Antonio awoke with a start, covered by a worn Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles blanket in the backseat of his car, to the sound of someone banging on the window. Reluctantly he sat up, breath rising in clouds above him.

"Hey," he groaned, rubbing his eyes.

"You alright in there?" Lovino's voice was muffled through the glass, fogged up from both years of use without a proper wash and the early morning condensation. "Aren't you cold?"

"I'm a'ight." Antonio yawned, trying to cover the fact that he was shivering with his blanket. "You need a ride?"

"Sure, but I'll drive. You're too sleepy, it's dangerous."

"I'm fine, I'm fine," insisted Antonio, pulling his shirt back on and getting out of the backseat and into the driver's seat. "Where to, my lady?"

"Your place. And I'm not your lady." Lovino flicked Antonio in the side of his head.

"Duly noted." Antonio grinned, then paused. "My place? Not yours?"

"You heard it." Lovino leaned back in the seat, yawning and stretching. He turned his head to look at Antonio. "There a problem?"

"No," said Antonio slowly. "Just… why my place? You do have your own place, right? You're not still homeless?"

"Relax." Lovino patted Antonio's shoulder. "I'm not homeless. Your place is just nicer than mine, that's all."

"You sure? I worry about you."

"You worry about me? Worry about yourself, you'll freeze to death if you keep sleeping out here without a shirt! I know you don't like wearing shirts while you sleep, but if you insist on waiting for me in the cold at least wear something!"

"I can't believe you're lecturing me on not sleeping in the cold," grumbled Antonio, but he started up the ignition.

"What was that?" snapped Lovino, but Antonio stepped on the gas and the car jolted backwards with enough force to quiet him.

"Here." Antonio tossed a spare t-shirt at Lovino. "You can borrow this for pajamas if you want."

"Thanks," said Lovino, seating himself on Antonio's bed and crossing his legs slyly, "But I prefer to sleep naked."

"You- wha-" stammered Antonio, his face growing red as his imagination began to take flight, mind-generated images of Lovino, his bare legs peeping coyly out from the sheets, his back curved, hair astray, flitted across his mind's eye.

"I'm teasing you. Teasing!" Lovino waved his arms, trying to regain Antonio from the depths of his mind. "Stop imagining things, ya perv."

"R-Right. Sorry." Antonio looked at his feet. "I should, uh, get to work. You know my number, right?"

"Yeah, but I'll probably be sleeping. Can I use your shower, though?"

"Sure. I have an extra toothbrush in the medical cabinet, also, so feel free to use it."

"Thanks. You're the best," said Lovino offhandedly, getting up and heading towards the bathroom.

"Really?" gasped Antonio, eyes sparkling.

Lovino paused at the bathroom door. "Ew. No. Nevermind," he grimaced.

"Aaw." Antonio's face drooped comically. He stuck out his lower lip and batted his eyes sadly at Lovino, making him laugh.

"Stop being cute and go to work," commanded Lovino, still giggling a bit.

"So you think I'm cute?" grinned Antonio, waggling his eyebrows.

"N-No! I never said that!" stammered Lovino, his ears red. "I, uh, I'm gonna shower." He entered the bathroom, slamming the door behind him. A couple moments later, to Antonio's amusement, he opened the door a crack and peeked out. "Go to work," he ordered, and closed it once more.

"Oh, god, I'm so glad you're here," breathed Lovino, taking off his E-Z Mart vest and cap and placing them carefully in his bag. "I've had the most awful day at work. Some old dude got mad at me because I wouldn't take his expired coupons from 1987! Like, what the hell? And then three- three- moms got mad at me and wanted to 'speak to the manager.' Three! Can you believe that? And they all look the same, too- what is it about these white soccer moms, do they have some sort of cult where they all pick out the same clothes and hairstyles and then convene at local supermarkets to ruin underpaid minimum wage worker's days?!"

"That sucks," agreed Antonio, trying to hide a yawn and failing. "Sorry," he apologized quickly when he noticed Lovino's piercing stare. "I'm not bored, just-" he yawned again, "tired."

"Yeah, of course you are, because you keep on sleeping in that car!" admonished Lovino. "I'm telling you, I'm fine, I can walk home, I have a coat and all. You need to worry about yourself, it's getting cold and you're not getting proper sleep either. You'll get sick."

"And I'm telling you I'm fine," Antonio insisted, sniffing. "It's my choice."

Lovino sighed, defeated. "Whatever." He shoved his hands in his pockets and, as always, drew out a cigarette and lit it. "Let's go eat."

"Want some?" Lovino offered Antonio a bite.

"I'm fine, thanks," he refused. There was an itch in the back of his throat and he could feel a cough swelling up, but fought to suppress it. If he appeared sick in any way, he knew Lovino would worry and make sure he stopped sleeping in his car. It was crazy, he accepted, to try and sleep in his car for the whole winter, but in some way, he felt it was worth whatever illness came his way to spend those extra few minutes with Lovino, to assist him in any way he could. Lovino was so busy he had no time outside of work for anything other than eating or sleeping, so if Antonio could occupy even the smallest slivers of time between his jobs and his sleep, he would be happy.

He wasn't doing this for Lovino, he came to realize. He was doing it for himself. During the day, whether it was at work or at home or at the gym or anywhere, he missed Lovino desperately. The times when he got to see Lovino he was the happiest- not just as someone in love with him, but as someone who also considered him his best friend.

Even when Lovino wasn't with him, he still occupied his thoughts fully. Antonio often found himself thinking of him at the most inopportune times- in line at the grocery store, while cleaning up his students' crayons and markers after class, while showering. At times like these, he would be filled with the sudden urge just to talk to him, to see him, to hold him, so much that it occupied his entire being. He ached for his companionship so much that it hurt, so much that losing sleep and health just for a couple hours with Lovino seemed perfectly sensible.

"So then I said, sorry, we don't have that item in stock anymore, and you know what she did? She asked if-"

"Why do you have to work so much?" Antonio's sudden question cut off Lovino's rant prematurely. He hadn't even realized he had said it aloud, until Lovino fell silent, his fork poised in midair.

"S-Sorry," Antonio apologized quickly. "I didn't mean-"

"It's fine." Lovino sighed and put his fork down slowly, staring into the tupperware container holding his dinner balanced on his knees as if it would provide some sort of answer for him. The tension in his shoulders released and he slumped forward.

"If you don't wanna talk about it that's okay, it's not really any of my business," stammered Antonio. "I was just… wondering."

"No, it's fine. Really." Lovino poked at his food with his fork. "It's nothing shocking, or abnormal. I'm just, you know. In debt."

"Debt?" asked Antonio. "How much debt?"

Lovino raised his head slightly, eyes staring straight ahead vacantly. "A lot," he answered.

Antonio frowned. "From what? What happened? Is it like… mafia or something? Are you in trouble with the mafia?!"

Lovino laughed. The sound was hollow. "The mafia? What, you think all southern Italians are in the mafia or something?"

"S- Sorry," apologized Antonio sheepishly.

Lovino rolled his eyes. "I've got a lot of medical debt. That's it. Nothing alarming."

"From your grandfather?"

"No. He's all taken care of. In Italy we have actual healthcare, so there was no problem. It's from when I was in the hospital here," he explained. "The pneumonia and all of that. I had no insurance or anything, and the medical bills were ginormous. The ambulance, the medication, the surgery- even just the room I was staying in was several hundred a night, and I was there for almost two weeks. It all adds up."

"Oh my god." Antonio covered his mouth with his hand in shock. "What are you going to do?"

Lovino shrugged. "What I always do. Work my ass off for a couple years until it's all paid off, and then figure out the rest from there."

"But can't you… can't your brother help pay for it or something? I mean, his paintings must sell for a lot, right? Or… or get a loan, maybe?"

"No loans," said Lovino firmly. "And I'm not asking my brother for help."


"It's my fault I got ill and ended up in debt. Why should he need to pay for it? Besides," added Lovino. "It's got nothing to do with him. I don't need his help."

"Does he even know?"

"Why should he?" Lovino's voice was sharp. "It's none of his business."

"If you work yourself half to death it is! It's okay to ask for help sometimes."
"I don't need his help," insisted Lovino stubbornly, crossing his arms. "I don't need anyone's help."

"But Lovi, can't you see? This is exactly what happened five years ago, what got you sick in the first place! If you work too hard and don't ask for or accept help, you'll get sick, and have even more debt! You don't have to carry the entire weight of the world on your shoulders, Lovino. You can ask for help."

"I don't need help," Lovino repeated. "I'm not weak. I can take care of myself."

"I'm not saying you're weak," Antonio told him. "I'm just saying-"

"I know what you're saying!" Lovino's voice was loud and sudden, shocking both Antonio and himself. Several birds that had been nesting in a nearby tree took flight at the sound, and the silence that followed his interruption was punctuated with the beating of wings.

"I'm sorry," apologized Lovino, his tone quiet and hushed, a contrast from his prior opposition.

"It's fine," said Antonio, also quietly. A couple birds cautiously returned to the tree. "It's really none of my business. I shouldn't have intruded like that."

"Don't worry about it," Lovino assuaged, but something about his stiff, unnatural pose and the almost robotic quality of his voice indicated that not everything was fine.

They sat in silence awkwardly for several following minutes. Antonio cracked his knuckles one at a time, a nervous reflex, and every minute or so there was a sharp pop, incongruous with the stillness of the night. Lovino chewed slowly, meticulously; taking tiny bites of his food and chewing for a full minute before swallowing. With every irregular pop of Antonio's knuckles Lovino jumped, and after several minutes of obstinate silence interspersed with pops he finally blurted out,

"Will you stop cracking your fucking knuckles?!"

"S-Sorry," apologized Antonio meekly. "I didn't realize it was bothering you."

Lovino huffed angrily. "Whatever," he said haughtily, and stood up, dusting crumbs off his pants. "Let's go to work. And don't," he added, pointing an accusatory finger at Antonio, "wait up for me and sleep in your car. You're going to get sick."

"Don't nag me about getting sick when you're the one working two jobs, sleeping under four hours every night, and living off of wine and gummy worms."

"Fuck you. I'm an adult, I can do what I want."

"Including self-destruction?" suggested Antonio wryly.

Lovino glared at him, pinning his McDonald's cap to his head. "Does it look okay?" he asked, changing the subject.

"A bit lopsided," Antonio responded. "Here, let me," he offered, stepping closer so that he was barely a foot away from Lovino. He removed his cap, tucking it under his arm.

"Your hair is messy," he said. "That's why it's not sitting right. Lemme fix it for you."

"Th- Thanks." Lovino was thankful for the dark, his face felt so hot he was surprised steam wasn't coming out of his ears like a teapot. His heartbeat was thumping in his ears, and he wondered if from this close, Antonio could hear it too. They were close enough that he could feel Antonio's body heat, could hear the small puffs of his breath, smell the undertone of his deodorant against his natural scent, and god he smelled good- Lovino had the strange and sudden urge to bury his face in Antonio's neck and inhale deeply, to run his tongue down his neck and leave blackberry bruises on his collarbone; to take him into his mouth until he was grasping, pulling at his hair, and then and only then would he let go, once his scent was imprinted on him forever.

Oblivious to Lovino's feverish imagination, Antonio licked his hand and ran it through Lovino's hair, smoothing it down in parts. "Don't you brush your hair in the mornings?" he asked.

"I, uh..." Antonio's cool hands running through his hair had completely emptied Lovino's mind, he could not find the words in him to reply. Since when did anyone touching his hair feel so good? Normally, if anyone reached for or tried to touch his hair, he would back away, recoil from their touch; but with Antonio, he found himself craving the physical sensation of his warm fingers dragging through his hair, even having to suppress himself from arching his back, pressing into Antonio's hand like an affectionate cat. Maybe it had just been a while since he had had intimate physical contact with anyone, but something told him that it was only Antonio that could make him feel this way.

"And… there." Antonio pinned the hat back to Lovino's head. "Fixed," he said, grinning at his accomplishment.

"Thanks," Lovino muttered, hunched over oddly, hands in his pockets. "Let's go."

"I'll, uh, see you later," said Lovino awkwardly, kicking at a loose pebble in the McDonald's parking lot with the toe of his shoe. He still couldn't look Antonio in the eyes after getting a boner from Antonio fixing his hair. Luckily it was dark and he hadn't noticed, or if he had, he hadn't said anything, but just the mere fact alone that he had gotten turned on from such minimal contact was embarrassment enough to hide away in a cave and live as a hermit for the rest of his life.

"Yeah, I'll be here when you get off to give you a ride."

"Don't sleep in your car," admonished Lovino. "I keep telling you, you'll get sick."

Antonio smiled, placing both of his hands on Lovino's shoulders. "Thank you for worrying," he said. "But I'll be fine. Really." And before Lovino knew what was happening, he had bent slightly and pressed his lips momentarily to Lovino's cheek in a fleeting kiss.

"Have a good time at work!" Antonio waved, turning and heading out of the parking lot.

For a moment Lovino stood, paralyzed, one half of his body burning hot with anger, rage, and embarrassment; the other half ice-cold, frozen with fear and sheer, unadulterated fury.

"W-What the fuck was that?!" he yelled at Antonio's retreating figure, clutching his cheek. It still tingled. "What did you just- come back! Come back, dammit! Come back and fight me, you bastard!"

There was no response other than the distant sound of laughter. Lovino stood in the empty parking lot for a couple minutes more, immobilized with shock, before giving up and heading in to work.

"Hey." Antonio woke with a start to the sound of knocking on his car window. Quickly he pulled on a shirt and opened the door, scrambling to his feet.

"M- Morning," he yawned.

"I thought I told you not to sleep in your car," said Lovino coolly, opening the car door and sliding into the shotgun seat. Antonio walked to the other side of the car, shivering and rubbing his arms, and climbed into the driver's seat, inserting his car key and turning it.

"I wanted to see you," Antonio said simply. His teeth chattered.

"You'll get sick."

Antonio ignored his statement, instead asking, "Where to?"

"Your place," answered Lovino, as usual. He seemed colder towards Antonio than he had earlier that evening, but he tried not to dwell on that, instead trying to start up the engine.

"What was that earlier?" Lovino asked, his tone frosty. He crossed his arms and looked at Antonio pointedly.

"W-What was what?" Antonio sniffed and wiped his nose. His cold was getting worse.

"You kissed me. Earlier. On the cheek."


"So?" Lovino repeated incredulously. "Anyone could have seen! And when did I ever say it was okay for you to kiss me?!"

"It was just on the cheek, Lovi." Antonio tried, for a third time, to start the car. "And it was dark. No one would have seen. Besides, it was only a kiss! It's not a big deal."

"Well, it is for me." Lovino crossed his arms huffily. "You're making this really hard for me, you know."

Antonio frowned. "Making what hard for you?"

Lovino flushed deep crimson. "N- Never mind," he stammered. Making it hard for me to not fall in love with you, he had almost said, and mentally kicked himself for nearly giving his secret away.

Finally the car managed to start. Antonio whooped in victory, punching the air with his fist. "Good girl, Betsy!" he exclaimed, patting the wheel.

Lovino rolled his eyes. "I still can't believe you named your car Betsy. What is it, a cow? You gonna trade it for some magic beans?"

Antonio laughed. "Hopefully. Some magic beans that grow money trees so I can get rid of all this debt, yours and mine." He pulled into reverse, backing out of the parking lot.

"You know," he said, turning the corner, "I understand how you feel. About the debt, I mean. Wanting to work it off in one go so you don't have to worry about it for the rest of your life. Student loans got me good, that's for sure."

"But," he continued, "If you work yourself half to death trying to get rid of them, you'll just get sick again and accumulate more, and then where will you be? I know it's none of my business, but wouldn't it be easier to just work one job and take it slowly? It'll take longer to pay off, but at least you'll be able to actually have a life."

"I get what you're saying," acknowledged Lovino, "But I'm working minimum wage at the moment. If I just do one job with this current pay, at this rate it'll take me ages to pay it off." He groaned. "I'll be fine," he assured Antonio. "I'm used to hard work."

"Yeah, but still." Antonio stopped at a red light. He sat in silence for a moment, the neon red reflecting off his brown skin. "By the way," he said. "Did you want to bring a box of some of your things over to my place? That way you don't have to keep using my old shirts as pajamas." He laughed, teeth gleaming in the dark.

"But I like wearing your clothes." The words came out before Lovino had a chance to stop them. Quickly he clapped a hand over his mouth, his face burning. "I- I mean-"

"Oh gosh." Antonio's ears were red. "Wow." He took one hand off the wheel and ran it through his hair, a few curls sticking up haphazardly.

"You're too cute, Lovi. You're too fucking cute. If you say cute stuff like that, my heart just might explode." He laughed awkwardly. "Ah. Too late."

"I- I was joking," Lovino stuttered. "Who'd want to wear your smelly old shirts anyway?"

Antonio chuckled, but his eyes looked sad, lonely. "I love you," he said.

"Don't say things you don't mean." Lovino stared out the window, unable to face him. His heartbeat was still thumping inconsistently, cheeks hot.

"I do, though. I really do. I love you, Lovino Vargas. I love you so fucking much." His voice cracked. They turned onto Maple, the street his apartment was on. "And I know you don't feel the same," he continued, "but that won't stop me from loving you. If you ever change your mind, though, I'll be waiting. Even if it never happens, I'll still wait for you."

The car pulled into the parking lot for Antonio's apartment.

"I've waited five years for you to come back," he said. "So I'm sorry if I seem overbearing, or too affectionate. But I just can't help it- all I want is to be with you, Lovi, even if it's just as friends. Please don't push me away, Lovi. Please." He parked, turned the car off, but both of them remained seated, not moving an inch.

Lovino swallowed, his throat dry. "You'll get hurt," he said.

"I'm already hurting."

He shook his head. "I can't. Not again."

"Why not?" Antonio turned to look at Lovino, his eyes hollow.

Lovino shook his head again, his eyes wide, mind blank. He couldn't seem to think of any more excuses. His mouth opened, but no sound came out.

Antonio waited, but Lovino said nothing, mouth agape. After a while he sighed and unbuckled himself.

"I'm sorry," Antonio apologized, stepping out of the car, as did Lovino. "I got emotional." He let out a sneeze, which turned into a cough. "It's been a long day," he said. "You must be tired. Why don't we go upstairs? You can shower first if you want."

Lovino pursed his lips and stared at Antonio for a moment, as if analyzing something. Finally he gave up and shook his head, dropping his gaze to the ground and heading up the stairs to Antonio's apartment.

Lovino sat on the edge of Antonio's bed, toweling his hair dry. He was wearing one of Antonio's old T-shirts, some free shirt for participating in a 5K run. It was far too big on him, the neckline sagging around his shoulders, his boxers barely peeking out from under the hem, but he liked it that way, it made him feel safe, swathed in Antonio's scent.

The sound of the shower, coming from the bathroom, stopped, and after a minute or so the bathroom door opened and Antonio emerged, steam billowing out from behind him.

"Hey," he greeted, tucking his shirt into his pants. His hair was still wet, and a droplet of water rolled off the bridge of his nose and landed on the carpet.

"Your shirt is buttoned unevenly," Lovino pointed out.

Antonio looked down at himself. Lovino was right; one side of the shirt was buttoned one button higher than the other side, making it uneven. "So it is," he said, beginning to undo it. His wet fingers fumbled with the buttons, slipping off the smooth plastic.

"Here, let me," offered Lovino, getting up off the bed and padding over to Antonio, his bare feet silent on the carpet. He pulled Antonio's shirt out from his trousers and began to unbutton it. "Stop fidgeting," he chastised.

"Sorry," Antonio apologized, shifting his weight from foot to foot awkwardly. "I don't know what to do with my hands. Like," he gestured limply, "Do I put them on your shoulders? On your hips, like we're dancing? Or on my hips? Do they go on my head?"

"If you're so nervous about where your hands go, just put them on my waist," commanded Lovino. He finished unbuttoning Antonio's shirt and pulled it apart, exposing his bare chest and abdomen. He paused for a moment, seemingly fixated by something.

"Uh, are you gonna button it back up, or..?" Antonio asked.

"R-Right. Of course. Sorry." Lovino bit down on his lip. He broke from his trance, and buttoned the shirt again from the bottom up.

"You're not going to tuck it in?" suggested Antonio wryly, smirking.

Lovino scoffed. "Perv." He buttoned the collar and stood for a moment, admiring his work. "See, you look much better now," he commented.

Lovino had forgotten about Antonio's hands resting on his waist, and couldn't suppress a gasp when he was suddenly pulled close, their torsos touching. Antonio readjusted his hold, so that one arm was around the small of Lovino's back and the other hand free, cupping his cheek.

"All thanks to you," he whispered, and winked.

"Y- You're welcome," Lovino stammered. His heart was beating so fast he worried it might explode, the drumming resounding throughout his whole body. Don't get hard, don't get hard, don't get hard, he prayed to any god that might listen, for he was pressed up so tight against Antonio there'd be no way he wouldn't notice.

Antonio's hand left Lovino's cheek and the spot where it had been a moment before felt cold and lonely without the comforting heat it had provided. He half wanted to grab his hand and put it back, have him caress not only his face but his whole body, make him melt and lose himself in the sensation of his touch, but his eyes were locked in fierce contact with Antonio's and for all the strength in him, Lovino couldn't pull his gaze away.

Slowly, Antonio began to lean in. He brushed Lovino's bangs back, exposing his face. He's going to kiss me, Lovino realized, and his heart beat yet faster, from panic or joy he could not tell. His tongue flicked over his lips briefly, already tingling with anticipation, and he closed his eyes, steeling himself.

Lovino waited, eyes closed, lips pursed, but the kiss did not come; at least, not in the form he was anticipating. Antonio softly pressed his lips to Lovino's forehead and held them there for a small eternity. It wasn't until he pulled away that Lovino opened his eyes, trying to hide obvious disappointment.

"Sleep well, okay?" Antonio smiled and released Lovino from his grip. "I'll see you tonight." He gave him one last peck on the cheek and headed out the door, suppressing a cough.

It's been forever since I last wrote, let alone updated. This chapter was long overdue, but I could never get around to finishing it. The story is coming to an end (finally), there's just a few more chapters left and loose ends to tie up.

I'm sorry I've basically disappeared from the internet. Rehab and now community college have been eating up what little time for writing that I have. I doubt anyone will actually read my writing now, but at least I got it out there, haha. To anyone who still puts up with me and my long fanfiction, or anyone still trapped in spamano hell, thank you so, so much for reading.