Warnings: swearing; mild, non-graphic sexual situations; corporal punishment on children; character death; anachronisms and inaccuracies in general (some of which are intentional).
A/N: Please heed the warnings before deciding to read the fic. This is my NaNoWriMo project for this year and I haven't edited it too much. It is also rather self-indulgent. So, to be quite honest, this story might not be to your tastes.
The story is divided into two arcs and will feature a couple of unusual pairings as well as some OCs. Updates will be very frequent, since the first arc is all done. I took the liberty of changing Ivan's name, because as inaccurate as this story may be, Russian nobles living in Italy just seemed to be pushing it too far, I think. My apologies for the lack of originality with the non-canon names.
If you have an open mind, go ahead and, hopefully, enjoy...
Lovino Vargas (South Italy)
Feliciano Vargas (North Italy)
Romeo Vargas (Roman Empire)
Roderich Edelstein (Austria)
Antonio Carriedo (Spain)
Isabella "Bella" Giannini (Belgium)
Giovanni Russo (Russia)
Natalia Russo (Belarus)
Father Vinicius (Vatican OC)
Valentina (secret OC)
Mr. Gianturco, aka Il Sadico (Turkey)
Francis Bonnefoy (France)
Gilbert Beilschmidt (Prussia)
Elisabetta Magherini (Hungary)
Caterina Russo (Ukraine)
As far as Lovino could remember, he had always lived in the shadow of his twin brother, Feliciano. Everyone always liked Feliciano better, even their own grandfather. With good reason, of course. Little Feliciano had always been better than him at absolutely everything; he was sweet, polite, kind, helpful, cute, honest, obedient, healthy, cheerful... the list went on and on. People just couldn't help but love him. Even his absurd naïvety was seen as an endearing trait, perhaps because it was associated with innocence.
Furthermore, he also had a gift for the arts, especially painting. Their Grandpa Romeo, a very talented artist himself, had insisted on teaching both his grandsons about art and how to paint since they had been mere toddlers. Even at such a young age, Feliciano could paint the most beautiful paintings with apparently no effort. Even the adults were impressed by the way his tiny hand seemed to glide back and forth over the canvas and produce images that were not only astoundingly detailed, but that also seemed to have a light all of their own. It wasn't just techniques that pretty much anyone could learn; Feliciano could really give life and emotion to his paintings. Grandpa had always been so proud of him for that...
So proud, in fact, that it had become all too easy to forget about Lovino. One would think that the similarities between twin brothers would go beyond outward appearances, but these two disproved that theory. Lovino loved art as much as his brother and his grandfather, and he had put his sincerest efforts into learning those painting techniques, but no matter how well he did, even for someone his age, he just couldn't paint as well as Feliciano. At first he had been proud of his attempts and wanted to show them to his grandfather, but one look at Feliciano's work would crush his eagerness into pieces and urge him to hide his own work before it could be seen and compared to his brother's.
"Keep practising, Lovino, and someday you'll do as well as your brother," his grandfather would often tell him, supposedly trying to be encouraging, but the light chuckle that followed that statement made it clear that he didn't believe his own words. And that possibly hurt Lovino more than if his grandfather had told him the truth straight out.
It wasn't just about the paintings. It was painfully obvious that Grandpa favoured Feliciano. They always spent their time together, often going out for a stroll into the town and leaving Lovino behind, and Romeo always took Feliciano's side whenever the two brothers fought each other. He was constantly hugging, kissing, and praising Feliciano, but acted much more reserved towards Lovino.
Maybe he wouldn't have cared so much about his grandfather's opinion if only he had any other close relative for him to look up to. Unfortunately, their father had died a few months before they were born, and their mother had died during childbirth. Romeo was the only family they had left – and even that didn't last for very long. He was already old, getting progressively weaker, and couldn't afford to sustain two children when he could barely sustain himself. So, he dropped Lovino off at the orphanage.
"There is nothing else I can do for you, Lovino," Romeo had explained to him in a tired, sad tone of voice. "I'm too old and feeble. I can't take care of you the way you need any more."
"What about Feliciano?" Lovino had yelled, close to hysterics. Never in his short life had he felt so abandoned. It was one thing to go out for a stroll with one brother and leave the other behind for an hour, but drop him off at an orphanage and keep the other? That was going too far. "He can't do a single thing on his own!"
"Feliciano is different. Besides, there are still things I have to teach him."
"I hate you!" Lovino had snapped. "I don't want to see you ever again! You can go to hell for all I care, you old bastard!"
Although Lovino could never quite bring himself to forgive his grandfather, he did regret that those were his last words to him. As wronged as he felt, he knew he tended to say very hurtful things that he didn't really mean when he was upset. Despite everything, he had dearly loved his grandfather. He hadn't wanted Romeo to die believing he was hated by his own grandson. Alas, just as Feliciano had a talent for art, Lovino had a talent for messing up.
Eventually, Grandpa Romeo passed away and Feliciano joined him in the orphanage. It wasn't long before Feliciano was adopted. Who wouldn't want to adopt such an adorable child, after all? Lovino was adopted by the same person, a nobleman by the name of Roderich Edelstein, mostly because Feliciano had begged him not to separate the two brothers. However, Lord Edelstein found Lovino such a troublesome child that he quickly returned him to the orphanage. He still allowed the twins to visit each other regularly, until one day he moved away, taking Feliciano with him.
Lovino had felt relieved and believed things would finally get better for him without his brother there to emphasise how inadequate Lovino was.
He had been wrong.
It is said that things have to get worse before they get better, and Lovino firmly believed this applied to his life. On top of having to deal with the loss of his grandfather and bullying from other children, he also fell ill with all sorts of diseases, from pneumonia to the falling sickness, one of which stuck with him into his adulthood, though it got better later on. Such was his luck. This was surely God's way of punishing him for some reason... or several reasons, really – Lovino just couldn't help himself.
So, thanks to his poor health, total lack of ability for anything remotely useful, and less than charming personality, no one else ever tried to adopt him, and as soon as he came of age, he was taken in by the local church as a novice. To this day, he marvelled at how he hadn't been driven insane.
As it was, things did get better eventually. His voice shaped up along with the rest of his body and developed a very melodic tenor quality. Even those who couldn't stand his person had to stare in awe whenever he sang in the church choir. The same admiring look that Feliciano's paintings had always got were now directed at Lovino's singing performances. He was a bit shy from all the attention at first, but he thought he could quickly get used to it.
He could only hope things would get better and better from here.
– CHAPTER 1 –
Once the last notes echoed into silence, the nuns and even fellow choir singers burst into enthusiastic applause. Lovino's face flushed with happiness and a touch of embarrassment. Was he really that good? Had he finally found his true talent?
"Lovino, that was amazing," sighed one of the nuns as a couple of them approached him.
"You are too kind, Sister Maddalena," he said, inclining his head modestly.
"It's true," said the other nun, Sister Maria. "That was your best performance yet."
"It was just a rehearsal, though... I still need to practise more."
"I'm sure your next performance will be outstanding, then," said Sister Maddalena. "I always knew you would grow to be a great singer. Oh, Sister, remember when he and his brother sang in the child's choir?"
"How could I not? Feliciano had the voice of a little angel."
"Indeed! If Lovino has such a beautiful voice now, just imagine what Feliciano's voice must be like."
Lovino was glad that neither of the nuns were looking at him, or they would have been alarmed by the angry twitch in his eye and gritting of teeth. Why did it always come to this? He supposed he should be used to it by now, but they could have at least waited until he was out of sight before bringing his brother up and elevating him above Lovino yet again.
He mumbled a quick excuse and parted from the old nuns as fast as possible without raising suspicion or seeming rude. He came to a stop in a deserted hallway and just stood there for a moment, shaking and seething. He was so angry, so sick of being always compared to his brother, his brother whom no one in this town had seen in nearly fifteen years and might not even be alive any more for all they knew. He had thought these comparisons would end after Feliciano left, but his brother kept haunting him even after all these years.
Frustrating, so frustrating. He just wanted to hit something. In the past he might have punched the wall, but that tended to hurt his hand, and it just wasn't as satisfying as hitting a real person. If only some idiot would come this way, then he could—
"Hey, Lovino, what are—"
Screaming bloody murder and a vile curse or two, Lovino gave the convenient idiot a satisfyingly sound punch in the face, knocking him off his feet. Breathing heavily, he felt much better for a second, before realising what he had just done. Again. He had lost his temper and taken it out on an innocent passer-by. Never mind that the victim was Antonio, his best and practically only friend. If anyone found out, and someone certainly would, Lovino could kiss his glorious solo performance in the choir goodbye.
"Ow..." moaned the young man at his feet.
"Antonio, you're such a fucking idiot!" Lovino snapped. He had actually meant to apologise, or at least ask if his friend was all right, but insults just tended to come out of his mouth as naturally as air came out of his lungs when he breathed. "I mean, what were you standing there for?" He was shaking again, expect this time it wasn't so much out of anger as out of dread. He could already hear hurried steps coming their way.
"I was looking for you," replied Antonio as he got up on his feet and gingerly touched his split lip.
Before Lovino could get another word out, Sister Maddalena and Sister Maria had rounded the corner and gasped loudly.
"Antonio! Lovino! What just happened here?" Sister Maria demanded to know. Her formerly amicable disposition was gone and she gave Lovino a stern glare, as if she already knew who was to blame for Antonio's condition. Lovino flushed, not knowing what to say.
"It's okay, Sister," said Antonio. "It was my fault. I tripped."
Lovino covered his face; it was painful to watch Antonio trying to come up with excuses. He was just so bad at it!
"You tripped," repeated Sister Maria in a deadpan. "And you landed on your face?"
Antonio laughed easily. "It was an awkward fall. I'm so clumsy!"
"We heard Lovino scream," Sister Maddalena pointed out, throwing Lovino a suspicious glance.
"I hit him from behind; he was surprised. That's all," reassured Antonio. "Really, it's okay. It doesn't even hurt. Are you okay, Lovino? I didn't hurt you, did I?"
Startled at being addressed all of a sudden, all Lovino could manage was a stiff shake of the head.
"See? No harm done!" concluded Antonio, with a handsome grin that was only marred by the swelling in the corner of his lips.
It still took a few more minutes of insistent reassurances from Antonio until the nuns finally relented and left, although they still didn't look completely convinced that he told the truth. Lovino couldn't blame them; he had often been the culprit of attacks on fellow novices, for the most varied reasons – all of which were perfectly justified in Lovino's opinion – and Antonio, being his best friend and too nice for his own good, would never tattle on him.
Well, no matter what the nuns thought. As long as Antonio claimed that Lovino was innocent and no one could prove otherwise, Lovino was safe. For now. He wanted to thank Antonio for covering up for him, but once again the apologies were shoved back by an insult and a light punch on the shoulder.
"B-bastard! What the hell are you doing here, anyway?"
"I told you, I was looking for you!" answered Antonio, rubbing his shoulder. "I just finished my work for today, so I thought we could hang out a little before dinner time." He didn't seem to expect an apology or a word of thanks. In all likelihood, he was already so used to Lovino's physical and verbal abuse that he didn't even notice it any more.
Antonio... In many ways, Antonio was very similar to Feliciano. He was also friendly towards absolutely everybody, virtually impossible to anger, and an eternal optimist. He was also dumber than a rock, or so Lovino thought. He wasn't good with intellectual subjects or most forms of art. Rather, his strength lay in his muscles. Not that he was a brawny man. He was actually quite slender, but thanks to his work on the plantations and carrying heavy objects around the monastery, he had developed finely toned muscles.
Lovino had known Antonio since his first day at the orphanage. Antonio had achieved the feat of befriending Lovino, despite the latter's attempts to push him away. He was that kind of person, as if he just couldn't bear the thought that there was someone on this Earth who did not want to be his friend. Before Lovino knew it, he had grown rather attached to Antonio. The boy, a few years older than him, had protected him from bullies and faithfully stuck with him even Lovino had been at his lowest. Several times had Antonio been offered an adoption, but he had always refused because he didn't want to abandon Lovino. Even now, when he could have easily got his own farm to lead an independent life, Antonio remained in the monastery, spending most of his days working at the plantation to feed the order. He was the big brother Lovino had never had, though, of course, he would never admit that out loud to anyone.
"So, what got you in such a bad mood today?" Antonio asked as they exited the premises of the monastery.
"None of your damn business," Lovino snarled.
"Ah," Antonio nodded knowingly, "it's your brother again, right?" He raised his face upwards, a blissful, rather stupid expression on his face as he enjoyed the heat of the sun and hummed. "I wonder how he's doing... We haven't seen in years! I bet he's become a great painter—oof!" he broke off suddenly and held his side, which had just met a very sharp elbow. "What was that for?" he whined.
"You're not helping at all!" Lovino snapped. "Really, why can't you people stop talking about that idiot? I bet he doesn't even remember you any more!"
"I'm sure he remembers you, at least," said Antonio cheerfully, though he was still rubbing his sore side. "And we talk about him because we miss him. Come on, Lovino, can you honestly say you don't miss him at all? Your own brother?"
"I don't. I'm glad he's gone. If I never see him again, it'll be too soon! Except I do see him every day, don't I?" the last sentence was muttered more to himself than to Antonio. "Every time I look in the fucking mirror, I see him. It's like I'm being haunted by a goddamn doppelgänger."
Antonio laughed lightly. "I wish I had a twin brother. It sounds like so much fun."
Lovino shook his head and said nothing else. Sometimes, it was impossible to dialogue with Antonio. The idiot probably couldn't understand half the words Lovino said, and he seemed to live in a world of his own. Lovino would feel much better if Antonio had meant statements like the above in a sarcastic manner, but he had already established that sarcasm was an alien concept to Antonio. He could not recognise it if it hit him in the face, let alone use it himself.
They went the rest of the way in silence, which served well to cool down Lovino's temper. Monterosso was quite a small town – most outsiders wouldn't even give it the dignity of being called a town, actually; it was more like a large village. Nevertheless, it was a charming town when the weather was good. When the weather was bad, the town looked rather gloomy and desolate, for some reason. The sky would look dull, the earth dark and infertile, the trees lifeless and withered, the inhabitants cheerless and sluggish. But when the weather was good, like today, the town bloomed with life and bright colours, and everyone went outside to enjoy it.
Lovino liked that. He liked crowds. Or rather, he disliked crowds – he was more of a loner – but crowds could be very convenient, as well.
He bumped into a middle-aged man.
"Oh, Lord! I'm so sorry, sir," he apologised.
The man smiled at him, "No harm done!" and went on his way.
Lovino smirked and slipped his hands into the long, loose sleeves of his habit.
"I saw that," said Antonio.
"You pickpocketed that man."
"What? No, I didn't!"
"You did. I was paying attention this time."
Lovino brought his hands out again and displayed them, palms open, to prove that they were empty. "You know I'm not good with my hands. How could I pickpocket anyone?"
"Lovino, you know stealing is wrong. Now, please, give the money back to that man."
"I would... if I'd got his money. But I didn't. Because I didn't pickpocket anyone!"
"I know what I saw. It's not like this is the first time, anyway."
"You're crazy! I can't believe my own friend won't believe me. I really am alone in this world."
"You know, I bet that's why God cursed you with the falling sickness! Because you keep stealing and lying!"
Lovino felt his face heat up and hurried his pace so that Antonio couldn't see his face. "Sh-shut up! I've told you a million times not to talk about it in public! And that has nothing to do with stealing, because I haven't had an attack in almost a year."
"Oh." Antonio was silent for a minute, his forehead wrinkled in deep thought. "So, what you're saying is that you have stolen often in the last months?"
"Ye—No—That's a trick question, bastard!" Antonio was dumber than a rock, yes, but from time to time he would get these flashes of insight. Unfortunately, this was the most inconvenient time for him to get smart. Well, Lovino would just ignore him until he either dropped the subject or went back to being his stupid self.
"Oh! It's Bella!" whispered Antonio breathlessly, effectively dropping the former subject just as Lovino had expected. Raising his voice, Antonio waved and shouted, "Bella! Hello! Good afternoon!"
"Antonio! Lovino! Good afternoon!" replied the girl. Isabella, or Bella for short, was another childhood friend – or perhaps more like an acquaintance and occasional playmate. She lived with her grandmother in a humble house, a sweet, pretty girl whose personality matched Antonio's to a T. As it so happened, Antonio had a crush on her, though Lovino had the sneaking suspicion that she had a crush on him. He tried not to think too much about it.
"Lovino, I was just thinking about you," said Bella once she approached the duo. Her eyes never left Lovino's face, which was the only reason why she didn't seem to notice that Antonio was openly staring at her in a dreamy way, like a fool. "You just finished your rehearsal, right? So, is it true that you're going to perform a solo on the next choir?"
"Yes, I practised my solo today, actually," Lovino answered, allowing his features to soften into a gentle smile. He could never bring himself to scowl at such a pretty lady.
"I look forward to seeing you on your next public performance, then. I'm sure you'll do great!"
"Well, I have to go now. I'm running a few errands for Grandma. See you," she waved him goodbye, a little flustered. "You, too, Antonio."
"Bye, Bella..." sighed Antonio. Lovino mentally gagged. Could Antonio look any more like a pathetic, love-struck puppy?
He gave Antonio another light punch on the shoulder, hoping it would be enough to knock some sense into him.
"Let's go, stupid."
"Do you think she likes me?"
Lovino almost wished Antonio would go back to his short-lived moment of intelligence.
This time, Antonio didn't drop the subject, and he kept talking about Bella the rest of the day, until they were both in their shared room at the dormitory in the monastery, getting ready to sleep.
"But do you think she likes me? Seriously?"
Lovino let out a heavy sigh and rolled on his bed so that his back was turned to Antonio, pulling the pillow over his head.
"I said, I don't know! Anyway, there's only one way to know for sure, right? Now shut the fuck up and let me sleep, dammit!"
"I wish I knew for sure..."
"Then just tell her how you feel the next time you see her. Will you shut up now? And put out that damn light! I'm trying to sleep here!"
"What if she doesn't like me?"
"If don't shut up right now, I swear I'm going to smother you with you pillow! I mean it!"
"Okay, okay, sorry!"
There was silence, except for the sound of rustling paper. Antonio had yet to put out the light, but at least he was quiet now. As long as he continued that way, Lovino could get some rest.
"Hey, Lovino," said Antonio after about ten minutes. Lovino groaned.
"What?" the word was drawled out like the snarl of a beast, ready to pounce on its victim and rip its guts out. As usual, though, the hidden threat went right over Antonio's thick head.
"I was just looking at this calendar, see, and guess what day it is tomorrow!"
"Not your birthday, is it?"
"No, of course not!"
"... My birthday?"
"No, silly! It's not a birthday. Tomorrow, it'll be a whole year since your last fit."
Lovino was taken aback. Of all things he had expected to hear, that had never even occurred to him. He turned around so he was facing Antonio again.
"You actually keep track of that?"
"Of course I do," said Antonio, as if it were the most natural thing in the world. His eyes were still on the calendar. "One year... There was a time when you used to have one every week, remember? And now it's been a whole year... D'you know what I think this means?"
"I think this means that maybe you're finally cured!" Antonio grinned at him.
Lovino turned his gaze down, fiddling with the edge of his bed sheet nervously. "That'd be nice... And... you're probably right." He hadn't wanted to get his hopes up about it, but right now, he couldn't help the hopeful feeling blossoming in his chest. One year... He hadn't even noticed how time had flown by, but now that it had been pointed out to him, it really was a long time.
"I told you things would get better sooner or later," said Antonio, his tone warm and brotherly. "You'll see, tomorrow will be an even better day for you." He put away the calendar, wished him good night, and finally put out the light. However, Lovino didn't go to sleep right away. He fumbled for his rosary and whispered prayers of gratitude.
A/N: In case you're wondering, "falling sickness" is an archaic term for epilepsy. It is my head-canon that earthquakes translate into Hetalia as seizures. Southern Italy has a lot of earthquakes, so...