* YouTube (/watch?v=8A3zetSuYRg) – The 'infuriating canzone' of Grandpa Roma's. ;-)

YouTube (/watch?v=v9sUZyZcvUs) - The perfect song for Antonio and Lovino.


Winter, 1943
A village in Italy

.

"You are back in town, Spaniard."

Antonio felt a wave of sick, cold fear roll through his gut. He glanced up sharply, then let out a short sigh of relief. The Turk stared down at him reflectively, that familiar smirk on his lips, that customary red fez perched on his head. He looked pointedly at the chair opposite, and Antonio gave a quick nod.

"So." The Turk sat heavily, leaning back easily in the chair. "We're gonna make this quick. Not a good idea for me to be seen here, you know."

Antonio nodded and took a long sip of wine to calm his nerves. This constant anxiety was starting to wear on him. The unfamiliar feeling was far too common these days, now that too many people in this small village knew his face. "I understand. Though you realise it is far more dangerous for me to be seen at the Cantina Rosso, my friend." Antonio replaced his wine on the table then offered to pour a glass for the Turk, who, as always, shook his head.

"Why else would I trudge to this side of town?" The Turk glanced disdainfully around the nearly empty front room of the Cantina Verde. "I always did prefer red to green."

Antonio raised an eyebrow. "Really? And here I thought your favourite was gold." He tossed a small, rattling bag on the table. The Turk quickly inspected the contents before putting the bag in his pocket.

"You see, this is why I like working with you, Spaniard." The Turk grinned. "You understand the absurdity of paper notes."

Antonio laughed softly. It was so easy to work with people whose only loyalty was to money. Easy but dangerous, considering the amount the Germans were willing to pay to get their hands on Antonio. "The lira is worthless right now. I'd never insult you with it." He leant forward slightly, a tiny, shrewd smile on his lips. "Don't forget that."

The Turk seemed to understand. "I'd be a fool to turn you over to the Germans. Why work for one side when you can work for both?" He shrugged, as though to suggest the absurdity of the suggestion. "But, to business. With the nearby German airbase, it was only a matter of time before the Americans joined our little party. Here." The Turk pulled a thick bundle of string-tied paper from his jacket, placed it on the table, and pushed it towards Antonio. "Transcripts of orders from top American Air Force personnel and maps of projected landing sites. The Americans are going to want to cause as much damage as possible while they have the element of surprise."

"Of course," muttered Antonio, briefly flicking through the papers. "This is what I've been trying to obtain information on..." An American air fighter unit currently based in London, a projected landing south at Anzio… yes, this was just the material he needed to pass on to Roma. Antonio had worked tirelessly on this one mission for weeks - after all, he needed a reason to return to this village. "Now, we know the Americans are landing soon, but we need a way for them to destroy the German airbase and its most dangerous personnel in one swoop."

"Leave that to me, my friend." Antonio glanced up from the papers and the Turk grinned deviously. "I'll find something out. And the moment I do, I'll inform you."

Antonio narrowed his eyes in a brief moment of suspicion. "You wouldn't give the Germans this information, would you?"

The Turk leant back and laughed wildly. "And lose your regular gold donations? Did I not just say that would be foolish? No, Spaniard, you would do well to forget such suspicions. I do suggest, however, that you send someone other than yourself to meet me next time. Someone… innocent looking. You are far too recognisable in these parts nowadays." A calculating gleam appeared in his eyes. "I have to wonder why you return insistently to this one little village when the danger is so great for you."

Antonio shrugged nonchalantly. "I am recognised in many places. My work is as important here as anywhere." But the Turk was right. It was too dangerous for Antonio to be in this village, he knew that. And yet the longer this war drew on and the greater the danger became, the more Antonio felt himself drawn here. To the one place and the one person that mattered.

The Turk did not look convinced. "Some would say you are needed more in the south these days. Roma Vargas runs the resistance in this town as though it were an army unit. He does not require your constant assistance."

"Roma is always grateful for my assistance," said Antonio curtly, eager to drop this line of conversation. He folded the papers and placed them in his bag. "And I am sure he will be grateful for this information."

The Turk nodded, though there remained a knowing, faintly amused look in his eye. "Be careful on your way out of town. There are German patrols on the roads lately."

Antonio did not worry about that. He knew the back roads by now – he knew his way to Lovino's farmhouse. "I will be in town until the landings. I doubt, however, we will meet again." He stood quickly, excitement building in his chest when he finally allowed himself to think of where he was heading. There was no point denying it. Lovino was the real reason Antonio was here; Lovino was the reason he was risking everything. As he headed quickly for the door, Antonio barely heard the Turk speak behind him.

"Good luck, Spaniard."

.

Lovino slammed the bag of flour onto the kitchen bench and spun around to face Feliciano. His silly brother let out a tiny squeak and took a step backwards. Lovino scowled. "What is that irritating tune you've been humming all afternoon?"

Feliciano just scratched his head with that dim, blank look of his. "Huh? Oh." He shrugged. "It's not irritating, it's pretty." Then he continued humming it as he cheerfully filled the fruit bowl with tomatoes.

Lovino nearly growled in annoyance. Feliciano had arrived late to the Resistenza meeting at the cantina, bounced in and waved like a fool, then simply sat at the back of the room playing with the wireless radio. It was unacceptable. When would Feliciano realise the seriousness of this situation? When would he stop acting like a silly little child and getting away with it? And when would he stop humming that ridiculous song? "It's stupid," said Lovino. "Stop it. Stop it now."

Feliciano pouted and whined, "But Lovino…"

"You need to take things a little more seriously, Feliciano." Lovino could not keep the frustration from his voice. He knew he was probably overreacting, but he hadn't been able to control his frustrated emotions lately. It was now almost a month since he had last seen Antonio. One month since the infuriatingly wonderful Spaniard had held Lovino close as they danced, since he had touched Lovino's tears and said he would wait forever. One lingering, unchanging month that had felt like an eternity and passed like a lifetime. Lovino still felt unworthy, still felt confused. He felt lost in the resistance, always kept from doing anything worthwhile for the cause. But above all, Lovino felt painfully lonely, and painfully sad. So now, he couldn't help feeling irrationally angry that Feliciano could act so damn happy and carefree. "You can't just spend important meetings like that sitting and singing along to the radio. This isn't a game. You need to be serious, like me and Grandpa." Lovino suddenly jumped when a hand landed heavily on his shoulder.

"What's all this I hear about being serious?" Grandpa Roma placed a bag of oranges on the bench, that same dopey grin on his face that Feliciano always wore. Lovino gritted his teeth and glared. Just what he needed - his grandfather acting stupidly cheerful as well. "Don't listen to your brother, Feliciano, he's far too serious for his own good. And you have a beautiful voice, just like your Grandpa!" Lovino tried to respond angrily, but Roma raised a hand. "Try this one…" And then the bastard started singing. Feliciano laughed, clapped joyfully, and of course, joined in. Lovino immediately put his hands over his ears.

*"La donna è mobile, Qual piuma al vento, Muta d'accento - e di pensiero."

"Grandpa, don't be ridiculous!" Lovino silently cursed Verdi, backed away from his embarrassing family, and prepared to flee. Sometimes he honestly wondered if he was related to these people… "I mean it!"

Feliciano giggled, Roma kept that stupid smile on his face, and they both raised their voices as they advanced menacingly on Lovino.

"Sempre un amabile, Leggiadro viso, In pianto o in riso, - è menzognero."

"STOP!" Seriously, did they even know how absurd they looked? Lovino looked around desperately for an escape, only to be impeded as Roma stepped in front of him and placed a cooking pot on his head. Of all things… but Lovino was not going to laugh, damn it. This was not funny, this was childish and ridiculous and… "Go away! Stop it! Leave me alone! You're both crazy and I'm leaving this family!"

"La donna è mobil'. Qual piuma al vento, muta d'accento - e di pensier!"

Lovino finally managed his getaway. He dodged around his childish brother and preposterous grandpa, charging across the kitchen as they gave chase still singing that infuriating canzone. Fighting the laughter rising in his chest, Lovino threw open the kitchen door, ran into the front room, and immediately froze. An icy hot shudder ran down his spine. The blood drained from his face, his breath stopped short, and his heart stuttered a wild, frantic convulsion in his chest. Antonio just smiled back at him from the front doorway. His green eyes sparkled in amusement; his lips held back a burst of laughter. Lovino's cheeks burned with embarrassment. He pulled the pot from his head and scowled angrily. "What are you looking at, bastard?"

"Antonio!" Roma rushed across the room, smiling joyfully, and threw his arms around Antonio warmly. "Ah, thank the good Lord! I was hoping to see you soon!"

"Greetings, Roma!" said Antonio happily. "It's good to see you!" Despite himself, Lovino felt his heart tug at his chest when he realised how tired Antonio looked. He must have been travelling far, and working hard. Lovino suddenly wondered what it would be like if he could walk over to Antonio and take the pack from his shoulder, lead him to the couch, sit beside him, hold him and kiss him and laugh with him… Lovino shook the startling, intruding image away. And he'd thought he was getting so good at ignoring his feelings.

"Antonio!" cried Feliciano, running across the room and jumping excitedly. "Did you bring me a present? Huh, huh, did you?" Antonio laughed and ruffled Feliciano's hair. Lovino folded his arms and scowled, irritated and strangely jealous.

"Of course I did, Feli! This time I have…" Antonio left a dramatic pause before reaching into the large bag slung over his shoulder and pulling out a soccer ball. Feliciano gasped loudly and snatched it from Antonio's hands.

"Yes! Perfect! I lost my last one, actually Lovino lost it, and it's been impossible to find a new one and I've actually been wanting one of these lately because…" Roma slapped Feliciano over the back of the head. "I mean, uh, thank you, Antonio!"

"You're welcome, Feliciano! And I have something special for Lovino!"

Lovino felt his bones freeze. Antonio smiled across the room brightly, enticingly, so warm and kind and good, his messy brown curls slightly too long and his deep green eyes so intense and…

"Lovino, my dear boy!" Roma's words shook Lovino from his transfixed stupor. "Stop being a rude little bastard and get over here."

Lovino remembered himself and plastered a scowl on his face, walking slowly across the room with his arms still folded. He stopped just before Antonio, so close he could touch him, so close he could smell him… Antonio reached into his bag and pulled out a small red object. He tossed it into the air, caught it, and held it out with a flourish, his eyes sparkling with that bright, familiar mischief. Lovino stared curiously at the round object in Antonio's hand.

A tomato. A tomato? The bastard had given Feliciano a soccer ball, and all he had for Lovino was a piece of fruit! After all these weeks, after everything… "A fucking tomato?" Lovino winced as Grandpa Roma smacked him over the back of the head.

"Watch your manners, young man."

Lovino almost forgot the blasted tomato. First he was caught with a pot on his head, now his grandpa chastised him like he was eight years old. Could this situation possibly get any more humiliating? Lovino rubbed his head and glared at Roma angrily. "Why would I want a stupid tomato, Feliciano bought a bag of them today."

"Don't be impolite, and take the tomato."

"I don't want the tomato!"

"Take the fucking tomato, Lovino!"

Lovino snarled and snatched the stupid tomato. However, instead of the soft fruit he expected, the small object in his hand was actually hard and smooth. Lovino felt his brow wrinkle in confusion, then glanced up quizzically at Antonio. The bastard simply winked.

Roma spread his hands apologetically. "Antonio, a thousand apologies. I love my grandsons to death but they can be such rude little shits."

Lovino's neck flushed angrily, but Antonio just laughed and clapped Roma on the back. "Please, Roma, there is nothing to apologise for. It is I who should be apologising for the delay in my arrival. The travel routes have become so difficult in the last few months."

Lovino felt apprehensive at the words. It was just as Roma had been saying in meetings lately – that the military presence around the village had been increasing, that times were growing more perilous. Again, Lovino was reminded of just how dangerous Antonio's work was. Feliciano barely seemed to notice the conversation, gazing at his soccer ball with some silly, far-off look in his eyes. Roma just waved a hand dismissively. "Of course, of course, I understand this. I expect you have information for me?"

Antonio nodded. He and Roma made their way to the large central table, spreading pages of documents from Antonio's bag across the surface. Feliciano bounced over to the couch by the staircase, tossing his ball from hand to hand, but Lovino stayed where he was. Familiar, unpleasant anxiety rolled in his stomach, rose in his chest. He had to know what this information was; had to know just how much Antonio was risking.

"Finally, I've been given information directly from the Americans," said Antonio. He passed a small pile of papers to Roma, who immediately began rifling through them.

"Landing positions," muttered Roma. "I knew that German airbase would bring trouble."

Antonio shrugged. "Of course it was only a matter of time before the Americans wanted this village. What we need now is a plan for them to bring down a large chunk of the occupying military before the inevitable battle. The Germans are spread too thin throughout Italy – they do not have the resources to send immediate support."

"Have you any plan?"

Antonio ran a hand wearily through his hair. "I have someone working on it. But Roma, more than anything else, this is vital." Antonio placed his hand over the papers and fixed Roma's eyes in an intense, solemn stare. "This information must be kept from the Germans. They absolutely must not know about the landing."

Lovino let out a long, silent breath, anxious and uneasy. He went and sat heavily on the couch beside Feliciano, turning the smooth, solid tomato over in his hands. Feliciano reached for it immediately, and Lovino snatched it out of the way.

"Lovino!" Feliciano whined childishly. "Let me see, what is it? It's not actually a tomato, is it?"

"No." Lovino carefully inspected the strange gift from Antonio. "It's hard, like it's made of glass or something." He shook it and it rattled slightly. There seemed to be something inside. Just what did Antonio mean by giving him some sort of glass puzzle? "I think you can open it, but I can't work out how."

"Oooh." Feliciano sounded fascinated. "Why did Antonio give you something terrific like that?"

Lovino scoffed. "Terrific? I don't even know what it is!" Lovino held the object to his ear and shook it again. Yes, there was definitely something inside. He burned to know what it was. Antonio and his stupid little games… didn't he know how much Lovino hated to be kept in the dark? "Stupid Spaniard. This is going to drive me crazy."

Feliciano shrugged, quickly losing interest, and focused again on his soccer ball. Lovino ran his hands gently over the glass tomato, occasionally glancing over at where Roma and Antonio poured over the table of documents. It was obvious how dangerous things were becoming for Antonio. If the Germans discovered his presence in the village, he would be captured, tortured for information… killed. It was becoming so hard for Lovino to reconcile these warring emotions. As hard as he tried, he simply could not deny how drawn he was to Antonio. He could not ignore how much he missed Antonio when he was away, how desperate he was to be with the Spaniard when he returned. Just watching the man now across the room - his face handsome and intent as he talked, his body strong and graceful as he moved - Lovino's chest ached with desire simply to touch him.

But he was still scared. He was scared, because as the months drew on, the more Antonio travelled and learnt and involved himself in confidential military matters. The more the danger against him increased; the more wanted and hunted he became. While at the same time, the more Lovino felt these walls around his heart start to crumble. And the more likely it became that he would be hurt.

It took Lovino a moment to realise he was staring at Antonio, and a further moment to realise that he was staring back. Lovino's heart flipped into his throat. But before he could think how to react, Antonio gave him a tiny smile, and winked. Lovino nearly choked. What did the stupid Spaniard think he was doing? Grandpa Roma was right there! Lovino tried to look unimpressed, rolling his eyes as he looked away. He was not going to smile. He was not going to acknowledge this warm, bright glow that swelled in his chest and tingled down his neck. He was not going to smile, damn it!

Lovino almost sighed with relief when Roma and Antonio stood from the table and traded a few more documents, their short conversation over. Lovino and Feliciano stood immediately to join them. "I will be in town for a few weeks, Roma, so I will keep you informed," said Antonio, thrusting a handful of papers messily into his bag.

Lovino's stomach jumped. A few weeks… He was both terrified and overjoyed at the thought.

Roma smiled as he answered, "Yes, yes. Please come around whenever you are free. Our home is your home, my friend."

At those words, Lovino's stomach turned in circles. Come around whenever you are free… He swallowed heavily. That would be terrible, that would be wonderful, that would be…

"Of course I will!" Antonio smiled brightly and it lit up his eyes, his face, the entire room... Lovino raised his eyes to the ceiling and let out a very long breath. Oh, he didn't think he could do this much longer. His chest ached jealously when Antonio pulled Feliciano into a hug. "Stay safe, Feli."

"Visit soon, Antonio!"

Antonio nodded, turned, and despite every desperate, aching ounce of desire in his body, Lovino took a step backwards. His heart started pounding. Not here… not now… he could not let Antonio put his arms around him, he couldn't handle this, why was Antonio leaning towards him, what was he… Lovino's pounding heart stopped when he felt Antonio's breath warm against his ear. "Still waiting, mi corazón."

Lovino fought back the breathless gasp that rose in his chest. His eyes widened and his face burned bright red. Antonio pulled back, his gaze still on Lovino, a small, delighted smile on his lips and an intense, burning look in his eyes. Their eyes remained locked until Roma quickly grabbed Antonio by the arm, steered him forcefully towards the door, and kissed his cheeks almost violently in farewell. "Until next time! Oh, and Antonio, tell me. Can you sing?"

Antonio smiled a little dazedly, his expression slightly confused. "Sing? Why?"

Roma narrowed his eyes. "Because if you look at my grandson like that again, I will castrate you."

Lovino could not believe it. He felt his face contort in pure shock. How much did Roma know? And how dare he say that to Antonio? "Grandpa!" cried Lovino, absolutely mortified. What must Antonio be thinking?

Antonio's expression turned blank until Roma burst into raucous laughter. Antonio let out a relieved sigh and laughed along.

"No, no," laughed Roma, clapping Antonio heavily on the shoulder. "But Antonio, really…" Roma immediately broke off laughing and caught Antonio's eyes in a dark glare. "I'm deadly serious."

Lovino clapped his hand to his forehead. He was caught between wanting to die of embarrassment and wanting to smash something against the wall. Feliciano just seemed to find it amusing. Antonio backed up to the door, still attempting a valiant smile. "We'll… uh. We'll speak soon, Roma."

"We will!" Roma smiled cheerfully, giving Antonio a happy wave. When Antonio's eyes met his, Lovino did not know whether to look away or try somehow to apologise. Roma, however, made a distinct slicing motion below the waist, so Antonio simply gave Lovino one last smile before rushing out the door. Lovino wondered briefly if it was actually possible to die of embarrassment. Roma just clapped his hands, spun around, and grinned widely. "So," he said merrily. "Who wants pasta for dinner?"

"Ooh, ooh!" Feliciano jumped and raced back into the kitchen.

Lovino growled in his throat as he dragged himself behind. "I'm leaving this family."

.

Lovino could not sleep. How could he possibly sleep tonight? His head spun with constant, infuriating thoughts of Antonio, with fear and excitement for the coming morning. It was the first time Lovino would be involved in a mission with Antonio. True, Grandpa Roma would be there also, but Lovino still could not control the jumpy, clawing, almost painful nervousness that coiled in his stomach. Since the crippling embarrassment of the previous evening, Lovino had not had the chance to speak with Antonio alone. Now that Grandpa Roma seemed to be growing suspicious, Lovino was starting to wonder if there would ever be a chance – and more importantly, if he even wanted one.

Lovino had done his best to keep Antonio from his mind in the recent weeks. He had done as he always had when trying to forget. He had focused on the resistance, trying to prove he was worthy. It even seemed to be working - Grandpa Roma had finally given Lovino his own pistol. He had thrown himself into organising, thrown himself into celebrating. He had gotten thoroughly drunk a few days earlier at an unplanned celebration in the farmhouse, only to wake the next day with a dry mouth, a pounding head, and the fuzzy, horrifying memory of dancing and singing and playing his guitar on the table. And yet still, always, constantly, Lovino thought of Antonio. Dreamt of him. Waited for him. It was impossible to forget Antonio while he was away, let alone now he was here in the village, a mere walk away. Of course Lovino could not sleep.

And so Lovino lay silently, staring at the wall, unable to hear Feliciano's breathing in the bed across the room. Feliciano had been strangely eager to head to the market today, yet he had come home with nothing but an inexplicable bar of chocolate. Lovino barely had time to consider where he got such a thing. Instead his mind was preoccupied with the memories of Antonio at the cantina today. The Resistenza members had been so happy to see him – but of course, everyone was always happy to see Antonio. Lovino had just sat on a table at the back of the room, watching as they shook Antonio's hand, as they chatted brightly, smiled happily, laughed cheerfully. Everyone liked Antonio. But how could they possibly not? And again, Lovino could not help but wonder: how could someone so damned friendly and popular as Antonio love him?

"Lovino?" Apparently, Feliciano could not sleep either.

"Hmm?"

Feliciano's voice cut straight through Lovino's scattered thoughts. "What do you think of Antonio?"

Lovino almost choked. He gasped, then immediately coughed in an attempt to hide it. He had to remind himself that Feliciano could not read his mind. Feliciano could not know Lovino's feelings for Antonio… surely… "Why on earth would you ask me that?"

"Well, don't you like him?"

Lovino snorted and tried to sound offended. "Like him? That Spanish bastard? Why the hell would I like him?"

"Well, I like him, and Grandpa does, and I just sort of thought that you did. Maybe. A little more than we do."

Lovino's pulse sped up and a tight knot of fear settled in his stomach. But no, Feliciano couldn't possibly know. Lovino had hidden his feelings too well, too completely. How could silly little Feliciano possibly see through that? "Well, I don't."

"Oh." Feliciano sounded surprised. "All right then."

Lovino waited a few moments before breathing a cautious sigh of relief. He did not know what had possessed Feliciano to start asking about this, but Lovino was going to have to be a little more careful from now on. It was bad enough that Grandpa Roma was beginning to have suspicions, but Feliciano… God, Lovino must be more obvious in his emotions than he realised!

"Lovino?"

Lovino gritted his teeth. "What?"

"Have you ever thought of telling Antonio that you… don't like him?"

Lovino's mind went blank. Feliciano knew… The blankets felt suddenly stifling as sweat rose on his neck.

"Lovino?"

"Go to sleep, Feliciano." Lovino hoped Feliciano could not hear the desperation in his voice. He breathed deeply and tried to sort out the frantic thoughts running through his head. If everyone seemed to know Lovino's feelings, what was even the point of trying to hide them anymore? After all, they weren't going away. But he knew the answer; knew the reason. Because he was still so scared of being hurt.

"Lovino?"

Lovino almost jumped. "For God's sake, Feliciano, what do you want?"

Feliciano sounded more certain this time. "You do like Antonio, and you do want to tell him, but you are worried about what might happen when you do. Not that I really blame you, because Grandpa Roma did threaten to castrate him and all, but maybe… maybe if you just explained…"

"Feliciano." Lovino spoke quietly, almost breathlessly. He thought for a moment about how to explain his emotions, his reasons. When he finally spoke, it was almost to himself. Feliciano would probably not even understand. "Sometimes we have feelings which we will never be able to express. Sometimes we have secrets that should stay that way. Sometimes…" Lovino stopped, seeing Antonio's smiling face in the darkness, and realised that he wasn't even sure he believed what he was saying. "Sometimes there are things that are just not worth the risk."

Even as he said it, Lovino knew he was lying to himself. Antonio was all that mattered; Antonio was everything. He took away Lovino's uncertainty, took away his loneliness. There was a void in Lovino that only Antonio could fill, and it was frightening just how empty Lovino was without him. Antonio reached into Lovino, into a place he didn't even know existed, and filled him with a happiness and a belonging and a brilliant joy that went beyond anything he had ever thought possible to experience. When Antonio was away, Lovino existed. It was only when he was with Antonio that Lovino actually lived.

And that was what Lovino risked. That joy, that bliss, that completion. It was what he was so scared to feel, and what he fought so hard against. Because it was what he was scared to lose. Lovino knew if he accepted it, believed it, felt it, and if he then lost it, that he could not survive.

But then he remembered that perfect feeling in Antonio's arms; the brush of Antonio's warm hand on his cheek. Remembered the hope and love in Antonio's eyes, the joy and beauty in his smile. Lovino was drawn to Antonio with every single part of his being.

It was a hard thing to realise. But if Antonio wasn't worth the risk, then nothing was.

.

The 'mission' was a joke. Four hours traipsing the back roads to a remote mountain posting of fighting partisans, fifteen minutes getting their news of German patrols in the area, and now Lovino trudged the road home bitterly behind Antonio and Grandpa Roma with the distinct feeling they had only brought him along to humour him. He kicked a rock on the dirt track before him, hands in his pockets, scowling to himself. He felt like a fool. What was even the point of Roma giving him a pistol if he was never going to have the chance to use it? Lovino wanted to prove himself worthy. He wanted to show everyone that, despite what they thought, he could be an important member of this resistance too. He could fight for the country he loved. And watching Antonio amble along the road before him, his curly brown hair flying in the wind and his tuneless whistle carrying on the breeze, Lovino could not deny that, more than anything, he wanted to impress this man. He wanted the brave, handsome, infuriatingly cheerful Spaniard to know that he could be brave, also. Lovino wanted to prove himself worthy of Antonio's unfathomable affections.

Lovino kicked the rock forcefully along the trail, quickly growing bored of the unchanging landscape around him. A tall, steep hill loomed over the wide country road and a gently sloping rise led down to green fields and valleys below. Lovino raised his eyes and watched as distant storm clouds massed beyond the mountains. The day had been unseasonably warm, but it was fast growing cooler as the sky began to darken. The wind was also starting to pick up, gusting briskly through the trees that bordered the road. It looked like this pleasant, sunny weather would not last much longer; perhaps there would even be a storm to break the strangely warm winter days.

Lovino grumbled to himself, wiping the sweat from his brow. This boring, pointless walk refused to end, and it felt like they'd been marching forever. When the hell would they stop? Taking a deep breath, Lovino was just about to demand a break, when a loud, sharp bang interrupted him. Lovino's heart leapt to his throat as Antonio and Roma turned quickly at the sound, both reaching for their weapons. Hurriedly, unthinking, Lovino attempted to do the same, only to catch his foot on the unsteady path and stumble. Sharp, burning pain shot through his ankle, and he cried out as he fell.

"LOVINO!" Grandpa Roma's shout was harsh with panic. But it was Antonio who reached him first, falling to his knees before Lovino could even comprehend what was happening. Antonio ran his hands over Lovino's jacket, swift and searching and confusing.

"Lovino, are you hit? Lovino? Roma, scout the direction. Lovino, answer me!"

His chest pounding and his head spinning, Lovino pushed himself upright and batted Antonio's hands away. "Will you stop it, what is your problem, it's just my…" Lovino broke off and gasped, pain searing up his leg in a sudden agonising wave. "…ANKLE, SHIT, OH SHIT!"

Antonio breathed out in relief. "Ah. Gracias a Dios."

Lovino tried to glare, though he had to blink back tears from the pain. "Thank God? It's fucking killing me you bastard, what are you oh shit no don't touch it ARGH!" Lovino felt Grandpa Roma's hand cover his mouth to cut off his scream.

"Lovino. You are all right. Let Antonio check your ankle. It looks like the sound was a snapping tree branch, but there are German patrols along this road sometimes, so you still have to be quiet. And watch your damn mouth."

Lovino scowled angrily. Roma was probably only saying that to shut him up. Surely they would not be walking this road so openly if there was any real chance of a German patrol. Regardless, Lovino nodded, and Roma removed his hand. At the same time, Antonio pulled off his boot, and Lovino had to slam his own hand over his mouth to keep from screaming. He fought to stop himself from kicking Antonio as he ran his hands gently over the tender flesh.

"It's just a sprain," said Antonio, his voice relieved. He smiled brightly at Lovino. "Nothing's broken. You can't put any weight on it, though – we'll have to go slowly."

Roma breathed out heavily. "Ah, good. But we're already running late, and after Feliciano's meeting with the informant today…"

"You can go ahead, Roma." Antonio spoke far too quickly. "I can help Lovino home."

Lovino's eyebrows shot up, his heartbeat racing into his throat. Roma looked from Antonio to Lovino and then out across the valley. He nodded reluctantly. "You know how panicked Feli can get. I had better hurry." Roma headed off immediately down the road, shouting back as he went. "Be as fast as you can, and be careful."

Antonio gave him a small wave. "Always, Roma."

Lovino almost forgot his twisted ankle. Grandpa Roma had left them alone. Lovino was alone with Antonio. Alone for the first time since that mind-spinning dance in the cantina, since that wonderful, terrible, overwhelming conversation in the alley. Lovino did not know how to handle this situation. Antonio smiled at him, bright and joyful and stunning. Lovino glared back. "I don't need your help. I can walk on my own."

Antonio looked doubtful. "If you put any pressure on that ankle it is going to swell up like an overripe tomato."

The mention of tomatoes sent Lovino's thoughts flying directly to the glass tomato sitting in his top drawer at home. His heart beat even faster, sending his heated blood directly to his cheeks. It had only been two days, but Lovino was frustrated as hell that he couldn't figure out how to open the stupid thing. What was with Antonio and these silly little games? "Well then, I'll hop."

Antonio's doubtful expression twisted in amusement. "All the way home?"

Lovino answered defiantly. "Yes."

"I can carry you." Antonio grinned widely and wagged his eyebrows.

Lovino's eyes widened in alarm. "Oh, no. No you bloody well can't." He forced himself to his feet, took a determined step forward, and immediately stumbled as a wave of tearing agony shot up his leg. Antonio caught him securely by the arms.

"Oh, Lovino, you are so stubborn. For heaven's sake, let me help you." But Antonio smiled as he said it, helping Lovino hobble to a large rock by the nearby cliff face.

"Don't need your help," Lovino mumbled again, refusing to acknowledge the way Antonio's firm grip stopped the breath in his lungs and sent that familiar shiver up his spine.

"Well, you do need someone to bandage this ankle. Now sit down and just try to relax, will you? No seas tonto."

Lovino sat heavily, glaring as Antonio shoved the boot in his bag and pulled a bandage out. "Don't call me that."

Antonio giggled as he knelt and reached for Lovino's foot. "Okay. No seas tan adorable."

Lovino burned red. "Don't call me that, either!" He shifted on the hard stone, feeling an uncomfortable lump digging into his thigh. Reaching into his pocket, he pulled out his pointless pistol and placed it on the rock beside him.

Antonio stared at the gun, starkly black against the pale grey rock. "Did your grandpa not tell you? Never take your weapon from your side unless you intend to use it."

Lovino rolled his eyes. Did Antonio think Lovino knew nothing unless Grandpa Roma told him? "I know that! But it's only for a moment, I'll put it right back."

Antonio raised his eyebrows. "Don't forget," he said warningly.

"I'm not stupid," grumbled Lovino. Then he sighed and resigned himself to the painful, embarrassing, gentle feeling of Antonio's warm hands on his tender ankle. Lovino swallowed heavily as Antonio wrapped the long, white bandage carefully around the swelling limb. He searched for something to say, rather than just sit silently staring at Antonio's strong, tanned hands. "Today was not really a dangerous mission, was it?"

Antonio looked up with bright, green eyes though dark, wild curls. "Every mission is dangerous."

Lovino's heart thumped unevenly, so he looked away from those eyes and towards the darkening horizon. "You sound like Grandpa."

Antonio laughed, focusing again on wrapping the white cloth around Lovino's ankle. "But it is true, Lovino."

"He still won't let me go on a real mission. I wish he would stop protecting me."

Antonio shrugged. "Well, that's what you do when you love someone."

That warm touch of Antonio's fingers sent tiny, tingling shocks through Lovino's entire body. He had to admit, grudgingly, that at least it took his mind off the pain. "I can look after myself. I can handle danger."

"I know you can."

Lovino was surprised by his strong elation at Antonio's words, followed by his disappointment when Antonio pinned the bandage and dropped his hands. He very gently patted Lovino's leg to indicate he'd finished, but did not yet move to stand. Lovino peered down at him thoughtfully. "Would you choose me for one of your missions?"

Antonio leant forward slightly, his wind-blown hair falling in his eyes. "Your grandpa would kill me if I went behind his back." Lovino scoffed, but Antonio quickly continued. "But I could always use loyal help - so perhaps I will bring it up with Roma. Besides, you would always be safe with me."

Lovino's mouth practically dropped. He blinked a few times, silent and stunned. Antonio would actually suggest him for a real mission? For something important? "You're serious?" Antonio nodded. Lovino's heart seemed to soar in his chest, the pain in his ankle completely forgotten. Antonio trusted him. Antonio believed he was worthy. The feeling was oddly exhilarating. But more than that… "Why would I be safe with you?"

Antonio winked. "Because I would protect you, with my life."

Lovino reflexively tried to kick Antonio with his uninjured foot, even as his stomach flipped joyfully. "You say the most stupid things, dramatic Spaniard!"

Antonio just giggled. "But I require a promise from you, first."

Lovino folded his arms and glared. Always these stupid little games… "A promise?"

"That if we are ever in danger, you will do exactly as I say."

Lovino regarded Antonio carefully through narrowed eyes. He had made that promise once before. "Fine," he mumbled.

Antonio turned his head slightly, putting his hand to his ear. "What was that?"

"Fine!" Lovino grunted it through gritted teeth.

"I'm sorry?" Antonio leant closer, his grin widening - the bastard was obviously having far too much fun. Lovino rolled his eyes.

"Oh for God's sake… I promise."

Antonio laughed and leant back on his heels. "There now, was that so hard?"

Lovino's lips pulled into a small, traitorous smile. "You really do say such stupid, melodramatic things, though."

Antonio threw his bag over his shoulder and grinned. "Ah, but if they can get you to smile like that, how can I resist?"

Lovino's heart fluttered annoyingly. "Oh, just stop it already, do you really think…"

"Ssh." Antonio abruptly raised a hand and turned his head, his smile falling and his eyes hardening. Lovino immediately fell silent, his stomach turning cold at Antonio's startling change of demeanour. He listened carefully, unable to hear anything but the wind, even as an awful anxiety grew horribly in his gut. Antonio did not move. Lovino started to ask what was wrong, when a low rumble sounded softly in the short distance. It grew slowly closer and clearer, until, with a flush of fearful heat, Lovino recognised the sound as a car engine. Antonio's wide, darkened eyes met his, just as Grandpa Roma's words rang in his head - There are German patrols along this road, sometimes... The moment seemed to stretch, hazy and distorted and lasting far too long. It broke when Antonio climbed frantically to his feet, grabbed Lovino by the arm, and dragged him from the dirt track towards the low, sloping rise.

Lovino barely felt the pain in his ankle. He had no time to think or feel anything before Antonio pulled him hurriedly into an embankment beside the road - one of the many trenches that had long been built throughout the Italian countryside. They fell heavily to the ground against the dug out hollow, unseen and sheltered from the road. Lovino's head spun almost painfully. "What are we going to..."

"Ssh, Lovino." Antonio spoke in a firm whisper, his eyes stern and steady, his body almost touching Lovino's in the small, cramped space. "Exactly as I say, remember? Stay silent, and stay completely still. They will drive straight by."

Lovino gulped and nodded, his shock turning quickly to fear. Everything was happening too fast. He tried to breathe evenly through the rising dread, waiting and praying for that sickening rumble of the car engine to pass them by. The sound grew steadily louder and closer, until it blasted down from the road above and Lovino forgot to pray; forgot to breathe. Then it quieted, stuttered, and stopped completely. Lovino felt his heart stop with it. Why were they turning off the engine? Why was the car stopping? Lovino looked at Antonio curiously, desperately, as though he could somehow hear and answer Lovino's silent questions. But Antonio simply looked confused until, with a sudden flash of almost fearful comprehension, his lips parted slightly and his eyes grew wide. And then Lovino realised. His pistol was still sitting conspicuously on that rock beside the road.

Lovino's stomach plunged to his feet. He shook his head in angry denial, icy sweat rising on his skin, burning tears gathering in his eyes. How could he have done something so stupid? Antonio told him not to put the weapon down! He knew not to put the weapon down! "I'm sorry," Lovino whispered, his hand flying to his mouth. Car doors opened and slammed shut above them; heavy, unmistakable German voices drowned out the wind. Fear and shame flooded Lovino's freezing veins. His voice cracked as he whispered again. "I'm sorry, I'm so sorry, I'm…"

Antonio shook his head and touched his fingers to Lovino's lips. "Ssh. No," he mouthed silently. Then quickly, strongly, he reached an arm around Lovino's waist and pulled him close. Beyond pride, beyond thought, beyond reason, Lovino fell desperately against him. The rough tread of military boots pounded on the road above, punctuated by shouts and orders and those deep, loud, paralysing German voices. Lovino simply clung to Antonio. He couldn't hold back his tears, couldn't think to feel ashamed. He could only hide his face in Antonio's neck and wait.

Breathing rapidly against Antonio's skin, Lovino's heart thumped wildly as his fear mixed with something else. Antonio was so close. Holding Lovino tight, stroking his back and smoothing his hair, touching his cheek and wiping his tears. Antonio calmed him and reassured him and comforted him without saying a word. Lovino closed his eyes. He did not deserve this. He did not deserve Antonio. Because of Lovino, all that now kept Antonio from torture and death was this tiny, shallow trench. If these German soldiers caught him now, if would be Lovino's fault.

Hot, heavy tears refused to stop falling. Lovino did not even care that he was shaking uncontrollably; he could only think about Antonio being captured, being killed, all because of his own stupid mistake... He looked up suddenly, needing somehow to apologise, but stopped short at the look in Antonio's strangely gentle, reassuringly calm, brilliantly green eyes. He did not look angry. He did not look scared. Antonio just looked like the most wonderful, kind, beautiful, important person in Lovino's entire world.

But those harsh German voices kept shouting. Those heavy, pounding boots kept moving, drawing closer, faster, until they were directly above the trench. Lovino realised they weren't stopping. The soldiers were checking the roadside. Panic clawed at Lovino's chest, sickening and overwhelming, too hot and too wrong. He fought back a sob, shaking and sweating, even as Antonio stroked his hair and stared calmly into his eyes. This wasn't real, he couldn't do this, he couldn't breathe…

A deep voice shouted roughly from above. Antonio went rigid. His hand moved to his hip, and Lovino realised with a horrifying wave of dizziness that he was reaching for his gun. Lovino's mind froze with terror. His blood thrummed with it, his throat choked with pounding, clawing fear. He had never felt such terror in his life. Antonio just squeezed him tight, touched his lips to Lovino's ear, and whispered so quietly that Lovino could not be sure he heard it. "With my life."

A shudder ran though Lovino's body as his breath left him. It was almost painful how deeply the realisation struck: Antonio meant those words. Antonio really would die for him. Lovino's chest ached as Antonio rested his forehead against Lovino's own, as their breath mingled and their hearts beat rapidly between them. In these moments that might be their last, all Lovino wanted was to be with Antonio; to hold him, to feel him, to accept what Lovino had never allowed himself to accept before. He closed his eyes and felt the unspoken words pulse through every part of him. I love you.

But then the footsteps stomped back to the road. The shouting voices drifted further away. Lovino held his breath, unable to move, his eyes still clamped shut. Scared to hope; scared to breathe. After what felt like an eternity, the car engine stuttered to life. It revved loudly, screeched deafeningly, and finally the tearing sound took off and disappeared into the distance. Lovino's eyes flew open and he could not hold back a sob of relief, though he again slammed his hand to his mouth immediately. Antonio breathed out heavily and put his pistol away. They stayed lying close for a few moments more, silent, waiting, until Antonio finally looked up and started to move. Lovino panicked immediately. What if it was a trick? What if they were still there? "No, no, no," Lovino whispered, shaking his head, gripping Antonio's arm and trying to stop him.

Antonio smiled reassuringly and took Lovino's hand, squeezing it gently. Then he looked over the top of the dug out embankment. "They're gone."

Lovino shuddered with an overwhelming relief, a cold sweat breaking over his skin. His terrified tears turned into gasping breaths of exhaling release. "Oh, God, Antonio!" he sighed, putting a hand to his heaving chest as though it could help him breathe. And then, suddenly, it hit him. How he'd acted, what he'd done, what he'd said… Lovino had never felt more embarrassed in his life. He snatched his hand from Antonio's, pushed himself upright, and shrunk away. The encompassing shame only made his disgraceful tears worse.

"Lovino?" Antonio sounded concerned.

"No!" Lovino tried instinctively to hide his face. "No, no, I'm an idiot! I made such a stupid mistake! It could have cost everything, and…" Lovino had to gulp for air. "And I'm such a coward!"

Antonio sighed gently, breathily, and laid his hand on Lovino's shoulder. "No, Lovino…"

"Stop!" Lovino flinched from Antonio's touch, angry and confused and humiliated. "Don't be nice to me, stop always being so nice to me! I am just a coward because when something like this happens I fall apart! No wonder Grandpa doesn't let me go on serious missions, because look at me! I'm so afraid! I'm afraid of something happening to you, or to Grandpa, or Feliciano; I'm scared of being captured and tortured and killed, I'm scared of what I feel for you…" Lovino broke off and slammed a hand over his mouth. Oh crap, he'd said that. He had really just said that. "Shit, shit, damn it!" Lovino pulled himself to his feet, having completely forgotten his wounded ankle. He took a single step and fell to the ground. No, no, no… "SHIT!"

Lovino utterly burned with embarrassment. He wanted to disappear; he wanted to die. He wanted a huge gap to open in the ground and swallow him whole. Lovino settled for drawing his knees up, placing his arms around them, and putting his head on his arms. Maybe this was a dream. Maybe he would wake up if he just wished hard enough. Maybe…

"It is okay, Lovino." Lovino felt Antonio sit close beside him, but could not bring himself to look. The air around them grew colder by the second, the cool breeze turning Lovino's sweat icy against his skin. The calm silence of the early evening seemed so much deeper after the earlier harsh and raucous events. They sat in silence for a few moments before Antonio spoke again. "Oh, mi corazón. Everything is okay now."

"No," Lovino mumbled. "It's not."

Antonio paused a moment. "Lovino, you would not be human if you did not get scared."

Lovino scoffed into his arms. "That's easy for you to say. You're not scared of anything. You're the bravest man I know, you don't understand…"

"You think I don't get scared?" Antonio interrupted, then laughed gently, humourlessly. "Lovino, that was terrifying. Of course I was scared. And I am afraid of all those things you mentioned. Of something happening to Roma, to Feli - God forbid, to you. Of being captured…" Antonio sighed wearily. "Of what the Gestapo would do to me."

Lovino shook his head forcefully. "Don't." He could not speak of that. He could not even think of that.

Antonio took a few moments to continue. "I'm afraid of the same things as you, Lovino."

Lovino turned his head on his arms, finally meeting Antonio's gaze. His smile was too understanding, his eyes too kind, his handsome face framed by his falling curls and the darkening sky. Lovino's heart skipped and swelled at the sight. He almost forgot to feel embarrassed.

"Lovino, we all feel fear. But some things are worth pushing through that fear for. Some things are more important." Antonio brushed a lock of hair behind Lovino's ear, a familiar breathtaking gesture that brought with it a flood of memory and emotion. "Some things are worth it."

Lovino could not answer. He could only close his eyes and turn his head away. He did not even know why he did it. It was uncontrollable, an instinct he had nurtured for so long and buried so deep that he had no choice. Denying his feelings for Antonio had become some strange part of him now. Lovino knew he was no longer saving himself from pain – he was only causing it, and yet, he did not know how to stop. He still tried to tell himself that loving Antonio was not worth the pain. Lovino carefully wiped the corner of his eye before another tear could fall.

"Come, Lovino." Antonio reached for Lovino's hand and squeezed it lightly, reassuringly. "It is getting dark. Lean against me, and I will help you."

Lovino nodded silently. He allowed Antonio to help him to his feet, allowed him to place an arm around his waist and help him walk. But he could not look at Antonio. He could not stand to see that hidden disappointment in those kind green eyes.

Antonio chattered aimlessly as they walked. He spoke of the usual topics: places he had been, people he had met. He laughed and joked and even sang occasionally, unfamiliar Spanish tunes and verses that Lovino could not translate. He held Lovino firmly, steadily, keeping the pressure off his ankle and preventing him from falling. The earlier horrifying, humiliating incident faded with the afternoon light, drifted away on the gusting breeze. Lovino remained silent, listening to Antonio's words, keenly aware of that steady arm around his waist and that firm hand holding his. Leaning into his warmth, breathing in his scent, accepting the old comfort and relief of his presence. Feeling like he belonged.

There was something else between them now. A quiet knowledge, an unspoken understanding that this something else was leading somewhere. Every stolen glance, every unchecked thought, every spoken word was building it, uncontrollably, and no matter how scared Lovino might be, nothing could stop it.

And as they walked slowly, brokenly, gradually along the unsteady path beside the main road, Lovino felt a sudden realisation flood through his veins and burst in his mind.

It would not be much longer until he gave in.


To be continued…