, right?” he asked.

“No, bunny. You are not” I said, the little nickname I used with him when he was upset slipped of the tongue without me noticing. “Don’t worry about it”

I don’t know what happened after that. We just drifted apart, and when we left our beloved town to go to college, we just stopped talking to each other once and for all.

“Did it never occur to you that the pact might have affected him too, Francis?” my mother asked.

“Why?” I asked, immediately on the defensive.

“Well, you were his first kiss after all…” she trailed off.

“Mom, don’t be ridiculous”

I didn’t understand what Arthur’s first kiss had to do with him avoiding me like the plague ten years before.

I suddenly remembered the day Arthur and I kissed, although it was by accident. It was during a school trip in eighth grade to some place I don’t even recall the name anymore. It was near the coast, and the whole class had decided to organize a bonfire on the beach on the last night of our trip. This included a lot of booze and silly games like spin the bottle and never have I ever.

Arthur was the only one not having fun. He remained on his own for most of our impromptu party, sitting on the sand watching the waves. At some point I decided to join him. I was fairly drunk and I would have fell flat on the sand, if it weren’t for Arthur’s fast reflexes. Everything happened a little too quickly, and I was feeling too dizzy from all the alcohol in my system to see where I was going.

Arthur must have insulted me, but I didn’t hear what he said. I just know he jumped forwards to catch me, I wobbled into his arms, he turned to look at me and I was so close to his face our lips slightly brushed. It was not really a kiss, but it startled us both so much, we practically shoved each other away with much more force than strictly necessary.

"That was completely uncalled for, you maniac" Arthur spat sitting back down on the sand. I started laughing, trying to regain my balance.

"Will you shut up, wanker!" Arthur shouted and threw some sand at me. I laughed even harder, and Arthur glared at me as I sat down next to him.

“What are you doing here, anyway?” Arthur asked, annoyed. “Aren’t you supposed to get into Angela’s pants?”

“Angela is making out with Gilbert right now” I told him.

“So you decided to make out with me?” Arthur spat, but I laughed again.

“First of all, that was an accident. Second of all, if you think that was an o-kay kiss, then you are a terrible kisser” I told him.

“Fuck you, Francis” Arthur swore.

“What are you doing here?” I asked. “Come back with me and stop being a wet blanket!”

“I am not-!” Arthur started, but suddenly shook his head and pulled his legs closer to his chest. “Go away, I am not in the mood to bicker with your silly face”

“Man, you are no fun” I said and stared at the moon reflected on the waves for a while before I continued: “The waves at night are quite scary”

“You mean the sea” Arthur said. “What you said makes no sense”

“No, no. The waves” I said in my drunken stupor.

“Whatever” he said and sighed. “Let’s go back, Francis. You are pissed”

“But the party is not over yet, and I still didn’t get to kiss anyone!” I whined.

“Stop being so childish” he moaned. He stood up and helped me on my feet. I grabbed his shoulders to steady myself and then, thinking it was a great idea, leaned down and kissed him softly on the lips. Arthur was so stunned, he didn’t react.

“There” I said. “Now that I got my kiss, we can so back”

“And then what happened?” my mother asked, bringing me back to the present.

“He punched me in the face” I replied. “That’s why I remember that night so clearly. I went back to the motel with a bloody nose, but I didn’t think I deserved it until Arthur confessed to me it had been his first kiss some weeks later”

“He must still be angry at you for that” my mother reasoned.

“I don’t think he remembers anymore” I told her.

“If you say so, hon” she said. “You do, though. Actually you remember a lot of things about Arthur. Maybe that is why you felt so upset, when you saw how head over heels he is with this Alfred”

“So we are just going back to saying I am jealous?” I asked, annoyed. “I told you all about Arthur, the pack and Arthur’s first kiss to prove to you I shouldn’t be jealous at all. I am happy for him, mum. I was his friend, and now he has another one-!”

“But you said you weren’t friends” my mum interrupted me.

“No”

“Honey, I know you and I know how much the concept of love is important to you, but this time you are being a little dense” she said.

“I am not in love with Arthur” I stated. “That’s ridiculous”

“You have to admit you have always taken him for granted” my mum said. “Think about it: your relationship was so good, you didn’t start a drama after kissing him by accident and just talked as if nothing big had happened. You both took for granted that this was not going to ruin your friendship. What you thought was going to ruin it, on the other hand, were Arthur’s flings” she said matter-of-factly. “Alfred is just one of many”

“I get where you are going with this, but-!”

“You slept with Victoria, didn’t you?”

“They had already broken up!”

“And what about his brother?”

“You know about that?”

“Francis” my mother addressed me, her voice amused. “I almost had a heart attack when he came climbing down the stairs that morning. He told me he chaperoned your prom night, and I remember me thinking that if it hadn’t been William, you would have taken Arthur home instead”

“I wouldn’t have”

“You would too”

Probably, I thought, but I didn’t say it out-loud.

“And now you are jealous of this Alfred guy”

“Fine, I am jealous of him”

“It’s good we talked it out” my mother said, laughing. “I would like to see Arthur again, hon” she suddenly changed subject. “What’s the name of the nightclub? I might visit it with my gals one day”

“The Nightwave” I answered.

“Weird name” my mother said. “Okay, hon. I have to hang up now. I’m glad we can talk so openly now”

“Yes, me too” I replied putting the receiver down. I furrowed my eyebrows. My mother’s last question felt off, but I really couldn’t put a finger on it. Why would she be interested in knowing the nightclub’s name all of a sudden, when I told her some days before already? Was she getting old?

The answer was a bolt from the blue. The Nightwave. The Night-Wave. Oh, my God. I was getting as dense as Antonio.

Chapter Text

Chapter 8

In the following two weeks, my schedule at work was so packed, I couldn’t even find the time to breath. Days as demanding as those are frustrating, to say the least, and I can’t really understand why there are days of constant work followed by days where the mere thought of doing nothing sounds unbearable. Shouldn’t employers, or whoever is in charge, balance out our schedule? Whatever. At least I don’t work for Ludwig, or I should have said goodbye to siesta already.

Fact is, for a couple of weeks I didn’t have time to go out and have fun, and what was worse, I was worried about Lovino’s ankle. Since I didn’t have his private telephone number, I had to call Feliciano on the cellphone once or twice to make sure his brother was doing well. I must have gone overboard with my questioning, though, because Lovino snatched the phone out of his brother’s hands one day and spat:

“I’m fine, you retard. I must not move my ankle for a couple of weeks and then I am as good as new. Stop pestering Feliciano about it, and go back to your turtle filled cave!” he shouted and hung up.

Hearing his voice after a hard day of work did wonders for my mood. As soon as I realized he was fine, I didn’t think about his ankle anymore, although Lovino was a constant feature in my mind’s eye. No matter how much I tried, no matter how busy I was, I couldn’t get him out of my head. I ended up wondering if he had slept well, whether he had a good day at work, if he had eaten. I wanted to see him really bad, but I never had the chance to.

That Saturday, Fate must have heard my pleading and decided to give me a hand. Nevertheless, I didn’t particularly like her plans.

I had just woken up, and even fumbling with the coffee machine was too much for me that morning. It felt as if someone had put me in a twilight sleep and rising to a higher state of consciousness seemed practically impossible. At the sudden sound of the doorbell, I jumped so high from my seat that the steaming coffee in my cup made a perfect arch up to the ceiling and down to my bare feet.

I swore loudly, stubbed my toe on one of the chair legs, kicked the chair out of the way with my other foot, and hopped to the front door like a drunken frog. I didn’t realize I only had my pajama bottoms on until I opened the door and came face to face with a big, bulky man grinning down at me. I stared at him, he stared right back, and I suddenly felt self-conscious in a way I didn’t think it was possible.

“Err…” I mumbled, my eyes lingering on the two strange curls sticking out from either side of this imposing man’s head. “May I help you?”

Before the man could reply, however, our attention was diverted by someone running up the stairs.

“Dad!” someone shouted.

“For the love of the sacred muffin!” someone else shouted, panting loudly. I immediately recognized the voice and took an imperceptible step forwards. The man instantly locked eyes with me again, and I felt paralyzed on the spot.

“You bastard!” Lovino exclaimed, but I knew from the tone of his voice that he wasn’t talking to me. “You know I can’t walk that well yet!”

“That was mean, dad” Feliciano whined coming to a halt next to the man. “Taking the elevator without waiting for us is bad manners”

“Oh, now I remember!” the man suddenly exclaimed, ignoring Feliciano and Lovino’s complaints. “Your name is Antonio, right? I’m Julius Vargas” he introduced himself, grabbing my hand, and shook it viciously.

I stared at him with eyes as wide as saucers. I was so shocked it was easy to ignore the severe pain in my hand when he gripped it. I turned to look at Lovino instead, but Lovino’s eyes were fixed on some point under my exposed collarbone. I raised an eyebrow in question, but he suddenly became ten shades of red and looked away.

“Shit” he said, and yanked his father’s shirt. “Come on, you saw him. Can we leave now?”

“We just got here!” Julius whined, put a hand on my shoulders and grinned widely at me. “Lovino talked about you so much, I was curious to meet you personally. Don’t you agree it would be impolite to leave without having a chat first?”

I opened and closed my mouth like a fish out of the water and felt compelled to let them in. Lovino shot me a murderous look, while Feliciano happily followed Julius inside. When I closed the door and turned to face them again, Lovino sniffed in irritation and whispered at me angrily:

“Go put something on, you shithead”

“Oh” I mouthed putting my hands on my naked chest. “Right” I muttered, but then I heard Julius laugh joyously behind us, and my attention reverted back to him instead.

“Err…” I stuttered again, “I wasn’t expecting visitors, so my house is a mess” I told him. Julius hummed in reply and stood in the middle of my living room staring at the pictures on the wall.

“Err…” I mumbled again, and Lovino suddenly shoved me towards my bedroom.

“Go get dressed!” he mouthed, and Julius’ eyes snapped back to us.

“Lovino” Julius said. “Why do you know where his bedroom is? I thought you said you’ve never stepped in here before”

Lovino’s face became as red as a tomato, and he seemed unsure whether to punch me in the face or bolt out of the room.

“He’s been here before” I blurted out and I knew from Lovino’s angry look that I shouldn’t have talked at all. “Never mind” I said immediately, “I’ll go put something on”

“Lovino, you know you can be open with me!” Julius whined, sounding sincerely hurt. “I would never hold it against you. I don’t care if you are gay. Were you scared of my reaction? Did you really think I was going to be angry at you, if you told me that you two already-!”

“Don’t even finish that sentence!” Lovino interrupted him, and I tiptoed to my bedroom, letting out a sigh of relief when the door closed behind me. I took my sweet time changing, and wiped my slightly burnt foot with my pajamas. It must have hurt, but I was too surprised by the turn of events to feel the pain.

I couldn’t stay hidden all day, however, and I finally decided to leave the comforts of my bedroom to go back to the Vargas’ family. Feliciano immediately hopped to my side, while Lovino remained next to the front door, as if waiting for the perfect opportunity to flee. Our eyes locked, and his frown deepened considerably.

“Please, tell my dad there is nothing between us” he said, his voice dripping venom. Feliciano grabbed my arm in an encouraging manner, and I looked at Julius with a smile.

“Mr. Vargas, Lovi is just a friend of mine” I said.

“Lovi?” Julius asked raising his eyebrows, and Lovino swore under his breath.

“Dad, I am hungry!” Feliciano exclaimed all of a sudden. “Weren’t we supposed to go eat?”

“Oh, yes” Julius said. “Antonio, would you like to join us?”

“Where to?” I asked, at a loss.

“Don’t pretend not to understand, you don’t need to be shy with me. I’ll treat you to lunch. It’s the least I can do for being Lovino’s… friend” Julius explained stressing the last word in a suggestive manner.

“When you say it like that, it sounds even worse!” Lovino exclaimed.

“As long as you use protection, I don’t mind how you kids call it these days” Julius said.

“For the love of God!” Lovino screamed.

I remained standing in my place, not knowing what to do, and winced, when Julius laughed loudly, crossed the living room to stand right in front of me and slammed his hand on my shoulder. My back bones creaked. The guy was damn strong.

“So, what do you say?” Julius asked. “Shall we go?”

“Where to?” I asked rubbing my shoulder, and I heard Lovino groaning loudly by his place next to the door.

“Let’s just go” Feliciano whined.

“Are you really that slow minded?” Julius asked, as if he were worried for my sanity. I had no idea what he was talking about, but when Feliciano mentioned food for the last time, I decided I could very well join them for lunch. I didn’t have breakfast yet and I was hungry.

“Do you have something else to do?” Julius asked, and then shot a glance at Lovino, who had already opened the door and had pressed the elevator button. “Or do you prefer to be alone with Lovino?”

“Dad!” Lovino shouted from the hallway. Feliciano grabbed my hand and dragged me away before I could reply to Julius’ enquiries. I barely had the time to take my keys and wallet with me before Julius pushed us all out from my apartment and closed the door for me.

The elevator ride would have been utterly awkward, if it weren’t for Feliciano’s constant blabbering. I followed the Vargas’ family like a puppet tied to a string, and I was glad that Julius forgot about my existence as soon as Feliciano engaged him in conversation. Lovino limped slowly behind us. I stopped to wait for him and even stretched an arm to help him out, but he refused it.

“What’s going on?” I asked falling into step with him, and Lovino rolled his eyes to the sky.

“Dad came to visit us for the weekend” Lovino replied laconically.

“I see that” I told him. “Why come visit me, though?”

“W-we were just passing by” Lovino stuttered, looking away. “His favorite pizza place is just around the corner”

“Oh” I said, although I was still confused. “Why invite me, though?” I asked again.

“Just let it go, bastard” Lovino spat. “Argh! You ruined my life” he added after a moment of thought, and rubbed his face with his hands. “He thinks we are together, and I really can’t make him change his mind”

I looked over to where Julius and Feliciano started chatting with a beautiful lady taking out her dog. Feliciano kneeled down to pet it, while Julius smiled seductively at the dog’s owner. He was much more imposing than Lovino, but they physically looked alike, and for the slightest of moments I wondered if I would ever see Lovino smile that way too. The woman giggled at something Feliciano said, and Julius nodded at her respectfully, waving her goodbye as she continued down the avenue.

“Let me take care of it, okay?” I said, looking back at Lovino, who furrowed his eyebrows, obviously taken aback. I smiled and prompted him to keep walking.

“What the hell are you going to do about it?” he asked, narrowing his eyes at me.

“Stop flirting, you two!” Julius exclaimed then, as if he hadn’t been the one flirting with the woman mere seconds before. Lovino and I picked up the pace, and I left Lovino’s side to stand right next to Julius. Might as well make myself likeable, I thought.

Julius Vargas is one of those guys you can’t help feel intimidated by. He reeks of power and authority. You feel compelled to follow him, because you know that if you don’t, you are going to get in serious trouble. Neither Feliciano nor Lovino will ever make that kind of impression on you, but when you get to know Julius Vargas better, you immediately understand that there’s much more to him than meets the eye. When you do, you finally realize where his sons, especially Feliciano, got their personality from.

At first, I was one of many, who felt almost threatened by him. Nowadays I am proud to announce that Julius Vargas has a soft spot for me, but it wasn’t always so. He thought I am an idiot, and he still does sometimes, but it doesn’t hurt as much anymore.

His first impression on me wasn’t that good. Whenever I tried to start chatting with him, his looks were so piercing that I felt I could self-combust. I wanted to text Francis and tell him to call the police in case he didn’t hear from me in the next 24 hours. I couldn’t though. I left my apartment in such a hurry, I had completely forgotten my smartphone at home.

Feliciano filled the awkward silence that formed whenever I said something Julius didn’t particularly appreciate, while Lovino remained silent during the whole ordeal. We went to eat at Julius’ favorite pizza place, and by the time food was finally served, Julius’ mood had lightened up considerably. Finally he started talking with me much more warmly.

“So what do you do for a living?” he asked me at some point.

That was an easy question. I answered truthfully.

“Having kids around is fun, isn’t it?” he asked.

“Yes, well… it depends…” I trailed off, feeling something was off.

“And are you paid well?” he asked, straightforward.

Although I don’t usually like to answer this kind of questions, I did that time.

“You are so good looking, Antonio” Julius said. “Why didn’t you find someone to settle down yet? From what you said, money is not a problem”

Feliciano kept chewing next to me, as if his pizza were the only thing that really mattered to him, but I noticed his eyes move up to my face whenever he thought I wasn’t looking. Lovino, on the other hand, remained completely still. I thought he would have enjoyed seeing me uncomfortable, but he didn’t show any sign of actually listening in to our conversation.

“Well, I am not struggling as other people do, but-!” I answered.

“So what’s the problem?” Julius asked.

“I-!”

“No, I get it” Julius interrupted me. “You don’t need to explain yourself. You are just “dating” now, am I right? You’re young, you have needs, and settling down is temporarily out of the question. I’ve been there” he added with a big grin.

I chose to remain silent, but I noticed how Feliciano and Lovino had started to show a more obvious interest in our conversation.

“So, how many girls so far?” Julius asked, as if that was a completely legit question.

“Err…” I bit my lips.

“Boys then?” he asked, his eyes fixed on my face.

“Err…”

“That many, huh?” Julius said with a whistle. “That doesn’t look like dating to me”

“I’ve never been in a serious relationship” I blurted out.

Fuck.

Call the ambulance.

I am going to die.

“Lad” Julius said, serious, putting his fork down and intertwining his fingers in a patronizing manner.

“Dad! I have a wonderful idea! Let’s go get some gelato!” Feliciano suddenly exclaimed, shooting up from his place. “I saw an ice cream parlor on our way over here. Come on” he prompted, waving at the waiter and reaching into his pocked for his wallet. I looked up at him completely taken aback as Feliciano started listing all the ice cream flavors he would like to try before he died.

Feliciano paid for the pizzas and grabbed Julius’ arm before his father could react at the sudden change of events. We left the pizza place half full and followed Feliciano to the ice cream parlor he swore he had seen an hour before.

“I knew you were a pervert” Lovino whispered to me with a smug look on his face.

I didn’t know how to respond to that, and Lovino didn’t seem keen to push the conversation any farther. Feliciano talking about gelato and dogs distracted Julius from pumping me for information, although I didn’t know why I was on trial in the first place.

In the end we didn’t find the ice cream parlor Feliciano mentioned and ended up strolling through the park aimlessly. Julius and Feliciano chatted all the way, and Julius even invited me into the conversation without any ulterior motive. The only thing that seemed to gratify him more than making people uncomfortable was boasting about his younger son. According to Julius, Feliciano was perfect in every way and Feliciano’s extroversion and snap judgement were praised continuously. Lovino lingered behind us, and I couldn’t help shooting him worried looks every now and then.

I wanted to tell Julius that Feliciano was cute, sure, but what about Lovino? I didn’t have the time to express my opinion, however, that Julius talked to me again.

“At least you both have a stable job” Julius said, “unlike Lovino, who has to make do with that nightclub”

“Are we going to start this fucking conversation again?” Lovino snapped behind me, talking for the first time since we left the pizza place. Julius immediately stopped in his tracks and turned around to face him.

“You said you agreed with me that being a bartender is kind of a precarious employment” Julius asked. “I am not stopping you. Why don’t you find something else?”

Lovino’s eyes were wet, and my heart dropped seeing him so vulnerable.

“I already told you what I want to do, but you always question my ideas” Lovino declared, angry. “If it were Feliciano coming up with them, you would have been one hundred percent all right with them!” he added, spiteful.

“You know that’s not true” Julius said, but Lovino shook his head and turned his back to us.

“Okay, Lovino” Julius started, serious, “how many times did you change ideas last minute? If you want me to take you seriously, you should at least take some responsibility once in your life”

“Fuck it, dad. Just say it: I am not good enough, not like our dear Feliciano here” Lovino said and quickly walked away from us.

“Lovi!” I exclaimed taking a step towards me, but Lovino turned to look at me with fire in his eyes.

“Don’t!” he hissed. “You have nothing to do with us, got it? Just get the fuck out of my way” he spat, turned around once more and ran away.

“Lovino!” Julius exclaimed, affronted, but Feliciano touched his hand reassuringly and followed Lovino to calm him down, probably.

“Why did you fall for him again?” Julius asked when we were left alone. I scratched the back of my neck and beckoned him to sit down on one of the park benches. Unexpectedly, he did as told.

“Mr. Vargas” I said, “we are not together”

Julius glanced at me and heaved out a sigh.

“We really are just friends” I said.

“I know” Julius admitted. “I am sorry about before”

“I know Lovino is easy to anger” I said, the words flowing out of my mouth without thinking them over, “but this time I really cannot blame him”

“You don’t know him that well” Julius said, sighing again. “He is so stubborn and insecure. He really believes he is not worth the effort. Feliciano too is insecure, Antonio, but he doesn’t show it as much as Lovino does. I think having a father like me was the cause of their low self-esteem”

I didn’t know what to say to that, so I let him continue:

“Praising Feliciano motivates him to do his best, but I don’t know what method I should use with Lovino” Julius said. “I tried telling him he could do whatever he sets his mind on, but then he messes up and thinks I am just mocking him. He is in constant conflict with me. His jealousy for his brother is outstanding. He wants to be like him, but he is not. He really is not” Julius laughed bitterly. “He is hard-working only when it suits him, he is all talk but no action, but he is kind and generous. He is proud but humble at the same time. Instead of working on his strong points, though, he keeps focusing onto what’s negative about him”

“Is that why you are so against the restaurant?” I asked.

“He told you about it?” Julius asked, amazed.

“He mentioned it, yes” I said. “I think he really wants to change” I added with conviction. “He lightened up when he talked about the restaurant” I continued. “It’s the only time I ever saw him smile about something. Fine, it was more a twitch of lips, but I think I can call it a smile all the same, right?”

“When you will see him really smile, you’ll love him, Antonio” Julius said with a laugh.

“I guess he just wants your support” I said. “He must be scared of being a total failure, but now that I am here, he must not be scared anymore”

“What do you mean by that?” he asked.

“If he wants my help, I will gladly give it to him. It doesn’t matter if the restaurant doesn’t work in the end”

Julius shot me a long, contemplating look and then put a hand on my shoulders.

“Maybe he will listen to you” Julius muttered and squeezed my arm. “I underestimated you, Antonio. I thought you were just a jerk that wanted to see my son naked”

I smiled nervously, and he burst out laughing.

“Lovino talked a lot about you” Julius said, “and he was right when he said you were dump, but now I believe he didn’t tell me the whole truth”

“Thanks, I guess” I mumbled.

“If you make him cry, however, I’ll rip your nuts with my own hand” Julius said, still smiling. He squeezed my shoulder in a suggestive manner, and I frantically nodded.

Just in that moment Feliciano shouted Julius’ name, and we both looked up to see the two Vargas brothers slowly walk towards us hand in hand. Lovino averted everyone’s gazes, but Feliciano’s wide grin spoke louder than words. Julius shot up from his place next to me and walked over to them. Lovino tried to free himself from Feliciano’s strong hold, but Julius took Lovino totally by surprise by hugging him close to him.

“I want to be your first customer” Julius said, loud enough for me to hear. “I’ll be sore if I’m not, you heard me, mister?”

Feliciano burst out laughing, and Lovino’s eyes immediately found mine. I waved at him from my place on the bench, and he suddenly started shivering. He tried to shove his father away, but Julius held him tighter.

“I love you, Lovino” Julius said. “Don’t you ever forget it”

“P-people are watching!” Lovino spat, but Julius didn’t let him go for another couple of minutes. Feliciano walked over to me, and as if nothing had happened during the last half an hour, he started talking to me about everything and nothing.

That was my clue that I had gained Feliciano and Julius’ respect, although I had no idea how I did that.

Chapter Text

Gilbert 2

I don’t see what the point is to tell you all this stuff. I am sure many of you already read my blog, so there is no reason why I should pretend you have no knowledge of the events in my life. Francis was adamant about this, and although Antonio has the last say in what I am going to present you with, I have to solely follow Francis’ instructions. He pisses me off, so I have to keep him quiet in some way, if I want some peace of mind.

Anyway, I know neither Antonio nor Francis read my blog, or else they would have never asked me to rewrite all of these, unless they are just curious to learn more about my friendship with Matthew, which I wouldn’t put it past them.

At this point of the story, they were taking this “shocking” friendship far too seriously, but it was obvious why they were behaving this way. Who wouldn’t be jealous? My presence in the trio has always been invaluable, and they were probably kicking themselves for letting me hang out with someone that wasn’t them. Francis, you hypocrite. You did it first. Deal with it.

Truth was that Matthew was kind of a no-no subject in the beginning. I know it sounds weird coming from me, and believe me I would have loved to talk about our adventures together, if it wasn’t for the fact that there was nothing to say. I didn’t even understand when it got to the point where hanging out with Matthew was worth talking about.

Believe me, Matthew is a great guy, but he really didn’t make an impression on me when we first met each other at the picnic. We are so different, and at that point in time that was a good enough reason to ignore the man completely. He always keeps a low profile, and I consider that kind of behavior heretical. That is why I still don’t understand why I accepted to follow him to the brewery so willingly. I must have been so angry at Francis that I was just glad to have an excuse whatsoever to let off some steam.

That day we started talking about beer; we both loved beer. Then we started talking about hiking; we both loved hiking. He talked about hockey, and I started liking the sport, although I had never played myself. I am all for soccer, but the way he was so passionate about hockey made me feel passionate about it too. The time passed quickly, and when he said:

“We should hang out more often, buddy”

I agreed.

First of all, I want to clarify one thing: not once have I shut him down. Many believe that I demand that people hear my whole spiel before I let somebody talk, if I let them talk. This is simply not true. I am a very good listener, although Matthew is far better than me at that. Alcohol might help in loosening one’s tongue, but it was not our case. We were on the same wavelength and understood each other perfectly, simply as that.

He called me again some days later, asking me if I wanted to grab some coffee with him, and I couldn’t say no.

We were supposed to meet in a coffeehouse he really liked. I never heard of that place before and I walked the street back and forth at least a dozen times before I finally spotted it. I was already late as it was, and it wasn’t surprising to see that Matthew was already standing in the line. What surprised me, though, was that the minutes ticked by and Matthew was still standing by the counter, waiting to order.

It shouldn’t be a weird scene, per se, considering the vast crowd that had gathered in that little coffeehouse, but I suddenly became aware of how invisible Matthew was to other people’s eyes. I hadn’t noticed when we talked face to face. Matthew had felt completely at ease with me –naturally, for I am just that good- but here it was different. The clerk smiled at all of his customers except at Matthew, took their orders except Matthew’s and turned to the next guy without a care in the world, while Matthew stood still in his spot, his index finger raised, his lips slightly parted, cheeks red, waiting and waiting and waiting and waiting for his turn. People just took his place, and he didn’t have the nerve to flip them off.

Do you know what happened next? I got seriously mad, that’s what happened.

Fine, I am all for being polite and such, but enough is enough.

I pushed my way through the crowd and totally ignored the whispers of dissent in my wake. Matthew abruptly turned to look at me and smiled sheepishly when I waved at him.

“I am sorry” he said. “I thought I should just stand in line, since there are a lot of people waiting…”

“Why the fuck are you apologizing?” I asked, completely taken aback.

“Well, I don’t want to look impolite” Matthew said, furrowing his blond eyebrows. “I decided to order for both of us without waiting for you”

“Shit, Matthew,” I said, rolling my eyes to the ceiling, “now we can’t be friends” I teased him. Matthew laughed and turned towards the clerk taking some else’s order.

“How long have you’ve been standing?” I asked.

“A couple of minutes” he replied.

“No, really”

“Half an hour at most”

“What the hell?” I shrieked and shoved him softly away to get closer to the counter. The clerk raised a perfectly drawn eyebrow at me as I leaned towards him to be heard over the loud music and the constant chattering. Granted, my voice is as loud as it can be, but I wanted to make sure everybody heard.

“Excuse me!” I exclaimed. “This guy behind me had been waiting for his turn for half an hour now and you don’t seem to give a shit. Is there some kind of discrimination policy going on here, man, or you just don’t know how to do your job?”

“I am sorry, sir” the clerk said finally setting his eyes on Matthew. “We have a busy day”

“No kidding” I said scanning the room. Everybody had stopped talking to watch me bickering with the clerk, and I loved the attention. I smiled at a couple of cute girls sitting at the nearest table next to me before I turned my attention to the clerk again. “Still, my pal here has not cut into the line like I’ve seen other people do in the past oh-so minutes. Either you are blind to what’s really going on in your own coffeehouse, or you just do as you please. Whatever the case, that’s not a good way to run a business. May we please take our orders now? We’ve been waiting long time”

“I am so sorry” a guy in a suit said, turning to look at Matthew. “I seriously didn’t see you there. Please” he whispered beckoning Matthew to step closer to the counter.

“I- err, thanks” Matthew said, looking completely out of his waters. I patted him encouragingly on the back, and the clerk smiled at him.

When we finally stepped out of the coffeehouse, steaming paper cups in hands, Matthew looked at me, fascinated.

“How did you do that?” he asked.

“Do what?”

“You managed to be heard” Matthew explained. “You were impolite, but you didn’t raise your voice, not as much as you would have done if you were really pissed off, and they listened to you. If my brother had said those things, they would have spit in his coffee. We just came out on top, unscathed. How did you do that?”

“Well, I am charming” I explained.

“Seriously, Gilbert?”

“I am”

Matthew rolled his eyes to the sky and took a tentative sip.

“They didn’t spit in our coffees, Matthew” I reassured him. “I checked”

“Better safe than sorry”

“Matthew, seriously, you shouldn’t look so surprised” I said. “When you want something, just take it. Sometimes people are just douchebags, so you have to stand your ground”

“You can’t walk all over someone to do what you please, though” Matthew said.

“That’s not a good reason to let people walk all over you” I reasoned.

“Still”

“Do you really like to be ignored, Matthew?” I asked. “Because it sucks, man. Don’t do that to yourself”

“Easy for you to say” Matthew said. “You are-!”

“Awesome? Fascinating? Just damn hot?”

“Commanding” he declared.

“You can be commanding too” I said.

“No, I can’t” Matthew said, laughing.

“Okay, you know what? I want a doughnut. Buy me a doughnut, Matthew” I said, grabbing his paper cup and motioning with my chin to a doughnut shop on our right. Matthew remained with his hand raised in the air and furrowed his eyebrows in question.

“What?”

“Go over there” I said. “There are a few people waiting in line but it’s not going to take long. You must come back in, let’s same ten minutes? Better be chocolate filled”

“Gilbert” Matthew warned me.

“Show me that you are not going to let anybody take your turn” I said, shrugging. “Go in and stand your ground. If I see that you are letting people ignore you, I will spit in your coffee” I declared raising his cup. “For real”

Matthew sighed and shook his head. I stared at him, and Matthew finally turned around and crossed the road to go to the doughnut shop. I sipped my coffee and waited. I saw Matthew stand in line. A minute later, a guy completely ignored him and cut into the line. Matthew turned to look at me.

“Come on, man” I whispered, although I knew he couldn’t hear me. I let out a cry of triumph when Matthew tapped the guy on the shoulder and started talking to him. The guy immediately stepped back and nodded.

“Okay, good thing this guy realized his mistake” I said out-loud. There are real douchebags who don’t really know their place, and I didn’t want Matthew to get into a fight and chicken out forever. Ten minutes later Matthew was back with five doughnuts.

“I got hungry” he explained, taking his paper cup back and handing me the plastic bag with the food.

“So how did it feel?” I asked, getting a bite of my doughnut.

“Don’t make me do that ever again, Gilbert” he told me. “I thought the guy was going to punch me in the face”

“You could have punched him back, no big deal” I said, and he burst out laughing.

Hanging out with Matthew is kind of strange, different. It’s not like hanging out with the guys. It’s not all about spicing up our boring lives, going to some nightclub and losing sight of each other as soon as we get hit on. Don’t get me wrong, this kind of life is fun and exciting, but being with Matthew made me feel much more alive. I wanted to talk about it with someone, because I had no idea what was wrong with me, and simply writing my thoughts online wasn’t enlightening enough.

People, for instant, started commenting on my posts saying that I was slowly starting to realize what an asshole I had been all this time. They said that the three of us –because I’ve written about Antonio and Francis too sometimes- are narcissistic jackasses that don’t give a damn about other people’s feelings, which, ouch. I am not a jackass, so that didn’t help me much. Others prompted me to ask Matthew out, to which I had to say no, thanks.

First of all, the fact Matthew is a guy didn’t bother me much. Sure, I definitely prefer girls, but it’s not like I have never given it a thought. What bothered me was that my followers had no idea of the pact. The fact I cannot fall in love and I don’t want to fall in love would be incomprehensible to them, so I never posted anything about it. I didn’t want to have a fling with Matthew, and using him just for sex was out of the question. I just didn’t care about it when I was with him. I just liked to be with him.

Talking about it with Francis or Antonio, however, proved to me much more difficult than I had first expected. Francis was completely in his own world. I had no idea what was wrong with him, and Antonio was too much of a dimwit to tell me. Antonio too was not right in the mind, and he seemed to worsen as time went by. Since finding him naked and tied to the bed that morning, Antonio started acting really weirdly. First he swore he was not going to see that Lovino again, and next thing I know Francis tells me Lovino and Antonio had become the best of buddies. I really couldn’t wrap my head around it, and I still wonder what happened between them to make Lovino suddenly open up to him. I actually didn’t care much. As long as Antonio got the boy in the end, I would be happy for him.

And that was really the problem. Antonio had a goal, I didn’t. Matthew just happened to be a good guy to hang out with. He wasn’t my Lovino. I didn’t want anything from him, but for some reason I couldn’t quite comprehend, being just his friend bothered me greatly. Francis would have cleared all my doubts, but he was lost to me, and I had no intention to follow him around asking for advice.

Matthew and I went out many times after that, and I even attended one of his hockey games. It turned out he is one of the players in a professional ice hockey league in our city I can’t really name here, and he is really good. I guess all that repressed anger must come out somewhere.

“You seem much more cheerful these days” Ludwig commented once as we were putting the books back into their shelves after a long day at work.

“Have you ever seen me mope?” I asked laughing.

“Not really, but you do complain a lot” Ludwig said. “It looks like you suddenly matured. You even accepted to help me put some order in here without fighting for it first”

I looked down at the book I was holding and slowly, almost defiantly put it back on the chair I had found it before. Ludwig rolled his eyes to the ceiling.

“I wish I haven’t opened my mouth” he said, and I laughed, picking up the book again.

“I am just messing with you” I told him.

“It’s not a bad thing, growing up, you know” Ludwig said, clicking his tongue. He finished putting his share of books back on the shelf and went to retrieve a broom from the closet to clean up.

“You say that as if I am not the older one of the two” I shout after him. “I happened to be born first, FYI”

“I’ll believe it when I’ll see the birth certificate” Ludwig joked.

“Did you just joke?” I asked with an amused smirk on my face. “What happened to stern Ludwig?”

“Shut up, Gilbert” Ludwig said.

“It’s Feliciano, isn’t it?” I teased him. “I know what you two are up to. I can see right through you”

Ludwig just rolled his eyes again and started mopping.

“We are just friends” Ludwig muttered.

“He kisses you all the time”

“He doesn’t kiss me” Ludwig spat. “That’s what Italians do when they greet someone”

“Lovino doesn’t kiss Antonio” I reasoned.

“Lovino is-!” Ludwig said but bit his lip. “You know what, never mind”

“Yeah, keep living in denial” I said.

“There is nothing between us” Ludwig said, stoic. “You are just dirty minded. Feliciano and I are just good friends, although I wish he learned to stop getting in my personal bubble unexpectedly”

“Sure thing, brother dear” I said. If I hadn’t seen it with my own eyes, I would have believed him, but it was difficult to pretend that Ludwig didn’t harbor some feeling for that bubbly Italian. Poor little brother of mine. He couldn’t sort out his own feelings. It was obvious to everyone but him that he was not satisfied being just Feliciano’s friend. It was not like Matthew and I. We knew where we stood. After Elizabeta, I was not going to mess up my life anyway, so all was well.

Or was it?

Chapter Text

Chapter 9

"And then?" Gilbert asked, looking at me in wonder, after I was done telling him about my day with Julius Vargas and his sons. We were going to the movie theatre, where Francis would be waiting for us. It was a really beautiful sunny afternoon, and even Gilbert, who is such an ass when he thinks we are going to be late for something, didn’t prompt me to walk faster. We leisurely strolled through the park and enjoyed the warm sun rays on our faces.

“Well, nothing” I replied with a smile. “He told me I should visit him sometime and called it a day”

“Are you serious right now?” he asked and suddenly burst out laughing. “So you managed to get into papa’s heart, huh?”

“I don’t think so” I said, thinking back on the conversation I had with Julius. “He must have threatened me once or twice”

“You know how parents react when they are afraid of their little son losing their virginity with the big bad wolf” Gilbert teased.

“I don’t know if Lovino is a virgin” I said, “and I am no wolf”

“Some people can’t take a hint” Gilbert stated shaking his head, amused. “Just laugh along with me, will ya?”

“Ha ha” I indulged him, but it only made him laugh harder. We changed subject and started talking about the movie we were going to watch, when Gilbert stopped in his tracks, all of a sudden.

“Gilbert, what’s wrong?” I asked worried when I noticed his already pale face turning even whiter. “If you want me to agree with you that Halle Berry was sexy in Catwoman, then-!”

“Duck!” Gilbert shouted, grabbing my arm and pulling me violently down. We crawled towards a bush, but before I could ask what was going on, he put a hand on my mouth to shush me. “Over there” he whispered conspiratorially and pointed with his index finger towards one of the tables in front of the park’s snack bar. I followed his line of vision, but I didn’t see anything that could have freaked Gilbert out.

“Over there!” he whispered again letting go of my mouth to grab my face instead. He softly turned my head to where he was pointing at, but I still couldn’t see what had caught his attention. My eyes wandered over the couples eating and drinking at the snack bar until I finally spotted a mess of blond hair I thought I recognized.

“Is that…?” I asked.

“Yes, it’s Matthew” he said crawling deeper into the bush, as if that would provide him more cover against prying eyes, “with a woman”

“We should go greet him” I said, trying to stand up, but Gilbert yanked me by the shirt and pulled me back down.

“Isn’t he your friend?” I asked. “I thought you were friends”

“I can’t listen to what they are saying if you keep talking” he admonished me.

“Why do you need to do that?” I asked, taken aback, and looked towards Matthew again. I finally noticed the woman sitting next to him, her huge breasts bouncing up and down whenever she laughed at something Matthew said. I shot a glance towards Gilbert, who had almost become one with the bushes in order to get closer to them.

“What the hell are you doing?” I asked.

“Do you see how sexy she is, or you are too gay for that?” he spat.

“If I didn’t know better, I would have said you are jelly” I said.

“I am not!” he exclaimed.

“This is really fun!” someone whispered behind us, and I turned abruptly around to see two big icy blue eyes staring down at me. Gilbert was paralyzed to the spot, and when the stranger touched his shoulder to get his attention, Gilbert almost jumped out of his shoes in fear.

“Fuck!” he shrieked.

“Is the game over?” the man asked, sounding sincerely disappointed. My eyes went wide as he slowly straightened up. He was a very tall, bulky man with blond, almost white hair and a conspicuous nose. I have never seen him before, but his whole demeanor gave me the creeps.

“You!” Gilbert shouted pointing his index at the stranger and making a startled step backwards.

“You know each other?” I asked, dazzled, but Gilbert grabbed my arm and pulled me closer to him without a word.

“I remember you. You tried to hit on my sister” the man said, his whole jolly demeanor and cheerful tone of voice came completely in contrast with the way he was burning holes in Gilbert’s skull. I couldn’t help feeling intimidated and glanced around me for a way out.

“Antonio, when I say run, you run” Gilbert whispered in my ear, and I raised my eyebrows in surprise. The man took a step closer, and I felt Gilbert’s fingers dug into my arm.

“Ivan!” someone exclaimed just then, and the three of us turned around to the source of the voice. The busty woman, who had been hanging out with Matthew much to Gilbert’s annoyance, was now standing next to us.

“Gilbert!” Matthew exclaimed in that moment. “What’s going on?”

“Ivan, what’s going on?” the woman asked, concern written all over her face. Ivan just shrugged and pointed disinterested at Gilbert, who was trying to wipe the dirt off his face with the back of his hand.

“They were stalking you” the tall man said.

“I was not stalking her!” Gilbert exclaimed, affronted.

“So were you stalking him?” Ivan asked, jovial, and Matthew raised an eyebrow.

“I wasn’t stalking anyone!” Gilbert exclaimed, looking ridiculous with all the leaves in his hair. I snorted in amusement, and Gilbert snapped to me, staring at me as if I had just killed his dog.

“No, sir” I said, turning serious. “We weren’t stalking anyone”

“Then what were you doing hiding in the bushes?” the woman asked.

“I lost my wallet” Gilbert said.

“He lost his wallet” I agreed.

“But it was not there” Gilbert said. “So I guess we should go search somewhere else, right Antonio?”

“Yes, we are going to search it somewhere else” I said.

This time it was Matthew who burst out laughing. Everybody turned to look at him, and he blushed slightly at the sudden attention. He was quick to regain composure, however, and turned to the woman by his side.

“Don’t worry, Katyusha” he said. “They are my friends. I am sure they meant no harm”

“Oh” she said, the concern leaving her face, and she took a step towards us to shake our hands. “I am sorry for the misunderstanding”

Ivan’s face hardened, and Gilbert winced imperceptibly at the sudden change of emotion on the other’s face. The change was so obvious, that even I grasped the gravity of the situation immediately. Katyusha moved fast and put herself between her brother and Gilbert, smiling reassuringly at the former and brushing her hand on the latter’s shoulder.

“So, I am Katyusha” she introduced herself, her voice kind but slightly shaking. “This is my brother, Ivan”

“I am Gilbert” my friend stated, and his eyes lingered on Matthew for the slightest of moments. “This is Antonio” he added then with a wide smile, going back to his laidback self in a matter of seconds.

“I heard about you” Katyusha said, amiably, and that seemed to do wonders for Gilbert’s ego. He stood a little bit straighter and put his hands on his waist.

“I am flattered” he boasted and looked towards Matthew, who smiled and blushed at the same time.

I had no clue what was really going on and I felt like we were wasting our time talking. We already had embarrassed ourselves in front of the whole park, not to mention that Francis would be waiting for us in front of the movie theater and was going to throw a fit for missing the opening credits. Gilbert, however, seemed to be more interested in talking with Katyusha and Matthew instead and completely disregarded Ivan’s intimidating presence next to us. As soon as Katyusha silently declared to be on his side, Gilbert didn’t seem so afraid of Ivan anymore. It was obvious he wanted to make a good impression after being caught red handed stalking, but the way he talked to them looked so out of character, I couldn’t help feeling a little left out.

Was I jealous? A little bit, but that thought didn’t cross my mind until much later.

In that moment something else had caught my attention, and I immediately tuned out whatever Katyusha, Matthew and Gilbert were talking about. My eyes moved on their own accord, and I let out a gasp when I spotted Lovino, of all people, walking towards the snack bar with two ladies in tow.

“What the fuck” I muttered, and Gilbert centered his attention back to me.

“Don’t be sour, dude” he said, misunderstanding my annoyance. “We are not going to miss the movie”

“What movie?” I asked, my eyes glued to Lovino talking animatedly with the two women. He hadn’t noticed us yet, partly hidden as we were by the bushes. For the first time since I met him, however, I was glad he hadn’t spotted me yet. I didn’t want him to see me.

“Man, are you okay?” Gilbert asked, but I ignored him.

Lovino was smiling openly and laughing at something one of his two partners had said. His whole face lit up, and he looked so at ease that my heart skipped a beat. He was stunning.

“Tony, are you okay?” Gilbert asked taking a step towards me.

Lovino laughed again and ran a hand through his brown hair, in a way that was both innocent and alluring. One of the ladies swooned. Even if they were too far away to listen to their conversation, I could tell that Lovino was not swearing or acting inappropriately. I have never seen him flirting, but here he was. He was nice with someone, and that felt like a slap on the face.

“Oh, it’s Lovino” Matthew said, following my line of vision, and I snapped my attention to him.

“Did you invite him here? Did you invite them here?” I asked and was taken aback when I heard the harness in my own voice. Matthew unconsciously licked his lips, looking as if someone had just attacked him, and it took me a while to realize my whole body had tensed up. Gilbert came to stand between the two of us, and looked over where Matthew had pointed to.

“This town is really small” Gilbert said. “Is he flirting with them? For real?” he asked then, amazed.

“I never saw him acting any different with girls” Matthew said matter-of-factly. My eyes focused on Lovino again. They were getting closer, and when one of the ladies grabbed Lovino’s hand and Lovino smiled at her, my vision suddenly blurred.

“We should go, Gilbert” I said. “Francis must be waiting for us”

“Sure” Gilbert said. “Do you want to join us?” he asked turning back to Matthew and Katyusha. I didn’t hear what they replied. I was too lost in my own thoughts to understand what really went on around me. Next thing I know, I was walking with Gilbert through the park again. Matthew, Katyusha and Ivan were nowhere in sight, which meant they had turned down Gilbert’s invitation after all.

“Tony, you are pale” Gilbert was saying, and it took all my will to look at him. “Are you okay? Are you angry about before?”

“About what?” I asked.

“Well, you know” he said, sheepishly. “Me trying to listen in to Matthew’s conversation and all, and then almost being beaten up by that Russian bear…” he trailed off.

“I can’t say I am not surprised by what just happened” I replied.

“Yeah” he laughed. “I acted a little bit weirdly”

“Matthew has other friends” I said, although I knew I wasn’t really talking about Matthew. “He can act friendly with other women”

“Katyusha seemed nice” he said, and made a comment on her boobs. I was too lost to indulge him this time.

“Are you thinking about Lovino?” Gilbert asked, as if he could read my thoughts.

“What about him” I snapped, but Gilbert shrugged.

“He let her touch him” I said, after a long moment of silence. “If it had been me, he would have kicked me in the face. He didn’t scowl, he didn’t swear, and he looked absolutely adorable!”

“He didn’t look adorable to me” Gilbert muttered.

“Well, he was” I said, but didn’t press the conversation any further. I had just witnessed Lovino being absolutely courteous with someone else, which meant he could be nice to me too. The only conclusion I could draw from all this was that Lovino just couldn’t find the will to act cute with me too. I wasn’t worth it.

“He is not into you, man” Gilbert said at some point. “Face it. He likes women”

I didn’t reply and decided to change the course of our conversation. We met Francis in front of the theater five minutes later, but I was in such a state I just couldn’t focus on the movie or on my friends. When I went home that evening, I felt so shitty, I just went to sleep.

I was woken up by my smartphone buzzing. I reached for it and clicked my tongue in irritation when I saw Francis’ name pop up on the screen.

“Hello?” I finally answered, yawing loudly. I shot a glance at the time and I realized with a sigh that I still had an hour before heading off to work.

“Hey, Antonio” Francis replied, cheerful. “Don’t tell me you were sleeping. It’s a working day today” he scolded me playfully.

“I’m up” I said, standing in a sitting position. I was in an awful mood and I wished I could play hooky like I used to do in school and go back to bed.

“You are clearly not okay” Francis said from the other line. “Gilbert told me what happened yesterday, with Lovino I mean”

“Are you in good terms now?” I spat, immediately regretting being so mean.

“You are insufferable when you are angry, you know that?” Francis asked, laughing nervously. “Seriously, though. It didn’t mean anything”

“What?” I asked, confused.

“The fact that Lovino was so nice to those women” Francis said, annoyed. “Come on, it’s common sense. You can’t be mean to everyone!”

“Francis, I thought-!” I said, but I immediately bit my lip. I didn’t really want to talk about it.

“Do you want to give up?” Francis asked. “He already tricked you once” he said.

“I thought I was his friend” I whined, and Francis laughed.

“He didn’t even know you were there spying on him” Francis explained. “You really think he did it to spite you? Come on, be logical”

“I am logical”

“No, you are acting like a jealous child” Francis said.

“I am very aware that Lovino doesn’t revolve around me” I said.

“Never did, in fact” Francis agreed. “You know what? I think you should see him tonight”

“Why?” I asked.

“Why don’t you just ask him if he’s into men?” he said. “Talk it out, since you are such great friends”

“He is going to kill me if I do”

“I wouldn’t mind groping that ass to make sure” he said, ignoring my comment.

“Don’t you dare, Francis”

“I’m kidding, Tony” he said. “You should really see him, though. You can’t ignore him and sulk because he acted like a normal human being”

“I am not sulking” I said. “And definitely I am not angry because he acted like a normal human being”

“Let’s go to the Nightwave tonight, Tony” Francis said. “Go see him and decide if all of your sulking and jealousy is worth it”

“I am not jealous” I said.

“Sure you’re not” he retorted. “Gilbert already said yes. So are you in?”

“Fine” I agreed in the end.

Later that evening my friends came to pick me up with Francis’ car. During the day at work I had managed to clear my head from any Lovino-centered thoughts, but as soon as I got in the passenger seat, the image of Lovino hand in hand with a woman immediately came back into my mind. I pretended to be fine, and when Gilbert started singing loudly to a song on the radio, I joined in to calm my nerves.

Going to the Nightwave like this was like going back in time. We were three teenagers again, we against the world, as we used to do before I met Lovino. It was quite a nostalgic thought, but it was in that moment that I realized that I didn’t want to go back to that. It gave me strength to move on, get out of the car and follow my friends into the nightclub.

As soon as we stepped inside, Gilbert and Francis immediately disappeared into the dancing crowd, and I made my way to the bar. Feliks was serving drinks to two smartly dressed women and he didn’t notice my presence until I sat right in front of him.

“Oh, Antonio!” he exclaimed smiling widely at me. “It’s been a long time since I have last seen you here! What’s up?”

“Francis was in the mood to dance” I explained smiling back. Feliks raised his head to scan the crowd, but there were so many people it was impossible to spot either Francis or Gilbert in the mix.

“So how’s Toris?” I asked politely, and Feliks smirked knowingly at me.

“Do you really want to know how Toris is, or is this like, breaking the ice to go on to the next, more important question?” he asked.

“I have no idea what you are talking about” I said, honestly confused. “I like Toris”

“Yes, sure, but you are totally into Lovino more” Feliks said, snickering. He turned around and waved at someone standing in the shadows, putting some half-filled bottles of alcohol back onto their shelves.

“Feliks” I warned him, but Lovino had already seen us and was making his way over to where I was sitting. I looked up at him scowling face, and once again the memory of his real smile made my heart gallop in my chest.

“Hey, Lovino, look who’s back!” Feliks asked with a laugh. Lovino’s lips quivered into a displeased frown, and I felt my throat suddenly go dry. I have no idea what was wrong with me. “There are other customers waiting for me, Antonio” Feliks said, shaking me out of my stupor. “Lovino will take your order”

I watched Feliks walk away and didn’t turn to look at Lovino until I was sure we were alone. Lovino was tapping his fingers on the counter, and I furrowed my eyebrows when I noticed the annoyed grimace on his face.

“What, Lovi?”

“I don’t like to ask thrice” he said. “Do you want something to drink or not? Don’t space out on me again”

“Oh, I’m sorry” I said, laughing nervously. “No, I don’t want anything. I want to stay sober, since I am driving my friends back. Francis said he wasn’t going to drink any, but as soon as I saw him dive into the crowd, I realized that that wasn’t going to happen”

“Why do you need to explain everything in such detail?” Lovino asked. “I don’t really care what you three are up to”

“Damn” I muttered and burst out laughing. “I did again. Sorry, I forgot you are working here and I am not supposed to waste your time with my nonsense”

“Are you feeling well, Antonio?” Lovino asked raising an eyebrow at me, his beautiful eyes searching my face for something I didn’t know was there. I suddenly felt really hot and I took off my jacket, putting it on the stool next to mine.

“I’m fine” I practically croaked and stood up. “I am… see you in a few” I stuttered and walked back the way I came. I didn’t know what got over me. Up until that point I had not stopped thinking about Lovino’s smile. I thought that all I wanted was to do something, anything to make him smile for me, but when he leaned over the counter to take my order, all my senses had suddenly blurred into one, and I realized that forcing Lovino to smile was such an asshole thing to do, I wanted out. Or maybe I thought that was my problem. Fact was, I was really nervous. Lovino had become suddenly overwhelming. What seemed reachable looked now as if I had to run forty thousand miles to get. Yet, leaving him like this made me feel vulnerable and guilty.

“I need to think about something else” I chanted out loud, looking around for Francis or Gilbert. “I need to think about something else”

It was then that I noticed the guy laying down on one of the sofas lining against the walls of the nightclub. People danced and laughed around him, completely disregarding his presence, while he remained laying there, as if he were sleeping. I froze and for a fleeting moment I believed I was staring at a corpse. The guy was not moving by an inch, but when I walked over to him and touched his jugular, he lazily opened a green eye to look at me in question.

“Are you okay?” I asked, honestly concerned, and he stretched out on the sofa. The brown haired guy yawned loudly and stood up in a sitting position, massaging his eyes as if I had just woken him up from a really good dream.

“Yes, why?” he asked, a bored slur. I slowly sat down on the sofa in front of his.

“Were you sleeping?”

The man looked around him, slowly focusing his attention on the men and women dancing madly on the floor. He shrugged and stretched like a cat once more.

“Must have been the alcohol” he mumbled, and I had to lean over the little coffee table dividing us to hear him better.

“You look confused” the man said, burning holes into my skull with his calculating eyes. Still, he didn’t look intimidating.

“Well, you were sleeping” I said, laughing. “In a nightclub. Full of people. With loud music”

“I was tired” he retorted, and I burst out laughing.

“Does alcohol have such an effect on you?” I asked.

“I needed to sleep and these sofas are comfy” he said, matter-of-factly. “Thanks for waking me up, though. I need to go home”. He talked slowly, carefully, as if he was thinking over his words, although it was obvious that he really didn’t have a mind to mouth filter at his disposal.

“No problem, err…”

“Herakles” he introduced himself.

“Antonio” I said, smiling. I already liked that guy, and when his lips twitched up in a smile, I liked him even more.

“Would you like a drink?” he asked, straightforward, and I tilted my head to the side. I had a clear view of the bar and I suddenly noticed Lovino looking at me while a customer tried to get his attention. I immediately looked back at Herakles.

“I thought you needed to go home” I said, and he shrugged.

“I do” he said, “but you look like the type of guy who needs someone to talk to, so I’ll stay”

My eyebrows shot up.

“So… relationship problems?” he asked, eloquently.

“Is that why you are here?” I asked back, and he shrugged again.

“I thought alcohol was a good idea to get my mind off stuff” he explained.

“I just followed my friends here” I confessed.

“Really?”

“Really”

“I see”

“Well, I don’t have relationship problems” I told him, “I am single and proud”

Herakles nodded, almost looking bored, but his eyes showed he was really interested in what I was saying.

“You seem to carry a lot of tension for someone who’s single and proud” he joked.

“Yesterday was not a good day” I admitted, “and when me and my friends feel like we have too much on our shoulders, well… we just-!”

“I got it” Herakles interrupted me, “sex”

“But not today, no” I said, amazed at how in sync we were despite being complete strangers. I studied Herakles’ features, lingering my gaze a moment longer than necessary on the muscles showing under his white shirt. He was arousing, and in that moment I wondered if I should just forget about Lovino and go back to my bad habits instead.

“Sex is natural and there is nothing to be ashamed of” he suddenly said, as if he could read thoughts, and yawned loudly again.

“Are you tempting me?” I asked, and he laughed softly.

“Only if you want to be tempted”

I burst out laughing and a couple sitting right next to us stopped making out to look over at us. Herakles stretched his hands over his head and then starched the back of his neck in a lazy manner.

“So, what do you do for a living?” he asked, out of the blue. I couldn’t help liking him even more for his straightforwardness.

I told him, and Herakles confessed he owned a restaurant.

“I am thinking of selling it, though” he said. “I am thinking of moving out of town”

We chitchatted for a while more, and then Herakles declared he ought to go home. I gave him my number, which he dutifully memorized on his old cellphone. It was then that I remembered I had left my jacket and thus my smartphone back on the stool at the bar.

“I’ll give you a call so you can have my number” he said standing up. I followed his lead, and feeling as if we had been friends a long time, leaned down to hug him.

“It was great meeting you” I told him and waved him goodbye. Herakles soon disappeared into the dancing crowd, and I went back to the bar to get my things. Feliks was talking loudly with a beautiful girl and paid no attention to me while I searched every stool and on the floor for my jacket. Lovino, on the other hand, was nowhere to be seen.

“Fuck” I swore under my breath when I finally realized that someone had stolen my jacket and all the things I had stuffed my pockets with. I kneeled down on the floor again and almost hit my head on the counter when a loud voice shouted my name.

I looked up at Lovino looking down at me, with my jacket on his arm. His eyes were burning fire, and he was slightly shacking in anger.

“Thank you, Lovi” I said smiling widely at him, but his nose twitched in disgust and he almost shoved my things into my open arms.

“Yes, you should be thankful” he spat, spiteful. “I guess you were so fucking desperate to get into someone’s pants you fucking forgot to take your things with you”

“What?” I asked, blinking at him in confusion.

“Yes, of course” he said, clicking his tongue. “Space out on me, will you? I know that your mind stops functioning whenever your dick takes over”. He turned abruptly around to go back to his working place, and I watched his retreating back in wonder.

“What are you staring at?” he practically shouted at me when he stood beside the counter again.

“What’s wrong, Lovi?” I asked, seriously concerned.

“Don’t bother me” he spat. “I don’t give a rat’s ass. Go have fun with your new toy boy. He must be waiting” he added and without another word disappeared into the storage room. Feliks had long stopped talking to stare at us, and I raised an eyebrow at him.

“What happened?” I asked, but Feliks shrugged.

“I have no clue” he muttered.

“Well, err…” I said, “I guess I’ll go now. Say hi to Alfred for me”

“Sure thing, darling” Feliks said and waved me goodbye. I searched around for either Francis or Gilbert again, but I didn’t see them anywhere. It was still early, so I had all the time of the world to catch the last bus home. I made my way out of the nightclub and let out a sigh of relief when the cool night air caressed my skin.

I felt suddenly really tired and I remembered to text Francis to tell him I left sooner only when I reached home. I took out my smartphone, furrowing my eyebrows when I saw a missed call from an unknown number. It must have been Herakles, so I decided to memorize the number before I forgot about that too.

When I went through my contact list in search for Francis’ name, my mind suddenly went black. There was a new entry to the list.

AAALovino

Lovino had added his number on my phone when I had forgotten my jacket at the bar, and even put the A in front of his name to make sure his was going to be the first one on the list.

I suddenly forgot how to breathe.

I went back to what Lovino had told me before I left the nightclub, and realization hit me like a ton of bricks. As surreal as meeting Herakles had felt to me, it hadn’t felt the same way to Lovino.

Lovino had seen me talking with Herakles. Lovino believed I hit on Herakles. Lovino was sure I was going to have sex with Herakles.

And then decided he was going to give me his number.

I stared at his name for a long time after that. I absentmindedly sent Francis a message, and then reverted back to staring stupidly at my phone’s display.

I had no idea how to interpret Lovino’s gesture.

Chapter Text

Francis 3

Ever since I realized the implications of what my mother had tried to tell me, I was determined to confront Arthur about it. I was a bit apprehensive, however. There was no way that we were going to get out of this conversation unscathed, and no one could guarantee I was going to get the answers I was looking for. Long story short, I was looking for a way out of this. I was ready to surrender to my own speculations and leave it at that, if it wasn’t for the fact that I wanted Arthur to stop being mad at me for no reason whatsoever.

So one Saturday afternoon, I made my way to Arthur’s apartment; the things I wanted to tell him and all the questions I wasn’t sure I wanted to ask going round and round in my head like fidget spinners. I rang the doorbell, and the door buzzed open, as if Arthur knew I was going to visit him.

I took the elevator and pressed the button to his floor. I heard the echo of a door clicking open and I knew that Arthur was already waiting for me on his doorstep. True enough, as soon as I stepped out of the elevator, I came face to face with Arthur’s green eyes.

“You should have called first” he said, and I examined his outfit from head to toe. He was ready to go out, but he beckoned me inside nonetheless.

“It was a spur of the moment thing” I replied and softly closed the door behind us. I remained standing by the entrance, unsure of what to do, and Arthur turned to look at me, furrowing his big, ugly eyebrows.

“Spit it out, frog” Arthur said, shaking me out of my thoughts. “What’s wrong with you?”

“Nothing, my dear” I retorted with a big smile, but he just folded his arms against his chest and stared at me, eloquently. “How are you?”

“Francis” he interrupted me. “I know that face. Something is gnawing you, and I don’t like it a bit”

I took an uncertain step forwards, and Arthur stood his ground, unaware of how I was feeling in that moment. If I have to be honest, I too didn’t know what was going inside of me. My heart was beating fast, in the same way it does before a fist fight. I couldn’t focus on nothing else that wasn’t Arthur, and even the soft tic-tac of the clock was getting on my nerves. I wanted to flee, because I knew that I wasn’t going to like what I was about to hear, but at the same time I didn’t want to leave just yet.

I stared at him. Arthur waited for me to say something. His lips made an imperceptible twitch. My shoulders tensed. He was suddenly on edge.

“I realized we never talked about your love life” I said, sounding too relaxed even to myself. Arthur’s eyebrow shot up.

“You came all the way here,” he started, “just to talk about my love life?”

“It’s important” I just said.

“Important how?” he asked, his eyes becoming two thin slits.

“I noticed something last time we went out” I said.

“Francis” Arthur warned me, “whatever it is, it’s none of your business”

“It is” I spat, and Arthur pulled his arms closer to his chest.

“Is it, really?” he retorted, sarcastically, and I took another step forwards. He didn’t move.

“This is going to take too long” I muttered, suddenly angry at Arthur’s defiant look. “How long have you and Alfred been dating?” I asked, straight to the point. That seemed to take him by surprise, and he let his arms fall by his side.

“What?” he asked, astounded, his eyes wandering on my face, calculating. Arthur paled, and I suddenly couldn’t look at him anymore.

“What the heck are you talking about?” he spat. “Are you high or something?”

“So was I wrong?” I asked instead. “There is nothing between you two?” I prodded, narrowing my eyes at him. Arthur’s mouth became a thin line.

“That’s bollocks and you know it” he said. “How did you even reach that conclusion?”

“Oh, come on, Arthur!” I exclaimed throwing my arms to the ceiling. “I saw the way you look at him. You are smitten!”

“Whatever, Francis. I don’t understand why you are so pissed at me!” Arthur said. I took a deep breath, but I just couldn’t think straight anymore. Arthur kept talking: “You have no right to come to my house, uninvited, and start acting like a jealous prick! I told you that my love life it’s not any of your business and-!”

“Do you or do you not have feelings for Alfred?” I asked, my vision blurry.

“Do you think it’s alright to ask me something like that?” Arthur asked. “You know what. I am leaving in ten, so you better apologize and I might pretend this never happened” he stated stomping his foot on the ground.

“I know that attitude, Arthur” I said instead, pointing my finger at him. “You are in love with him!”

“I don’t like the accusation in your voice” he replied, cold.

“Fine!” I explained. “I am sorry that I asked you so straightforwardly, but I need answers, Arthur. I want to know the truth”

Arthur suddenly burst out laughing. His hands clenched and unclenched into tiny fists.

“Alfred and I are not dating” he said, angrily. “So you are free to hit on him, if that’s what’s this all about”

I groaned. “No!” I exclaimed, annoyed. “This is not the point. I can’t understand why you are in love with him, that’s all!”

“Excuse me?” he asked, his eyes wide. “Since when do you have a say in who I befriend or not?”

“This is not-!” I exclaimed and groaned in frustration again. “This is important, Arthur, since it’s obvious you are in love with me too!” I shouted, and Arthur suddenly looked like a deer caught in the headlights.

“What?” he asked, his tone of voice falsely calm. “How did you get that idea?” he asked then, furious.

“The Nightwave” I said, laconically. Arthur blinked at me in surprise, and a feeling of hopefulness overwhelmed me. The minutes ticked by, and Arthur remained standing still in his spot.

“Francis, you need to leave” he said, his throat dry. “I have an appointment in a few”

“I thought you had forgotten all about that night” I said ignoring him, and Arthur let out air from his nose.

“What the fuck, Francis” he said. “Things don’t revolve around you. It was a nice name and Alfred liked it”

“So it’s not just a coincidence? You actually remember what I said that night?”

“Of course I do!” Arthur spat back. “It was fucking stupid, you git!”

“And of course you remember what happened next” I said stepping closer to him, but Arthur let out a groan of frustration and moved away.

“I don’t want to have this conversation again”

“But you still remember!” I exclaimed. “Which means it was a whole deal for you and you didn’t tell me!”

Arthur looked at me disbelieving. “It was my first kiss, you arsehole, and you know it”.

“I apologized!”

“That’s not the point” Arthur groaned and started pacing around the living room. I followed his every movement with my eyes.

“Yes, it actually is! Because the point is you liked me back then and you didn’t tell me” I said, frustrated. “You should have told me. You should have told me how important that kiss was to you, and maybe-!”

“And maybe what?” he interrupted me, snapping his attention back to me. He quit pacing like a caged cougar, but his whole demeanor kept reeking of exhaustion and anger, as a trapped animal would after hours of trying to break free. “Face it, Francis. You would have made fun of me, you would have maybe even freaked out”.

“I wouldn’t have done that to my best friend” I stated.

“Oh, trust me,” he said, spiteful, “you would have! But it doesn’t matter now, does it? It was a stupid, insignificant crush”.

“Was it, really?” I asked stepping closer, but Arthur immediately turned his back to me and stepped towards one of the windows.

“Just drop it”.

“If you still remember that night so clearly, it means it wasn’t just a crush” I prodded. “You should have told me,” I repeated, “and maybe-!”

“Stop it, right now!” Arthur suddenly shouted, cheeks red, turning to look at me with eyes wide with fury. “Should I remind you how head over heels you were with that brainless nancy-boy of Antonio? It was because of him that you agreed to that barmy pact, and now you actually want me to believe, you reciprocated my feelings back then? Do I look like an idiot to you?” Arthur ranted, pointing an accusing finger at me. “If this,” he added gesturing around the room in frustration, “is your idea of a joke, tell me when I am supposed to laugh, because I really don’t seem to get it”.

“It’s not a joke” I said, running a hand through my hair and gritting my teeth. “I really think we could have-!”

“Excuse me?” Arthur interrupted me again, putting his hands on his waist. “I know you, Francis. Committing is not your thing, not now, let alone when we were teenagers. I am perfectly aware of how things would have gone, if I had confessed to my crush. No, thank you. I am not and I will never be your toy-boy” Arthur declared, his nose up in the air.

"Do you really believe I'm that kind of guy?" I asked, suddenly angry at the accusation, but Arthur burst out laughing in answer.

“Please, spare me the drama” he said. “The only one you would have ever committed to was Antonio, and I never was as important as he is to you. So, yes, you are that kind of guy”.

“Fuck you, Arthur” I spat. “You are important to me too”.

“But not enough to fall in love with me like you did with Antonio” he spat back.

“But I am not in love with Antonio anymore, am I?” I suddenly shouted, furious by the way Arthur kept shaking his head at me. I bit my tongue, the words leaving my mouth before I could process them. Arthur furrowed his eyebrows, and I gulped down, feeling vulnerable.

The room suddenly felt cold, but I kept staring back at him, standing my ground even when being there was the last thing I wanted to do. Arthur looked extremely lost.

“What?” he asked, taken aback, but then a flicker of amusement crossed his face, and I balled my hands into fists. “So now you love me?” he asked, disbelieving. My heart started beating faster as he tilted his head to one side. “Let me guess. You realized you were in love with me when you saw me with Alfred, isn’t it? Are you going to sleep with him now, just to spite me, like you did with Victoria?”

“What the hell are you talking about?” I abruptly snapped. “I didn’t realize shit when I saw you with Alfred! I realized I was in love with you when you fucking disappeared!” I shouted. Arthur made a step back in surprise and looked at me with eyes wide with shock.

I inhaled sharply. Oh, God, I thought in that moment. That’s the point, isn’t it?

Arthur remained standing still, and I felt mortified. I saw no disgust on his face, nothing but complete apathy. The coldness in his eyes made me feel worthless, furious. The minutes ticked by in silence.

“I think you should leave” Arthur finally said, the tension in the room mounting. “As I told you before,” he added, “I have an appointment in a few, and I am already late as it is” he continued, icy.

“Let me guess,” I said, parroting his previous words, “Alfred is waiting for you?” I asked and I did not try to keep the sarcasm out of my voice.

“I am not going to fall for that again, Francis” he said. “You are just an egoistic prick, who doesn’t like the idea of me befriending somebody else. You slept with Victoria because you envied us being together all the time. You slept with William, right when we were actually getting closer, and now this. Alfred made his appearance, and you feel threatened by him for who knows what reason. I won’t believe a word you said in these past ten minutes. I don’t care if you think we are dating or not, it isn’t any of your business. If the mere idea of me being with him makes you jealous, then it’s your problem, not mine”.

“I am not jealous of him” I declared.

“Then that’s a reason more to mind your own business” Arthur spat.

“He doesn’t like you back” I suddenly said. “You will end up with your heart broken”

“Thank you for your concern,” he said, “but I still don’t see how your false apprehension gives you any right on me”.

“False apprehension” I repeated, clicking my tongue in irritation. “Why don’t you want to believe I am telling the truth here?” I asked, but Arthur just pointed at the door.

“I’ve had enough of this conversation” Arthur said. “If you truly were my friend, you would have been happy for me”.

“You are right” I said. His words had felt like a slap on the face, and I made my way to the door without looking at him once. “I am not happy for you. I must suppose then we were never friends” I declared. I didn’t dare to look at Arthur again and I opened the door, gritting my teeth. “Sorry for taking up so much of your precious time” I added and slammed the door closed behind me.

Why do things always turn up this way when Arthur is concerned? It was as if we were standing on opposite shores of a vast sea. We can see each other’s silhouettes perfectly; we can talk, mock each other, feel comfortable in each other’s presence as long as we are sitting on our own land. We both know that, if we stretched our hands far enough, we would feel each other’s fingertips, but we never truly accept the other’s hand. When we try, we are suddenly speaking another language. There is only miscommunication and bitterness. I don’t even know if we are saying the same thing. We just end fighting.

Maybe there is a reason why we ended up not talking anymore. We just can’t meet halfway. Nothing between us could ever be perfect; could we really have a healthy relationship like other people do? I see it now. I have no clue how that happened, but once again I fell in love with the wrong guy.

***

Weeks passed without hearing anything from Arthur, and after the first few days, I stopped caring. Nevertheless, when Gilbert told me what had happened when Antonio and he accidentally saw Lovino flirting with two women, I suddenly wanted to see Arthur again, the picture of him flirting with Alfred crossing my mind and not leaving. It made me sick, and I was immediately able to empathize with Antonio when Gilbert said:

“He looked devastated, man” Gilbert told me on the phone. “You should talk to him. I hate seeing him so moody”.

“Fine” I agreed and did as told. The idea of going back to the Nightwave was quite spontaneous, but it didn’t feel wrong in the least. I knew I could bump into Arthur, but I was aware I could blame it on causality. When Antonio agreed to go, I immediately started planning what I was going to tell Arthur, if I happened to see him.

I am not going to bore you with a detailed description of the sensation of restlessness that overwhelmed me before I stepped into the club, but I am going to tell you how surprised I was when I realized how utterly devastated I felt when I saw Arthur wasn’t there. I took it as a sign of fate: if I wasn’t going to see him there, I shall not seek him anywhere else anymore.

What was worse, I bumped into Alfred cleaning tables instead.

“Hey, Francis!” he exclaimed, cheerful as ever. “Long time, no see! How are you doing, buddy?”

I decided to indulge him and I answered as courteously as ever. He didn’t seem to notice how reluctant I was to talk to him.

“Care for a drink?” he asked with a wide smile. “I’ll meet you at the bar in a few. Let me finish here first!”

“No, it’s fine. I’ll just hit the floor today” I replied. “Drinks later, if I’m lucky” I added wiggling my eyebrows. Alfred burst out laughing.

“Well, at least you don’t drink as much as Arthur does” he said then. “Seriously, an old guy like him should care more for his liver”.

“He is not any older than you” I reasoned.

“He talks like an old man” Alfred said. “If it wasn’t for his looks, he could pass for a sixty old war veteran”.

I laughed.

“By the way, did something happen between you two?” Alfred asked nonchalantly. “He is boozing it up way more often these past few weeks…” he trailed off, although he sounded like he didn’t care much for my answer. My heart dropped.

“No” I lied. “Why do you think that?”

Alfred shrugged.

“Well, I thought you might have pissed him off or something, since you two are such great friends and the only thing that makes him this moody is when he fights with you. Yes, sure, you might ask yourself how I know that, since I know Arthur so little, but he talks about you so much, that it’s impossible not to notice!” Alfred laughed.

“I think you got the wrong impression, my friend” I said, bitter. “Arthur and I are not truly friends”.

“Nonsense” Alfred cut me off. “You two bicker over the most trivial things like four graders, talk about your feelings like schoolgirls and then laugh it off like grown men. If that’s not friendship, I don’t know what is. Arthur and I don’t have that kind of relationship, Fra. May I call you Fra? Francis sounds too pompous for me”.

“No, you may not” I said. “Anyway, you have quite a wicked idea of what friendship is”.

“Whatever you say” Alfred stated, turning to look at me with a wide smile. “You’re not the one who listens to Arthur ranting about you day in day out. Man!” he exclaimed.

“You must feel jealous” I commented, but Alfred furrowed his eyebrows, incredulous.

“Fuck no” he said. “I sure hope he doesn’t say the same things about me to you. Oh, boy, that would be embarrassing”.

I stared at him as he turned his back to me again to clean another table with a dirty cloth. In that moment I wondered what Arthur saw in Alfred, but whatever it was, I realized I couldn’t hold it against him. Because of the pact, I lost any chance I had with him. We were not meant to be together.

Alfred might make him happy after all.

Chapter Text

Chapter 10

"You are awfully quiet today…" Lilly trailed off, eloquent even when she doesn’t say anything at all. We were putting everything back in order in the kid’s playroom, so that it was already ready for the next day of work. After that we were free to finally go home. I was so focused on what I was doing that I didn’t hear her the first time around and she coughed lightly to get my attention twice.

"Huh?" it was the only thing I manage to mumble in answer. Lilly smiled kindly at me and blushed slightly as if she were embarrassed for shaking me out of my thoughts.

“Are you thinking of someone special?” she asked, her voice a tiny whisper. She is so cute when she acts so innocent, looking like a tiny, fragile porcelain doll. I gazed at her for a long time and I was glad that her brother was not present; otherwise he would have totally misunderstood my reaction and I would have ended up in a hospital bed before I could explain myself.

“You can say that…” I murmured. She was probably right. That day I had been quiet all day, I just did what I had to do and didn’t joke around with my coworkers as much as I used to. I couldn’t stop thinking about Lovino and the fact he had added his number in my contact list. In what way should I explain such an act? Should I consider it another trick? Dare I believe that Lovino wanted me to call him in the end? What should I do?

Truth was, I never was one for hints and word plays. I like to be told straightforwardly what I need to know, and Lovino’s moodiness and his controversial attitude, under any other circumstances, would have made me feel furious and confused at the same time. Nevertheless, something deep inside of me knew what I was supposed to do now. Francis and Gilbert would have called already, but I was scared. It made me feel ridiculous thinking about it in those terms, but I truly didn’t want to mess this up. Scared was a good word as any to describe my feelings.

“So?” Lilly prodded, more out of worry than curiosity. I knew she has never been the type to directly ask, but she was a good friend, so the fact she wanted to know more meant I really looked like shit.

“Okay, here goes nothing” I said with a sigh and I turned to look at her directly in the eyes. “What would you do if someone who apparently doesn’t like you secretly adds their number in your phone?”

Lilly blinked at me, taken aback by what I just said but otherwise relieved that it was nothing serious. She put a finger on her lower lip, contemplative, and the corners of her mouth twitched slightly upwards.

“First of all I would wonder how they manage to do that” she said in the end.

“Don’t get lost on a technicality” I said, and she laughed softly.

“Okay, then I would wonder if they actually liked me since the very beginning” she replied. I doubted it, but then again I couldn’t take my mind off of Lovino’s eyes the other day. In one way or another I managed to hurt him, but I really couldn’t believe it was because I had talked to Herakles. Lovino had been perfectly clear about his intentions with me, so what did it matter if I went to the nightclub and tried to hit on a random, handsome guy instead of him? Not when he went around hand in hand with some lady and smiled at her as if she were the moon.

“I can’t read your thoughts,” Lilly suddenly said, “but right now you look like someone who has just stepped on something nasty”.

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“You looked kind of scary there” Lilly retorted. “Disgusted and angry at the same time”, she explained.

“I’m sorry” I mumbled turning my attention back to the toys I had been putting back in their rightful boxes.

“There is nothing to apologize for” Lilly said. “Don’t misunderstand me!”

“I am not angry” I said. “I’m just… confused”

“What don’t you just call him?” Lilly asked, and I raised an eyebrow at her. “Oh, sorry. I didn’t mean to offend you. I always thought you were into guys…”

“I can’t call him” I said, smiling a little at Lilly’s innocence.

“Why not?”

“I don’t know” I said, honest. “What if it was all but a joke to him?”

“You’ll never know if you don’t try first” she said matter-of-factly and softly took the teddy I was holding from my hand. “I’ll finish here,” she explained, “why don’t you go home a little bit earlier?”

“Thank you, Lilly” I said.

I left my workplace a quarter of an hour earlier than I was supposed to, but I wasn’t eager to go home just yet. I remembered that Lovino’s apartment was not far away, but I knew I wasn’t going to be welcomed if I just dropped by and rang the Vargas’ doorbell. As soon as I reached the bus stop, I absentmindedly took my smartphone out and ran my finger through the contact list. I touched Lovino’s name without thinking, and the phone started ringing.

Lovino answered at the second ring.

"Yes?"

My heart stopped beating. It was indeed Lovino’s voice: low, annoyed, beautiful.

“Hi, Lovi” I said. There was a soft gasp from the other side, and Lovino’s soft breathing was the only thing I heard for a couple of minutes. He felt so close, and I could even picture him standing right next to me.

“Tell me you are not calling to brag about tonight’s orgy” he said. “Was he fucking good? Did you have lots of fun?” he asked sarcastically, every word a drop of venom in my ear.

“I slept like a log, actually” I said, and Lovino snorted annoyed from the other side.

“That good, huh?”

“I was exhausted. I just went home and straight to bed”

A moment of silence.

“Alone?” he asked suddenly. “Why do I find that so hard to believe?”

“Yes, alone” I said. “Herakles was a sexy guy, sure, but I really can picture myself with him in bed. I just met him, and he’s really a fun guy to talk to, but-!”

“I don’t want to know” Lovino interrupted me, but he sounded calmer and less harsh than before.

A sigh.

“So to what I owe the honor of your call?” Lovino asked, sarcastic as ever but definitely happier, and his sudden change of mood made me softly laugh.

“Are you free today? Are you free right now?” I asked, cutting to the point and not really thinking my words over. Lovino inhaled sharply, and I clutched my phone tighter in fear it was going to slip away from my hands as soon as Lovino started shouting in my ear.

“I’m done working today,” I said when Lovino kept silent, “and I am not very far away from your apartment… we could hang out or something, grab a coffee, if you’re free, that’s it” I fired away. There I said it. Lovino stuttered something incomprehensible from the other side, and I didn’t need to see him to know that he was angry and blushing madly at the phone.

Finally Lovino said:

“W-what?”

And then, after a moment of silence: “What?! No, no way I’m going on a fucking d-date with you!”

“Who said it’s going to be a date?” I asked back.

Lovino mumbled something. I heard him shuffle with his phone and inhale loudly again, this time in annoyance. He didn’t hang up yet.

“I hope this is not another one of your tricks, dumbass” he stated.

“I don’t know what you are talking about” I said instead. Lovino sighed loudly.

“Where are you anyway?” he asked, and although he tried to sound menacing and cold, the hesitation in his voice made my heart skip a beat. I had no power on the smile that slowly tugged the corner of my lips.

I told him, and Lovino hung up without another word. My bus arrived and left without me, and I remained sitting on the bench waiting for about ten minutes, before I heard Lovino’s steps approaching me. I shot up from my place and took the way he looked completely disheveled in, as if had been running to get to me sooner. I didn’t dare to hope that that was exactly the case.

Lovino immediately complained about the way I dressed and even pointed a finger at the suspicious stain on my left sleeve.

“Tell me it’s not baby barf” he said.

“I won’t, if that’s what you don’t want to hear” I joked, but he stared at me, disbelieving. “Shall we go grab a coffee?” I asked instead, and he narrowed his eyes at me. I coughed in embarrassment. He scowled. I started walking, and he followed suit.

At first I thought of heading out to the closest coffee house, but the more we kept walking together, the farther away we were getting from the city center. Soon enough we ended up strolling aimlessly in a park, surrounded by kids playing hide and seek.

“I have a lot of younger cousins” I said as a conversation breaker, “and since I was fourteen, my aunts called me to babysit them on Saturday nights. It was easy money back then, and it was so fun, I decided I finally found my calling”.

“Fun?” Lovino asked, rolling his eyes to the sky. “You have baby barf on your sleeve”.

“There are ups and downs”, I said with a shrug.

“I don’t have any cousins”, Lovino said, “but Feliciano counts as having five little kids all condensed into one, so I don’t really get your point. Taking care of babies is a pain in the ass”.

“I don’t believe you”, I laughed, “Feliciano can’t be that bad!”

“Oh, trust me. He is”, Lovino declared emphasizing his frustration with his hands. “He cries all the time. He is annoying, but he is convinced there is nothing wrong with him. He actually uses crying to his advantage since we were kids,” he confessed.

“How?”

“Don’t tell me you didn’t fall for his doe eyes, bastard. I saw the way you were looking at him during that stupid picnic” he said.

“I wasn’t looking at him in any way” I defended myself, but he just rolled his eyes to the sky once more.

“Well, don’t think you are special. He has that effect on everyone, and once you fall into his trap, you will grant him everything he wishes for. Crying just speeds the process,” Lovino said.

“You make him sound like a bitch, Lovi”.

“He is”, Lovino stated. “He is handsome, and funny and all, and just takes advantage of it. That’s what a bitch does. What’s worse, he has out father’s full support. He is his favorite, I tell you, and that makes Feliciano even… bitcher”.

“I don’t know, Lovi” I tried to reason, “I don’t think your father plays favorites” I said, but Lovino just smiled bitterly at me.

“No? Then consider this. When we were in eighth grade, Feliciano decided to learn German to get his grades up. Guess what? He was fucking good. My father was so proud of him, his ego was ready to burst right out of his chest every time Feliciano came back home with good news. He prompted me to start learning a second language too, because I too should do something constructive in my life”.

“It’s that why you speak Spanish?” I asked, amazed, but he shake his hand in a nonchalant manner.

“Well, dad kept pestering me until I gave in” Lovino said. “Nevertheless, he didn’t show any sign of appreciation when I managed to pass the class”.

“Your Spanish is excellent” I complimented him, and Lovino looked away from me, trying to hide his blush.

“Does that trick even work?” he asked instead, disregarding my words. I laughed.

“Sometimes” I admitted.

“People are so stupid” Lovino commented with a click of his tongue. “Pathetic” he added under his breath.

“Anyway, I don’t think your father wasn’t proud of you for learning a second language. I am sure he was happy for your good grades” I said.

“I have always been second best at most” Lovino whispered, and I immediately understood by the way he blushed, that I wasn’t supposed to comment on it, so I didn’t.

Suddenly a huge grey cloud came and covered the sun, and little drops of water stared to pour down. Lovino scrunched his nose when one hit his forehead, and although it was nothing but a drizzle, we ran to take shelter under a tree as if it were a thunderstorm. We ended up sitting on a bench facing the highway and as we waited for the sun to come up again, we stared at the cars running by for a while.

“I think I saw at least thirty black cars so far…” Lovino spoke after a long moment of silence. “How depressing is that?” he asked with a sarcastic smile. “How do people like a black Chevrolet to a fiery red Ferrari?”

Covered by the tree’s branches, we started talking about colors. We both liked red. We talked about how terrible the weather was in this country, and then how beautiful the sun is in Spain and Italy. We talked about our homelands, and as the rain came to an end, our conversations were filled with playful banter and questions about each other’s interests. We talked about everything and nothing, and Lovino looked so carefree by my side, so at ease, I didn’t want this day to ever end.

We both forgot about coffee. I forgot I was hungry. I forgot I was supposed to work the next day. Lovino needed to leave for his shift at the Nightwave, but he didn’t seem keen to go just yet.

I said something stupid. He laughed, and my heart clenched. In that moment I felt as if I had known Lovino since forever, but the truth was, I had no clue who Lovino really was. He was an enigma. Lovino was much more than his complains and insults, and whoever couldn’t see how funny and clumsy he can be sometimes, then they doesn’t know what they are missing out.

I wanted to know more about him, and not just his favorite color, his favorite song or even his favorite sleeping position. Those were details.

“It stopped raining”, he said at one point, although it had stopped raining for a while.

“Are you cold, Lovi?” I asked.

“No, not really. Why?”

I stared down at his big hazel eyes, and his lips opened just slightly, as if he wanted to say something more but couldn’t find the right words. A shiver ran down my spine, and I thought I must be coming doing with the flu.

“I don’t know” I said, furrowing my eyebrows. He looked at me, hard and scrutinizing. Every tick of his face revealed his real emotion; his openness was completely different from the time I first met him. He ran a hand through his slightly damp hair, and I wanted to follow his example with my own fingers. I remained still.

“You’ve been staring a lot” he said, and his cheeks turned a nice red. Lovino is a mix of contradictions. I wanted to discover them all.

I coughed, my throat dry.

“I suddenly realized that I didn’t offer you any coffee yet” I said. Lovino shrugged and looked down at the watch around his wrist. My eyes followed his movements and then settled for his lips.

“I must go” Lovino said, “or Alfred is going to kick my ass for being late for work”.

“Call in sick” I declared.

“What?” he asked, amused.

“Yeah, why not?” I said, trying to calm down my galloping heart. A lost battle. “You hate your job. Why don’t you just take a break instead?”

“It's not as if I don’t like your suggestion…” he trailed off, his mouth twitching upwards and making my already dry mouth even drier, “…but I’m not exactly swimming in money, idiot. Some people need to work to live”.

“Yes, I know” I said, “but I don’t want you- I mean, I don’t want to go home just yet”.

“Well, that’s your problem, not mine” he said, a flicker of annoyance and disappointment crossing his face. He stood up from the bench on which we had been sitting and stretched his arms over his head. I followed his example and came to stand right beside him. “I’m leaving” he stated looking up at me.

The sound of a faraway siren startled us, and Lovino turned his head towards the source of the noise. His exposed neck was alluring. The way his hair casted a shadow over his face made him impossibly gorgeous. The sun was slowly setting and the last rays of the day shed light on his already rosy lips.

The way he looked that evening was forever impressed in my brain.

“What?” he asked annoyed, turning to look at me again.

“Didn’t you say once you like pizza?” I blurted out, and he cocked his head to the side.

“I don’t remember ever saying that to you” he spat back.

“Do you want to go eat some pizza now? I am really hungry”.

“Are you deaf besides being an idiot?” he asked with a snort. “I’m going home”, he said and putting his hands in his pants’ pockets, he made to leave. Without thinking, I grabbed him by the shoulder, and he raised his eyes towards my face, looking expectant. “W-what?” he asked again, but this time there was an unmistakable tone of fear in his voice.

How weird, I remember thinking back then. How weird that I seem not to understand people, but I seem to catch every flicker of Lovino’s emotions.

“Would you mind if I kiss you?” I blurted out, before I could register what I had just said. Lovino made a sudden step back, and my arms fell down by my sides.

“W-what?” he exclaimed, face reddening, mouth gaping. I moved away from him, and he suddenly walked back into my personal space. “Do you even think before you talk?” he shouted loud and embarrassed.

“No, really” I admitted. “Francis says I don’t have a mind to mouth filter, or something along those lines. I didn’t want to make you angry. Please, don’t be mad at me, Lovi”.

“I- I am not mad at you” Lovino said, taken aback. “Just…”, he blushed, “…err…”, he crossed his arms over his chest, let them fall by his side again, “….pervert…” he mumbled.

“Thank you for grabbing coffee with me” I said suddenly, not knowing how else I should ease the tension. His eyes immediately found mine. We were standing incredibly close.

“We didn’t drink any coffee”, he said.

“Right, right”.

“So…” Lovino said and sighed. “I’m going home” he declared once more and turned his back again.

“Yeah” I whispered. I bit my lip. Lovino turned to look at me again and suddenly pointed an accusing finger towards my chest.

“One more thing. Next time you ask me out, you better not ask me if you can kiss me, got it?” he said, stepping closer to me once more. “I told you once and I am going to tell you again that-!”

I couldn’t stand it anymore.

I cut his rambling by putting my lips on his. I felt Lovino’s hand press slightly against my chest in shock, but he didn’t pull away. Whatever he had wanted to say next died in his throat, and I felt free to raise my hand and cup the back of his head to pull him closer. His lips were as soft as I imagined them to be.

He remained completely still in my arms for a couple of moments, but when I pressed myself closer to him…

… he kissed me back.

Chapter Text

Chapter 11

You’d probably think that Lovino at least acknowledged what had happened between us, but, in reality, he did not. As if we didn’t make out in the middle of a park, as if he didn’t pull me closer at some point, when both of us were too into it to realize where our hands were, Lovino just softly pulled away, turned his back to me and said… no, actually, he said nothing. I was the one who croaked out: “Good night, Lovino”.

In fact, he just started walking, raised his hand as if to wave me goodbye and flicked me off instead. From my part, I was too dizzy to care. It’s still a miracle I managed to go back home without being ran over by a car. The world spun around me so fast, I couldn’t even see the color of the traffic lights.

It probably didn’t make much sense at the time, but when I finally stepped back into my apartment, I suddenly remembered the conversation I had with Herakles that night in the club. It just came to me. Out of the blue, I heard in my mind Herakles’ offhanded comment about his wish to leave the country, but what made my heart beat faster was the sudden recollection of him saying he wanted to sell his restaurant.

There, served to me on a silver platter, was Lovino’s wish for change. In my hands I had a golden ticket to his happiness, and I really couldn’t wait to hand it over to him.

Needless to say I called Herakles immediately, and we talked for hours on end as if we haven’t met just once in our life. He told me I could go and visit his restaurant that very next afternoon, and I kindly accepted his offer.

The next day I went to work by car. Since I usually went by bus, Lilly and the rest of my co-workers immediately noticed.

“I can see something happened yesterday,” Lilly said with a sweet smile on her baby face, “and I can see you have big plans for this afternoon”.

“I won’t deny it,” I retorted, “but I don’t know if I can call them ‘big plans’ at this point. It’s just a suggestion that I hope will be liked. He might bit my head off if he thinks I’m overstepping his boundaries”.

“Your boyfriend must be one of a kind,” one of my colleagues commented, her lips thinning in a worried frown, but I laughed it off.

“He is not that bad,” I said, ignoring the way I shivered when they thought of Lovino as my boyfriend. I knew that that was never going to happen, because of obvious, pact related reasons, but my stomach turned pleasurably at the sound.

Later in the afternoon, immediately after work, I called Lovino on his cellphone, and he picked up on the second ring.

“What’s it?” he asked in his usual abrupt but edgy manner.

“Guess what?” I asked, but at the sound of him groaning, I continued: “No, don’t guess. I am too excited to wait for you to guess! I might have found what you need to start your own business! Yes, Lovi, your business. Remember? The restaurant you always wanted? Well, a friend of mine is selling his. We can go check it out now, if you are interested. What do you say? Shall I come and pick you up? I am in my car right now. Isn’t it thrilling? We probably found a great place to start!” I finished my rant.

Lovino stuttered something unintelligible on the other side of the line. “W-we? I-I… what?” he muttered, almost chocking on the last word. “Are you on drugs?” he screeched, but it lacked the ironic tone of voice he usually used when he wanted to sound offensive.

“Lovi, I am starting the car right now,” I warned him, balancing the phone between my shoulder and chin and putting the key in the ignition.

“What the fuck, Antonio!” Lovino exclaimed right when the engine started rumbling. “I can’t afford this. Do you really think I am capable of running a restaurant all by myself? I-I-!”

“Don’t be silly. You have me,” I stated. Lovino fell into stunned silence, while I pulled into the driveway.

“Listen,” he finally managed to say, “what happened yesterday… I mean… it doesn’t…”.

A car honked besides me, and I stopped listening to stare in surprise at the driver of the convertible Bentley next to me. He made a very clear gesture with his hands, and I realized that it was time for me to stop talking and focus on the road instead.

“What did you say, Lovi?” I asked. Lovino cursed under his breath.

“If you stop pestering me about it, fine, let’s go see this damned place. I’ll be waiting for you” he conceded after a heavy sigh. I smiled and dropped the phone next on the passenger’s seat.

It took me less than two minutes to park in front of Lovino’s apartment, and I was surprised to see that Lovino was already waiting for me on the sidewalk. He didn’t notice me, because he probably didn’t recognize the car, and I had a couple of minutes at my disposal to take him in. Let me tell you, he looked stunning, even with his arms crossed over his chest and that pout already on his lips: the attitude of a man who clearly wanted to keep people away. I knew that that wasn’t the case.

I honked, and he raised his head towards me, startled. Lovino rolled his eyes to the sky when I waved at him, marched to the car, opened the door and hopped on the passenger’s seat after picking my phone up.

“Stupid,” he said. “Be more careful with this fucking smartphone. You’ll end up losing it in the end”.

“I’ll buy another one”.

“Are you an idiot?” Lovino immediately shouted at me. “Money doesn’t grow on trees. Do you know how much one of this is worth?”

“Of course, I know” I said, laughing, “I was just kidding”.

“Sometimes I can’t tell if you are joking or not” he declared, blowing air out of his nose.

“Well, I am pretty serious right now,” I said turning to look at him and showing him my brightest smile. His cheeks tinted slightly, and I fought with the urge to touch him. “This restaurant might be just what you are looking for!” I added, my eyes back on the road. Lovino looked away and absentmindedly started playing with my phone.

Lovino mumbled something under his breath. He shoved my phone into the glove compartment and started fiddling with the radio instead. Music filled the air, but Lovino immediately turned the volume down. Suddenly, my right hand left the steering wheel and I reached to touch his.

“Relax, Lovi,” I said hoping to sound reassuring, “we are just going to ask for information. That’s all. No one is pressuring you”.

His hand stilled in mine, and I had all the time of the world to feel just how much his fingers were shaking. I squeezed them softly, and Lovino finally relaxed.

“I don’t have enough money” he whispered, slipping his hand away from mine and dropping it on his lap.

“We’ll think about it when the time comes” I said, and I felt more than saw Lovino snap to attention. With the corner of my eye, I noticed his mouth twitch in annoyance, but then a strange look crossed his face and he suddenly relaxed again. I took it as my clue to smile at him, and my heart skipped a beat when his hazel eyes pierced my very soul with their intensity.

“Have you never considered the possibility,” he said, suddenly angry, “that dad is right and I might be fucking wrong? That this is not what I want to do? That I am doomed to fail if I try?”

I snorted, and Lovino’s eyes widened in surprise. I spotted Herakles’ restaurant on the other side of the road I was driving in and started searching for a parking place in my lane.

“Let’s make a bet then” I said parking right in front of the building Herakles had described to me the night before. “If you fail, I win”.

“What?” he asked, taken aback.

“Well, there is no point daring you to win” I said matter-of-factly. “If I tell you that if you manage to run a restaurant, you lose, where the sense in that? And if I tell you that if you fail, you win, then what’s the point in trying?”

“You are insane” Lovino hissed through his teeth and hopped out of the car. I followed suit and looked at him over the roof of the car.

“So, are we betting?” I asked. Lovino scowled.

“Yeah, yeah, whatever, bastard”.

“That’s the spirit!” I exclaimed, earning a very exasperated roll of eyes from Lovino’s part. “Let’s go see this place”.

“Who’s the owner, anyway?” he asked, following me. I avoided his inquiring stare, and I let out a sigh of relief when I heard him humph annoyed besides me. We crossed the road and walked to a small restaurant with two big flower pots by the entrance that gave the front façade kind of a homey look. The sign outside had already been taken down, so I had no idea what the restaurant’s name was. What struck me as odd, though, was that there were still no selling signs by the door. I pushed it open, and we stepped inside the empty room. The walls were decorated with pictures of Greece and of cats, and the tables and chairs –blue and white- were scattered around all over the room.

I liked it immediately. The moment I stepped inside I recognized the potential this restaurant had. It needed a little bit of redecoration, but I could already picture it with the new painted walls, the comfortable chairs and the soft Italian music playing softly in the background. I turned to look at Lovino and caught him deep in thought. With his hands deeply hidden in his pockets, Lovino stepped farther inside and contemplated the picture of a white cat, one among many.

“It’s someone here?” I shouted at the empty space, startling Lovino, who swore under his breath. “It’s Antonio!”

The sound of a broom falling on the marble floor from the kitchens made us both jump in fear, and Lovino quickly walked back to stand behind me once again.

A small, Asian man, who was wearing an apron as if it were an uniform, came out to great us.

“Welcome,” he said bowing slightly. “I am Honda Kiku. Herakles told me you were coming. He is going to be with you in a second” he added politely, and soon enough, Herakles stepped out of the kitchen as well, looking like a man who had just woken up. Lovino’s eyes narrowed and all the fear and hesitancy he had felt mere seconds before completely disappeared from his face, giving place to an aggressive expression I really couldn’t explain.

“Hello, Antonio,” Herakles greeted me, stretching his hand to me and shaking it slightly. Lovino raised an eyebrow when Herakles made to the same with him.

“Lovino Vargas,” Lovino introduced himself before Herakles could ask for his name.

“So,” Herakles said, straight to the point, seemingly unfazed by Lovino’s harsh manners, “Antonio told me you are interested in opening a restaurant”.

“Yes, I am,” Lovino declared, startling me with his confidence. Herakles’s lips twitched imperceptibly upwards, and Lovino moved even closer to me.

“I’ll show you around,” Herakles said, “and we can discuss your plans and budget on the way”.

“Do you own this place?” Lovino asked instead. “It’s well equipped, and I would be interested to keep the chairs and tables”.

“I feel like you are good at negotiating…” Herakles trailed off.

“I am good at a lot of things,” Lovino declared, almost defiant, and Herakles’ eyes twinkled in amusement, looking less bored than he usually did –apparently that’s his default face. Herakles glanced at me, but his eyes were on Lovino immediately after, making me wonder what he had just thought of.

“I like you, Lovino” Herakles said. “Would you like to follow me to the kitchens?”

Lovino shot a glance at me, but then followed Herakles without further questioning. The two of them disappeared in the back room, and I was left alone with Kiku.

“Would you like something to drink, Mr…?” Kiku asked.

“Just call me Antonio,” I said, taking my eyes off the room Lovino and Herakles had just disappeared into to pay my whole attention to Kiku, “and no, thank you” I declined his offer with a smile.

He bowed slightly at me and took out a cloth from the front pocket of his apron. Without another word, he made to clean one of the tables.

“Did you work here?” I asked, trying to engage this strange, introverted man in a conversation. He didn’t stop what he was doing to answer me:

“No, I’m Herakles’ friend. I am helping him out”.

“Why does Herakles want to sell this place?” I asked out of curiosity. “It doesn’t look neglected, and I’m sure he earned a lot of money from it”.

“He wants to… move out” Kiku replied, turning to look at me with his big, black eyes. By the way he hesitated on the last words I immediately perceived there was more than it met the eye. “I can’t say I object to his decision, but I sure think a man should put his work first in his life”.

“Herakles doesn’t strike me as a workaholic” I commented.

“No,” Kiku said and his face suddenly softened, “he is a passionate man who follows his dreams, even when they are just that… dreams”.

I heard Lovino discussing with Herakles about some thing or another, and it felt great to be able to witness another part of Lovino’s character. He was going to gain the upper hand, I was sure of it, and my chest puffed out my chest with pride at the thought.

“Your partner is a passionate man himself,” Kiku commented.

“You can say that” I agreed with him, and smiled. Kiku lowered his eyes, shy.

“It must not be easy for such different characters to live together, is it?” he asked, although I wasn’t sure what his point was.

“I think it spices things up in life” I replied, honest. “When someone is everything you are not, it’s easier to have a much more complete view on life”.

Kiku looked up at me, furrowing slightly his perfectly black eyebrows, but didn’t comment on it. On the contrary, he started wiping clean the tables again, and kindly asked me if I could help him move all the chairs to one of the corners of the room, treating me as if I already was the new owner of the restaurant.

An hour later, Lovino came back to the front room with a triumphant smirk on his face, followed by Herakles, who kept talking to him, pointing at some cracks on the walls. I stopped helping Kiku to look at him, following the twist of his neck as Lovino looked up towards where Herakles was pointing at. I felt a drop of sweat trail down my forehead, and when Lovino turned to look at me, his eyes glinting, I shivered.

His lips twitched upwards.

I felt the smile grow on my lips too in reflex.

The way Lovino had tried to suppress his moan while we kissed the evening before came suddenly back to me, and I wanted nothing more than hear it once again. Right there, right in that moment. At that point I wasn’t sure if Lovino would let me, but when he stared at me like that, I knew that he wouldn’t complain if we happened to kiss again. I didn’t dare try, not when Kiku and Herakles were present.

“So?” I asked.

“All settled” Herakles replied in Lovino’s place.

“So fast?” Kiku asked, surprised, sharing a knowing look with Herakles.

“Yeah, well… it was a good offer. W-well,” he stuttered glancing up at Herakles, “see ya,” Lovino said, lowering his head and hiding the blush that had tinted his cheeks red. He looked ready to sputter some kind of insult to relieve himself of the tension, but Kiku’s presence refrained him from doing so. Kiku bowed and thank him in turn, and Lovino walked fast towards the door, passed by me and walked out without another word.

Herakles snorted and crossed his arms over his chest.

“I did say you carry a lot of tension for someone who’s single and proud,” he mocked me, even though his tone of voice remained completely flat.

“I well…” I scratched the back of my head, nervous.

“I offered Lovino to help him out with renovations,” Herakles said. “We even exchanged numbers, and he looked completely relieved when I told him there was nothing between the two of us”.

“Huh?”

“I guess we will see each other around” Herakles continued. “You’re free on afternoons, right?”

“Yes, yes sure” I agreed. “Well, then. I’m glad everything went well!” I exclaimed cheerfully. Herakles winked at me, making Kiku blush in shame, and I waved them both goodbye.

“Why did you take so fucking long?” Lovino asked, leaning against my car. I crossed the road to get to him, and I opened the passenger’s seat to help him get in. “I am not a fucking damsel in distress, freak” he commented, closing the door shut. I moved around the car to the driver’s seat, smiling widely as Lovino fiddled with his seatbelt.

“You know you haven’t won the bet yet, right?” Lovino asked, annoyed by my antics.

“Of course I know that”.

“I’m not buying it,” he suddenly said. “Those two must be together”.

“Probably” I agreed.

“They are like the sun and the moon,” Lovino continued. “Don’t you think too that opposites don’t really attract?”

“Well, not always” I agreed, “but I think some people can make it work”.

“Humph” Lovino snorted.

“We just have to wait and see, don’t we?” I asked, smiling at him and pulling into the traffic. Lovino stared right ahead of him and leaned into his seat.

“Yeah, maybe” he whispered.

“We should keep the cat pictures,” I said. “They were really cute”.

“Please, don’t start sounding like my brother,” Lovino protested massaging his temples. “When he is going to see this place, he is going to start freaking out about those pictures”.

“He is going to be so jealous,” I commented and that made him smile.

“You want to go and eat something?” I suggested. “I promised you pizza yesterday, didn’t I?”

“You didn’t promise, but okay” he agreed. “You pay though,” he added and I laughed.

Chapter Text

Ten years ago

The playground in front of my house was packed twice a day: once early in the morning, before school started, and then later in the afternoon, when all kids had done their homework and their mothers had finally let them out of home to go play until dinner was ready. I liked to be around at both times; children’s laughter was music to my ears and it put me in a good mood. I sometimes wanted to abandon my bicycle to go play with them, but I knew it would look weird for a fifteen year old to wait in line in front of the swings with the first graders.

The truth was, I didn’t want to grow up. It would have been nice to stay a kid forever, not giving a damn about politics, economic crises and global warming. Being a kid meant you didn’t care about college yet, or what career to follow and SAT. It was all being the last man standing at hide-and-seek. It was all about naps, fighting over toys and throwing tantrums when your father didn’t want to buy you ice-cream.

When you are a kid, you can be an astronaut, a farmer, a king or a fire-fighter, all in one day. Thinking about being a child again, always made my imagination ran wild. Two weeks before, our teacher had asked what we wanted to be when we grew up, to think about our choice carefully and to write an essay about it. Apparently that would have helped us set our priorities straight, despite being a paper only a four-grader would do diligently, because they can write whatever they wanted, no offense taken.

But none of us had a clear idea of the future we wanted. Francis told me he was thinking of becoming a model. Gilbert boasted he was going to be the most awesome policeman of all times. The teacher asked for arguments, and all we could think of was why we needed to clarify our dreams in the first place. Long story short, I had no idea what to do.

Should I write that my aspiration was to be a pirate and shove a sword up Kirkland’s ass? The teacher would take it the wrong way, while Francis would probably be turned on and would ask to hand my essay to him so he could read it before he went to bed.

“Hey, pedo-bear!” Gilbert shouted. “Stop staring at little boys and let’s go. We are late!”

I shot a glance over my shoulder and saw Gilbert bring his bicycle to a halt next to me. He yawned loudly and rubbed the dark circles under his eyes, which gave him kind of a sullen look.

“I’ve been waiting for you for half an hour,” I whined. Gilbert raised an eyebrow and shot a look toward his wristwatch.

“Oh, shit,” he muttered. “I overslept”.

“You don’t look like it,” I said. “Are you sure you are okay?”

“I would be if Ludwig had woken me up in time!” Gilbert exclaimed. “But he decided to be a little shit and just left home without me”.

“What did you do to him this time?” I asked, amused, but Gilbert shrugged, his mouth twitching downwards in annoyance.

“I have no idea, man,” he said, putting his feet back on the bicycle pedals and riding away from me. Even I could see Gilbert was definitely in a bad mood and gasped when he crossed the road without waiting for the lights to turn green. He probably was really tired if he decided to ignore traffic rules so easily.

I tried to keep up with him, but he was riding fast, and I almost collided into two pedestrians walking down the road. I managed to run around them just in time, but one of the two twins, both of whom had strange hair curls sticking out from their heads, flicked me off and insulted me heavily all the same. I shouted an apology to him and carried on, trying to catch up with Gilbert, who had stopped some feet away and was laughing his ass off at me.

“Your face, dude!”

“What happened to your German rigorousness?” I asked instead, slightly pissed off, and Gilbert abruptly stopped laughing.

“Let’s just go,” he said, lips thin. “Mr. Pimple is going to cut our heads off if we’re even two seconds late”.

“It would be your fault anyway,” I muttered, but he ignored me.

My friend Gilbert is usually funny to be around, but some little quirks of his turn him into a neurotic prick sometimes, and he was no different in high school. Ludwig and Gilbert have a lot of things in common, but when Ludwig goes over the board with rules and the like, Gilbert immediately declares his brother is probably adopted. I know their parents though, so I know for a fact they are all related by blood and the same fixation on punctuality.

That past month, however, Gilbert had started acting strange and he constantly acted like a real douchebag. That morning he wasn’t any better, and when we arrived at school and parked our bikes, he didn’t even spare a glance at Elizabeta, his friend since forever, who had just hopped off the bus along with her boyfriend, Roderich.

Gilbert was as quiet as a statue as we walked down the hall to our class. Francis was already waiting for us, sitting at his desk and pulling his blond hair in frustration.

“What’s wrong, Francis?” I asked, sitting down next to him. He groaned and began to flip through the pages of his notebook.

“Have you studied for the test?” he asked. “Because, if you have, I need all the help you can provide me, my love!”

“What test?” I asked, dumbfounded, and then I turned to look at Gilbert: “What test?” I asked, louder this time.

“You forgot?” Gilbert asked.

“For the love of God,” Francis muttered as I shot up from my seat, deciding last moment to skip school for that day.

“Good morning, class!” our teacher exclaimed stepping inside the classroom before I could make a run for it. He was our English literature teacher: a very ugly man with a rectangular face covered in pimples. Because of that the whole class called him Mr. Pimple when he wasn’t present, but in the end we got so used to it, we completely forgot his real name and we just called him “mister” when we directly talked to him to avoid any slip of the tongue.

“Sit down, Antonio,” Mr. Pimple addressed me roughly, and I could do nothing but sit down and wait for my death sentence. Mr. Pimple passed the test papers around the classroom, and I stared at the twenty questions shoved under my nose with a blank look on my face. Soon enough I heard the scratching sound of pens on paper and I looked behind me towards Elizabeta and Arthur, who had already started the test. Francis groaned besides me, while Gilbert put the pen against his lips in a pensive manner. My eyes, though, immediately wandered over the girl sitting right next to my albino friend: P..

P. was my girlfriend. We only dated for eight months, but I remember them to be the most significant period of my whole high school career. She was beautiful: tanned skin, long brown eyelashes, and rosy lips, and smart, an activist, and an I-know-where-I-stand kind of girl. She had suddenly become very popular after entering –and winning- a cheerleader competition a year before. It was actually my cousin who helped her become popular among the guys by introducing her to everyone, and I just happened to become her boyfriend soon after. I don’t even remember how we started officially dating, What I clearly remember, however, is the fact that I wasn’t the only guy that wanted her and I had to constantly fight my classmates for her. Arthur Kirkland had been one of them, but I don’t know if he really had a crush on her, or just wanted to get back at me for dating one of the most popular girls in school.

Whatever the case, she chose me in the end. When I looked toward her that morning and she raised her eyes to meet mine, I suddenly didn’t fear the blank page anymore. My lips twitched upwards, and I finally found the strength to give this test a try, even when I hadn’t opened our English literature book at all.

“Arthur! Arthur!” Francis hissed besides me, shooting a glance behind his back to where Arthur was sitting. Arthur rolled his eyes to the sky and bended over his desk slightly to hear what Francis wanted. Mr. Pimple wasn’t paying any attention, and just flipped a page of his novel. “What’s question six- no, four?” Francis asked, and I stretched my neck to hear Arthur’s answer.

“Six or four?” Arthur whispered back.

“Silence, you two,” Mr. Pimple said calmly, not looking up from his book. “No cheating”.

Francis and I groaned. Gilbert snickered from his seat.

Torture ended an hour later. I managed to scribble down a bunch of answers, two of which I just made up on the spot. Gilbert, Francis and I left class in a hurry, followed by Arthur, who seemed pretty confident about his success.

“You look like shit, Gilbert,” Francis commented when he made our way to our lockers. “What happened? Did you pull an all-nighter to study for this damned test, or were you doing something much more interesting?” he asked with a lecherous smile on his lips. Now that test was over and done with, Francis seemed to be back in a very good mood. Arthur snorted behind us.

“I slept like a log, thank you very much,” Gilbert just said, nose up in the air.

“You really don’t look like it,” I said, and Gilbert rolled his red eyes to the ceiling.

“Antonio is right, my dear,” Francis agreed. “You look like shit”.

“Come on, guys, I am doing awesome!” he exclaimed, suddenly on the defensive. “Why are you pestering me so much?”

“Did someone shove something up your arse?” Arthur asked. “You’re getting more stuck up by the day”.

“Shut up, Arthur,” Gilbert snapped.

“Yes, shut up,” Francis repeated, but before Arthur could insult him, he continued: “Can’t you see he is just too shy to tell us he jacked the whole night long?”

Elizabeta passed by us right in that moment and let out an irritated sigh at Francis’ comment. Gilbert followed her with his eyes, and Francis and Arthur burst out laughing at the longing expression on Gilbert’s face.

“Real nice, guys,” Gilbert muttered. “Real nice”.

“Come on, Gilbert,” Francis said. “Take it easy”.

“Says the guy who really pulled all his hair out because of a simple English literature test,” Gilbert snapped, but before Francis could react, P. was suddenly standing next to me, and everyone turned their attention to her instead.

“Hey,” I greeted her and leaned down to kiss her.

“Hey,” she greeted back. She pulled the book she was holding closer to her chest and stared at her shoes as if they were the most interesting thing in the world. She was usually really shy when my friends were around, so her silence didn’t bother me in the least.

Arthur and Francis shared a look, and I wondered once again how they were able to communicate without speaking. It always came as a mystery to me how Francis and Arthur could act like enemies one day and then hang out like long lost buddies the next. I never really liked Arthur and it made me mad how I was stuck with him all the time because he liked to follow Francis around like a puppy. Or was it the other way around? Maybe it was Francis who ended up being wherever Arthur was.

P. shot a look at my friends and softly pulled my sleeve, trying to tell me something I couldn’t quite grasp. It was Gilbert who took the hint, and without a word, just put an arm around Arthur’s shoulders and dragged him away from us. Francis reacted instantly: he let out a yelp of protest and followed the two, forgetting about P. and me a second later.

“Antonio,” P. said, “I know we agreed on going to see that movie after school… but, you see, I have dance practice today, and I can’t let my girls down”.

“Yeah, okay,” I reassured her with a big smile, even if my heart dropped with disappointment. “No problem,” I added, caressing her long black hair. “You could have told me sooner, though, so I wouldn’t have bought the tickets already”.

She looked up at me in surprise and furrowed her eyebrows.

“I told you not to buy them yet,” she said.

“I know, but I thought there was no way we weren’t going, so…” I trailed off, and P. heaved out a sigh. “I’ll just ask Gilbert or Francis”.

“Yes, you do that,” she said, and she looked kind of relieved. She bit her lower lip, her eyes scanning the hall and lingering on Francis and Gilbert standing in front of our next class’ door a longer moment than strictly necessary. I caught her attention by kissing her on the lips again, and she let out a gasp of surprise. She was adorable when she did that.

“See you later then? At lunch break?” I asked. My lips tugged upwards when she nodded.

“Yes, sure. See you later then,” she waved at me goodbye and swiftly walked away in the other direction. Throughout our conversation, the guys kept staring at me weirdly.

“What?” I asked when I joined my friends a moment later. Gilbert shrugged and stepped inside the class, but Francis remained outside, his whole attention on me. I always felt something was off whenever he loomed over me, his lips stretched into a friendly grin and eyes twinkling with joy. Arthur hesitated by the door, tightened his hands into fists and relaxed again.

“You are head over heels for that girl, aren’t you, Tony?” Francis asked, voice soft, and I couldn’t hide the grin that formed on my lips at his words. Arthur was looking at everything else that wasn’t us and he suddenly let out a sigh, before he decided to follow Gilbert inside. We followed suit a second later.

I didn’t talk to P. until later at lunch break. We usually ate together at another table from that of my friends, because their presence made P. very uncomfortable. During lunch, I pretended to listen to her as she blabbered about the infamous English literature test or something her friends had done. I was not really interested, but I liked the sound of her voice, and the way she brushed her hair behind her ear when something annoyed her. Even from my place on the other side of the cafeteria, I could see Gilbert and Francis shoot glances at us every now and then. Arthur was nowhere in sight, which was not something particularly strange per se, as he preferred to eat with his brothers in the school yard.

“Antonio, are you listening to me?” P. asked at some point.

“Huh?”

“Never mind, it was nothing important,” P. said, standing up. She smiled slightly and continued: “I need to go now”.

“Sure,” I said. I watched her walk away and I was ready to go join my friends, when the impossible happened. Arthur Kirkland suddenly appeared in front of me and sat down in the spot P. had been previously occupying.

“Antonio,” he greeted, and I couldn’t help letting out a sigh of irritation. He didn’t seem particularly happy to sit by me too, but he leaned closer to me anyway and whispered:

“I need to tell you something, it’s important”.

“What is it, Kirkland?” I asked, and he scrunched his nose.

“You already know I hate your guts,” he said. “Therefore don’t even think I am doing this for your own sake. I am doing this for Francis, because he is such a coward frog that he would never dare to hurt your feelings as gently as I will do now”.

I shot a glance towards Francis, who looked completely paralyzed on the spot.

“Just spit it out already,” I said.

“Look, your girlfriend is cheating on you, okay?” the Brit said. “Francis caught her with Nathan, you know the Dutch student”.

“What?” I asked, flabbergasted, but Arthur just sighed heavily and ran a hand through his already messy hair. Francis shot up from his seat, and with the corner of my eye I saw Gilbert tell him something. The world suddenly started spinning around me, and the buzzing noise in my ears made me feel incredibly nauseous.

“What did you say?” I asked. He actually repeated what he said word by word, and added that P. apparently had made a move on him too some days before.

“Of course, you can’t expect anything else from a whore like her,” Arthur continued, almost happy to see the color leave my face.

“Take that back,” I ordered.

“Or else, what? You already have everything and everyone at your feet, so don’t expect me to suck your balls as well. I don’t care if you hit me,” Arthur said standing up, “because I’ll hit you back twice as hard”.

“You know what?” I snapped. “You are just lying”.

“Suit yourself,” Arthur said. Anger boiled up in me. I didn't believe Arthur and I hated him for even making me doubt P.'s loyalty to me. Francis arrived just in time to block the punch I was going to throw on Arthur’s face, while Gilbert suddenly grabbed my arms from behind to stop me from launching myself at them both.

“Hey, calm down you two!” Gilbert hissed at us. “Mr. Pimple is watching us”.

“Tell me he’s lying, Francis,” I demanded instead, ignoring Gilbert’s well-meant comment. Francis looked as if I had slapped him across the face, and I dropped my fists to my side.

“I’m actually glad this is finally out in the open,” Francis said, while Arthur crossed his arms against his chest. “She is no good for you, Tony. It killed me seeing you with her”.

“What’s going on?” Gilbert asked behind me. I pulled out of his grasp and left the cafeteria before any one of them could stop me.

I didn’t know if Arthur was lying. I couldn’t believe he could tell me the truth for Francis’ sake; he never cared for Francis’ feelings in the first place. But at the same time, why would Francis ever lie about seeing P. with someone else? Why would he care, anyway? Whatever the case, I was too angry to think straight. I just wanted to confront P. about it, and get this over with before I did something extremely stupid.

I found her in front of her locker with one of her friends, and it took all of my self-will not to make a scene right then in front of everyone. When she caught me staring, a flicker of annoyance crossed her face, but I didn’t think much of it at the time. Now I know that I should have noticed sooner.

She was the one that suggested going somewhere more secluded to talk. I hadn’t told her anything, not even that I wanted to talk to her, but she just seemed to get it and acted accordingly.

“You cheat on me,” I immediately accused her.

“Excuse me?”

“Don’t lie,” I said. “Francis saw you with the Dutch kid”.

“What? I can’t even see other people now?” she asked, frustrated. The Chemistry classroom she had dragged us in was empty, and she started pacing back and forth like a caged beast. I should have let her explain herself, but I pressed further instead:

“Of course you can’t!” I exclaimed. “You belong to me!”

“I belong to you?” she asked, eyes wide, and she suddenly burst out laughing. “Oh, my God, Antonio. Do you even listen to yourself?”

“This is not about me”.

“Francis is lying to you, Antonio,” she stated. “He never liked me! I wouldn’t put it past him to-!”

“Don’t change subject,” I interrupted her.

“Yes, right. I should just say and do as you please, right Antonio?” P. said, sarcastically. “That’s what you four expect people to do, right? To just kneel at your feet and praise your good name!”

“I didn’t say that!” I immediately defended myself. “I want you to tell me the truth here! I am your boyfriend, P. I love you”.

She burst out laughing again, a pitiful sound now that I think back on it.

“You don’t love anyone but yourself!” she shouted. “Let’s face it! You don’t really care about me! The only reason we are together is because your cousin was interested in me first, and I suddenly became popular because of it! You pushed me into this relationship! You asked me out once and then we were suddenly a thing! Did you ever ask for my opinion? No!”

“That’s not true and you know it,” I spat.

“It is! I never said I liked you but then news we were going out spread like wildfire. You just kept calling me until I said yes. God! You always considered me as your propriety! And now I just do a project with a guy, and suddenly you look at me as if I were a ho or something!”

“So you do admit you’re seeing someone else?”

P.’s face darkened.

“Come on, we can work it out,” I said suddenly, running a hand through my hair. “Tell me what I did wrong and-!”

“I am telling you but you are not listening,” she replied.

“What does this guy give you that I don’t?” I asked. “This crack addict doesn’t deserve you and-!”

“Oh, sweet. You barely know him but you’re sure he’s a crack addict,” P. said, clicking her tongue. “That’s what you always do, apparently. Making fun or spew nonsense about people you don’t like and don’t think like you do. You know what? Yes, I’ve cheated on you,” P. said turning to look at me straight in the eyes. “I don’t love you. I can’t love someone like you or any of your friends, who think they are all mighty and smart. You take everything for granted, it doesn’t matter what. The world owns you everything and you have all the rights to take without giving anything back. I can’t stand you. You are so pathetic and stupid you don’t even realize what’s happening right in front of you, and I am oh-so-glad some of your sidekicks told on me, so I can finally fuck whoever I wan-!”

I grabbed her by the hair before I could even register what I was doing. Even now I am not sure what exactly happened. One moment I was there, the next I was over P. ready to hit her. She screamed loud and terrified, and I let her go as if burned. Someone slammed the door open and came to her rescue, and I remained standing like an idiot watching her burst out in tears.

In that moment I had no mercy left for her. I felt stabbed, my pride had been run over by her words, and the buzzing in my ears gave me no peace of mind. I couldn’t believe what had just happened. She was my first love, and I thought she reciprocated my feelings. I gave her my all, and she accused me of things I’ve never done in my life. My eyes stung, but I didn’t really want to cry.

People started gathering in front of the door, and I ran past them without even glancing back at P., who kept sobbing pathetically. I didn’t feel guilty for almost hurting her, because she had done much worse to me.

I skipped classes for the rest of the day, and I wandered off around town with my bike, trying to clear up my mind but getting nowhere. I wanted to confront the Dutch kid, but at the same time I had no interest to. Who cared, I told myself. It’s not worth it.

Two hours later, Gilbert called me on my old cellphone.

“Dude! Where the hell are you?” he shouted from the other side. “Everybody is flipping here! Did you really hurt your girlfriend?”

“She’s not my girlfriend,” I muttered.

“Tony, what’s going on?” Francis asked after he grabbed Gilbert’s phone from his hands. “Where are you?”

“Around,” I said, vague. “Listen, shall we meet at Gilbert’s when school’s over? I am not in the mood to come back to school or go home just yet”.

“Sure, man,” Gilbert replied. “See you later,” he added, unsure, and hung up.

Later that afternoon, Gilbert, Francis and I barricaded ourselves in Gilbert’s room. Gilbert’s father shot us a worried look when Francis and I showed up, but otherwise said nothing about our impromptu meeting. Ludwig was too busy with his own homework to spare us a glance.

It took me a while before I could find the courage to talk, and when Francis reached out and intertwined our fingers together, I finally spilled the beans. I told them about P. cheating on me, about her not really loving me and what she really thought about me.

“Shall we go and beat this guy up?” Gilbert asked, trying to lighten up the mood but making it worse. I just shook my head no. Gilbert looked away, scratched the back of the neck and bit his lips.

“Since we are, like opening our hearts…” he trailed off, coughed embarrassed and continued: “I need to tell you something too, guys. I’m sorry if I’ve been a jerk to you these past days”.

Gilbert confessed to his crush on Elizabeta and the fight they had almost a month before. When he was done, he looked away toward the window, as if he didn’t want us to see the pain in his eyes. Francis had fallen into silence, and when I sighed, I felt his eyes fix on me.

Love. Look where you got us, I thought to myself.

“Yes, love hurts sometimes,” Francis said. I hadn’t realized I had said my thoughts out-loud.

“What about this,” I suggested, an idea forming in my mind and not leaving. “Life would be much easier if our relationships didn’t require us to love people back. Passion is all we need, who cares about the rest? Why don’t we just promise each other not to fall in love ever again? We would be accountable for each other’s safety and happiness. Love is not essential to a happy life, is it?” I asked with a smile looking at Francis straight in the eyes, and he suddenly slipped his hand away from mine. I had forgotten he had been holding it.

“Yeah. Fuck love,” Gilbert said. “That’s for pussies”.

I laughed, feeling suddenly better.

“Let’s make a pact- no more heartbreaks. Let’s not fall in love ever again and stay singles forever”.

“What?” Gilbert asked in surprise, and I suddenly realized he hadn’t taken my words seriously. “That’s insane,” he added then for good measure.

“Fine” Francis said, determined, and Gilbert’s eyes were suddenly on him. Francis wrinkled his lips ponderingly, and then looked up at me again. “You mean, like a pact of sorts, right?” Francis asked, completely serious.

“Yes, let’s just agree on never letting anyone mess with our feelings again. Let’s just have fun and never fall in love. Do we really deserve to be hurt like this again? Let’s face it. It’s nice being single. Let’s be singles forever”.

Gilbert tilted his head to the side, crossed his arms, grinned and then turned serious again. I watched as a range of emotions crossed his face, but in the end he finally made up his mind and nodded, once.

“Fine,” Francis repeated again. “Falling in love is just the end of the game, isn’t it? Flirting, riling the other up, making them beg, those are the real turn ons. Love is nice, but it means responsibility. It means working hard to make a relationship work, and that’s not really worth it if we end up hurting. Love is more than that. It should be roses, chocolate and candlelit dinners, and when you’ve got what you need, you should be able to move forwards, no ill feelings. I say yes,” Francis said. “Let’s be singles forever”.

“So…” Gilbert said, scratching his head once more. “Should we swear on beer or something?”

“And what do you want us to say?” Francis joked. “Let’s not fall in love again till death tears us apart?”

“If you put it that way, it’s kind of creepy, man, but yes,” Gilbert said. “It’s awesome, guys”.

“Singles till death tears us apart then” Francis agreed.

***

Thanks to that pact it took me just a couple of weeks to totally get over P. It helped that she didn’t report against me and told the school counselor I didn’t really hurt her. We ended up living parallel lines, as if we didn’t exist in each other’s dimension. As far as I know, she didn’t date anyone else after me at school, but I was past the point of caring to really notice.

From that day, love didn’t matter anymore for me. The pleasure that comes from getting a good laid did. No one was going to hurt me anymore by telling me they don’t love me, because I was going to be the first not to love them.

No one was going to get close to me, to any of us, like that ever again.

The Bad Touch Trio were singles by choice.

End of story.

Man, was I stupid.

Chapter Text

Chapter 12

Francis and Gilbert are used to my constant blabbering when there is something really important I want to say and I end up getting off and on track. Of course, I sometimes doubt they are following my train of thought, but it’s nice to know there is someone out there willing to listen to me. Because when I met my friends the weekend after going restaurant-hunting with Lovino, I just couldn’t stop talking.

I was just too excited. I wanted to share my joy with somebody else. So many things had happened in the past week that made me want to burst into song about it: Lovino (and I) buying Herakles’ restaurant, Lovino’s resignation letter, Alfred coming to see Lovino’s place, Herakles’ offer to help, Feliciano’s excitement and crying about cat pictures, Ludwig tagging along and suggesting to create a redecoration plan, Lovino bitching about it, Lovino finally giving up when Feliciano started bitching about Lovino bitching about Ludwig bitching about good redecoration plans…

“We got it,” Gilbert snapped. “You are starting to sound like a broken record”.

“Let him be, Gilbert,” Francis said, amused. He took a sip of his beer, scrunched his nose in disgust and put the glass back down on the table. Gilbert rolled his eyes to the ceiling and gulped down Francis’ drink for him. Gilbert’s third beer bottle stood empty by my almost full one. I didn’t feel like drinking at all.

The pub we agreed to meet in was still empty at that time of the evening, and the lack of patrons gave the place kind of an “elitist” vibe. We just picked this place at random, but none of us regretted our decision as much as Gilbert did. He looked pissed as hell: he moved his legs restlessly, tapped his fingers against the rim of his bottle and grumbled every time I spoke up. Francis felt quite at ease there, while I was too busy talking about Lovino and the restaurant to really notice where exactly we were sitting in.

“I don’t understand why you bother at this point,” Gilbert snapped suddenly.

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“I mean,” Gilbert stressed out with a roll of his eyes, “you are trying too hard with this guy. Does he repay you in any way for your kindness?”

“You mean, like money?” I asked, confused.

Gilbert rolled his eyes again. Francis snickered.

“He means sex,” Francis said.

“Why would he?” I asked, my throat suddenly dry.

“But wasn’t that the point?” Gilbert asked, frustrated. “Lovino wasn’t willing to bend over for you in the beginning, but it seems to me that you have him wrapped around your fingers now. Hence I don’t really see why you should help him out with something you have nothing to do with and make yourself suffer in anticipation when you can take advantage of the situation before it’s too late”.

“I am not following you,” I said, but Gilbert just huffed once more.

“I am just doing my job here, pal, don’t make it any harder for me,” Gilbert retorted. “We said long ago that we were accountable for each other happiness, right?”

“Yes?”

“Then stop playing with fire and get it on already!” Gilbert exclaimed. “If you keep this up any longer, the guy is going to fall in love with your pretty face and that means trouble for you!”

“Lovino is not in love with me. I would know,” I said, immediately on the defensive. My heart skipped a beat at my own words, and I almost wanted to kick myself for actually hoping we weren’t actually fooling around. “We haven’t even kissed,” I lied.

“Unless you want to get out of our pact, I don’t see the point in seeing this guy any longer. Are you hiding something for us? Because, Antonio, we are not supposed to fall in love, remember?”

“Of course I do,” I stated, offended at the mere suggestion, “remember, I mean”.

“So why are you putting up with this restaurant shit?” Gilbert asked, angry. Wow, I thought to myself. Gilbert does not like this pub at all!

“It makes Lovino happy,” I blurted out. “It doesn’t mean I’m in love with him or something. Maybe I just want to be his friend”.

“Really, Antonio?” Francis cut in. “You don’t want to get into his pants anymore?”

“Yes. No!” I exclaimed. “I don’t care. No, I don’t care,” I repeated, calmer. Gilbert and Francis shared a look, and I hung my head low, fixing my eyes on my beer bottle.

“So you are not in love,” Gilbert said, more as a statement than a real question. I shook my head no. “Good,” he added. “Because you can’t. You can’t make the rules as you go. We were supposed to be singles forever, right? So don’t get attached to him, or to the restaurant for that matter”.

“Yes, sure. Don’t worry about it,” I reassured him.

***

The problem was, I was getting attached to the restaurant.

Lovino didn’t have enough money to buy the whole place by himself, so I lent him some and went to the bank with him to apply for a money loan we knew he could easily pay back without drowning in debt later. That was Ludwig’s idea, but in this way the restaurant became somewhat mine as well. Maybe I had no ownership over it, but I felt as if I had invested in it with Lovino and I wanted to give it my all to guarantee the restaurant’s success. After all, Lovino bet that if he succeeded, I lost, and I wanted to lose badly.

My days were suddenly packed. Although I had to go to work in the morning, I volunteered to help Lovino with renovations in the afternoon until late in the evening. Weekends were not for sleeping anymore, and it was a miracle I managed to meet my friends for a drink that day. However, I didn’t feel exhausted at all. Every day I woke up wondering what Lovino and I had to do next. We were working together, and that made me shiver with anticipation.

Feliks and Feliciano came to help sometimes, Alfred too, but the real life-savers were Herakles and Kiku. The latter was a really good artist and he proposed to decorate the walls with pictures inspired by his trips to Italy. Herakles, on the other hand, didn’t look like the type who liked hard work, but it turned out he didn’t like to spend unnecessary money on plumbers and electricians either, if he could do it himself. So he became our favorite handyman.

That day, for example, I arrived at the restaurant and found Herakles drenched to the skin, rivulets of water running down his sculpted body. Kiku was scolding him in his usual passive-aggressive way, while Lovino immediately came to greet me, wiping his hands on his paint-stained shirt.

“What happened here?” I asked when Herakles raised his hand and waved at me in acknowledgement. Lovino shot him an annoyed look, his eyes lingering on the way Herakles’ muscles showed under his wet shirt a little longer than necessary. I immediately put myself between Lovino and Herakles to block his view.

“The faucet in the bathroom is leaking or something,” Lovino said. “Now, stop staring at him and help me out with the chairs and the tables, god damn it,” he added and marched to the other side of the room, where we had stacked the furniture to mop the floor clean some days before.

"Your boyfriend really likes to order people around," Herakles commented while I rolled my sleeves up, “while he does, well… the minimum required”.

“I know,” I replied, “and I am really-!”

“Are you coming or not?” Romano shouted, interrupting me. Herakles snickered, while Kiku shook his head and went back to painting the walls.

“I was repairing the faucet,” Herakles said in his usual lazy way when I turned my attention back to him again. “It’s… refreshing”.

“Please, just call a plumber,” Kiku proposed with a frustrated sigh.

“Antonio!” Lovino shouted once more, and Herakles’ lips curled in an amused smile. I couldn’t help but smile back.

I walked to where Lovino was inspecting one of the chairs. I kneeled down next to him, and he scowled up at me.

“I am not going to buy new chairs,” Lovino declared and raised the chair’s broken leg, waving it around like a sword as if to prove his non-existent point. I stared at the chair, which remained standing even with just three legs and a man slightly hitting its top rail with its fourth one. Impressive.

“Should we call a carpenter or something, Lovi?” I asked.

“Yes, and you do it,” he ordered, and then he suddenly looked up at the flickering lights above us. I stood by, fascinated with the way Lovino effortlessly climbed up on one of the tables to take a closer look at the neon lights. “And buy new light bulbs while you’re at it,” he added.

I watched as Lovino tried to climb back down, but forgot that the chair under the table was the one with the broken leg, and let out a yelp of surprise when the seat gave away beneath him. I opened my arms wide to break his fall, and together we tumbled down on the floor. Next thing I know, I was staring at the freshly painted ceiling above us with Lovino sprawled over me.

“The fuck!” he mumbled against my ear, and I burst out laughing. Lovino propped himself up with his hands and looked down at me. “Why are you laughing, you retard? I might have injured myself!”

“Come on! It was funny!” I exclaimed slowly standing in a sitting position. Lovino moved with me and ended up practically sitting on my lap. “You dropped like a rock!” I continued, absentmindedly reaching for a strand of hair on Lovino’s head and brushing it behind his ear. He scoffed and crossed his arms over his chest.

“It’s not funny,” he stated. “What if I had split my head open, idiot?” he asked, but I kept laughing. The face he had made when he realized he had stood on the wrong chair was still impressed in my mind. His scowl deepened: “Don’t you have anything better to do with that stupid mouth of yours than laughing? You are pissing me off!”

“Sorry,” I mumbled and I tried to stifle my laugh. Lovino rolled his eyes, and I remained still, captivated by the range of emotions crossing Lovino’s face. His anger slowly turned into embarrassment when he glanced down at his hands. Then shock. Then anger again. Suddenly, Lovino blushed, as if he had just realized where exactly he was sitting, but I grabbed his arm before he could scramble back to his feet.

“What?” he asked, annoyed, and the corners of my lips twitched slowly upwards. He stared at me, expecting me to do something, anything that would explain my sudden silence. His eyes bore into mine with such intensity I almost couldn’t think straight anymore.

“You know,” I told him, “maybe I know another way to use my mouth instead of laughing”.

Lovino raised an eyebrow, unimpressed.

“Don’t try to flirt with me, bastard,” he muttered, but it didn’t sound as hostile as he meant it to be.

Maybe I had been the one that wanted to initiate the kiss, but I believe he was the one that met me halfway. My heart started pounding against my chest when he bumped our teeth together, and I closed my eyes, savoring Lovino’s taste on my lips. I had been longing for it since that day in the park, and when Lovino opened his mouth and tilted his head to the side, I realized just how much I missed it. I yanked him by the front of the shirt to pull him closer, oblivious to the fact Kiku and Herakles were nearby. I couldn’t care less. Lovino’s fingers were suddenly in my hair, and I traced the back of his neck with my fingertips. I felt as if someone had set me on fire. He gasped.

Instincts took over, and when Lovino made a pleasured sound in the back of his throat, I suddenly pushed him down on the floor to make him do it again. Lovino’s lips left mine for a moment as I stood above him, starting at his eyes glazed over with lust. That did it for me. I leaned down and kissed him once more, loving the way Lovino’s hands slid around my shoulders.

In that moment it felt as if I had finally managed to solve a puzzle, as if I had found my missing piece. Lovino wasn’t scared, and he wasn’t going to run away. It was clear he wanted this just as much as I wanted him. He pulled me closer, pressed his chest against mine, and I wished to be able to do the same for many years after this. I loved the way he moved, the way he kissed me, the way he tasted. I just couldn’t get enough.

“Oh, well,” someone suddenly said behind us, “Lovino told me you had a great ass, but I had to see it to believe it”.

Lovino froze.

I was still too into my lust induced haze to realize what was happening. Lovino’s eyes widened comically, and he abruptly pushed me away from him. I bumped my head on the table behind me, muttered a swearword under my breath and turned to stare at the surprised face of no other than Julius Vargas looming above us.

Feliciano appeared behind his father and hid his smirk behind his hand. Julius, by contrast, looked ridiculously serious. He crossed his arms over his chest in a similar way to his older son’s: a sight that didn’t make feel any more comfortable, given the situation. Lovino shot up on his feet, took a step back, made to seat on the broken chair, thought better of it and just stood still.

“D-dad!” he exclaimed. “What are you doing here?” he asked and then noticed that Ludwig was standing behind Feliciano, looking at the wall in front of him as if it were the most interesting thing in the world. “What is he doing here?” he asked instead, sounding almost happy for the distraction. Lovino bypassed me and looked, for all intents and purposes, as if he desperately waited for the earth to open up and eat him whole. Julius stood in his way, however, and I took advantage of his shift of attention to stand up as well.

“Feliciano talked so well about this place I wanted to check it out,” Julius said.

“He was supposed to tell you after we were done renovating,” Lovino snapped, his cheeks a deep red, and focused his attention on his still giggling brother.

As if on cue, Herakles appeared from the kitchen, soaking wet, and stopped in his tracks as soon as he spotted Julius staring right at him. Kiku remained still by the wall, quietly watching the scene unfolding in front of him. He suddenly shared a look with me but adverted his eyes immediately after, making me wonder just how much of my hot make-out session with Lovino had he witnessed.

“What’s going on?” Herakles asked, and Julius suddenly grinned.

“Is that you, my lad?” he asked, forgetting about Lovino and me in an instant. “Herakles Karpouzi? Yes, it’s you, no doubt. I remember you when you were a kid this tall!” he exclaimed waving his hand at knee height.

“Mr. Vargas?” Herakles asked in surprise. “I wondered if Lovino was related to you, but I forgot to ask”.

“For the love of the sacred muffin,” Lovino muttered. “Does this guy know everyone in here?”

“Be nice, Lovino,” Julius admonished him. “His mother was a very dear friend of mine”.

Julius let his eyes wonder around the place and expressed his appreciation for the pictures Kiku had painted on the walls with a loud whistle. Guessing right on who exactly was the master behind them, Julius made a bee line to Kiku and patted the small man on the shoulder to congratulate him.

“Did you do this? You’re really good!” Julius complimented him, ignoring the way Kiku tried to squirm away from him. The older Vargas turned to look at Lovino again and put his hands on his waist. “I see you are making a lot of friends!” he exclaimed. “It’s great!”

“Ludwig is not my friend,” Lovino snapped pointing at Ludwig with his finger, who massaged his temples slightly when everybody turned to look at him. “He’s Feliciano’s,” Lovino added. The unnecessary comment seemed to catch Julius’ attention.

“Yes, sure,” he said shooting a glance at me, “I guess there are varying degrees of friendship”.

“Err…” Lovino stuttered and scratched his head in embarrassment.

“So!” Julius exclaimed, clapping his hands. “What were you and your… friend Antonio doing before we arrived?”

Feliciano giggled again, and Lovino shot him a murderous look.

“We were,” I piped in, “checking the furniture!” I exclaimed. “Some chairs are broken!” I added, kneeling down and picking up the broken chair’s leg Lovino had dropped before as evidence. Julius was back to me in two strides, and my breath hitched when he leaned down and took the damaged wood from my hands.

“I see,” he said inspecting the chair immediately afterwards. “Don’t worry, Lovino. Your daddy will take care of it. This is chickenfeed,” he declared smiling widely. “I worked for a carpenter when I was young, Antonio. It’s fascinating. If you stand by me, I might teach you a thing or two, what do you say?” he asked. My eyes moved towards Lovino on their own accord.

“Lovino will do something else,” Julius said, following my line of vision.

“Oh, oh!” Feliciano shouted excitedly. “I want to help out too! Hey, Kiku! Mind if I join you? Of course if you don’t want me to spoil your work of art, just say so, and I can do something else. What do you say, Ludwig? Aren’t Kiku’s paintings wonderful?”

“Why don’t you let that poor guy in peace,” Lovino started, “and mop the floor instead?”

“That’s actually not a bad idea,” Ludwig commented looking around him.

“Yes, scrub the floor you two!” Lovino ordered. “I’m sure the kitchen is in need of some good old German style cleaning as well”.

“Don’t order people around, Lovino!” Feliciano exclaimed.

Herakles laughed.

“So, do you want to help me out with this, Antonio?” Julius asked coughing to get my attention again. I felt his eyes pierce my skull, and a cold shiver ran down my spine. Julius was smiling brightly at me, but it was clear he was not happy with something I had done or said.

“I have some tools you might find useful in the truck of my car, Antonio,” Herakles said directed at me. “Lovino, do you mind going with him and fetch me a wrench? I need it for the faucet and I can’t go out like this…” he trailed off motioning towards his wet shirt. Lovino seemed taken aback by the proposal, but I immediately took the opportunity and said:

“Be right back, Julius”.

“I’m counting on it,” he said with a light tone of voice. Lovino’s eyes flickered from me to Julius and back to me again, but he followed me outside without much of a protest. When we finally reached Herakles’ car, I turned to look at him again.

“It's such a shame your father interrupted us,” I told him, and Lovino raised an eyebrow at me.

“Is that so?” he asked, smirking in a way that made my legs go weak. He took a very suggestive step towards me, but then burst out laughing at something on my face and walked away.

“God. You are so stupid. Let’s just take the tools and go back, airhead,” he stated reaching for the car’s door. “If my father-!”

“Just a moment,” I said, grabbing his shoulders and softly turning him to face me again. He waited, but there was nothing else I wanted to say. “Just a moment, Lovi,” I repeated leaning down.

“My dad will flip a table if he catches you molesting me,” Lovino said, but he sounded amused. My hand moved upwards, found the back of his neck and remained there. Lovino didn’t shove me away.

“Stop me then, if you don’t want me to do this,” I said. He snorted.

When I pressed closer to him, Lovino just kissed me again. Willingly he tugged the collar of my shirt and pushed me down to his height. His lips were caught between mine once more.

Gilbert told me to stop. I reassured him I would.

I told Francis I didn’t want Lovino in that way anymore too.

But Lovino was a drug I was slowly but surely becoming addicted to.

“If my father catches us…” Lovino muttered against my lips.

“I don’t care,” I whispered back. Lovino moved closer to me. “I don’t care,” I whispered again, tracing his neck with my nose. “I don’t care”.

“Is there something you care about, idiot?” Lovino snapped, playful.

You, I wanted to tell him. Only you.

“Lovino!” Feliciano shouted from inside the restaurant. “Dad said to come and give Herakles a hand! The faucet has come alive!”

“Coming!” Lovino shouted and groaned. He took a step away from me to get to the back of Herakles’ car. We took the tools Herakles had told us about and went back inside the restaurant without looking back at me. My feet were light. This was not reality, I told myself. I’m caught in the matrix. The world had never been so bright before.

I had never felt like this before.

Nothing was like before.

Chapter Text

Gilbert 3

Things got out of hand pretty fast.

I don’t know why it turned out the way it did. I blame the fact I was enjoying Matthew’s company a little bit too much.

It was different than spending my free time with the guys. Let’s face it, Francis and Antonio can be quite boring when they both have their heads in the clouds. Francis seemed off his game lately, but it was only when I started to miss his lewd comments that I realized just how bad the situation really was. Did he talk to me about it? Of course not, so I had no clue what was going on in his head. Antonio, on the other hand, was too busy with Lovino and the restaurant to give two fucks about his best friends.

I was left with Ludwig, and my brother is not that funny when sober. Moreover, entertaining his dear older brother has never been Ludwig’s top priority. Matthew, by contrast, was always happy to see me. Therefore, no one can blame me for picking Matthew over anyone else.

We were beer buddies. I was the first number on the speed dial when Matthew wanted someone to play hockey with him. If I wanted to go to the movies, Matthew would be glad to tag along. Was there a rock festival outside town? Count him in. Francis and Antonio don’t really care about this stuff. One day, Matthew decided I should learn to cook and even taught me how to make pancakes. (“Because, Gilbert, you can’t expect your brother to do all the work! And no, boiling eggs does not count as cooking”). I told him that cooking was kind of gay, and he laughed right in my face. Seriously, he looks so nice and innocent, but he can’t be quite tough when he wants to. What struck me as odd, however, was when that very same day, as we were stuffing ourselves, he told me that his brother too ignored him most of the time, so he knew very well how it felt to be lonely.

He used that word: lonely, although I never said I was.

In fact, I did not feel lonely in the least, but I didn’t correct him anyway. I just shrugged and ate another pancake, and he didn’t bring that word up ever again.

“Don’t get angry with your friends, Gilbert,” he told me that faithful day, when he dropped by our little bookstore. “You can’t agree all the time”.

“It’s not that,” I said. “They are just dickheads”.

“What happened exactly?” Matthew asked, pulling a book out and reading the reviews on the back cover.

“I don’t know,” I admitted with a shrug, leaning against the shelves. Matthew shot me a disbelieving look and put the book back in its place. “Don’t worry about it,” I added.

“Hi, Matthew,” Ludwig greeted appearing out from nowhere with an old lady hot on his tail, like a chick following its mother. “No, Mrs. Lucas, the book you’ve ordered has not arrived yet,” Ludwig continued his conversation with our customer. “I told you I was going to call you”.

“Yes, but I need that book as soon as possible,” Mrs. Lucas whined. “You see, my husband is so boring, and some friends of mine told me this book can help us spice up our sex life!”

Ludwig blushed, and I snickered behind my hand.

“Mrs. Lucas. I am sorry to inform you of this, again,” Ludwig continued, “but it’s been three years since Mr. Lucas died”.

“But I talked to him yesterday,” Mrs. Lucas retorted.

My brother looked meaningfully at me, and I rolled my finger near my temple. He snorted.

“You are really lucky, Gilbert,” Matthew said, “to have a brother that loves you and respects you like Ludwig does”.

“You don’t know Ludwig enough,” I told him.

“But I’ve seen enough,” Matthew retorted. “You act all high and mighty, but in reality you have a heart of gold and love your brother just as much”.

“Fucking gay, dude,” I spat with a snort, but he just laughed at me.

“Yeah, well, I am not buying it, big guy,” Matthew whispered and averted his gaze, fixing it on one of the books instead. My heart skipped a traitorous beat, and I decided to focus all of my attention to Mrs. Lucas bothering Ludwig and asking him for his opinion on Kamasutra.

“Have you met my chick yet?” I asked, out of the blue. Matthew blushed. “I mean, a real chick, Matthew”.

“You have a chicken?” he asked, taken aback.

“He’s a baby chick, my Fritz,” I said, proud, and reached for Matthew’s hand. He let me drag him into the storeroom, where I usually left little Fritz when Ludwig and I were working. Between the carton boxes filled with books and stacks of unused paper I built a whole amusement park just for him, because I wanted to give my little guy something to do during those long hours waiting for me to come back.

When I stepped inside the room, little Fritz peeped in joy and started flapping his wings as if to welcome us back. I picked my pet chick up and showed it to Matthew, who stared at it with a blush on his face.

“He’s really cute,” he commented, and I felt the grin tug the corners of my mouth. Matthew touched little Fritz’s head with the tip of his right index, and Fritz peeped again, this time in appreciation.

“He likes you!” I exclaimed, and Matthew laughed softly, a wonderful sound.

“I didn’t know you could keep pet chicks,” he said.

“I am one of a kind,” I replied, and Matthew smiled. I let little Fritz down to go back to his amusement park, and we watched him run about the carton boxes for a couple of minutes in silence.

“You are indeed,” Matthew whispered. The way he said it made me look away from baby Fritz up to him. Matthew’s face was unreadable, shy and daring at the same time, and my throat went suddenly dry. Matthew coughed and scratched the back of his neck in embarrassment, and I turned around to fully face him.

“Is there’s something wrong?” I asked.

“No, nothing’s wrong,” he immediately replied, a tiny little whisper.

“You’re hot. Literally!” I blurted out putting a hand over his forehead. “Are you sure you are alright?” I asked again, worried.

“Yes, yes,” he reassured me.

“Maybe I should call Ludwig,” I said, “and tell him I should take you home or something”.

“No, it’s fine. I just-!” he stopped, and I raised an eyebrow at him, waiting for him to continue. Matthew, however, remained completely silent. “Okay, Gilbert… it may sound strange but…”

“What?” I asked. Matthew became ten shades of red but didn’t say anything to explain his old behavior. I stepped closer to him, and he finally looked at me in the eyes.

Maybe it was in that moment that I realized that what I was doing with Matthew was not simply ‘hanging out’.

“I wanna try something,” he said and took a step closer to me, but then he started stuttering nonsense and I grabbed his arm before he could make a run for it. I admit it: I started it. The way he parted his lips was so alluring, I couldn’t help myself and I just leant down, pressing my mouth against his. His response was immediate. Matthew pulled me by the collar of my shirt and kissed me back just as eagerly. It honestly took all of my self-will to push him away.

“Not in front of the baby,” I whispered, and Matthew blinked at me in surprise before he shot a look at little Fritz, who was staring at us from atop a carton box.

“Oh, sorry little Fritz!” Matthew exclaimed, blushing violently, and I bit my lips from bursting out laughing.

“Your apartment or mine?” I asked. In that moment I couldn’t think clearly. It didn’t even cross my mind that Matthew kissing me was not normal at all, that we were supposed to be beer buddies and very good friends. I’ve never thought of kissing Matthew before, but now that I did, I wanted to do it once again, just to see how it was going to be in the end.

“Mine,” he whispered.

It happened naturally, like all things that had happened with Matthew did up until that point; an event following another at a very normal pace led us to this. Maybe I should have taken a step back and thought my plan of action over, but Matthew had that kind of spell over me. I stopped thinking.

Matthew and I left the bookstore in silence, and Ludwig was too busy with Mrs. Lucas to ask us where we were going. There were three hours to go before the bookstore closed, and Matthew and I made the most of it.

Honestly, I don’t want to say that we just became friends with benefits after that day, but we actually did. The first time was actually a little bit awkward, because I had never slept with a guy before, the second was amazing, and third time’s the charm. Once I got a taste of Matthew, I just couldn’t let him go. A week went by and I couldn’t get enough.

Should I have stopped myself before it got out of hand?

Yes, sure, but put yourself in my shoes here. Matthew is a great guy, and once you know great, you can’t go back to lousy little one-night stands.

Unfortunately, I must be great too, because that Saturday evening, when we discovered each other once again in his apartment, just before we got our rocks off, Matthew said: “I love you”.

And this is how I finally regained consciousness.

***

Antonio talking about the restaurant pissed me off, but when he confessed he had no intention of doing the deed with Lovino, I just felt even angrier. How could he be so cool about it? How could he remain so indifferent to the possibility of Lovino falling in love with him? I wanted to tell my friends that Matthew and I slept together, more than once. I wanted to hear their opinion on it, but it was something I didn’t want to share either. I was afraid of what the two of them would say if they knew Matthew had used those damn three words with me.

“Oh, it was just a spur of the moment thing,” Francis would say, waving his hand around nonchalantly like the fag he was. “No need to take it seriously”.

But Francis had not seen how Matthew looked like when he told me he loved me!

The way Matthew had looked at me hunted me for days after that. His eyes shone brightly, his hands were all over me, and I just wanted to run a thumb against his rosy cheek. I should have cut all ties with him immediately after that first kiss but couldn’t. Just the thought of not seeing Matthew again made me sick in the stomach.

Nevertheless, I had to tell Matthew that I didn’t love him back, that what had happened between us was nothing worth keeping track of. Okay, we fucked, but what’s the big deal?

Ludwig too would say that I had to come clear with Matthew, but I never found the strength to pick the phone up and dial his number. So I did the next more sensible thing: after that day, I ignored all of Matthew’s calls.

A guy on my blog called me a dickhead because of it, and I learned my lesson: some things are too personal to post them on the internet. Everyone thinks they have the solution to your problems, but fact is, they don’t know shit.

A girl, on the other hand, wondered if I freaked out because I actually loved Matthew back, which was just confirmation that people talk shit.

When I read her comment on my blog, I almost crashed my laptop on the floor. It was a Saturday evening and I didn’t have any plans, so it pissed me off that a complete stranger on the internet could spoil my free time with just nine words. I paced around my room, freaking poor little Fritz out.

“Oh, don’t look at me like that!” I reprimanded him. “I am doing this for Matthew’s sake”.

Little Fritz just fixed his little beady eyes on me and tilted his head to the side in a very good impression of my brother’s judging look.

“Now my pet chick judges me too,” I muttered to myself. “Great!”

I was in desperate need of a drink. I couldn’t stay the whole weekend barricaded in my room, hoping Matthew wouldn’t call my brother to get to me, so I grabbed my things and headed out. Fortunately, Ludwig was not home to subject me to his famous police grilling.

I had no idea where to go, and maybe God heard my pleas for once and feeling particularly generous, decided to send my way someone I could spend my night with. God plays genie sometimes, guys. You have to be very specific with your wishes; otherwise you’re up for a big surprise.

I was walking down the avenue ready to cross the road to get to the main street lined up with fashion stores and good pubs, when I suddenly heard the loud screech of brakes and the squeal of tires against asphalt right next to me. My eyes flickered up to the turquoise classic mini Cooper’s front staring at me to the green pedestrian crossing sign.

“What the hell,” I muttered to myself, angry that I had risked being hit by a Mini fucking Cooper. “Are you fucking right in the mind, man?” I shouted, kicking the car’s bumper.

“Hey, don’t hit the car, you bloody arsehole!” the driver shouted stepping out of the car.

“You almost ran me over!” I shouted back and balled my fists, ready to fight. The driver slammed his door shut and turned to face me, big, ugly eyebrows furrowed in a very silly expression. “Arthur?”

“Blimey,” Arthur muttered, yanking the door open again.

“Oh, no! You don’t!” I shouted, ran around the car and hopped on the passenger’s seat right in time to see Arthur start the ignition.

“Get out of my car,” Arthur ordered.

“You almost ran me over!” I repeated. Someone honked angrily behind us, and Arthur groaned loudly, pulling his car back into the traffic.

“Are you insane?” Arthur asked as I put my seatbelt on. “You could have broken the bumper, you git!”

“It’s time you buy a new car, a better car,” I retorted. “Only eighty years old men drive this shit”.

“You’re getting off at the next light,” Arthur said, scowling.

“No, I’m not. You owe me a drink. You almost ran me over!”

“Stop repeating yourself, it’s annoying,” Arthur said. “And you are fine, see?” he asked. “You’re the same ass as always”.

“Ha ha,” I mocked him. “Very funny”.

“Be happy I’m not kicking you out while I’m driving,” Arthur stated.

“Where are you going, anyway?” I asked. I had no idea what drove me to get into Arthur’s car, but now that I was there, I was happy I had someone to let my frustration out on. When Arthur stopped at the next traffic lights and looked expectedly at me, I just flicked him off and started messing with the radio.

“Seriously, Arthur? French songs?” I asked changing the channel. He clicked his tongue at me in disapproval.

“What happened to you?” he asked, turning the radio off.

“Well, someone tried to run me over…” I trailed off.

“You are such an asshole,” Arthur mumbled. “Did someone dump you or something?”

“No one dumps the-!”

“Awesome me,” he ended my sentence. “Yeah, I know. You three have not changed a lot since high school,” he commented.

“I am not in the mood to talk about our wonderful past together, Arthur,” I snapped. “Do you want to go for a drink or not?”

“Gee, it’s a joy having you around,” he spat back, but started driving just a bit slower, obviously searching for a parking place. “There’s a pub here, if you want”.

“I’m in. Draft beer, fancy drinks, prissy wine, as long as it has a high percentage of alcohol in it, I’m okay with everything,” I said.

“Gilbert,” Arthur addressed me, “what happened to you?” he asked. I didn’t reply, and Arthur parked the car in silence. We stepped out of the Mini fucking Cooper, and I blindly followed Arthur to the pub he had suggested we went.

After that, I don’t really remember what happened. I just know that Arthur unexpectedly did offer me a beer, and I repaid the favor immediately after. Two beers became three and then four and then six, and then our tongues were moving on their own accord and I finally blurted out what really bothered me.

“You are such a dickhead, Gilbert,” Arthur said, his head wobbling slightly, his eyes glazed over. I laughed.

“You look like shit,” I mumbled. The pub was spinning around me, and the pictures on the walls were just blurry spots on a vortex.

“Actually, you all are dickheads,” Arthur said, ignoring my comment. “You always took everything for granted and never spared a though for other people, you never cared about what they feel”.

“Francis is a dickhead,” I said, raising a finger in the air and almost pocking my own eye out, “and Antonio. But not me”.

“Oh, come on!” Arthur exclaimed and gulped down his beer. “Only a dickhead would ever agree to your stupid pact!”

“You know about the pact?” I asked in surprise.

“Yes, I do in fact, dickhead,” Arthur said. “It’s the most selfish thing one can think of… fucking with people’s heads and then rejecting any kind of responsibility!” he shouted. “That’s what dickheads do,” he added, nodding at no one in particular.

“Stop talking about dicks,” I muttered.

“Well, you enjoyed going down on a man, so don’t be a hypocrite and let me say ‘dick’ as many times as I want!” Arthur exclaimed.

“You are such a dickhead, Arthur,” I said. “No wonder Francis doesn’t like you”.

Arthur fell silent and raised his hand to order another beer.

“You were the reason why he agreed to the pact, you know?” I told him.

“I know,” he said.

“We did something extremely stupid,” I said.

“I know that too,” he replied.

“I didn’t want to hurt Matthew…” I mumbled.

“But you did,” Arthur said.

“You know what, Arthur?” I asked, standing straight and punching my fist on the table. “I should be a good friend and help our little Tony-Pony out before he ends up hurting too!”

“What do you mean?” Arthur asked.

“I am going to tell Lovino about the pact!” I explained, feeling the grin grow on my lips. “So that he knows Antonio is never going to love him back and won’t try anything funny with him!”

Arthur shrugged, but I was too pumped up to care about the dubious look he threw my way. I shot up from my seat and grabbed his arm, yanking him up to stand by my side.

“I still need to finish my drink!” he complained, but I just threw some money on the table and pushed him toward the door.

“He doesn’t work in the Nightwave anymore, you know that, right?” Arthur said, putting an arm around my shoulder to steady himself.

“I know, so we are just going to drop by his restaurant,” I said.

“It’s late. Why don’t we just go to his apartment instead?” he asked, putting his head on my shoulder.

“You know where he lives?” I asked, and he mumbled against my ear. “Shit, Arthur! Wake up! We need to save Tony!”

“Fuck Tony, I want to sleep,” Arthur replied angrily, but he started walking all the same, dragging him away with him.

We were quite the sight, I am sure, and I still wonder how we managed to walk like that throughout town in search of Lovino’s apartment. It must have took us hours, because the sun was starting to rise when we finally collapsed in front of Lovino’s door.

Arthur giggled and I shushed him when I tried to press the doorbell with my shaking fingers. Arthur giggled again and sat down on the doormat.

“You are such a dickhead, Arthur,” I said.

“Shut up, Gilbert. You like dicks!”

I pressed the doorbell again and the ringing piercing my brain.

“Fuck!” I shouted.

“Oh, no you don’t,” Arthur mumbled and finally fell asleep. I waited by the door and let out a cry of triumph when I heard someone fumbling with the lock.

“Hey, Lovino!” I greeted. Lovino stared at me, opening and closing his mouth like a dying fish.

“I am calling the police,” he threatened me.

“No need, no need,” I said, “I’ll be gone in a few,” I reassured him. “I just wanted to tell you about Antonio and the pact. I want to warn you before it’s too late, man”.

“What’s going on, Lovino?” someone asked and I saw Feliciano’s head pop up from behind Lovino’s shoulders.

”He’s drunk,” Lovino said and finally noticed Arthur snoring on the doormat. “Gross,” he commented.

“Francis, Antonio and I swore to never fall in love,” I blurted out, and Lovino snapped immediately to attention. “We made a pact long ago that we were going to stay singles forever. So, don’t get your hopes up, lad. Antonio is never going to love you!”

“They just want sex!” Arthur shouted waking suddenly up, laughed and fell unconscious again. Lovino’s face was one of pure horror.

“What is he saying?” Feliciano whispered behind his brother.

“Man, am I wasted,” I mumbled.

“Antonio is using me?” Lovino asked, a whisper.

“I wouldn’t put it like that,” I said. “He didn’t shove it up your ass yet, did he?”

“I am calling Ludwig!” Feliciano explained.

“Don’t call him!” I called out, and that were the last words I said before I passed out on Arthur’s sleeping form.

Chapter Text

Lovino

I’ve been rewriting the same sentence over and over again, and I’m seriously fed up with this shit. From where am I supposed to begin? From the very start? Should I go all once-upon-a-time with this and end the story with a true love kiss? Whatever, this is so stupid.

I’ll keep that as an introduction and go straight to the facts. My name is Lovino Vargas, but I guess you already know that. I used to work as a barman in a nightclub, in which my misfortunes began. I have a younger brother, Feliciano, who, as you probably already know, is better than me in everything we do.

Maybe it’s Feliciano’s personality that gives him such an advantage over me. He manages to conquer everyone’s heart with just a smile, which is permanently plastered on his stupid face. I’ve never heard someone say he is annoying; actually, most people would bend over backwards to please him. By the way, our father is one of those people.

In school Feliciano would be the one who got all the girls. Even the ones I dated would end up wishing Feliciano was in my place. Feliciano is the type of guy that manages to fit in everywhere, and maybe that’s why he is doing so well in his field of work. He’s always in the brink of becoming a famous designer. Although he has a wide number of adherents in his self-made Fashionista Congregation, he’s too lazy to spread the word and take over the real fashion industry.

But, in what is perhaps an ironic twist, the one being constantly reproached for being lazy is me, not my brother. I like the quite life, but that doesn’t mean I don’t work my ass off to get by. The restaurant, for example, is not going to be a piece of cake, I’m aware of it, but I will try to make it work anyway.

I admit that I did need a boost to take the first step towards what I hope will be a very interest-bearing business, but I’ll manage on my own after this, right?

Right. I don’t even believe that either. Thing is, I know I am not as good as my brother is and that I’ve always been second best at most. I don’t have a lot of friends and acquaintances as Feliciano does, I kind of have an anger problem and sarcasm is probably my best virtue. That should have been a tip for me when Antonio decided to hit on me that night. Let’s face it, Antonio was not attracted to me because of my personality.

Now that I think about it, though, it probably wasn’t for my looks either, because I seem to recall that Antonio did look fairly interested in Feliciano’s butt at first, no matter how much he denied it afterwards.

How many times I’ve heard people describe me as an asshole? How many people gave up on me and never cared to actually know me? Too many to count. How many stayed? One. And that’s exactly why Antonio managed to fool me so easily. I believed him.

Another fact that should have tipped me off was that both Feliciano and my dad liked him. I have no idea how Antonio managed to get into my dad’s heart, but I guess that’s nothing compared to what real manipulative bastards are capable of, so it shouldn’t surprise me all that much.

To be honest it’s difficult not to like him, Antonio I mean. I know it sounds weird coming from me, and I swear to God, I am trying hard to keep telling you this without going back and erase everything I’ve written so far, but I ought to give him that much. His smile can make anyone’s knees go weak. Granted, the way he approached me that evening in the nightclub was unbelievably shitty, but now that I think back on it, it was kind of hilarious too. He tried again and again, and when I tricked him that day, with the blindfold and stuff, he didn’t hold it against me. That day I should have probably realized what a crackpot he is, but I just saw an ambitious man instead. Damn it, I don’t want to sound cheesy, but it was in that moment that I started to truly see him.

I want to crumble this piece of paper up. This is total crap.

Anyway, Antonio managed to conquer me too. He promised me we could be friends, and for a while that was totally fine until Herakles didn’t make an entrance, and I decided that we can’t be just friends. That first kiss was just confirmation to this, and you know what? I truly believed Antonio hadn’t planned all of that, that he really wanted to be my friend, that what was happening between us was just another twist of fate and that his interest in the restaurant was selfless and in no way to his benefit.

When Gilbert rang our doorbell that day first thing in the morning to shed light on Antonio’s manipulations, I didn’t want to believe him. I would prefer to throw myself off of a bridge before I admit just how much it hurt, but, thing is, it did. My first impression on Antonio had been correct, but I decided to ignore my self-preserving instincts anyway, and here was the result being delivered to me without any kind of warning first. Serves me right, I thought. I knew I wasn’t worth shit, but I decided to believe that someone out there thought I was worth much more than I gave myself credit for.

Ludwig came to take his brother and that asshole of Arthur away no less than ten minutes after Feliciano called him, which just confirmed once more how much power Feliciano has over people. Would I have done the same, Ludwig would have taken his sweet time with it. It’s not that I would have called that dumbass for help, anyway. It’s just a hypothetical question.

I was too shocked to move, and neither Ludwig nor Feliciano pressured me to help them dragging those two useless rubberneckers into Ludwig’s car. I just sat down on the couch and stared at nothing. Literally. I just didn’t have it in me to move and I had to wonder what exactly was wrong with my head, because I should have predicted it; I always anticipate the possibility of such outcomes, but here I was, hopelessly looking for some other explanation to Gilbert’s words. It could always be a prank, but it didn’t seem right. Gilbert had been brutally, vulgarly honest.

“Are you okay?” Feliciano asked me, sitting down next to me and putting his arm around my shoulder. My eyes were fixed on the television set in front of us, as if someone had virtually glued them onto the screen.

“Where’s Ludwig?” I asked, almost hitting myself in the face when my voice came out in a pathetic whimper.

“He went home,” he replied.

“Did you tell him what happened? What Gilbert said?” I asked, afraid of the answer.

“No,” Feliciano said, sounding so tender it made me shiver with anger. “I supposed you preferred no one knew what exactly Gilbert told us”.

“He was drunk,” I whispered. “Do drunktards lie?”

“They do, sometimes,” Feliciano said, trying to be reassuring, but I couldn’t believe him.

The pact Gilbert told me about didn’t make any sense, but at the same time it explained Antonio and his friends’ weird fascination with one-night stands. Ludwig had talked all about it with Feliciano, and my brother had in turn spilled the beans with me, so it was no secret that those three were completely out of their minds. Nevertheless, during those last months, I spent so much time with Antonio that I started to believe I could see the man behind the macho, and what was even worse, I liked it. Figures I just had been manipulated the whole time. They do say that psychos are often charming.

All of the above and much more were thoughts that troubled me for the best part of the morning, and I could reach just one conclusion: Antonio had indeed been using me. All those kisses, everything he told me, every time he came to help me with the restaurant, heck, the fact he was the one to find the restaurant in the first place too, were just little steps in a bigger plan. Antonio wanted to have the upper hand on me from day one, when he spoke with me in Spanish to woo me, but realized he had to gain my trust first and acted accordingly.

At the same time, though, it didn’t sound right. Maybe he hadn’t planned all of this, but fact remained: he didn’t love me. I wouldn’t have cared, if I weren't…

“Feliciano,” I said at some point, maybe it was a little before Feliciano head out to work two hours later. “I shouldn’t care, right?”

“What do you mean by that?” he asked, tilting his head to the side like a confused puppy. My stomach clenched into a knot, my throat went dry, and I started shivering as if I had a fever.

“About what Gilbert said,” I whispered. Feliciano was by my side in an instant and helped me back on the couch. I had been sitting down on it for the best part of the morning, standing up only to drink a cup of coffee with Feliciano, and it pissed me off to be dragged back to it.

“Maybe you should call Herakles and tell him to stop renovating for a couple of days,” Feliciano suggested. “Should I do it?”

“Do what?”

“Call Herakles,” Feliciano explained, and I hated the way Feliciano sounded so understanding, so loving, as if he knew things I wasn’t aware of.

“Yeah, you do that…”

“Lovi?”

“Don’t call me that,” I snapped and laid down on the couch with my face in the cushions.

“Sorry, Lovino,” Feliciano said. “I’m going now. Are you sure you are going to be alright?”

“Yeah,” I responded, voice muffled.

“Don’t do anything stupid while I’m gone,” he said.

“Gee, you’re not mum,” I snapped, “and I’m a grown man”.

“Yeah, a grown man with anger issues and a broken heart,” Feliciano mumbled as he made his way towards the door. I slightly raised my head to look at him.

“What the fuck did you say?” I asked, although I’ve heard him perfectly. Feliciano smiled at me and walked out of the door.

I decided I should sleep all day, but I couldn’t. I paced around the living room, walked in the kitchen and opened the fridge, closed it again, made a bee line for the telephone, noticed my dad’s guitar lying on the floor and almost threw it out of the window in anger. I remembered Antonio plucking the chords on a rainy day, singing softly to himself.

I think we could be friends. You are interesting. You have a great sense of humor, you care for your brother a lot and I wish I knew more so I could make a whole list out of it! That’s what he said.

I should have used my arms to break the fall, he said that day when I sprained my ankle as he accompanied me home in the bus. What a loser.

“Fuck,” I swore out loud. I needed to talk to Antonio. I needed to tell him he’s busted, that I knew that he had been using me. Just in that moment my phone beeped once, alerting me of a message. Feliciano had called Herakles, and the restaurant was going to remain closed for the day.

That gave me too much time in my hands, and I suddenly regretted taking Feliciano’s advice. I needed to get out of that house. Moreover, the sight of my dad’s guitar reminded me too much of Antonio when I shouldn’t have thought about him once.

It took me a while to make up my mind but in the end I decided to wait for him in front of the childcare center he worked in. Feliciano warned me not to do anything drastic, but what was the worst thing that could happen? Antonio holding his broken nose? Me screaming my lungs out in front of innocent children? The police trying to drag me away from Antonio’s working place? Screw this, it would be worth it in the end.

I wasn’t sure at what time Antonio’s working day would end, so I remained hanging around in front of the childcare center for hours. Sometimes I shook my head no and walked back the way I came, only to stop by the first bus stop I encountered, look aimlessly around me and go back to my waiting in front of the building’s front gates. Sometimes I remained completely still with my eyes on the ground, making people wonder if I was into drugs or something equally disturbing. It’s humiliating telling you all this, but you have to understand I didn’t know what I wanted to do in that moment. Whatever happened next it’s somehow connected to those long, exhausting hours waiting for a sign that I was doing the right thing, whatever the right thing was.

Lunch time came and went, but I didn’t really feel hungry. My phone was at home, and I wondered whether Feliciano was calling me every five minutes to know how I was doing. Going back home was out of the question, but then again being there was not the sensible answer either. When Antonio finally stepped out of the building, I had been wishing to get over this soon for about thirty minutes.

“Lovi!” he exclaimed, and I looked up at him. Antonio raised a hand in greeting, his face beaming with joy, smile wide and bright, standing tall, broad-shouldered, simply amazing. He walked towards me fast, and I stood just a little bit straighter because I never liked being the shorter one of the two, even if it was just by a couple of inches. There was a sparkling in his green eyes that I had never noticed before, and the tension in my shoulders abruptly loosened.

“Hey,” I breathed. He stood so close to me I couldn’t think clearly. No matter what Gilbert said, there was no changing the fact I wanted him. There I said it.

“Hey,” he said back, raised a hand and pushed my hair out of my eyes, which I had to close tightly so I could stop looking at him. It wasn’t fair. Antonio acted as if he really were in love with me. He never told me so, but I felt it in the way he held me close. When he hugged me, I wanted to struggle free, but at the same time I wanted to hear his heartbeat against my cheek too.

“Is there’s something wrong?” he asked, and I kept my eyes closed as his hand moved up and down my shoulder blades. “Why are you waiting for me here? Weren’t we supposed to meet at the restaurant?”

“I-I- was passing by,” I muttered against his shirt, “and I said to myself: I never saw the bastard’s working place, so let’s go see where he tortures those poor kids and- and-!”

I felt Antonio chuckle. His laughter hurt me. God, I seriously didn’t want to move, but I finally managed to push myself away from him. His hands remained on my shoulders, and in that moment I knew that if I kept staying so close to him, I would never find the courage to say what I needed to say and put an end to this masquerade.

“Listen, Antonio, I need to-!”

“You have to meet Lilly!” he exclaimed suddenly, took my hand and pulled me with him towards the building. “There she is! Lilly! Lilly!” he shouted, enthusiasm exploding out of his face, making me feel weak in the stomach.

A small girl looked up from the purse she was holding, in which she was desperately trying to find something, and waved at us. She looked too young to be working there, but she was as cute as any preschooler teacher is, with her blond hair neatly tucked behind her ears.

“This is Lovino!” Antonio introduced me to her. “Lovi, this is Lilly. One of my co-workers and closest friends!”

“Pleased to meet you, Lovino,” she said and shook my hand in hers, so small and fragile I thought I could break them. I muttered something, casting my eyes down when she sweetly smiled at me, as if she knew something I didn’t.

“It’s great that you waited for me,” Antonio said turning to look at me, making me regret my decision. I didn’t have the strength to look at him back. “The three of us can grab a coffee together or something. You’ll love Lilly, Lovi! She is precious!”

“I’m sure she is,” I said, making Lilly blush.

Can a guy that swore to never fall in love be so endearing? It’s no fucking fair.

“I would love to,” Lilly said, “but Vash and I must go to the groceries store today. He’s going to be here any minute now, and I’m sure he called me already to know where I am. The problem is I left my phone back in our locker, so I need to be quick and take it before he arrives. Sorry, Antonio, I want to chat with you two a little bit more but I have to go”.

“No problem, we can always do it another day, right, Lovi?” Antonio asked, and I felt small under Lilly’s big eyes.

“Yes, of course,” I lied. Lilly smiled again and turned on her heels to get inside the building again.

“Is she married?” I asked, feeling a little bit stupid for coming up with such an icebreaker. Antonio laughed. “I heard the name Vash and I thought…” I tried to defend myself but Antonio shook his head in amusement.

“No, Vash is her brother,” he explained, “and a very scary one at that”.

“Oh,” I said, at a loss. I bit my lips. “You two have great chemistry,” I blurted out.

“Who? Lilly and I?” Antonio asked, taken aback. I shrugged.

“Yeah,” I said, unconvincing. “She would probably love to marry you”.

“I don’t think so,” Antonio said, tilting his head to the side. My heart skipped a beat, and I had to look away. “She never gave me the impression to be interested in me. Why, Lovi, are you jealous?” he asked with a teasing smirk.

I wanted to snap at him, but honestly, I was too exhausted to fight. Antonio must have seen something in my face because, suddenly, his expression instantly turned from amused to worried.

“What’s wrong, Lovi?” he asked, cupping my face and slowly moving it towards his. It’s now or never, I thought, although I preferred it to be never. When his thumb caressed the skin under my eye, I wanted to scream.

“Are you crying?”

“N-no!” I exclaimed, taking a bit step backwards and wiping my eyes with the back of my hand. “Damn it!” I swore when I realized that I was indeed crying like a fucking baby.

“What’s wrong, Lovi?” he asked, now even more worried than before, and I bit my lips again, almost drawing blood.

“I know about the pact,” I blurted out before it was too late. “Gilbert came ringing my doorbell first thing in the morning today to tell me all about it. He told me about the pact, about the fact you have sworn to be singles forever and ever and to never fall in love”.

Antonio’s face paled, and I felt suddenly powerful again.

“In fact, he made me realize that you think I am a whore or something,” I continued, feeling angrier by the minute, “that all you want to do with me is, apparently, shove it up my-!”

“What did he say?” he interrupted me, upset.

“Don’t act all innocent,” I said. “I knew you didn’t really want to be f-friends with me. All that shit about wanting to help me out, kissing me only when you made sure you had my trust!” I exclaimed. “God, Antonio! Was it really necessary? You even lent me money!” I screeched. “Was it some kind of sick joke to you? Or was it to- to make me feel indebted to you or something shitty like that?”

“I-!” he opened his mouth, caught completely off guard, and I ran a hand through my hair. I wanted to hurt myself in order not to hurt him, and how pathetic is that? When all he deserved was a nice punch on the nose!

Antonio raised his hands and dropped them by his side again, and I took a deep breath in and out. I had to cut all ties with him before I fell back in his arms again. Why was it so difficult to let that bastard go? No matter how angry I was at him, I still wanted him.

“I swear I am going to give your money back to you one day, but honestly? Until then I don’t want to see your face again,” I said, harsh.

“No, Lovi, let me explain-!” Antonio started but I cut him off immediately.

“Did you or did you not swear to never fall in love?” I asked, voice shaking against my will. “I need only a word from you,” I threatened him.

“Yes,” he said, finally giving up.

“Is that all it takes to get you out of my life?” I asked. “A single fuck? Is that how you always ended all your supposed relationships?”

Antonio remained silent.

“Just answer me!” I shouted, feeling my eyes sting. I tried to remain strong, but I wasn’t sure what Antonio was seeing in front of him in that moment, whether the man I wanted to show him I was or something else entirely.

“Yes,” he admitted in the end. Despite everything, Antonio was stunning. May it be for just a couple of hours, I decided I should use him too, as he did to me. I was tired of fighting with myself, of waiting, of trying to hate him.

“Okay,” I said, wondering when did I fall so low. “Then let’s go. Let’s fuck, like you always wanted. No big deal, right?” I asked, feeling dirty. “And then that’s it. Do not call me, do not come by the restaurant, do nothing until I finally raise the money I need to pay you back. Or should we do it like this? Fuck me twice and use that money to pay me like the whore I am,” I said, angry.

“Lovino, I never thought you were-!”

I shook my head.

“Let’s just go. You won, Antonio,” I said and started walking back towards my apartment, where I knew my brother was not going to be until very late in the evening. “Let’s just get this over with,” I muttered and when I saw he wasn’t following me, I said: “So?”

My heart stopped beating when Antonio finally decided to walk. Under any other circumstances, I would have put up a fight, but in that moment I just wanted to have him close to me one last time, even if he didn’t love me back.

I don’t really regret my decision, because it actually felt amazing, regardless of the state of mind I was in. I asked him if he wanted this, he said yes, and he immediately asked me the same. I said yes, and I did mean it. Only, I wished it didn’t happen like this. We were supposed to work together, and yet…

Going over this I realize I sound completely stupid. Well, I am wise enough to admit I was. I will fucking declare that I loved him if that makes you feel better. Strangely enough, I truly did love him. You can’t even understand how it felt when he leant down and kissed me, hungrily, as if he wanted to tell me something but was too angry to let it out in the open. He probably thought of Gilbert, who had disclosed his secret in the worst way possible. I have no fucking clue. I tangled my fingers in his hair, pulled it, felt his chest pressing against mine. How can someone love a bastard? Only a scum like me would actually enjoy this. Feliciano would be above all this. He would have never let someone use him like this.

Fuck, I am worse than him, after all. In the heat of the moment I confessed how much I wanted him right into his ear, but he seemed too lost to register my words. I am glad I could push him to the edge like that. It gave me back the power I kept losing when he stood beside me.

Antonio left a couple of hours later. We dressed slowly, helping each other out to find our clothes in the mess. His lips twitched upwards for a second, and I actually smiled back before I realized what I was doing. I looked away. He kept putting his shoes on.

When we were done, he walked to the door and hesitated.

My heart started beating fast with hope.

He faced me, opened his mouth…

Against all expectations, I wished he would say he did love me in the end. I waited. He kept staring at me in a way that made me wish I could turn back time and do it all over again. Shit, was I pathetic.

Antonio closed his mouth again.

I gulped and looked down.

“I-!” he started but bit his lips. I lost hope.

“See you never, you Spanish bastard,” I said.

He nodded.

I looked away, and when I finally heard the door softly close behind him, I knew it was over.

Chapter Text

Chapter 13

“Are you sure about this?” I asked Lovino, softly holding his face in my hands. His skin was warm and tender to the touch, and his mouth parted slightly when I ran a thumb on his lower lip. He didn’t answer.

When I first laid my eyes on this guy, I never thought things would end this way. Just looking at those lips made my heart beat faster in my chest, I could taste him without even kissing him, and it took all of my self-will not to press him against me and never let him go. But Lovino had to agree first, and for the slightest moment I truly wished he would not. Let’s start afresh, I thought.

I had no idea what Gilbert told him, but now that the truth was out, now that Lovino knew that I had sworn never to fall in love, I wanted to go back in time and stop Gilbert before he ruined our lives. Because this is how I felt: that my life had been wrecked for nothing. At the same time, thought, I wondered why I thought so. In the beginning that was what I had wanted, for Lovino to willingly sleep with me.

Lovino was adamant that we shall never see each other again after this. He truly thought I helped him out with the restaurant to get into his pants, and for all reasons and purposes I couldn’t bring myself to tell him the truth. I had sworn never to fall in love, to be single forever, to never let someone in, someone that could hurt me. Well, look at me now.

“Are you sure about this?” I asked again.

“Yes,” he said, as if he had just stepped out of a beautiful dream, leant closer and kissed me.

When I left a couple of hours later, I tried my best to postpone my departure. I didn’t want to leave him just yet. I felt trapped in a conflicting emotional state: on one hand this wasn’t supposed to end like this, on the other hand, I couldn’t fall in love, so it was better if I left. You don’t know how much I hated Gilbert in that moment for putting us in this kind of shitty situation, but worse of all, I hated myself because it took me so long to realize what I had done.

“I-!” I opened my mouth to speak. I wanted to tell him how much I loved him. I loved him and his insults and his moodiness and his self-destructive nature and his talents and his clumsiness and his smile and his laughter and his eyes and his witty humor and his kisses and his scent and his voice and everything.

“See you never, you Spanish bastard,” he said.

I left, because I swore to never fall in love. If I left, maybe I would stop thinking about him and stop loving him.

I had not broken the pact.

***

The next day, Francis warmly welcomed me in his apartment without asking me why I had rang his doorbell on a Saturday morning without calling him first. To be honest I had not slept at all that night and it showed. The moment he saw me, Francis commented on the dark bags under my eyes, but I wasn’t in the mood to indulge him.

“I hate myself,” I whined as soon as I stepped into his living room. I flopped down on his couch while Francis stared at me as if I had finally lost my mind. “Be a good friend, Francis, and tell me I’m stupid”.

“What’s wrong with you?” Francis asked, after he closed the door, and bended over me to inspect my face better. “Is this a joke? Are you drunk? Because if you are drunk and I tell you how stupid you are, you are going to punch me in the face, and I like my nose, thank you very much”.

“Francis, I am stupid,” I said.

“I am not going to disagree,” Francis replied, “but I don’t understand how you reached that kind of conclusion”.

“I slept with Lovino,” I blurted out. Francis’ eyebrows rose incredibly high, and in a matter of seconds, he sat down right next to me and manhandled us both so that I had to put my head on his lap.

“You slept with Lovino,” he stated. “Lovino. The guy who apparently hates your guts but actually wants you to help him out whenever he’s in trouble. That Lovino?”

“Yeah…” I mumbled.

“Was it consensual?” he asked. I looked up at him.

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“You didn’t like, rape him, right?” he asked, unsure.

“No!” I exclaimed.

“Good,” he said, letting out a sigh of relief. “Why are you stupid again?”

“Fuck, Francis,” I groaned, “I slept with him! I told you I didn’t want that, right? But I lied! I want him, and I want him bad. I’m stupid because I don’t want it to be a one-night stand. I-!” I immediately bit my tongue. Francis’s fingers softly started stroking my hair, calming me down before I shot up and tore Francis’ apartment apart.

“He knew about our pact,” I finally confessed, closing my eyes. “Gilbert apparently spilled the beans to him”. Francis’ fingers abruptly stopped what they were doing.

“He did what?”

I told him everything that I knew and by the end of it, Francis’ face was a nice shade of white. I couldn’t really understand why he reacted in that way and I was even more confused when he took a deep breath in and out, as if he was desperately trying to find a solution to some problem he only knew about.

“Promise me,” Francis said, “you are not going to overreact in the next half hour”.

“Why?” I asked, immediately suspicious. I moved into a sitting position, and Francis let his arms drop on his lap. As if on cue, someone rang Francis’ doorbell and he shot up to get to the door.

“That’s why…” he muttered and shot me a worried look. “Listen, Gilbert is here. Please, don’t hurt him”.

I was immediately on my feet again. Hearing Gilbert’s name made my blood boil; it reminded me of the hurt look on Lovino’s face the day before. I could almost hear Lovino’s voice cracking when he told me he had been informed of the pact from no other than Gilbert.

“Why is he here?” I asked, taken aback by the harsh tone of my own voice. Francis took another big breath in.

“Ludwig told me he was acting weirdly these past couple of days, and I offered to let him stay with me for a while to get him to talk. Gilbert was supposed to come yesterday, but he was sick and we postponed it for today”.

“You mean he was hungover,” I said, deadpan. Francis shrugged. Someone knocked on the door.

“Don’t do anything stupid,” Francis warned me.

“Just open the fucking door,” I snapped. Francis rolled his eyes to the ceiling and finally turned the knob. Gilbert stood all smiles on the other side and when he noticed my presence he had the nerve to outright grin.

“Hey, buddy!” he greeted, as if nothing was the matter!

In hindsight, I shouldn’t have pounced him, but if I have to be completely honest, I wasn’t really aware of what I was doing in that moment. I just remember feeling Gilbert’s nose break under my punch. The satisfaction I’ve derived from hearing him whimper in pain was indescribable, and I was going to do it again if it wasn’t for Francis shouting:

“For fuck’s sake! My carpet”.

My head snapped towards him. Francis slammed the door close and put himself between Gilbert and me.

“I told you not to do anything stupid!” Francis reprimanded me and then pointed at the blood stains on the floor. “Do you know how difficult it is to clean that up?”

“What the fuck, Antonio?” Gilbert exclaimed, obviously pissed off. I shoved Francis out of the way and grabbed Gilbert by the front of his collar. At the same time, Francis seized me by the arm to dissuade me from punching Gilbert again, but I just elbowed him away.

“Why did you do that, Gilbert?” I shouted yanking him and slamming him against the wall. Francis whimpered something behind us, and Gilbert wiped the blood from his nose with the back of his hand before he struggled free from my grasp.

“Is he drunk, Francis?” Gilbert asked, strangely calm.

“I am not drunk, you fucking piece of shit,” I snapped. “Why did you go and tell Lovino about our pact?” I shouted right in his face. Gilbert’s red eyes flickered between me and Francis, and his mouth formed a small little ‘o’ of understanding. “Don’t you dare oh me!”

“Fuck, Antonio, what’s up with you?” Gilbert shouted immediately on the defensive and walked past me farther into the room.

“Apparently Lovino agreed to know Antonio in the biblical sense after you told him about the pact,” Francis said behind us. At those words, Gilbert’s anger dissipated in an instant and his smile slowly grew on his face right in front of my nose. He patted me amicably on the back, but I just shoved his hand away.

“Aren’t you happy?” Gilbert asked, annoyed. “You got what you wanted, didn’t you? Punching me in the face was completely unnecessary”.

“Fuck you, Gilbert,” I swore. “Seriously, fuck you”.

“Why?” Gilbert narrowed his eyes at me.

“Lovino doesn’t want to see him ever again,” Francis explained.

“And that’s a problem how?” Gilbert asked turning to look at Francis, but the latter just shrugged. I flared my nostrils and tried to calm down by fixing my gaze on Francis’ couch. I couldn’t. My muscles were just too tense, and I clenched and unclenched my jaw as anger rolled through me.

“Well?” Gilbert prodded, and I turned to look at him, eyebrow raised.

“Don’t make him punch you again,” Francis moaned.

“Because I love him, fucker!” I shouted. Gilbert literally took a step backwards at my outburst, and Francis too stopped mumbling swearwords at the blood stained carpet to stare at me mouth agape. “I love him,” I repeated.

“What?” Gilbert asked, blinking at me in surprise and disbelief. “You what?” he asked again, and I could see the rage pulsing through his veins.

“You’re shitting me,” Francis whispered.

“Are you seriously telling me you broke our pact for that little slut?” Gilbert exclaimed. His question roused my anger again, and I was ready to punch him in the jaw when Francis suddenly shouted:

“P. didn’t cheat on you!”

Both Gilbert and I snapped our attention to him. Francis let his eyes wander around the room, as if he didn’t know where he should fix his gaze on first, and then ran a hand through his blond hair in frustration.

“I made that up,” Francis confessed and then heaved out a sigh of relief. “Glad we talked it out,” he added, clapping his hands comically.

“Are you stoned?” Gilbert asked, furrowing his eyebrows, but when Francis didn’t answer, Gilbert shook his head no and shot his hands up in the air in resignation. “You know what? I’m leaving. I’m done with you two”.

“You made that up?” I asked grabbing Gilbert’s arm before he could sneak away. Gilbert’s eyes went from him to me and back to Francis again, and he grunted in defeat.

“What does that have to do with anything?” Gilbert exclaimed.

“This needs to end, Gilbert,” Francis said. “We can’t hide behind this stupid pact any longer. It was built on a lie, and we are just lying to ourselves if we think we can never fall in love”.

“Who’s hiding behind this pact?” Gilbert asked, annoyed, and freed himself from my grip. He took a menacing step forwards to Francis, but then raised his hands up in the air again and turned to the door: “You are both out of your fucking minds!”

“Admit it, Gilbert,” Francis said pointing an accusing finger at him, and Gilbert snapped immediately to attention, his eyes burning with fire.

“Why are you accusing me of all people?” Gilbert asked. “He was the one breaking the pact!” he cried out pointing at me. “He is the one that suggested it first and then went and said he fell in love! Seriously, guy, it’s not cool,” he said, turning to me. “You can’t make the rules as you go with this shit! Do you know what I had to go through to remain true to my word?”

“So you wanted to make Lovino miserable just because you were jealous of us?” I asked, taken aback, and Gilbert burst out laughing.

“I wanted to save your ass, you ungrateful fuck!” Gilbert exclaimed. “Lovino doesn’t deserve to be treated like a fucking boy-toy and then discarded like a used condom because you cannot love him back!”

“I’m confused here,” I muttered massaging my temples. Gilbert became ten shades of red and turned his face away from me, scrunching his nose as if he had eaten something sour. “Are you in love with Lovino or something?”

“No!” Gilbert yelled.

“He’s not talking about Lovino,” Francis said making us both turn to look at him again. A tender look crossed his face as he stared at us, and he caressed his beard, deep in thought. “Seriously, Gilbert. You already made this mistake once, with Elizabeta. Don’t do it again”.

“I’m not doing anything,” Gilbert muttered, eyes casted down.

“Yes, you are,” Francis said, sounding bitter. “We all are. We have always taken things for granted and look where that got us. It was naïve from us to believe we would never fall in love,” he whispered.

“Francis,” I called his name.

“I’m sorry, Tony. I lied when I said P. was cheating on you. I was just jealous of you two, because I-! Well… you two had something I thought I would never have,” he confessed, “and it would be childish of me to stop you from being happy again. Do you really love Lovino?” he asked, smiling softly at me.

“You don’t know how much,” I whispered.

“So go get him,” Francis said.

“He hates me, Francis”.

“If he did, he would have never slept with you in the first place,” Francis retorted. Gilbert sighed next to me, and I looked at him as he tried to clean his bloody nose on his shirt.

“This is so fucked up,” Gilbert muttered, voice muffled, and yelped in surprise when Francis moved towards him in two strides and pulled him into a crushing hug.

Realization hit me like a bucket of icy water. This had never been about P. or her cheating on me. This was not because Elizabeta rejected Gilbert, or Arthur hating Francis. It was all about us pushing people away because when you are in love you are powerless, vulnerable to the bone and pathetic to say the least. We were used to have the upper hand; we were used to have people around who would never dare to make us kneel.

But in the end, what doesn’t kill you make you indeed stronger. I was finally able to see who was really worth to keep close and who was not, who really respected me and who did not. Falling in love with the right person makes you stronger, not weaker.

And maybe love hurts indeed, but the pain resulting from walking away from someone who is willing to reciprocate those feelings and not wanting to see where that might lead you is much worse. These are things that might hunt you for a lifetime.

With that thought in mind I walked out the door.

Chapter Text

Francis 4

When Gilbert finally calmed down, I pushed him softly away and patted his shoulder reassuringly. The dried blood under his nostrils was horrible to see, and yet, despite everything that had happened, I felt a wave of love roll over me for this stubborn guy I called my friend since we were kids. Antonio had already left; I heard the door softly close behind him while Gilbert shoved his face in the crook of my neck.

My shirt was ruined, but I couldn’t hold it against him, not when Gilbert looked so vulnerable. Years ago, when Elizabeta and he still teased each other like two birds in a mating dance, Gilbert had that very same expression on his face whenever their eyes met. Who was I to mock him for having fallen in love once more? I had long given up on that pact. I’ve never managed to truly take it seriously, but Gilbert had, because that’s what Gilbert does. He keeps his promises.

Without opening my mouth, I motioned to the door with my chin, and Gilbert nodded, his eyelashes casting a shadow over his pale cheekbones. It’s a wonder no one had tried to pry Gilbert’s heart open before. Gilbert was a strange looking man, he was gorgeous in a very particular way, but no one needed to look twice to really see how big his heart was under all those layers of superiority and narcissism. I was so happy that someone had finally taken the time to read between the lines.

I wanted to tell him so, but Gilbert had already understood by himself. He nodded once more and made a bee line to the door. We didn’t even say goodbye; he just left.

And I? I remained looming over the blood stains on my precious carpet.

I might have long given up on the pact, that much is true, but I had recently given up on love too. It wasn’t like I didn’t believe in the concept anymore, but I suddenly realized that, for me at least, it just wasn’t meant to be. Love is a wonderful feeling and it’s much more than just lusting after another human being. Ten years ago I said that love meant responsibility and that we had to work hard to make a relationship work. Ten years ago, the moment the fun part was over, I ran the other way. That day, as I stared at my poor carpet, I realized I had not changed a bit. I still wanted to run away.

But, where to? I didn’t even know whom I was running away from. Gilbert and Antonio, on the other hand, had a chance. I didn’t. How ironic was it that the one, who bragged about being a master in love, could have everyone he wanted but not the one he needed?

In that moment I started wondering what Alfred and Arthur were doing. Had they talked about me? Were they together? I didn’t want to make the same mistake again. I didn’t want to focus on one thing and miss the bigger picture in the same way I did when I was a teenager. Back then I had focused on Antonio instead of listening to my heart that told me: look, Arthur is here; without him your life is empty, and guess what? He loves you back. But that was long ago. Now I could see Arthur, but he was gone.

Or was he?

If there’s something Antonio taught me it was that we had nothing to lose. If we fall, we can stand back up. Maybe I lost Arthur as a lover, but it wasn’t too late to try and be his frenemy again. No, scratch that. I wanted to be his friend now. Whatever happened in the past didn’t matter anymore. I messed it up once and kept wondering for years. If I messed it up again, at least this time I would know we weren’t actually meant to be.

I didn’t even change my ruined shirt when I stepped out of my apartment. I just took the essentials with me –a wallet, my phone, the keys- and hastily climbed the stairs down. I took my car. Each mile I drove by was a mile less to Arthur’s apartment, to our reckoning. Was my heart beating as fast as the odometer? It was. My head spun, I wanted to run away in the other direction, my hands were shaking on the stirring wheel, but I persisted. (Later I would realize that it’s that resilience, that insistence at the right moment, when we think: “here goes nothing!” that makes the difference in a relationship.)

I parked in front of my favorite flower shop –which, coincidentally, wasn’t far away from Arthur’s apartment- to buy a bouquet of roses.

At this point I will let you in on a secret. This was the shop I bought one-night-stand after the other the roses I would give to all my lovers by the end of the night. The clerk is a sweet girl from Brussels, with blond hair and bright green eyes, who almost smashed a vase of gardenias on my head when I tried to hit on her the first time we met. (Okay, I might have cupped a feel).She is awfully funny and doesn’t hold a grudge, so we managed to remain good friends even after that failed attempt at flirting.

The telltale ring of the bell above the door alerted her of my presence. She was tending to some forget-me-nots, and she raised her head to look up to wave at me, scissors still in hand.

“Francis!” she greeted me. “The usual, I suppose?” she laughed and put the scissors down, making her way to the roses waiting to be purchased at the further end of the shop.

“Not quite,” I said. Something in my voice must have intrigued her, because she turned to look at me with both her eyebrows raised in amusement. Her lips stretched into a mischievous grin and she said:

“O-ho! Did we finally find the right one?”

“Maybe yes, maybe no, dear,” I said, “depends on whether you are jealous or not”.

“Not in the least,” she said, laughing. “So, are you going for roses, or do you want to try a different set of flowers?”

“No, just roses. Red. Fifteen in number,” I listed, and she bowed in understanding. She prepared my bouquet and handed it to me five minutes later, giving me an encouraging look when I paid her.

“Good luck,” she said and flashed me the thumbs up.

I continued walking to Arthur’s apartment, feeling a sense of déjà-vu. I remember the day we talked for the first time after so many years of self-imposed radio silence after we had accidentally met in the Nightwave. He had been pissed off at me that day too, but only now did I realize why. I wanted to make it up to him, but, most of all, I wanted to make it up to myself too, for being blind and almost depriving myself of the only one that could make my life worth living.

Just when I was going to ring his doorbell, the front door of the building opened wide and I came face to face with Alfred Jones. Walking right behind him –surprise, surprise!- was no other than Arthur himself. He was palpating his wallet and didn’t see me until Alfred exclaimed:

“Fra! Long time, no see, buddy!”

“Shoot!” Arthur swore, and Alfred burst out laughing.

“Lookie here, Arthur, pal! He’s got roses! I guess it’s time I leave you alone and let you two lovebirds sort it all out. It was freaking time, actually. I can’t stand his brooding anymore,” Alfred said, talking as fast as a cannonball, and patted Arthur on the back. I winced for him. “Hey, Fra. We’ll see each other at the Nightwave, right? Feliks is wondering why you three haven’t visited us yet”.

“I doubt Feliks wants to see me,” I said, but he just laughed.

“Oh, please! He loves you all equally! Now, Arthur, let’s take lunch together another time. Look! He got roses. You can’t turn down a guy with roses,” he said and laughed, walking around me. “See you at the Nightwave, right buddy?” Alfred shouted as he walked away.

“That fucking piece of shit,” Arthur mumbled staring at the Alfred’s retreating form. “The bloody traitor, that-! You really got roses,” he said, impressed, finally dignifying me with a look.

“Yep,” I said, popping the last letter, and smiled widely at him. He narrowed his eyes at the bouquet in my hands and then tilted his head to the side in suspicion.

“Before you say something stupid, yes, Arthur, this is for you,” I said and gently handed him his gift. He jerked abruptly backwards, surprised by the gesture, but calmed down immediately and accepted the roses I gave him. His eyes wandered over the delicate petals and he knitted his eyebrows in confusion.

“Fifteen roses,” he deadpanned, facing me once more.

“Fifteen roses,” I repeated. There was a flicker of understanding in his eyes that immediately turned into a look of pure exasperation. Absentmindedly, Arthur bit his lip and casted his eyes down.

“What’s the meaning of this?” he asked, his voice betraying his real emotions. I gently took him by the arm and pulled him away from the front door. We started walking together in the opposite direction from the one Alfred had taken. I couldn’t stop gazing at him. The way Arthur looked, just like a deer caught in the headlights, reminded me so much of the boy I had met so long ago playing alone with a little bunny that I literally melted. At the same time, however, I could see the punk he once was hiding behind that veil of seriousness Arthur liked to flaunt so much.

“I’ve been thinking,” I said and his slight nod gave me courage to continue: “The relationship we had in high school, the banters we had when we were young, whatever we are dealing with right now it's dysfunctional and crazy. No human being would have lasted as much as we did, and it’s… it’s simply great. I'll never experience what I feel with you with anybody else in this world. You are unique. It doesn’t matter if we fight and it doesn’t matter if we stay hours on end completely in silence, each one minding their own business… it’s still feels great. People might say we are not friends, sometimes you and I believe that too, but right now I know we can’t be enemies either. No enemy can feel so comfortable in his rival’s presence. And I don’t want to lose that…” I hesitated. “Do you get what I mean?”

Arthur halted. He shot me a meaningful look, but shrugged it off immediately after.

“Probably,” he said, vague. “But maybe that’s why we shouldn’t hang out anymore. It’s not healthy”.

“Let’s make it healthy,” I suggested. “Let’s start again, Arthur. These past years without you have been a nightmare. Seriously, bunny, it pains me to admit it but you were right. I was stupid for taking you for granted. I didn't realize what I was going to lose when we were sixteen, but I'm not going to do the same mistake now that we are twenty-six. I’ll be your friend. If you love Alfred, that's fine, and no, before you say something sarcastic,” I stopped him when I noticed his mouth open to retort, “I don’t want to sound condescending. I’m just accepting the fact you don’t love me back like the grown up I am. Whatever makes you happy, bunny, as long as you still let me be a part of your life”.

Arthur remained completely still, and I felt disappointed, frustrated even, by his silence. But I said what I had to say, and that made me feel extremely better with myself. Finally, Arthur spoke:

“Why the roses?”

I snorted.

“It’s the only thing we have in common, Arthur,” I replied. “It’s our favorite flower, after all”.

Arthur furrowed his eyebrows, completely caught off guard.

“No, it’s not,” he said. “It’s not your favorite flower, git. Stop telling people that. You like red roses for what they represent, but you actually prefer lilies”.

I stood there, opening and closing my mouth like a fish out of water, while Arthur stared right back, looking at me as if I had grown a second head. The words were out of my mouth before I could stop them:

“God, I love you”.

This time it was Arthur who snorted, but I couldn’t refrain from feeling a little proud of myself when his cheeks turned a bright red color.

“You really wouldn’t mind if Alfred and I were together?” he asked, almost hiding his face behind the bouquet. “If you love me, as you claim you do, you must feel jealous”.

“I am, but that doesn’t stop me from wanting to be your friend”.

The minutes ticked by. Arthur looked up at me again.

“Did you know that Alfred told me to lay off the alcohol? He can’t forbid me a glass or two, the fucker. When we go to the club, be sure to remind him of that, because he sure as hell doesn’t listen to me”.

“Will do,” I reassured him, feeling the grin grow wider on my lips. He smirked.

“And, please, don’t start that crap that goes along the lines: don’t hurt my friend, or I’ll castrate you, with him, because it’s going to be embarrassing for both of you. And for me, of course,” he continued.

“I pinky swear I won’t,” I told him.

“No, seriously, Francis,” he said, “don’t do it. Alfred and I are not dating; it will really put us in a very awkward position”.

My heart skipped a beat.

“A reason more not to do it,” I croaked out, wondering why I felt dizzy all of a sudden. Arthur smirked, looking completely satisfied with himself.

“He’s really like a brother to me, but I’m not going to explain the birds and the bees to that airhead. I’ll leave you to it”.

“It would be my pleasure,” I blurted out. Pride puffed out Arthur’s chest.

Silence suddenly fell upon us, but it didn’t feel as awkward as I thought it would be. Arthur kept the roses close to his chest and looked around him as if he had finally realized where exactly we were standing. People walked around us, completely unaware of the whole history that bound Arthur and I together, and I liked that we had something that no one else but us could comprehend. We were going to leave all the misunderstandings behind us and start anew. We could try to be friends first, and then… then who knows.

One day I will manage to tell him that I fell in love with him when we were ten, but I was too young to understand what I stumbled into. I will tell him I fell in love with him a second time when we were sixteen, but I was so blind I thought Antonio was a far better choice. I will tell him that I fell in love with him a third time when I saw him again in the Nightwave by accident. It would take us a bit to go back to what we were supposed to be, but we were going to make it, I was sure of it. I was his first kiss, and he was going to be my last. I knew, and even if he didn’t say anything that day, Arthur knew too.

Later, when we were having lunch together, Arthur started bombarding me with questions. It all started when I told him that it was Antonio that gave me the boost I needed to make things right again between us.

“So the pact?” he asked.

“Over and done with,” I said.

“It was so stupid,” he said.

“It sure was,” I agreed.

“And Antonio?”

“We’ll see. He slept with Lovino in the end, and that did it for him,” I explained.

“Lovino slept with Antonio?” Arthur asked, eyes wide. “Damn,” he muttered, leaning against his chair.

“That means I won the bet,” I said, wiggling my eyebrows. He scoffed.

“Fine, I’ll treat you to lunch, how about that?”

“We’re having lunch already,” I said, “and it’s a fucking McDonalds. So, no. I want something more”.

“Don’t make me regret this,” he said through gritted teeth. I flashed a smile.

“A kiss,” I said.

“Nope,” he immediately retorted.

“Come on!” I whined.

“No!” he exclaimed. “Not now, not in front of everybody”.

“So you’ll kiss me in private?” I asked.

“That’s not what I meant!”

I burst out laughing, and he stared at me for a couple of minutes as if I had gone completely mad before he started laughing too.

Well, he was going to kiss me in the end, but in that moment being so at ease with each other was enough for both of us. It was a new beginning, and I couldn’t wait to see what a future together would bring us.

Single my ass, I thought. I’ve been married since I was ten.

Chapter Text

Gilbert 4

When I stepped out of Francis’ apartment I had only one thought in mind, and it was Elizabeta.

I don’t know how to explain it, but I felt like someone out there had taken pity on me and was now giving me a chance to patch things up. I had screwed up big time once already and I couldn’t afford to mess it up again. Notwithstanding, I felt like shit. No one could guarantee me that I hadn’t already blown it by ignoring Matthew’s calls. If Elizabeta had been in his place, for example, she wouldn’t have welcomed me back with open arms, not in a thousand years. She wasn’t the kind of person who confessed her love lightly, and my extended silence would have been immediately interpreted as mockery. If Matthew were as sane as she was, he had all the rights to kick me in the nuts. Seriously.

What was even worse, though, was that I was still too proud to feel bad for having the reaction I did. In my mind I wasn’t wrong. In my heart I was. In Matthew’s eyes I was probably the worst of criminals.

I’ve been living with this pact for almost ten years. That gave me enough time to establish some ground rules for the rest of my life, and I thrived on rules. They were my roadmap for the future. They made me feel comfortable; they were my back-up plan in case things took a turn for the worse. Not falling in love had been rule number one for the best part of my life, and now I was going to throw it in the trash without being too sure where that would lead me. I seriously needed Elizabeta right then. Francis and Antonio wouldn’t help me, she would. She could. She was my best friend, and I missed her terribly.

I thought of Elizabeta and wondered what she was doing in that moment. I imagined her living with Roderich in a small house in the outskirts of town, although Roderich was the kind of man who would probably afford a villa in Beverly Hills. I wanted to be able to visit her and talk to her as we used to do when we were kids. God, why it took me so long to realize what I had lost?

I could almost picture her looking disapprovingly at me and say: “Gilbert, you are an idiot. Just call him already”. I would mumble something and she would roll her eyes: “For the love of God! You ain’t a baby! It’s just a phone-call!” Easy for you to say, Elizabeta.

Beating myself up wasn’t going to take me anywhere. If Elizabeta were there, she would call me a coward and even started clucking like a chicken to prove her point. The mental picture was all I needed to take my phone out and dial Matthew’s number. I lifted the phone to my ear and picked up the pace, almost bumping into people at every corner.

“Come on, come on!” I muttered trying to get my bearings. “Answer me!” The phone kept ringing. The number you have dialed cannot be reached at the moment. Fuck. Try again. The phone started ringing once more. The number you have dialed cannot be reached at the moment. “Answer me, answer me,” I pleaded. Matthew didn’t pick it up.

Passersby were looking at me as if I were a fugitive from the laughing house. Blame it on my bloody nose and my whole fucked up demeanor. The number you have dialed cannot be reached at the moment. When I heard the same recorded message for the fifth time, I almost threw the phone at a shoe shop window in frustration. Today I can proudly say that I looked like a very sexy madman, but back then, when I took a glimpse of my reflection in that window, I felt anything but satisfied with my appearance. When one feels like shit, he looks like shit.

I tried again. “Answer, answer, answer answer answer answer answer answer answer answer answer answer answer answer answer answer,” I chanted.

“What is it, Gilbert?”

I would love to say that I didn’t yelp in surprise, but unfortunately I did. Loudly. Matthew’s voice sounded tired on the other side of the line, and my pride finally fled the scene and handed the mike over to my guilty conscience.

“Where are you?” I asked, biting my lips when my voice came out harsh. Matthew sighed loudly in my ear. “Don’t hang up!” I immediately exclaimed.

“I wasn’t going to,” he muttered, but I was able to look past the mendacity .

“Tell me where you are, please,” I begged. “I’ll be there to you in an instant. I need to see you”.

“I actually don’t have time for you, Gilbert,” Matthew said, and my heart dropped.

“It’s important,” I tried to explain.

“Please, if you need some tool to stroke your ego with, call someone else,” he said. His words took me completely by surprise, but I immediately understood what he was hinting at. I hurt him.

“Are you home? I’m hailing a cab right now,” I said, moving to the side and raising my hand to stop the first taxi driving by. Matthew sighed again, but before he came up with some of his passive-aggressive phrases again, I continued: “I need to talk to you. I swear I’m going to throw myself over a bridge if you don’t give me the chance to talk to you!”

“Don’t even joke about that!” Matthew immediately reproached me. An exceptional situation needs exceptional measures I wanted to tell him, but I shut up. “Fine,” he agreed in the end. “I’m home,” he confessed and hung up. By that time the cab had already stopped in front of me, and I almost threw myself in the passenger’s seat through the open window to hop in faster. That would have been a very action-movie shenanigan from my part, but I must confess I didn’t dare to do it in the end. Well, you know, priorities, and the hospital wasn’t one of them.

Unexpectedly, Matthew was already waiting for me in front of his building when the car pulled over. Now, that was a bad sign: he clearly wanted to get out our upcoming conversation soon. Nevertheless, when I got out of the cab and approached him, a look of worry flashed across his face and he took a hesitant step forwards. I didn’t let him say or do anything. He was gorgeous. My heart clenched at the sight and the buzzing in my ears clouded my judgment. I suddenly wasn’t there; the world surrounding us slowly faded away leaving only Matthew behind. Elizabeta would have probably teased me for this, but it was that exact feeling that gave me the courage to step forwards, fall on my knees in front of him and drape my arms around his waist. I just didn’t want to let him go.

“G-Gilbert?” he stuttered, but I just hid my face in his shirt. I could picture his eyes flickering up and down the street, where passersby knitted their eyebrows in confusion and slowed down to look at the weird albino man kneeling on the pavement, holding onto another human being for dear life. “Gilbert! Stand up, please!” he whispered, a whine really, but I just snuggled closer.

“No,” I protested. Matthew didn’t try to shove me away, although years of playing hockey had made him very strong and he could easily pick me up, if he wanted to. Pressing my ear on his tummy I could even hear his heartbeat speed up, but it slowly went back to normal again when he moved his fingers into my hair.

“What’s wrong?” he asked softly and started stroking my head like a child. “People are staring, Gilbert. Could you please stand up and face me like a grown up?”

“Let me stay like this a little while more,” I mumbled against his shirt.

“Gilbert,” Matthew warned me, and I finally moved my head to look up at him. Matthew’s eyes went wide, and he stopped stroking my hair to cup my face. “What happened to you? Did you get into a fight?”

“I’m fine,” I said, leaning into his touch.

“Your nose looks like shit,” he said, honest. “Doesn’t it ache?”

“I’ve got worse,” I shrugged, and Matthew heaved a sigh of frustration. He finally let go of my face and reached down for my arms instead, pulling me up without much effort.

“Did you bump your head?” Matthew pried. “Should we go to the hospital?”

“Relax, I went through much worse. At this point, I’m going to live forever,” I joked, but Matthew didn’t look amused in the least. I fidgeted under his steady inquiring stare, so I pulled him into a crushing hug to make him stop trying to read my mind.

“People are staring,” he mumbled against me.

“Will you stop giving a damn about them?” I reprimanded him. “Let them stare!”

“I know you don’t care about people staring at you, but I do. It makes me uncomfortable,” Matthew said.

“Well, sometimes it makes me uncomfortable too, but right now I don’t fucking care, and you know why?”

“Because you are lying and you actually love the attention?”

“Yes. I mean, no, smartass, because I am trying to apologize for being a total jerk to you and I don’t know how to do it properly with words only. I freaked out, Matthew, and you deserve a good explanation why I acted the way I did. So! Listen to me carefully. My friends and I-!”

Matthew sighed loudly against my ear, interrupting my impromptu apology, and softly pulled away from my embrace. He looked me straight in the eyes, a small smile playing on his lips, and shook his head from side to side, unbelieving.

“I don’t care,” Matthew deadpanned.

“W-what?” I stuttered, eyes wide with shock.

“I don’t care,” Matthew repeated, sounding less patronizing and much more amused.

“But if you don’t let me explain myself how can you trust me? I mean, I might do it again, you know? I might freak out again and you won’t know why. If I don’t tell you the whole story, you might not believe me when I say there are a million reasons why I want to be with you. I fell in love with you, okay? And I should have said I love you too, when you did, but you see, the reason why I didn’t is-!”

“Gilbert, for goodness’ sake, I don’t care,” Matthew sighed again.

“Why the hell not?”

“Are you seriously that thick?” Matthew asked. “You come running to me with a bloody nose, kneel in the middle of the sidewalk and go all koala on me. Moreover, you are going to burst out crying at any moment-!”

“I’m not!”

“You’re too!” he exclaimed, a bubble of laughter escaping his lips. “Gilbert, it doesn’t take a genius to figure out you’re scared. You freaked out, I get it,” he continued, voice softening. “But you came back to me, which means you really want to make this work and I want this to work too, so…” he trailed off, his cheeks turning crimson red. I reached out for his hands and squeezed them in mine.

“I want to,” I admitted. “I want to,” I repeated, holding his gaze as his eyes wandered all over my face. “But please, don’t say I’m going to burst out crying. I’m not that weak”.

Matthew didn’t look all that impressed. On the contrary, he closed his eyes in exasperation.

“Seriously, Gilbert?”

“I internalize my emotions, really,” I continued, and Matthew burst into laughter. A wonderful sound that makes my legs go weak every time. “So, you really don’t want to know why I ignored all your calls?” I asked after a moment of silence.

“I would be a liar if I said I don’t want to,” he admitted, “but it’s not that important now, is it?”

“I’m an asshole,” I blurted out.

“Gilbert,” Matthew sighed, “people freak out all the time”.

“Yes, but,” I said, “you didn’t deserve this, and I’m- well, I’m really sorry I hurt you”.

He smiled.

“So,” I licked my lips, “are we dating now, or what?”

“What the hell were we doing all this time, eh?” Matthew asked.

“Just checking,” I said and absentmindedly went for a quick peck on his lips. Matthew chuckled in amusement and grabbed me by the front of my shirt to deepen our kiss. I moved my hand around his waist to pull him closer when I suddenly remembered something. “People are still staring, right?”

“Oh,” Matthew immediately shoved me away, but I didn’t loosen my grip on him.

“Let’s give them something to talk about,” I said with a smirk, and Matthew’s eyes went wide.

“Don’t you dare!” he exclaimed, but it was already too late. I quickly locked our lips together again, and when I heard him moan against me I knew I was doing it right.

When I returned back home later in the evening, I turned my whole room upside down in search of my old journals. Elizabeta’s number was hidden somewhere there, and I really hopped I hadn’t ripped out the page on which I had scribbled it down long ago.Thanks God, I hadn’t.

Elizabeta answered right after the second ring. Her voice sounded more mature than I remembered, but it was definitely hers. My heart started racing in my chest at the familiar sound, and I mentally slapped myself hard for waiting so long before calling her back.

“Hey, Lizzie,” I blurted out.

“Gilbert?” she hesitated. “Gilbert?” she asked again in surprise. “Oh, my God, it’s Gilbert!” she shouted, holding the receiver away from her ear to spread the news to whoever was standing next to her. “You son of a gun!” she swore loudly, talking to me again. “Sorry, darling,” she whispered lovingly, and I knew by her tone of voice that it definitely wasn’t directed at me. “Gilbert, you idiot! I’ve been trying to reach you for so long! Why do you always have to play hard to get! Seriously, you piss me off sometimes”.

“Well, I was busy,” I defended myself.

“Busy my ass,” she said. “Sorry, darling,” she apologized again to someone else. I first supposed she was talking to Roderich, but her next words proved me I was wrong: “Don’t take after mama, alright, love?”

“You’ve got a kid?” I asked, taken aback.

“A beautiful boy, and a baby girl on her way,” she replied, proud. “But you would know if you had called us at least once,” she added, bitter.

“I know, I’ve been a jerk,” I confessed.

“No ‘sorry, my bad’?” she chuckled.

“One thing at a time,” I retorted. “I’ve apologized to a lot of people today and I’m out of breath”.

“What did you do now?” she asked.

“Well, you see, my boyfriend-!”

“OMG, I knew it!” she shouted so loudly I had to pull my ear away from the receiver not to wince.

“What?” I asked, disbelieving.

“Nothing, nothing. Please, go on. I want to know everything!” she chirped.

We talked on the phone for hours, and even after we hung up there were still unsaid things clogging the air. We didn’t wait long to meet and get some things off our chests, however, because Elizabeta invited Matthew and me to dinner less than three days later. I promptly accepted. Did I expect Elizabeta to impatiently wait for us in front of her small house in the outskirts of town with her hands on her big belly? No. Did I expect her to pull me into a crushing hug despite her pregnancy? Nope. Did Matthew expect to undergo the same treatment? Definitely not. But that’s how Elizabeta is. She was the same bossy but kind girl she used to be all those years ago.She was older, sure, but as beautiful as I remembered her to be. It was easy to fall back into our old routine, and what made things even better was that Matthew liked her from the very start.

Seeing Roderich too was a surprise, because I thought I didn’t miss him as much as I did Elizabeta. The old piano-lover bastard had somehow managed to get into my heart, but not as much as his son did in just a couple of minutes. The kiddo looked exactly like his mother when she was a little girl, chestnut curls and all. It was love at first sight.

“Do you want to be the godfather of our baby girl?” Elizabeta asked me when we met a second time. I shifted my eyes to Roderich, who kept drinking his cup of coffee, unfazed.

“Are you sure?” I asked.

“Actually no,” Elizabeta and Roderich said in unison, and Matthew laughed in his seat next to mine. I watched their son playing with his new stuffed polar bear (Matthew’s gift, because he said he couldn’t go to them empty handed –again!), wondering what it would be like to be his sister’s mentor and role model. You know what? I loved it.

“I’m going to be an awesome godfather!” I exclaimed, flashing a grin. “I’m going to teach her everything I know and she is going to be just like me and-!”

“I knew that was a terrible idea,” Roderich commented.

“Hell no!” I retorted, feeling more enthusiastic by the minute. “This is an awesome idea! I’m going to be the awesome Uncle Gilbert. I like the sound of it. Count me in!”

It was as if I could finally start afresh. It especially helped talking with Elizabeta again when the two of us went out for coffee together. She sat across me with a pensive look on her face as I confessed to her about my feelings back then, about the pact, about the way The Bad Touch Trio conducted their life up to that point, about Lovino and Antonio and Matthew. She listened to me carefully, reached out over the table and intertwined our fingers together. I liked the relief her hand squeezing mine gave me.

“You are such an idiot, Gilbert,” she whispered when my story wound to a close. “You’re lucky Matthew is not”.

She smiled at me, and I couldn’t help but think that it’s wonderful to have my best friend back.

“Just one last question,” she said. “I know how you hate breaking your promises, so…”

“No, I don’t regret it,” I immediately reassured her. “It’s not like I broke the pact or anything, all things considered. Think about it,” I continued. She furrowed her eyebrows, and I shrugged, amused. “Technically, I’m still single… with him. We’re not married yet”.

“That’s…” she started, but then thought it over and laughed. “That was a joke, right? God! I forgot how your jokes suck!”

“Please, my jokes are the best!” I defended myself, but she just laughed harder.

Wait for it, I thought in that moment. Your baby girl is going to have my same sense of humor, wait for it.

Chapter Text

Chapter 14

There is a life before Lovino and there is a life after Lovino.

It’s difficult to explain this simple notion without sounding like a lovesick puppy, but that’s how things are. You can flirt and mess around and be an idiot as much as you want, but at some point in time there is always something –better yet someone– who makes a huge difference. For me it was spotting Lovino stirring his orange juice in a nightclub, swirling ice cubes around with a straw.

The pact had blinded me, but now I could finally see clearly. When I stepped out of Francis’ apartment I realized there was no going back; I was in too deep. Was I scared of being in love? I was, but I didn’t want to go back to a life before Lovino. Scared or not, Lovino was worth it.

But Lovino has never been an easy person. He might be scared easily, which is kind of funny, and he can run as fast as hell (both literally and metaphorically) when things take a turn for the worse, but he doesn’t back down when he feels there is something worth fighting for. Fact was, I wasn’t sure I fell into that category.

I had nothing to offer but myself, and to Lovino that probably wasn’t much.

I have no recollection of how I got to Lovino’s apartment, because I was too lost in my own mind to pay attention to where I was going. On my way there I had long conversations with an imaginary Lovino and I pictured him hurling accusations at me without mercy or remorse. To cut a long story short, I managed to set myself up to be easily discouraged. My imaginary Lovino was honestly very mean. An angel with a shotgun.

Said angel didn’t answer the door. It was Feliciano who stuck his head out after I rang their doorbell several times. I grinned at him; he slightly curved the corner of his lips upwards in a hesitant smile.

“Is-!” I began.

“Sorry, Antonio,” Feliciano interrupted me, his voice cheerful as ever but with a slight undertone of warning I never heard from him before. “I don’t think he wants to see you right now. Or, ever”.

My heart dropped into my feet.

“Just tell him I’m here,” I told him.

“Oh, he knows that already,” he said. “He saw you from the window”.

I wanted to tell him to stop playing devil’s advocate and just let me in, but I soon realized this was just a test I had to pass before I could speak with Lovino himself. Honestly speaking, though, I had no idea what I was supposed to do. Feliciano looked extremely uncomfortable and his eyes momentarily flickered to his right.

“Lovino?” I asked taking a step forwards, and Feliciano almost jumped back in fear. I knew Lovino was standing behind the door, but Feliciano tried his best to keep his brother away from my line of sight.

“I must go now,” Feliciano hastily announced and closed the door in my face. I sighed loudly and sat down on the doorstep, laying my back against the door in defeat. I heard shuffling sounds coming from inside the apartment followed by hushed whispers and the telltale rustle of someone sliding down to the floor on the other side of the door. My heart started beating fast against my chest as if I could actually feel Lovino’s back against mine. I knew it was him.

“Hey, Lovi,” I called, speaking as loud as I could so he could hear me. “Remember when we went out that day in the park and it rained?”

As expected, no one replied.

“That was the best day of my life,” I continued. Passersby shot my weird looks; they probably thought I was a hobo talking to himself, but I didn’t care in the least. I didn’t want to leave that door. Lovino was sitting right against it too, so unbelievably close and yet-!

I felt the phone buzz in my pocket and I picked it up thinking it was Francis who was calling me. My breath hitched in my throat when I saw that Lovino had sent me a text.

“I’m not going to leave,” I declared out-loud. The phone promptly buzzed again.

“I don’t want another round either,” I replied to him. Another text, and this time I had to laugh. “No, you’re worth more than that, Lovi”.

I heard someone pressing the latch on the door and I rolled back inside the apartment when Lovino abruptly pulled the door open. His upside-down face was contorted with anger and resentment, but my heart skipped a bit all the same, because I thought I would never see that beautiful face again. No matter how much he hated me, I was glad he was giving me a chance to talk.

“Just drop it,” Lovino spat. I remained laying on the floor, and he violently yanked me on my feet, heaving a sigh of exasperation. I let him manhandle me, and his touch burned my skin. I wanted to reach out for him, cup his face or tangle my fingers into his hair, but he didn’t let me. In fact, as if he could read my mind, Lovino shoved me abruptly away putting as much distance between us as possible.

“Let me explain,” I tried.

“What’s there to explain?” Lovino said, fuming. “Didn’t we agree to never see each other again after last night? Fuck you, Antonio, I’m not going to play Pretty Woman with you”.

“Lovi, I love you,” I blurted out, and Lovino froze. His hazel eyes wandered over my face, and I melted under his stare. “I love you,” I repeated, suddenly at a loss for words. The tension between us was palpable, but I didn’t let that daunt me. My hands yearned to pull him close to me. Just a step, and I would feel his warm breath blow rapidly against my face.

“You swore to never fall in love,” Lovino muttered.

“Yeah, well…” I stuttered. “That was like ten years ago, when I was a stupid teenager with a very big ego”.

“You still don’t look like a humble grown up to me,” Lovino argued.

“You made me into one,” I confessed. Lovino knitted his eyebrows in confusion. “Thank you,” I said smiling softly at him, and his lips turned into a thin line.

“Thank you for what?” he asked, annoyed. “For yesterday?”

“No,” I wanted to laugh it off, but it came out as a pathetic whimper. “For letting me fall in love with you. It feels great”.

“Great my ass,” he mumbled. “You know what? Shove it and go find someone else to bother. I’m done,” he concluded.

“Do you think it’s easy to be with someone else after loving you?” I asked. Lovino kept silent, his hand on the handle, ready to slam the door in my face.

“What’s so special about me, anyway?” Lovino spat suddenly, taking me completely aback.

“I have no idea,” I replied, honest. “But you are to me”.

Lovino blinked at me in confusion, then rolled his eyes to the ceiling and crossed his arms over his chest. He let out a long sigh and averted his gaze.

“Listen,” Lovino enunciated. “I’ve been through this shit before; I used to work in a nightclub after all. I know you are just sprouting crap. Do you know how many hit on me, telling me I’m fucking special? You are not the first and you are not going to be the last. You had me that time at ‘I want to be your friend’, I give you that, but that albino fucker was pretty clear about it. You were fucking lying,” he emphasized every word as if it were poison.

“I wasn’t,” I said. Lovino didn’t look convinced.

“Try harder”.

“I don’t know what to do,” I replied, raising my hands in defeat. Honestly, I panicked. “The only thing I can do is stand here, apologize to you until I grow old and wrinkled, fall on my knees, kiss your wonderful feet and tell you I love you again and again and again and again. I can take you dancing. I can help you out with the restaurant for free. I can tell you all about my first serious relationship and how shitty and abusing it actually was. I can offer you one thousand pizzas. I can tell you Gilbert is an idiot and he doesn’t know shit. I can tell you I punched him for hurting you. I can ask you to marry me. I can tell you you’re my moon my stars and everything, but I don’t know if that will be enough to make you see just how much you mean to me, Lovi. Seriously,” I took a deep breath. “I fell in love with you and that’s that. I didn’t kiss you or slept with you because you fulfill a fantasy of mine. You’re you, and I’m glad it’s you. Fuck that pact! It stopped meaning something the moment I met you”.

Lovino stared at me, his face devoid of any emotion, and I stared back. With the corner of my eye I noticed he was biting the inside of his cheek.

“You do speak a lot,” Lovino unexpectedly declared and almost shut the door in my face when someone screamed from inside the living room.

“What the heck. Are you kidding me?” Feliciano exclaimed. “Antonio, he fucking loves you, don’t let him fool you!”

I was too awestruck to clearly register Feliciano’s unusually foul language.

“Feliciano shut the fuck up!” Lovino snapped slightly tilting his head to the side to look at Feliciano without letting me out of his sight.

“If you want me to go, tell me and I will,” I said. Lovino snapped to attention.

“He doesn’t!” Feliciano shouted when Lovino opened his mouth to retort.

“Will you shut your fucking mouth!” Lovino cried.

“No, I will not, you big meanie!” Feliciano stated. I couldn’t’ see him from my place by the door but it wasn’t difficult to picture him grinning. “What’s the big idea, anyway? Can you really promise yourself never to fall in love? It’s not like swearing never to eat pasta again because it makes you fat, although, thinking back on it, I would never swear on-!”

“Shut up!” Lovino barked.

“You’re my pasta,” I blurted out.

“Oh, you shut up too!” Lovino shouted turning to look at me. I heard Feliciano burst out laughing, and I couldn’t refrain from smiling.

“That’s so romantic,” Feliciano commented.

“Are you two against me or something?” Lovino asked, pissed off.

“I’m trying to save you from your self-destructive behavior,” Feliciano said matter-of-fact-ly, and Lovino slammed his hands over his eyes and started massaging his eyelids.

“I hate living with my brother,” Lovino mumbled under his breath.

“Then move in with me,” I suggested. Lovino looked up from his hands, arching his eyebrows in question.

“Why did I ever-!” Lovino started but bit his lip before he could end his sentence. He shook his head, disbelieving, and slowly closed the door. I remained standing with my eyes glued on the doorbell for a while, when the door opened again. I turned my head and stared as Lovino put on his jacket and pocketed his house keys.

“FYI, I’m still pissed off at you,” Lovino said stepping outside and closing the door behind him. “You owe me a thousand pizzas and I wouldn’t mind it if you kiss my feet later. Right in front of everybody while I laugh at your sorry face”.

And in that moment, all my pride and my self-restraint vanished. I grabbed him by the front of his jacket and kissed him hard, happy that I could finally hold him in my arms again. Lovino didn’t protest; he yanked me by the hair and deepened the kiss, as if the last thing he wanted to do before dying from breathlessness was to fuse into one with me. When we pulled apart, he was blushing from embarrassment. I caressed his face and ran a thumb over his swollen, quivering lip.

“Damn you, you bastard,” he stuttered. I kissed his lower lip, then the tip of his nose, then his forehead, and Lovino suddenly fell silent.

“I love you, Lovi,” I confessed, moved my arms around his shoulders and held him close. Lovino let out a sigh of relief and hid his face in the crook of my neck. He mumbled something against my shirt; an ‘I love you too’ of sorts that made my heart flip in my chest.

When people ask how Lovino and I started dating, I skip to this part of the story. They don’t understand, but it’s difficult to if you don’t know the rest of it. Some even wonder how we even work, but they don’t see the bigger picture. A life without Lovino is an empty one, no matter how much he complains and swears like a sailor.

How could I be single after meeting him?


“Are you seriously still writing?” Lovino asked, rubbing his tired eyes. “It’s like, three o’clock in the morning!”

“I want to finish the last chapter,” Antonio said from his seat at the desk, typing furiously on his laptop. Lovino rolled his eyes to the ceiling and walked over to Antonio.

“We both have to wake up in…” Lovino checked the clock on the wall, “in like, four hours. Just come to bed and leave that bullcrap for the weekend”.

“It’s not bullcrap! It’s the story of how much I love you,” Antonio protested, finally tearing his eyes from the screen and turning in his office chair to look at Lovino. “Look!” he exclaimed grabbing some papers scattered all over his desk. “Once I type Gilbert and Francis’ parts of the story, it’s going to be perfect! But first I need to write about how your restaurant was a big success, and about the day we finally moved in together and Feliciano almost broke the TV because he was trying to be helpful and-!”

“I doubt people would be interested in that,” Lovino interrupted him.

“Why not?” Antonio asked, honestly disconcerted. “It was funny”.

“The title is ‘Singles’ not ‘The day Feliciano pushed Lovino over the edge’,” Lovino joked.

“You know, you still need to write your part,” Antonio said, ignoring Lovino’s jab.

“I did!” Lovino protested.

“Yeah, but…” Antonio reached out for a crumbled up piece of paper and opened it up to read it out-loud: “I want to crumble this piece of paper up. This is total crap,” he recited raising his eyes to Lovino. “And then you did crumble this up. This is not going to work”.

“Fine,” Lovino said, tearing the paper from Antonio’s grasp. “I’ll try to be less concise”.

“Should I write about how your father told everyone he was related to you when we christened our restaurant? What about the day we went out with Elizabeta and her son puked on my shoes after Gilbert played airplane with him?”

“Just write ‘the end’, kiss your manuscript goodbye and send it to your agent,” Lovino stated, massaging his temples. “It’s embarrassing as it is,” he added.

“How’s describing how I fell in love with you embarrassing?” Antonio asked.

“Seriously, Antonio?” Lovino asked. He turned on his heels and walked back into their shared bedroom. “Just come back to bed. I’m done with this story!”

“Just a moment,” Antonio said and turned back to his laptop.

“A ‘The end’ will suffice!” Lovino cried from his room.

And Antonio did as told, clicked save, switched off the laptop and joined Lovino to bed again.

The end