This is how it happens.
Antonio wakes up, properly, after hitting the snooze button a couple of times, realizing that, yet again, he is going to be late to class. He leaps out of bed, and throws on whatever rumpled clothes he can find, before dashing out into the little kitchen, and attempting to make something mildly edible before rushing off to his lecture, or his seminar, or whatever it is he's about to miss.
He lives with his friends – Gilbert Beilschmidt and Francis Bonnefoy – and their respective significant others, Roderich, who is as different from Gilbert as it is possible to be, and Matthew, whom Francis adores, and has given up philandering for. Most of his philandering, anyway. He burns the toast, but manages to make a nice cup of coffee, and listens to the dulcet tones of Gilbert and Roderich arguing, and Francis and Matthew engaging in a lazy bout of early morning sex. Then he dumps his mug and plate and butter knife and spoon in the sink, and runs off to university.
This is how it goes every day.
Antonio has a job. He likes his job. Antonio's job is to tutor local school kids after their lessons end for the day, in history, mostly, seeing as that is what he is studying. He likes to help them with whatever he can, though; he loves watching their faces light up when they finally understand something they've previously been struggling with. He wants to be a schoolteacher when he graduates.
And this is how Antonio Fernandez Carriedo comes to meet Lovino Vargas, who will change his life.
Lovino Vargas is only just thirteen when they meet. Antonio is twenty. His father, a tanned, handsome man with paint all over his fingers drops him and his twin brother off two days a week at the front gates. The other brother, the one with with the vacant expression and turned-up lips needs help with maths and science, and within three minutes of entering on that first day, is laughing and chatting with Elizabeta, who is obviously smitten by the child. The first boy folds his arms, and goes to sit in a corner, staring determinedly at the door. Nobody goes to talk to him, so Antonio gets up from his table, and plonks himself down on the chair next to the child.
The boy moves a few seats away.
Antonio follows him.
He moves again.
Antonio follows him, smiling.
Finally, the boy turns to him, red-faced, and snaps, "What do you want, prick?"
Antonio laughs. "Hi!" he says. "My name's Antonio. What's yours?"
The child glares at him for a long moment, as though trying to figure out his angle. At last, he turns his gaze downwards, and mumbles, as if embarrassed by it, "Lovino."
"Lovino!" says Antonio. "Lovino. That's a cute name!"
Lovino scowls at him. "Why are you so weird?" he asks.
Antonio laughs again. "So," he says, "you got any homework you want help with?"
"I don't need help!" Lovino snaps, defensively. "I'm smart enough!"
"Sure!" says Antonio. Lovino is too cute. "But, y'know, if you wanna get it done quickly, so you have more time for fun when you get home, I could give you a hand?"
The boy's eyes narrow; he looks Antonio over carefully for a long while, before, at last, he relaxes somewhat. "Okay," he says, and sticks his little nose in the air. "I don't suppose you know anything about the Great Fire of London."
"You could teach me about it!" says Antonio, grinning, and Lovino looks at him seriously for a moment, before shrugging, and reaching down for his backpack.
After that, Antonio always helps Lovino with his history homework – on Tuesdays and Fridays, which are the two days he and his brother come to the sessions. Lovino is cute, and he makes Antonio laugh, so Antonio looks forward to their meetings.
"Let's go sit with your brother, huh?" says Antonio, not long after they've first met.
Without warning, the child throws his books and his pen to the floor, gets up, and storms out of the hall. His fellow students, and the other children stare first at Lovino; then at Antonio.
The other Vargas boy moves as if to follow his brother; then seems to think better of it, and sits back down, looking upset.
Antonio gets up reluctantly, and hurries after Lovino into the hallway. The university is a big place, and easy to get lost in. Roderich still does, even after being there for nearly two years.
Thankfully, Lovino hasn't gone far. He's at the other end of the passageway, his arms wrapped around his stomach as he stares out of the window.
"Hey!" Antonio calls. "Lovino!"
Lovino jumps. He seems surprised that Antonio has bothered to follow him.
"Lovino, what's wrong?"
"Shut up!" Lovino cries, and buries his face in his hands.
"Go away! Go sit with my brother! I don't want your help anyway!"
Antonio hesitates. "Have – have you had a fight with your brother, Lovino?"
"No! I didn't do anything! Shut up!"
Antonio goes to stand beside him, and rests a hand gently on top of his head. His hair is soft, and warm, and smooth, and it smells good, like fruity shampoo. He feels the child draw in a deep, shuddering breath. "You don't want to be my friend..." he thinks he says, but the words are muffled by the puffy sleeve of his school uniform.
Antonio waits a long moment. Then he leaves. He goes back to the hall, and collects Lovino's things, and his own bag, and returns to the lonely boy in the hallway.
Lovino's back is heaving with silent sobs.
Antonio hops up onto the windowsill, and puts the books into his lap, and places his hand carefully on the crown on the boy's head again. He waits patiently for Lovino's crying to end.
Antonio always sits where his pupil wants to sit. Lovino likes to be a little way apart from the others; with Antonio closest to the wall, and himself at his side, between his teacher and the other students and school kids. He always pulls his chair up as close as he can get it to Antonio's; and then glares up at him, as if daring him to ask why, or laugh.
Antonio never asks why; but he does laugh, and frequently. Lovino is good at making him laugh. He thinks that he makes Lovino laugh too; though Lovino never says.
Lovino is becoming Antonio's favourite pupil.
Sometimes, Lovino will sit so close to him, their sides touch. Their legs touch, too beneath the table. Antonio will ruffle Lovino's hair whenever he does a good job; and Lovino frowns, and his lips purse; but his cheeks turn pink too, and whenever he thinks the elder is not looking, he will allow himself a small smile.
It is the best thing that Antonio's ever seen.
One day it is unnaturally warm. Antonio wears shorts. So does Lovino; with long grey socks. Their bare legs brush together beneath the table; and, for a moment, Antonio's grip on his pen tightens.
Lovino shows him the gold stars he's recently received for his "outstanding" work in history, and presses closer still, swinging his legs back and forth beneath the desk.
They touch again.
The smell of that fruity shampoo becomes a constant in Antonio's life. One day, he goes to the nearest supermarket, and spends fifteen minutes in the hair care aisle, sniffing all the different products, until he finds the one he wants.
That night, he showers, and washes his hair, and breathes in that scent.
He is tired; but it is a comfortable, relaxed kind of tired. He has finished all his work for the day; and he knows that as soon as he steps out of the shower, he will turn all the lights off, and fall straight into bed.
It takes a while for him to realize, whilst his eyes are shut and the water pours down his body in a gentle caress, that he is aroused. He reaches a hand down, hardly thinking about it; and works his length between his fingers until he comes.
The scent of the fruity shampoo fills the room, and he doesn't feel guilty until the day after.
The Vargas twins' father is a tall, cheerful man with a wide, toothy grin, and a chiselled jaw, and a great booming laugh. He is an artist, who has had a fair bit of success; and is actually pretty well known in artistic circles. Antonio likes him; though Lovino looks between his parent and his tutor while they talk, and scowls.
He tells Antonio about how Lovino's grades have improved drastically since he started this tutoring scheme. Feliciano's grades have shot up, too – though Antonio tells him he cannot take credit for this, and indicates Elizabeta. Mr Vargas starts to tell him about an art project of Feliciano's which has just won some national contest. Feliciano smiles awkwardly, and Antonio is pleased for him; but he cannot help but see the way Lovino's expression grows distant and cold as his father pats his twin's shoulder, and strolls over to tell Elizabeta all about it.
Antonio bends down to speak to Lovino.
"Hey, Lovi." (It is a nickname he has adopted; sometimes Lovino squirms when he says it. Antonio thinks it's adorable.) He reaches into his pocket, and pulls out a keyring in the shape of a shiny red tomato. "You like tomatoes, right?"
"N-no," says Lovino. His gaze is still on his father and brother.
Antonio takes his hand; turns it skyward. "Here." He drops the keyring into Lovino's soft palm.
Lovino turns to look; then he stares up at Antonio. "Wh-what's this for?"
"It's a present, just for you." He winks; and tells Lovino to keep it a secret.
Antonio sings happily to himself that weekend, even though he's working on an important and difficult assignment.
"You're too cheerful," says Gilbert, grumpily, and Francis nods in agreement.
Antonio is just happy. Really, really happy.
The scent of that shampoo fills his nostrils. Antonio has just showered again. His sheets slide over his heated skin, and as he comes, hard, into his hand, he sees dark Mediterranean skin, and glossy brown hair.
Mr Vargas comes to speak to him again the Tuesday after this.
"I wouldn't normally ask," he says, running a hand through his wild hair. "But I have a date this Friday, and I won't be back home 'til Saturday afternoon. I can't find anyone else, and, well –" he pauses and gives Antonio a sheepish smile, "– my date isn't the sort of person who gives second chances."
"Hmm," says Antonio, wondering what he is getting at.
"So...I was wondering," Mr Vargas presses on, "if you'd possibly be able to watch Feli and Lovino for me? I'll pay you, and give you a bed, and food, of course."
"Oh!" says Antonio. He is still working on his very important assignment.
Out of the corner of his eye he sees Lovino packing away his things, casting cursory glances at both him and his father.
"Okay," he says, and Mr Vargas beams. "No problem!"
Briefly, he sees Lovino smile too.
On Friday at four, both Lovino and Feliciano arrive for their tutoring sessions as usual. At half-past five, they pack up their textbooks and exercise books and pens and pencil cases, and Antonio and the other student tutors tidy away the chairs and desks. Then Feliciano grabs his brother's hand (Lovino shakes him off), and Antonio's arm, and they leave campus together.
When Elizabeta and Kiku and Arthur and the others glance up at him as they walk out, Antonio wonders briefly if he's doing something illegal. But Mr Vargas wouldn't have asked him if there was anything strange about it; and so he casts off his worries, and they head to the nearest bus stop.
Being an impoverished student, Antonio doesn't have a car; but Lovino knows which bus they need to take, and so Antonio is happy to follow the boy's directions. He seems happy to be in charge of him and his sibling; and Antonio smiles as Lovino strides out in front of him, his hair shining; a spring in his step.
Feliciano looks out of the window on the bus, humming to himself happily and drumming his fingertips against the glass. Lovino sits close to Antonio, and does not look at him. Antonio lets his right hand slide down between them, and by the time the bus stops at the end of the Vargas' street, their pinkie fingers are linked together.
The Vargas' house is full of paintings. There are Mr Vargas' paintings; and paintings by other artists; famous, and obscure; and there are paintings with Feliciano's name in the bottom corner. They are very good, considering his age.
There is a picture by Lovino, too, though it takes Antonio a while to find; it is stuck to the fridge door with magnets, and it is clumsily rendered and rather sloppily coloured.
Antonio thinks it is beautiful; and says so. Feliciano agrees. Lovino scowls.
That night, Antonio cooks Salmorejo with Serrano ham and eggs. Feliciano says it's the best thing he's ever tasted (apart from pasta), and Antonio laughs warmly. Lovino seems to like it too.
They watch TV together for a bit. At nine o'clock Feliciano starts to yawn, and says that he wants to go to bed.
"Shut up," says Lovino, and turning to Antonio, adds: "Dad lets us stay up 'til eleven at the weekends."
"No he doesn't," says Feliciano, looking confused.
Lovino hisses, and pokes his brother, hard.
Antonio chuckles, and tells Feliciano that if he wants to go to bed, that's fine. Feliciano leaps onto his brother, and hugs him (Lovino tries to shove him away), and plants a big kiss on his cheek, giggling happily. Finally, Lovino gives in, and gives his sibling a quick, embarrassed hug. Feliciano hugs Antonio, too, and kisses his cheek, and skips off up to bed.
"Cute," says Antonio, and laughs.
Lovino folds his arms, and sits very still.
The evening wears on; they watch some silly medical drama mindlessly. Lovino shifts a little closer to him; hoists his legs up onto the sofa, and hugs himself around the middle. Antonio rests one arm along the back of the sofa, behind his companion. The scent of the child sets his head spinning a little; he smells of tomatoes and fresh bread and that fruity shampoo. Lovino's feet stir; and it seems like the most normal thing in the world when Antonio next looks down to discover that the boy is pressed up against his side, and dozing.
By eleven-thirty, Antonio is tired. It is wonderful to have Lovino curled up against him; but it is also a little uncomfortable; his hip is going to sleep; and there is a dangerous warmth between his legs.
He picks Lovino up, nestling him in his arms; then carries him to bed, and tucks him in. He wants to take off his clothes – to make him more comfortable – but he doesn't.
That would be wrong.
He breathes in the scent of the lovely boy one last time before he leaves; and then he moves to the guest room, and lies down between the cool blankets, and, to his surprise, falls asleep almost at once.
The next morning, Antonio wakes up early, and when they have eaten breakfast, he gets to work on his assignment.
Feliciano's friend, a blond boy with a serious face who turns out to be Gilbert Beilschmidt's younger brother comes round to play. Lovino doesn't like Ludwig – that is his name – and so he fetches himself a Harry Potter book, and sits on the floor beside Antonio, and rests his head on Antonio's thigh as he reads.
When Antonio gets home that afternoon, he can still feel the warmth of Lovino against his leg.
Gilbert and Roderich are having sex.
It doesn't usually bother him.
Tonight, it does.
"I got twenty out of twenty on my last test," Lovino informs him, before Antonio can even open his mouth to say hello, "but I suppose you don't really care."
"Lovi! Twenty? Seriously? That's wonderful!" He holds up one hand for a high-five. Lovino ignores it; eyes him cautiously. "I knew you could do it!"
Lovino looks at him a moment longer; then, blushing scarlet, shuffles closer, and gives him a very small, very shy high-five.
Mr Vargas approaches him again on the next Tuesday.
"Antonio," he says, and gives him that lopsided smile once more. "Antonio, you know that date I had? Well...he wants to see me again."
Antonio beams. "Good for you, Mr Vargas!"
Mr Vargas seems pleased. "I just wondered if you might –"
"I'll do it!" he says, cheerfully, and Mr Vargas looks relieved.
He waves goodbye to Lovino as the family leaves; and Lovino waves back. He is wearing shorts again.
Both Feliciano and Lovino opt to go to bed early that weekend. When they have left the room, Antonio picks up the cushion Lovino was huddled up against, and holds it to himself, breathing in deeply. He lies back on the sofa, letting his legs fall apart.
There is a pulsing heat between his thighs.
At about half past ten, Antonio goes upstairs. He pauses outside Feliciano's room, and listens. He is fast asleep; his breaths are deep and even and utterly relaxed. He moves on; stands beside Lovino's door.
He listens to him breathing; in – out – in – and out.
"We never see you anymore!" Francis complains. "Where have you been hiding, mon ami?"
Antonio wants to tell him that he has fallen in love.
Antonio helps Lovino with a quiz sheet on the English Civil War.
Lovino holds his hand underneath the desk.
That night, when he touches himself, he has to bite down on the duvet to prevent himself from crying out in ecstasy.
Watching the Vargas brothers becomes a regular thing for him. Sometimes it is over the weekend; sometimes he escorts them home from school.
When he does this, they walk through the park. Feliciano runs off, and joins in a game of football with some kids he knows from school. Lovino watches him for a moment, then turns back to Antonio, looking a little embarrassed.
"You're too mature to play with those guys, right, Lovi?" Antonio says, and winks.
Lovino looks both irritated and pleased.
Sometimes, when Antonio babysits, Lovino will come to him for help with his homework. (He never phrases it like that. Usually, it's more along the lines of, "Hey, stupid. I know what I'm doing, but..." and then he trails off awkwardly and blushes.) And so Antonio pulls up two chairs, and they'll huddle together and Antonio will rest a hand on the back of Lovino's neck whilst upstairs Feliciano sings to himself and paints.
Sometimes, they'll migrate to the floor, and spread themselves out across the carpet; Lovino on his stomach, Antonio sitting beside him, and he'll let his hand lay across the backs of Lovino's thighs. The first time he does it, Lovino freezes; the scratching of his pen ceases; he does not speak; does not breathe. Antonio doesn't move his hand.
The second time he does it Lovino doesn't even flinch. He is wearing shorts again; and the backs of his legs are soft and hairless and warm.
Gilbert and Francis want him to come out with them.
"I know a girl," says Francis. "Come on, 'Toni, you need to get laid."
"Mmm," says Antonio.
His friends look at him expectantly. It's alright for them; they have their lovers, their same-aged, legal lovers. They wouldn't understand.
"I'm sort-of...already seeing someone."
Gilbert and Francis are pleased.
"Can we meet her? Or him?"
Three more years, Antonio thinks. Three years is not a long time to wait for the love of one's life.
Three years is a terribly long time.
Sometimes, when Antonio is round at the Vargas' home, Lovino sits on his lap.
He only does it when they're alone.
There are days when Lovino will sit in silence, in the corner of his bedroom, his little arms wrapped around knobbly knees, and he will cry without making a sound, without understanding why –
And then Antonio finds him, and sits next to him, and suddenly it seems like they've always held one another like this; that the feel of the boy's tender thighs and soft buttocks against the tops of his legs is completely normal. He strokes his hair, and when he presses a kiss to the top of one red ear on perhaps the sixth or seventh time he finds Lovino coming apart like this, he only gets an elbow shoved weakly against his chest.
And the next time he kisses him, on the cheek, Lovino does nothing.
And the time after that, he kisses him on the lips, softly, briefly – and Lovino kisses him back. It is clumsy, and childish, and wet, and it is so, so perfect.
Every time Antonio comes, alone in his bed, he whispers his darling boy's name.
Lovino is very good at lying.
Mr Vargas is very good at forgetting about Lovino.
As such, it is the easiest thing in the world for Lovino to meet up with Antonio in town. Antonio buys him little gifts, and though Lovino huffs and folds his arms, and calls him a dumbass for spending so much money on him, and says he doesn't want any stupid presents anyway, the light in his eyes tells another story.
When Lovino comes to his next tutoring session, Antonio puts his hand on Lovino's leg under the desk.
Antonio's university is situated in a few hundred acres of beautiful, rolling grasslands. There is a stream, and a wood, and a hill, and at night one can see the stars, naked and twinkling high above.
When Lovino next comes to meet him, having apparently fed his father some story about staying over at a classmate's for the night, he takes him out there; to the little hillock overlooking the stream; and they sit on the cool grass, and he pulls Lovino into his lap. Lovino grumbles and elbows him at first; then he gives in, and leans back against Antonio's chest, and sighs, and because it is dark and nobody can see them, Antonio bends his head, and presses a kiss to Lovino's throat.
And Lovino spreads his legs for him, and Antonio is shaking when he finally, finally comes apart inside his beautiful boy, whose hair is falling into his eyes, which are so dark, and so clouded. And then he puts his mouth on Lovino, and it doesn't take long for him to cry out, and grab for his lover's hand, gasping "Ah – no! An-Antonio! Antonio!"
Antonio comes again when he thinks of how Lovino will still feel it inside him in the morning.
He wants him to feel it forever.