The final chapter is here, guys! Man, I can hardly believe all the wonderful response I've gotten on this story! Thank you so much to everyone who has read the entire story, and an extra huge thank you to everyone who has taken the time to review! I truly appreciate it! I can't say thank you enough! :D And I hope you'll enjoy the final chapter!
Antonio couldn't help but feel a bit worried, as he slowly devoured his late breakfast. He knew Lovino took walks in the morning, but the Italian was always back by the time he woke up. Admittedly, it wasn't like he had any reason to get paranoid; Lovino was perfectly capable of taking care of himself on a simple morning walk. That thought wasn't enough to calm him down, though, and he constantly glanced at the kitchen door way, expecting to hear Lovino enter the apartment.
"Morning, Toni," Bella yawned widely as she entered the kitchen, still dressed in her pyjamas, and her hair sticking out at impossible angles. "Slept well?"
He just smiled and gave a half-hearted shrug, recalling the nightmares that seemed intent on disturbing his sleep every night. The details always seemed fuzzy when he woke up, but it wasn't that hard to conclude what was the reason for the nightmares. She just gave him a sympathetic smile, before fixing herself some food. She really seemed to feel at home in the apartment, and that made Antonio happy.
It had been quite some time since he'd seen Bella and Willem, and he enjoyed their company. Despite this, he wished they had visited at a better time. He wanted to take them to see all kinds of things now that they were in America with him. Wanted to show them his new home, and everything that came with it. Instead, he was forced to pretty much stay at home and rest. Although he could do small walks and trips outside, he tired easily, and knew that too much activity might potentially slow down his healing.
The physical pain wasn't the worst, however. It seemed as if every night was filled with cold sweat, nightmares and waking up to the sound of gun shots. It seemed as if every day was filled with heavy thoughts, anxiety and exhaustion. And all the while, he tried desperately to ignore these things to make his guests feel comfortable. Perhaps they saw through his attempts to act normal and cheerful, or perhaps not. Either way; it felt as if every day was heavier than the previous, and it grew harder to make them feel at home.
Guilt tore at his heart as well, for being unable to just tell them how things were. He didn't want to make them feel unwelcome, but it felt as if he was lying to them. It hurt more than his healing wound did, and wasn't quite as easy to deal with. A bullet wound you could bandage and the pain could easily be dealt with by taking a few painkillers. But thoughts and feelings? You'd have to be pretty damn drugged down to escape those.
Bella opened her mouth to speak, but didn't have the time before the door bell interrupted her. Standing from his seat, Antonio made his way to the door as fast as he could, unlocking and opening the door to see Francis and Gilbert grinning at him.
"Are your guests up and awake?" Gilbert asked, as the two invited themselves into the apartment. "They better be, 'cause we're taking them on an awesome tour around town!"
"What...?" It was too early in the morning for sudden visits and surprises, Antonio figured, and he simply eyed them with raised eyebrows.
"We are taking Bella and Willem off your hands for today, mon cher." Francis supplied with a smile.
Antonio didn't have time to say any more before the two practically forced the startled guests to get dressed and ready, and to his bewilderment he watched as they pulled the siblings along and disappearing out the door, listing various places they were going to see and things they were going to do.
"Get some quality time with your lover now, Toni!" Gilbert called back at him, winking and closing the door to leave Antonio alone in the now almost unnaturally silent living room.
"What the... heck was that all about," he murmured to himself after a while. Suddenly he found himself without guests, without the lover he was supposed to 'get some quality time with', and he couldn't quite decide whether to feel upset or thankful at their unexpected actions. His guests were his responsibility after all, did they think he was incapable of making their stay a good one...? No, he couldn't think like that. They meant it well, of course.
Without the constant distraction of having them around, however, his mood seemed to drop rapidly. Giving a sigh, he made his way back towards the kitchen, wondering yet again where Lovino was. He didn't get far before being distracted by the door bell yet again.
This time he was greeted by a young Asian man, with a camera around his neck and a map in hand. He looked a mix of frustrated and embarrassed.
"I am sorry for disturbing, sir... But do you think you could help me? You see, I'm trying to find my way to this place-" he pointed at a marked spot on the map, a place not too far away from the apartment building, "but I can't seem to find it..." His English was heavily accented, and Antonio guessed him to be Japanese or something like that. Possibly a tourist?
But just why would the disoriented guy go all the way up those stairs and knock on his apartment door in particular...? Antonio shook away this incredulous though, glancing at the map in the man's hand. "Oh, right, I know the place. You just go down south on this street, and then take a left t-"
"Ah, I am sorry, do you think it would be too much trouble coming out and pointing it out to me? I am not very good with directions, you see... I understand if you are busy and it's too much trouble-"
"No, no, not at all." Giving a small smile, Antonio fetched the key, pulled on a jacket and followed the man down and onto the sidewalk, not really caring he was still only dressed in pyjamas under the jacket. It was quite chilly, though, and he hoped it wouldn't take long.
As it turned out, pointing out the directions did take longer than he had expected, as the man's accented English at times made communication difficult. Apparently, he was honestly having trouble understanding the directions Antonio gave. Somehow, they managed to get quite a distance away from the apartment building, as Antonio tried showing him directly which street to go down and such. Eventually, the Japanese smiled, nodding vigorously and thanking him for the help. Then he was off... in the wrong direction, and Antonio muttered some foul words under his breath as he called after the guy, and found himself explaining everything one more time, this time making sure the other really understood. When the guy was finally gone, Antonio shook his head with wonder before turning to head back inside again. Honestly, making a poor guy go out in his pyjamas just for some directions… Couldn't he have asked someone on the street instead?
"OH! Antonio! Hi! Fancy seeing you here!" He came to a startled stop at the corner of the building, surprised at Elizaveta's sudden appearance. She smiled brightly at him, and sounded excited for some reason, speaking louder than she normally did.
"H-hey," he greeted back, suddenly realizing that he had yet to have told her about everything that had happened. The thought made newfound guilt wash over him. "Out for a walk...?" he questioned, glancing down at her attire. She looked to be wearing the green café uniform dress, under a warm jacket.
"Uh, yeah, just had to do a favour for a friend of mine," she said with a smile. "I was just on my way back to the café now."
"Wouldn't you like to come in for a cup of coffee first?" Antonio asked, smiling as cheerfully as he could. It was more to be polite than because he actually wanted to talk to her at the moment. She was a good friend, and she deserved to know what had happened, but he wasn't sure he could deal with it at the moment.
"No!" she stepped into his path as he began walking, and he jumped a little at the sudden exclamation, sending her an incredulous stare. She gave a sheepish smile. "I mean, I... really have to get going, I'm running late as it is," she said. She seemed somewhat anxious, though he didn't get the chance to question her odd behaviour before she gave him a gentle hug out of nowhere. "Uh... Take care, Toni, ok?"
"Um, sure... You too," he returned the hug, glad she didn't hug him tightly enough to aggravate his wound, and couldn't help but wonder as the hug lasted longer than usual, making the whole ordeal a tad bit awkward.
"Are you ok?"
"Of course, why?
"Well, then do you think I can go inside now, it's a bit cold out here…"
She quickly let go, giving him a bright smile. "Sorry about that. Ok, see you later then, honey." And then she marched on down the sidewalk, leaving him to stare after her. Apparently, he wouldn't have to tell her about the incident at the church today at least. Shaking his head with a small smile, he turned to get inside before anything else got in his way. It was a relief to finally enter the apartment building, and he enjoyed the warmth for a second before starting up the stairs. He didn't get far before he spotted a rose on one of the steps. Closely followed by another on a step further up.
"What the..." Following the trail of flowers in various colours up the stairs, he was surprised and curious to find that it lead directly down the hallway, stopping by the door to his own apartment. Moving over to the door, he hesitated a bit before unlocking it and entering, cautiously.
It was dark inside, but he could have sworn that he had left the lights on when he went out... Opening his mouth to say something, he stopped abruptly when the gentle tunes of a piano filled the apartment. It was a song he'd heard before, though he'd never heard it played on a piano. He couldn't remember who wrote it, but that seemed unimportant as a soft voice joined the piano in song.
Wish I had what I needed
to be on my own
'Cause I feel so defeated
And I'm feeling alone
And it all seem so helpless
And I have no plans
I'm a plane in the sunset
with nowhere to land
The gentle voice could only belong to one person. And as he sung, Lovino moved slowly around the apartment, lighting candles and slowly spreading light across the living room again. The lights lit up his beautiful eyes like they were a pair of lanterns glowing in the darkness. But that wasn't the only thing that was lit up by the candle lights; as the room was enveloped in a golden glow, Antonio noticed for the first time that the trail of roses continued across the floor, and that it lead to the living room table, where they formed a heart.
And all I see
it could never make me happy
and all my sand castles spend their time collapsing
Lovino finished lighting the candles, and was moving over towards his boyfriend, stopping in front of him. He was close enough now that Antonio could see the way his face and eyes spoke every emotion lingering in the song so clearly. Close enough that he could see the blush touching his cheeks and the way his lips curled around every word so delicately.
He was vaguely aware that tears were escaping down his own cheeks without his permission, but that didn't matter. All he could see and hear was this wonderful man in front of him, singing the truths and thoughts that had probably haunted them both lately even if none of them had said so.
Let me know that you hear me
Let me know your touch
Let me know that you love me
Let that be enough
Lovino's voice drifted off as he ended the chorus, and the piano melody, which came from the small stereo by the bookshelf, continued on its own. As the chorus began again, Antonio joined in, remembering the words. His singing voice wasn't the best, especially considering he was crying harder by the moment, for some reason or another. But what did it matter?
Let me know that you hear me
Let me know your touch
Let me know that you love me
Let that be enough...
The song came to an end, and Antonio let out a half chuckle, half sob, nodding towards the flowers on the table. He couldn't manage to speak the question on his tongue, but Lovino picked up on it, giving a little smile and blushing deeper.
"I had... help," he said quietly. Suddenly the confused "tourist" and Elizaveta's unexpected appearance and strange behaviour made sense, and Antonio gave another choked chuckle. "Sorry if I... upset you?" the Italian looked a bit uncertain where he stood, possibly questioning if this plan was such a good idea after all.
"No, I'm not... upset... or well, I am, but it's n-not your fault, it's just..." Antonio realized he was blabbering, unable to form coherent sentences as he fought to explain the reason for his sentimentality. In the end he didn't have to, as Lovino moved closer, wrapping his arms around him. Startled at the sudden physical approach, Antonio could only stand there, shell-shocked at first.
"I get it," Lovino spoke softly, halting Antonio's attempt at explaining. "You've been keeping everything in. Just like I always do. Fuck this, Antonio, even I know it's not healthy to keep it bottled up!"
Antonio swallowed and drew a shaky breath before being able to ask the question he'd been struggling with for so long. "C-can I... let it out?" Lovino's response was to hold him tighter, nodding into his shoulder and giving a muffled, choked reply;
"As if you have to ask for permission, you silly Spaniard..."
Regardless of whether he needed to get permission or not to break down, it felt good to know that his boyfriend wouldn't hold it against him. And so that was exactly what he did; allowing himself to break down in Lovino's arms, allowing himself to cry out the fear and the pain that had haunted him ever since he woke up in the hospital.
The two sank down to the floor in a heap, holding each other tightly, as if the other might disappear if they let go, crying out the fear and pain that had weighed them both down. Antonio couldn't remember the last time he'd cried like this. And to think that all the times he'd read about how crying makes you feel lighter, he'd thought it to be an exaggeration... He couldn't have been more wrong.
None of the two bothered keeping track of time, but eventually the loud sobs subsided into occasional sniffling and hiccupping, and both were left in a crumpled mess on the floor, eyes red and cheeks sticky from salt.
"We probably look like hell," Antonio snorted after a long time of silence, voice hoarse and tired from the strain. Lovino pulled away far enough away to see his face, gave a grimace and nodded gravely.
"Yeah," he confirmed, "we definitely look like hell."
Antonio's lips twisted into a smile, and with a sigh, they turned around so they were sitting back to back on the carpet, resting against each other. Antonio closed his eyes, and simply enjoyed the warm back against his own for a while. The apartment was quiet, apart from their breathing and a bird chirping lightly somewhere in the distance. It was so different from what it had been these last days, and thus felt strangely unfamiliar. But not in a bad way, Antonio concluded with a smile. It was funny, really; he'd spent large parts of his life enjoying silence and solitude, even after befriending Bella and Willem, but now that he had moved to America, it felt as if there had hardly been time to wish for silence or solitude at all.
So, should America still be called the land of opportunity, of freedom and so on, or should it just be called the land of endless noise and activity...? No. The land of change? Yes, that sounded more correct, and would explain his sudden fondness of having people around, having something to do, and somewhere to be.
"Jeez, I feel like a walking cliché," he heard from behind him, and gave a smile at the irony; Lovino had just expressed one of the thoughts that had struck him as well.
"The sun seems warmer, the air seems lighter, that sort of thing?" he hummed quietly, and got an amused chuckle as a response. He assumed correctly that he'd hit the nail on the spot.
"The only thing that's missing is the deep-ass conversation that often follows shit like this, isn't it?" He could practically hear the sceptical grimace in his boyfriend's words, but there was a certain truth to what he said.
Antonio couldn't help but sigh dramatically, lifting a hand in the air as if reaching out at some invisible audience. "For there is darkness still looming in thy heart; questions, of which we know not an answer, despair that hath yet to be relieved from thy fragile, burdened shoulders..."
"That's a bit too deep, thank you very much. And whose shoulders are you calling fragile, exactly?" Lovino giggled where he sat.
"Don't you like my Shakespeare-impression, Lovi?"
"Oh, you were doing a Shakespeare-impression? I couldn't tell through the dramatic moaning. Besides; I hate to break it to you, but your Spanish lisp kind of ruined the British accent."
"As if you could have done it better, with your Italian 'I'm-a Italian, and I like-a to eat-a pasta~'"
"Oh now you're just being mean," Lovino tried to sound stern, but failed miserably as his back still shook with stifled laughter.
"Nah, I like your accent, it's adorable," Antonio smiled. "And so is my lisp, by the way," he added proudly.
"Never said it wasn't," came the amused reply, and Antonio was once again reminded of how much their relationship had changed since they first began their awkward dating. Lovino had become more open, and hopeful in a way. His voice wasn't as harsh and cold anymore; and his eyes seemed warmer and less... empty.
But despite the progress towards the better, there was still a long way to go, that much was obvious. His boyfriend's past clearly wasn't just a minor detail, and Antonio wondered if he would ever manage to move on without carrying the negative experiences with him. This thought reminded him that his pathetic Shakespeare-impression was partially truthful; some questions were still un-answered.
"Lovino..." he began carefully, having realized that if he was to wait for the perfect timing, he'd never be able to speak what was on his mind. "What happened to your parents?"
There was no violent reaction, in fact the tensing of his boyfriend's posture was barely noticeable, and Antonio guessed that the other had already figured out he would ask about that. He'd been right; emotional outbursts often gave way for deep conversations.
Lovino inhaled slowly and exhaled in a small sigh before starting to talk. "My parents were great people, through and through. Mother was an artist and father was a doctor, and they were just about as different as two people could be. I don't remember much from the years before Feliciano was born, but I do remember how much love and care they put into being with me." He paused for a moment before continuing with a new fondness in his voice.
"Then Feliciano came along. He was as cute as any baby could be, and I remember promising to always be the most amazing big brother I could be, and take care of him at all times. As we grew older, Feliciano only grew cuter, and he was always so kind and sweet to everyone. Almost from the moment he could walk, he wanted to help with chores, and always joined mother when she was painting. He had inherited her talent in arts, and she encouraged him greatly. He also began helping with dinner and all kinds of things around the house..."
Antonio listened intently, finding his boyfriend's hand beside him and taking it in his own, a silent encouragement to go on.
"I have always been clumsy. I saw how Feliciano helped out so much, and wanted to do the same...but it only resulted in me knocking over vases or even bookshelves accidentally. Any food I tried to help with ended up ruined because I put too much of the wrong ingredients in it. I wanted to paint like Feliciano did, but it was only crooked lines and splotches of paint in comparison... And our parents gradually began favouring Feliciano. Sweet Feliciano. Talented Feliciano. Helpful Feliciano... All I ever seemed to be was 'in the way'."
A heavy sigh could be heard, and Lovino shifted slightly, though soon settling back against Antonio again. It was as if he was fighting an urge to run away from having to talk about it, determined to go through with it no matter how painful the memories might be.
"I know they didn't mean to favour Feliciano – they probably didn't even notice they were doing it. Soon, they began responding to my clumsy accidents with things like 'You are so clumsy, your brother doesn't knock things over like that, and he's three years younger!'... They always compared me to him, and they're favourite saying became 'why can't you be more like your brother?'... God, that hurt."
It wasn't hard to understand how that would hurt, and Antonio found that it made him angry how parents could do something like that, whether they meant it or not. Parents were supposed to treat their children with love and to accept their unique personalities. Even he, who'd never had parents, knew that much.
"I grew angry after a while, and figured that when I never got any praise no matter how hard I tried, I could as well stop caring all together. I began refusing to do chores, began cursing, and just... adopted a bad personality, I suppose. I guess I had a hope that my behaviour would make them see me and take the time to find out how I really felt. All it served to do was give me loads of punishments, and they began spending more time with Feliciano. To them, I was a good-for-nothing trouble child, and I... I began believing that they didn't love me anymore. I felt abandoned, forgotten. I even tried doing nice things to make them love me again, but things always went wrong due to my clumsiness and fear, and they ended up blaming me yet again.
"As I grew older, the arguments grew more heated. The worst argument was one time when we were going to Grandfather's place on a vacation. I had stalled us because I didn't want to go. I always felt that I was even more excluded when we visited him, and I even emptied one of their bags just to make a mess so we'd be too late for the plane. They were stressed out as it was, and grew angry. Father began shouting at me, that I was selfish and troublesome, and began listing how great Feliciano was at everything – again. But then he said something he'd never done before; that... that one child would have been more than enough... It wasn't hard to guess which child he would have wanted."
"How could he say that?" Antonio couldn't help but gasp at this, shocked. But Lovino only squeezed his hand gently, and he fell quiet again.
"He was stressed, understandably. We drove towards the air port, and I was more upset than I'd ever been. I kept yelling at him, distracting him. I think mother tried calming us down, and tried telling Father to slow down, but... I egged him on, and..." he broke off with a shaky breath of air, and Antonio could hear him swallow heavily a few times before finding his voice again.
"We... headed around a curve in the road, and the road was slippery from the rain the night before. He lost control of the car, and we crashed into a tractor with a wagon of lumber parked at the side of the road. Father was killed immediately... crushed in his seat. Mother had somehow forgotten her seatbelt, and went flying out the w-window."
"Oh God..." Antonio felt sick, practically imagining the scene of the accident. Lovino was trembling behind him, though his words betrayed no sign of tears. All it held was an almost hollow sadness.
"It was my fault. I was the reason he was driving too fast, and I distracted him. God, Antonio, my last words were that I hated him...!"
"And they were words of anger and hurt," Antonio said steadily, "If they really cared about you – and I'm sure they did, deep down – they would know that. I don't think for a moment that they would blame you."
"You were a child, Lovino. You were in pain. Your father should have known better than to drive too fast on a slippery road. Things like this can't be blamed on anyone! Accidents happen, and this was an accident. A devastating accident, of course, but still an accident. You never meant for it to happen. Your father never meant for it to happen. And neither did your mother or Feliciano."
The room fell silent once again, and Antonio vaguely noticed how the bird outside the window was still chirping cheerfully, and how the clock was still ticking. Lovino's voice when he spoke was so timid that he almost didn't hear it at all. "Do you think... I could be forgiven?"
Antonio contemplated the question for a moment, before smiling sadly. "I'm sure you were forgiven long ago, Lovinito. You just have to forgive yourself."
Lovino was silent for a long time before giving a sigh and standing abruptly, stretching and reaching out a hand to help Antonio up. The Spaniard was taken by surprise, but accepted the offered hand. His body seemed to have fallen asleep, and tingled uncomfortably now that he began moving again.
"It'll take time," Lovino then said, and gave a small smile that held both pain and hope at the same time. The words had been spoken before, and Antonio remembered it well. Giving a smile of his own, he reached forward and planted a kiss on his boyfriend's lips.
"Take all the time you want, Lovinito, I've said it before, and I'll say it as many times as I have to. I'll be right here."
There really wasn't any doubt in that statement. A life without Lovino just couldn't be imagined anymore, and there was no way Antonio would leave unless directly demanded to by Lovino himself – which didn't seem to be happening anytime soon, judging by the steadily growing trust in the Italian's golden eyes.
The room was silent for a while, before Lovino grabbed Antonio's hand, leading him towards the kitchen with a small chuckle.
"Now, what would you say to that apple pie I promised you?" The Italian smiled at him, a true smile, and for the first time in a long time, Antonio felt completely at ease with the world again, as if he'd awoken from a long nightmare. Grinning, he pushed all thoughts of churches, insane Turks and bullet injuries far into the back of his head, and eagerly pumped a fist into the air.
"I'd say hurry up and make it so we can eat it up before the others get back! Oh, and I'm still hoping for that lovely Italian desert I mentioned earlier-"
"Oh, you're hopeless..."
"Aw, love you too, Lovinito. Love you too."
The song used in this chapter is "Let that be enough" by Switchfoot. It's a beautiful song, and I recommend you check it out! : )
Thank you everyone, yet again! I'd love to hear your final thoughts on the story and on the ending! And I'm sure there will be more stories out eventually, when I find time and inspiration to write more. ^^ There probably won't be a sequel or anything for this, though, so don't get your hopes up.
So… take care, everyone!