Chapter Seven – Fool's Gold
'All our dreams can come true, if we have the courage to pursue them.'
- Walt Disney
The brilliant blue of the afternoon sky had long since blended seamlessly in the dark hue of evening, the stars pinpricks of light against the black backing as a powerful wind pulled the scarlet sails taunt, allowing the ship to sail quickly along the choppy water.
It was now night and Lovino found himself moodily looking out over the water, disgusted at himself due to his inability to enjoy the silence around him. The rest of the crew was engaging in a feast that he hadn't thought possible on a poorly stocked pirate ship, filling their bellies with barely adequate food and drowning their senses in barely adequate liquor. They had a cause to celebrate, and as pirates they did it in style.
Earlier Antonio had given the crew a spectacular speech, words booming across the deserted water and expression excited beyond control. He'd promised an adventure of grandeur that they hadn't even glimpsed in their wildest of dreams before presenting to his men the map that he had pulled from the hands of a weeping Russian.
Lovino found that as soon as the map was properly glimpsed the excitement around the men tripled, and frantic chatter started up, roars of anticipation, calls of curiosity. Lovino had taken this moment to quietly slip away; uncomfortable at the edge of the deck where every man assembled seemed to know the meaning of the two magical words that their Captain had spoken.
Lovino was no pirate – despite the fact several others were clearly attempting to right this err – and the words 'The Trove' held to him no more mystic than a sack of potatoes. He'd caught the gist of it, understood the conversation he'd overheard earlier, but all the same he felt they were embarking on a fool's errand and as a reasonable, albeit foul-tempered, Italian man, Lovino could find no luster in the adventure set before him.
Sighing grumpily, the irritable brunette pulled a chunk off the heel of bread he'd taken from the banquet and tossed it sourly into the ocean, watching as it vanished from his sight to drop into the clutches of the icy water below. With their journey towards England interrupted, Lovino no longer had the slightest inkling of where the ship was taking him and his goal of grabbing Feli and running was continuing to look less and less likely as time progressed. With the way things were headed, he might be stuck on this fucking pirate ship until he died from scurvy or some other unsavory disease.
Footsteps behind him announced a visitor and Lovino looked up in surprise. With the party in full swing he couldn't possibly imagine who'd have taken the time to step away and enjoy the fresh air outside. Thinking quickly, he made to step into the embrace of the shadows and… not hide… Just… Shelter from sight.
However, no sooner had he taken half a step back a voice washed over him in greeting. A disgusting voice with an equally repulsive accent and Lovino suddenly had the urge to dive overboard.
"Well, if it isn't my favorite grumpy little Italian," Francis purred as he approached, a wide smile on his revoltingly French face and the heels of his expensive boots clacking loudly on the board beneath his feet. "Why aren't you over enjoying the feast? I believe there's even a platter of little tomatoes; it is hosted by Antonio after all, no?"
Lovino scowled darkly and tightened his grip on the edge of the boat, scampering back a few paces when the Frenchman leant easily against it beside him, pretending not to notice the disgusted look that Lovino was sending him.
"Why aren't you?" He shot back. "Shouldn't you be in there groping everyone too drunk to notice?"
Francis placed a hand over his heart and sent him a mock hurt look. "You wound me young Lovino; implying that someone needs to be drunk to enjoy my touch."
Lovino scowled and managed to duck away from a wondering hand that was straying far too close to his own. "If you touch me," he threatened, "I'll push you overboard right now. No one's around to see; hell, even if they were they'd hail me as a fucking hero."
Francis laughed loudly as if he'd just told a brilliant joke. "Ah, mon ami. You're so vicious. You'll scare away any potential suitors with that attitude."
"I don't want a fucking suitor," Lovino growled, looking disturbed at the very thought. Francis didn't seem to be paying him any attention, however.
"And I wouldn't touch you anyway. As a good friend of our Captain, it would not do to have him thinking I'm taking what is his. He can get rather violent if the mood possesses him to."
Lovino balked. "His?" He repeated. "What the fuck makes you think I'm his?! I don't belong to anybody!"
Francis gave a rather careless shrug. "Think what you will."
If Lovino had looked disturbed before it was nothing compared to the horrified look on his face now. Completely unable to fathom Francis' self-assured words no matter how hard his mind worked to process them. When had Lovino ever given the impression that he was a possession to anyone?
Demonstrating perceptiveness that Lovino had not previous known him to possess, Francis smirked, watching the small Italian from the corner of his eye as he relaxed back against the ship rails, swaying to and fro easily with the ship with a kind of natural grace that Lovino himself had yet to master. The low rolls and dull creaks of the ship only served to make him nauseous and lose his supper more nights than not.
They stood in stilted silence for a moment that, while tinged awkward, wasn't wholly uncomfortable. Lovino shot Francis one more suspicious look before he allowed the tension in his shoulders to ease somewhat, slackening his grip on the rail now that he was more or less convinced the Frenchman wouldn't be giving him cause to dive into the oceanic depths anytime soon.
Far off, the distant roars of the men echoed from below, no more than faint echoes in the slight breeze that skimmed across the ship and tousled Lovino's caramel hair carelessly, tossing it into his face so that it irritated the young man and he had to huff to send several stray strands billowing backwards.
Francis watched him surreptitiously from the corner of his eye, his long fingers tapping out an absent rhythm on the smooth banister beneath his hand. In the rare moment of calm that existed between himself and Lovino, he could almost see what Antonio saw in the child.
He was certainly attractive, all sharp angles and paler skin than was necessarily custom on an Italian. There were distinct differences between Lovino and his twin, a certain adult aura around Lovino that was absent from his younger brother, a dark tint in his eyes and a jaded set to his face; where Feliciano was adorable and innocent, the personification of child-like naiveté, Lovino was more adult elegance in an awkward fashion.
Francis's lips curled up slightly and one perfectly kempt hand rose to stifle a chuckle that bubbled at the back of his throat. Lovino glared at him openly. "There a problem, bastard?"
"No," Francis smirked. "Not a problem in sight."
Without further explanation he turned and vanished back towards the main hub of the ship in a dramatic flourish, leaving Lovino standing lone and solitary by the rocking waves, an irritated set in his brow and a grim turndown to his mouth.
Muttering something about stupid pirates and fucked up Frenchman, Lovino absently flexed one hand in the cool night air before turning back to stare down at the choppy midnight-black water that gently lulled the boat to and fro.
All this talk about belonging to Antonio irritated him. He wasn't some possession to be passed from person to person, he was an individual being with a mind and freedom and attitude damn it. He wasn't used to having to think about these things; being wanted had never happened before.
Was he wanted?
Lovino licked nervously at chapped lips and furrowed his brow. Wasn't it a little presumptuous to take words tossed carelessly about by men – men who were thieving dishonest pirates – at face value? His loose grip on the boat's railing spasmed slightly and a faint shudder rippled through his frame.
He didn't understand any of this shit. He didn't have any prior experience with crap like this, didn't know if this bullshit was normal or a special brand of insanity unique to pirates; unique to Lovino.
Antonio in all his clingy childish glory had taken a liking to Lovino; but that didn't mean this liking would necessarily last. As soon as he got close enough to see that his brash attitude and cuss-soaked words weren't just an outer attitude to scare off those who begot him ill, he would tire of his pursuit.
Back in Belmont, Lovino had no friends. Every time he drew attention or struck up what seemed to be a promising friendship, it would quickly die out. He repelled people, he disgusted them. 'I thought you were going to be nicer once I got to know you,' they said with a scornful sniff and trod off to chat with Feliciano instead because he was a better, nicer version of Lovino.
No; Lovino was a meaner, worse version of his brother.
Dinner turning sour in his stomach, Lovino kicked sulkily at the wooden planks near his feet and pitched the last of his bread off the ship and into the water, not even watching as it spun through the star strewn sky and fell into the icy water.
He didn't have time to think about this. He wasn't going to be on this stupid ship forever; as soon as it was possible he was gathering his hapless little brother and dashing off to somewhere distant. Maybe they wouldn't even go back to Italy. They could go to Belgium perhaps, somewhere new. Somewhere deep down, Lovino had always longed to travel.
Isn't that what you're going now? A sneaky traitorous voice whispered at the very back of his mind.
No it wasn't, shut up. Lovino tightened his grip further on the rail and scrunched his brow together. He didn't even want to be here to begin with. If not back home in Belmont, he wanted to be in some new foreign land where nobody knew him and he could provide for Feliciano the best he knew how; maybe this time without picking pockets. They'd live a somewhat-peaceful-but-yeah-really-definitely-not-boring life.
And perhaps, they could be happy. That Lovino could be happy; because he couldn't remember the last time he had been.
Somewhere far off in the distance, the celebrations on the ship continued, all loud noise that filtered into the darkened night air and the cracking laughter of pirates that echoed deceivingly loud as it bounced off the wooden fittings of the ship.
Lovino vaguely wondered if he should go join them. If he could go join them.
Behind him there was the sharp rap of heels on decking and a scowl flitted across his face as his fingers flexed automatically in displeasure and a faint groan of annoyance blew out from between his teeth. "What is it now you French bastard?" He snapped, turning around sharply only to blink in surprise.
Antonio stood casually before him, face cast in the silver spill of moonlight and hair streaked white-brown in the evening gloom. His lengthy pony-tail blew slightly in the breeze and his over-embellished Captain's coat swung slightly as he took another step.
"What are you doing out here, Lovi?" He hummed pleasantly.
"No," Lovino grouched as he turned back to the ocean petulantly, "The question is what are you doing out here bastardo? Shouldn't you be at the feast?"
"Silly Lovi," Antonio chuckled as he leant against the edge of the ship beside Lovino. "I should be wherever you are."
"That's the worst line I've every head," Lovino muttered, quietly, for his ears only, but didn't object to the company. Considering the thoughts whizzing around his head, he figured he could use a little companionship, even if it came from the likes of Antonio.
Taking Lovino's silence as s sign of assent, Antonio hummed cheerfully under his breath and shuffled a little closer to Lovino, ignoring the sharp elbow he received to his ribs for his trouble.
The pair of them fell into amicable silence with only the gentle noise of the pirates wafting in the midnight air to accompany the soft lull o the waves down below.
Of all the nights Lovino had been on the ship, this one was by far the most peaceful. He'd finally managed to talk with his brother without dissolving into a babble of angry slurs and the faint slit on his neck was healing up nicely. Antonio's mood was good and the rest of the crew was bundled up below deck, affording Lovino the space and distance he'd been so denied since being unwillingly thrust into the nomadic lifestyle of pirates.
Cautiously, Lovino peeked at Antonio from the corner of his eye, peering through a curtain of auburn-brown hair. The dreaded pirate Captain was staring thoughtfully out to sea with his arms crossed and leaning on the railing of the ship, hair swishing and earrings jangling in the increasing breeze that was slowly becoming more of a gust.
"So," Lovino said uncertainly, uneasily breaking what had been a nice silence. Antonio's gaze snapped back like a whip to give Lovino his full attention, giving a faint smile that made Lovino's blood boil in irritation. He forced down his ire, grouchily tucked his hair behind his ear and continued: "This treasure… Is it really that big of a deal?"
"Si, Lovi. It really is that big of a deal." Antonio chuckled, angling his body slightly to the left so he could more properly face his especially irked companion. "It's the kind of treasure you only get a shot at once in a life time."
Lovino swept a tongue along his chapped lips absently and deepened his frown. Antonio's bright green eyes followed his every move. "But don't you pirates do shit like this all the time? I thought you bastards were always finding gold and crap like that."
Antonio gave a throaty laugh and pinched one of Lovino's wind-reddened cheeks between his fingers, ignoring the annoyed growl and the harsh swat at his wrist that followed, taking glee in the way he could feel it warming beneath his touch. "Ah, but Lovi; It's a little more complicated than that."
"Stop touching me!"
Giving another oblivious smile Antonio drew back his fingers and dodged Lovino's stomping foot with practiced ease. Lovino's fingers twitched to rub at his pinched cheek but he resisted the urge out of dignity and instead aimed his most vicious glare at Antonio had seemed to paying him no heed.
"What you don't understand Lovi, is that The Trove is the thing of legends. So many of us were raised on myths of it, even more of us were inspired to take to the sea after it."
"That's stupid," Lovino said bluntly, and, after a moment more of careful consideration, added: "You're stupid."
Antonio was already staring back out at the now pitch-black sky, smiling gently at the purple tinged waves that rocked back and forth. He sent Lovino an amused glance and the corners of his lips quirked but his gaze quickly flicked back out to watching the ocean roll. "Maybe," He admitted. "But I'd rather be stupid than bored."
Lovino bit the corner of his lip, paused, and then repeated, "Bored?"
"Ah, you know, don't you? Just getting up every morning and doing the same thing? Just doing the same thing every day? Doing what everybody else tells you to, doing it just to survive? Letting everyone push you around? No free will, no adventure? Not for me, no thank you." Antonio raised a teasing eyebrow and smirked. "Where's the fun in that?"
Blush flushed Lovino's cheeks and he scowled, quickly redirecting his eyes to the wooden deck, heart pounding loudly in his chest. Antonio had just described his own life to him. What was it he did every day? Get up, walk the streets, risk his fingers digging them into pockets he really shouldn't, lose a good portion of his days earning to the thugs that swarmed the streets that so readily twirled a knife near his throat if they caught a glimpse of gold tucked in his fist? Was that really what he wanted?
Lovino titled his head to the side and surveyed the ship around him; the curls of rope laying ready and waiting, the billowed red masts and the grease and blood that stained the wood stubbornly. He smelt the salt and oil and sweat that characterized the ship. He heard the laughs of pirates below deck, the hush of the water carrying them North-South-East-West – wherever they wanted.
Belmont had been hard but it had also been easy. Lovino knew exactly what was expected of him, he knew exactly what he had to do and if he risked life and limb to do it; so be it. That was the way it all was, the order of the universe. Back in Belmont, he would never amount to anything, he wasn't destined for greatness; he was merely That Brat Lovino Vargas – a street urchin thug.
However, here – on the ship with Antonio and Feli and even that bloody potato bastard – he could be anything. He didn't have to be That Brat Lovino Vargas – he could be whatever he wanted, he could do whatever he wanted. Nobody was going to push him down and watch him fall, nobody was going to scoff at him if he ever, even just for a moment, expressed the desire to do something for himself. He could think it, do it, be it.
And more than anything, more than Feliciano's irritating logic, more than Francis and Gilbert's subtle ribbing, more than Antonio's charming – stupid – smiles, it made him reconsider for the first time whether he wanted to turn away from that and return to Belmont, whether he really, really did want to set out on his own with nothing and nobody and try his luck in Belgium or Spain or the dozen other places that would be exactly the same as Italy as soon as he set his foot on their soil to stay.
Antonio saw the flash of indecision on his face – the briefest hint of longing – and smiled; the kind of fond, distant smile that even his closest of friends were rarely privy to. He saw the confliction in hazel eyes and if Lovino didn't see the strangeness in his own green ones; then maybe that was okay after all.
In a movement so swift that Lovino had to startle back to reality, Antonio took a step back away from the edge of the ship and stretched, letting out a loud and exaggerated yawn. Turning to leave, he paused only to lean forward and ruffle Lovino's hair – much to the Italian's displeasure.
"Well, you don't need to stress so much mi amigo. Just think about it, si?"
And then Antonio turned and left and a flourish of bright red, brown, gold and green and Lovino was left with the now common feeling of confusion, his own fingers resting against his head where Antonio's had been only moment before.