MI PIACI PERCHÉ MI PIACI
Fandom: Axis Powers Hetalia
Pairing: GerIta, Spamano, PruAus, BelgHun and teeny mentions of Franada, Netherlands/Australia, UsUk
Genre: romance, humour, teeny bit of second-rate angst
Disclaimer: APH belongs to Himaruya, and the countries factually belong to themselves. Or their bosses and the people that live there, rather.
Summary: When Feliciano is 'rescued' by Ludwig, he decides they're going to be together!
A/n: Birthday present for the amazing, wonderful, incredible, divine, magnificent George deValier. This is my humble for the awesome day you were born. I hope you like it even if it isn't the greatest fic ever. Love you, bro.
Note on names: while George will get who's who immediately, as we share names for certain characters, other readers probably won't, so:
Charlotte = Belgium
Lars = Netherlands
Feliciano was sure this wasn't the best start to the day. He was supposed to be in his history of art class by now, but he'd gotten lost. This wasn't a new phenomenon, di per se. He'd been lost before, it happened often. But he'd never been in this part of the university before, his surroundings were entirely alien. The paintings, the doors, the windows… None of it made sense.
With a strangled sob, he slid down the wall and curled up in himself. Bringing his knees up to his chin, he buried his face in his arms. Oh, woe. Trust him to get so impossibly, irreversibly lost.
"Excuse me? Are you alright?"
Feliciano glanced up, brown eyes full to the brim with fat tears. His first instinct was to shriek and head for the hills, although the broad-shouldered, terrifying blond looked like he could easily outrun the small Italian, so that wouldn't have been much use. Maybe he could wave his handkerchief on a stick before he got eaten… The look on the stranger's face, however, was nothing but concerned, even if his stern German accent did seem a little foreboding.
Feliciano shook his head miserably. "No," he whined. "I'm lost."
Ludwig looked thoroughly confused. "How can you be lost?" He immediately regretted his question, as Feliciano starting hiccupping, a fresh wave of tears pouring down his cheeks.
"Right, you're lost. That can happen." He offered his hand to the Italian, and Feliciano took it sorrowfully, sniffling as he got to his feet. "Where do you need to be?"
"Th-the Art Department…" Feliciano mumbled.
"That's all the way over the other side of the campus!" exclaimed Ludwig. "How the hell did you end up here?"
Feliciano shrugged. "I… I was thinking of the pasta I could have for lunch – I love pasta, you know – and then I got distracted chasing a kitty, and then I met a pretty girl, and then the kitty came back and I tried to follow him again – he was a very fluffy-looking kitty, you see, wonderful to hug – and then he climbed over a wall I couldn't follow him over, and then I wandered a little until I ended up here, then I started crying, and you found me."
He beamed. Ludwig just shook his head in bewilderment. He couldn't help thinking this bizarre young man was a danger to himself. How was such a thing even possible? To get lost in your own university?
"Well, you ended up in Engineering. Come on, I'll take you where you need to be."
"Oh, hooray! You're so kind!" Feliciano cried, latching onto Ludwig's arm without so much as a by your leave. The German tried to ease his arm away, but it was a lost battle from the start. He had a strangely vice-like grip.
He could also talk the hind leg off a donkey. He didn't shut up until they found themselves in front of the history of art classroom. In the time it had taken them to get there, he'd illustrated the entire history of his family as far back as the Renaissance (it had consisted mostly of running away as fast as possible, with brief intervals of uncharacteristic bravery), the best way to cook pasta and the Spanish waiter who apparently fancied his brother.
"Oh, thank you, thank you, nice Mr German man!" Feliciano squeaked, clapping his hands as he figured out where he was and finally let go of the other's arm.
"Ludwig," Ludwig supplied automatically. Feliciano blinked.
"Gesundheit," he replied, confused. Ludwig shook his head.
"Ludwig," he repeated. "Ludwig Beilschmidt. It's my name."
Feliciano's face lit up like a Christmas tree. "Ooh, what a nice name! A little stern, but it sounds nice! I don't know many Ludwigs, well, I don't know any, except you and Beethoven, but he's dead, so just you! I'm sure I'll remember it! I'm Feliciano Vargas!"
He held his hand out, apparently forgetting or ignoring he'd just spent fifteen minutes hanging off Ludwig's strong arm. Ludwig shook it tentatively, and Feliciano took a step back, still smiling rather fatuously.
"Well, thank you ever so much! I hope I see you again soon!" he chirped, and blithely opened the door he'd been searching for. Ludwig watched him go, feeling rather windswept. He also sincerely hoped he didn't see the Italian so soon, even though his surroundings did seem rather empty, all of a sudden.
Lovino got annoyed with his brother's inane waffling at the best of times, but this was singularly irritating. He'd gone on for three days about this 'amazing German hero' (which Lovino took to mean some sort of pervert) who had rescued him from the terrifying ordeal of being lost in the engineering department. He'd told anyone who would listen about it, and had now taken to sighing stupidly and gazing off into space. He looked like Lovino's boss, that idiot Spaniard. This did not bode well.
"Will you give it a rest with that stupid German?" he snapped eventually. He was scowling over his creative writing assignment and Feliciano's continuous wistful sighs were only succeeding in royally pissing him off. Feliciano had the decency to look sheepish.
"Sorry, Lovi, it's just…" Oh, Jesus Christ, there was that sigh again. "He was so amazing."
"You hardly know the guy," Lovino said through gritted teeth. Feliciano shrugged.
"Oh, love at first sight," he said easily. Lovino almost committed suicide by keyboard. How moronic could his brother be from one to a million? It was probably better for his sanity if he didn't answer that question.
"Like Nonno said he felt for Nonna," Feliciano went on merrily.
"Yeah, well, Nonno's a freaking masochist," Lovino said easily, glaring at the clichéd phrase that was his first line. The rest of the page was mockingly blank. And far too bright. Feliciano frowned disapprovingly, which was the height of his anger threshold.
"Well, I think you're being silly. Didn't you fall in love with Antonio as soon as you saw him?"
Lovino nearly fell off his stool at the kitchen island in shock. He gave Feliciano a look halfway between utter horror and righteous anger.
"I do not love that dumbass!" he snarled. Feliciano smiled impishly, leaning over the island and making kissy noises.
"Oh, Antonio, kiss me, hold me, love me!" he sang, clutching himself and rolling from side to side. Lovino lunged, and with a shriek his brother took off through the house, Lovino giving chase. Feliciano slammed his bedroom door shut and tried to hold it closed, but Lovino thumped his shoulder against it, easily knocking Feliciano inwards and onto the bed. Lovino, grinning wickedly, pounced on his brother and began tickling him in places he'd had memorised since before they could walk.
"I surrender, I surrender!" Feliciano screeched, crying with laughter. Lovino gave him a smug look and flopped down beside him on the blue quilt cover. Feliciano gasped for air for a little longer, groaning, until he finally regained his breath and few wits.
"No, but… I'd really like to see the guy again. He was really cute."
Lovino sneered. "Cute? According to your description, the guy was built like a brick shithouse and could probably bench press a tank. I wouldn't define that 'cute'." He cast around in his mind for an example of 'cute', and to his horror his mind fell on Antonio with kittens. "Charlotte is cute!" he choked out, trying as hard as he could not to blush. Oh, his brain was a horrible, horrible bastard.
"Charlotte is cute, but Ludwig… he's a different kind of cute. He has these muscles, but they're not mean muscles. They're brave muscles for protecting people with."
"People like stupid lost polentoni?" Lovino asked breezily. Feliciano began to nod eagerly, before he realised what Lovino had said.
"That's not nice!" he whined, the pitch of his voice grating on Lovino's ears.
"News flash, fratellino, I'm not nice," Lovino said. Feliciano giggled.
"I like you, and Nonno likes you, and Antonio likes you," he said brightly. "That's enough, right?"
Lovino groaned and buried his head in his arms. "Let's… let's just go to Gennaro's and get pizza?"
That would shut Feliciano up about Antonio for a little while, at least.
Ludwig had been feeling decidedly off-colour for the past week or so. Not sick, or anything, just distracted, and that was certainly off-colour for him. He'd actually had to ask Kiku for his Japanese classmate's notes for the last two days. Kiku had given him as much of a frightened look as he was capable of, and asked if he was sick. Ludwig had shook his head, embarrassed, and thanked his friend profusely.
The truth was, he'd been harassed by that mad Italian. Not physically, of course, because he hadn't seen him since Tuesday, when he'd led him back to the Art Department, but… mentally, he would say. There was something about this Feliciano that had decided to take root in his brain and not let go. And it would pop up at the most inopportune of times. When his brother had cooked spaghetti and meatballs for dinner the previous night, when he was in lessons, when he was walking across the road, even. He'd nearly gotten himself run over like a fool, for that.
So here he was, trying, in vain, to concentrate on Kiku's notes and turn them into something he could reasonably use for himself, when his mind began to wander. Deep brown eyes and auburn hair, and the brightest smile he'd ever seen…
Ludwig shook his head, feeling more foolish with every minute that went by. Gilbert chose that precise moment to burst into his room, grinning maniacally.
"Hey there, little brother!" he squawked, swaggering in as if he owned the place. He was dressed like he was going out, and not to one of his Austrian boyfriend's concerts, either.
"What?" Ludwig asked warily. He probably should have known better by now that to actually ask what Gilbert wanted when he entered Ludwig's room and began perusing the shelves full of heavy, boring engineering manuals and textbooks, but Ludwig was ever the glutton for punishment.
"I was thinking… You've seemed a little off, these past few days, so, fancy hitting the town with me?" Gilbert leant on the back of his brother's chair, still grinning like a Cheshire Cat. Ludwig frowned. He opened his mouth to say no, but then he sighed. He knew full well his brother would start to whine and whinge and beg and throw himself on the bed and mess it up and annoy Ludwig in a million other ways until he agreed.
"Where were you thinking of going?" he asked. Gilbert beamed at him and threw him an indecently tight black t-shirt.
"Chillax, bro, you'll see when we get there!"
"You need to loosen up, you see, Ludi!"
Ludwig let Gilbert steer him towards the entrance to the club. Headache-inducing electronic music pumped from the door, thumping through the ground and making Ludwig vehemently wish he'd stayed at home. He had studying to do, he did want to get a head start on that paper that wasn't due for three weeks…
"Get out, get drunk, get laid… Unwind!"
Gilbert paid – probably with Ludwig's own money – and they were inside, dumping their coats with a bored-looking blond… boy? who was engrossed in a fashion magazine, whom Gilbert greeted with a "hey, Feliks!". The lights flashed, and Ludwig couldn't help but think that was a horrible health hazard. What if someone had an epileptic fit? No way a doctor could get through the mass of mingling bodies if it happened on the dance floor. The music was even heavier now he was within the four walls, pulsating in a hideous dissonance right through his very bone marrow. He was going to regret this tomorrow, he knew it. He also knew why Roderich wasn't there with them. He would've had a heart attack. It was another item on the list of things Gilbert and his boyfriend didn't do together. It often made Ludwig wonder whether they had anything in common except Roderich's ex. Across the room from him, three rather scantily-clad women shuffled in a way that could only have been described as dance by the fact they were moving to music.
"C'mon, let's get you something to drink…"
Ludwig found himself coxswained towards the bar, which was also swarming with people getting drinks, ordering drinks and just milling. Rather rude of them, when other people needed to get there. But Gilbert was used to all this, and merely elbowed his way in like a professional.
"Yo, Lars, my man!" he crowed, leaning over the bar with a wide grin. The six-foot-tall Dutchman with the vertical hair just rolled his eyes and placed a bottle on the counter. Gilbert laughed and jerked a thumb over his shoulder. "Got my bro with me tonight, make it two!"
Lars did as he was told with what appeared to be extreme reluctance. Gilbert nodded his thanks and handed a bottle to Ludwig. He then dragged him away yet again, before Ludwig had the chance to even take a sip of his beer (he hoped it wasn't any of that disgusting American stuff that tasted like what he assumed urine would taste like), up to a table in an alcove where the music was less pounding and where… Oh, joy.
"Ah, you brought your brother, Gilbert?"
Ludwig gave his brother's best friends a curt nod as he sat down. Francis lounged on the couch as if he owned the place, his arms sprawled along the back and his legs crossed. Antonio sat on a pouf, nursing a glass of sangria from the jug on the table, looking around like he was searching for someone specific.
"I convinced Lovino to come," he said to no one in particular, as Gilbert unwisely poured himself a glass of sangria to curdle with his beer and Francis rolled his eyes. "He said he was bringing his brother."
"And you believed him, Toni? Dude's naff, get over it," Gilbert said, swilling the sangria around his mouth as if it was mouthwash before swallowing. Francis kicked him under the tiny table as he caught sight of Antonio's crestfallen face.
"Tactless fool," he snapped, taking a sip of his own sangria and patting Antonio on the shoulder. Ludwig wisely kept his mouth shut and took to looking around himself. A few young women and a young man tried to catch his eye, but he wisely dropped it before they could get any ideas. Turning back to the table, where Francis was forcing Gilbert to say sorry, he nearly jumped a foot in the air at the feeling of an ample bosom on his back and slight but iron-like hands on his shoulders.
"Hello, Erzsi," the other three chanted in unison. Ludwig flushed to the roots of his hair and nodded embarrassedly. Erzsébet, to his gratitude, didn't coo over him like she usually did.
"Fancy seeing you here too, Lud," she said cheerfully, straightening up and instead using Ludwig's broad shoulder to lean on. Ludwig shrugged, scratching his nose.
"Gilbert, er, said I should get out more," he mumbled. Erzsébet snorted.
"Don't listen to your brother, he's an idiot." Before Gilbert could deal out an unwitty retort, she turned to Antonio and grinned a positively wicked grin.
"Guess who I saw dancing over by the DJ?"
Had he been in possession of one, Antonio's tail would have been wagging itself off. "L-Lovi?"
"Yup! Go get 'im, tiger!"
And the Spaniard was off like a shot, flowing through the crowd with an ease Ludwig envied, to get to his prize. Erzsébet took the recently vacated seat with deceptive elegance and stole Gilbert's as yet untouched beer bottle.
"So, why are you here?" Francis asked, arching a curious eyebrow. Erzsébet jerked her head towards the bar, where Ludwig caught a glimpse of a petite blonde girl doing an impressive number with two cocktail mixers. Francis nodded.
"You guys?" Erzsébet asked, taking a sip and making a face. Gilbert opened his mouth to answer, probably scathingly and maybe sarcastically, but Francis cut over him before he could speak. Everyone was used to Gilbert by now, and wisely spoke over him.
"Gilbert and Roderich are on yet another of their separate interests nights –"
"He has piano rehearsals for that recital!" Gilbert actually managed to say something this time. Francis waved him away like an annoying fly.
"And my Canadian has to study. It's 'look but don't touch' for me tonight, under pain of hockey stick. Not that that wouldn't be interesting…" The Frenchman stroked his chin with a smirk that made Erzsébet laugh, and Ludwig intensely wished he was somewhere else entirely.
Antonio chose that moment to return and spare Ludwig the pain of listening to Erzsébet and Francis start talking about sex, accompanied by his quarry and… Oh no.
It was at moments like these that he regretted being so effortlessly large and muscular. It made it very, very difficult to shrink and remain unseen.
Ludwig cringed as three pairs of eyes went to him, all sparkling with fiendish curiosity (the other two pairs were currently engaged in… a one-sided glaring match).
"You know Feli, Ludwig?" Erzsébet asked, leaning forward with a twitch of the lips. Feliciano nodded vigorously, and Ludwig tried to ignore how puppy-like he looked, and how that light blue shirt suited him, fitting his slight frame with those black trousers… He shook his head slightly. Now was not the time to be thinking such foolish things.
"Yes, he rescued me the other day, didn't you, Ludwig?" Feliciano said cheerfully. Ludwig was not a man prone to flights of fantasy, but he somehow hoped beyond all reason that Godzilla would turn up and destroy the place.
"I didn't rescue you, Feliciano, I… merely showed you back to the Art Department," he said stiffly, taking a swig of his beer to stiffen his nerves. Francis chuckled.
"With Feliciano, that constitutes rescuing. You were certainly far from home if you ended up in Engineering."
"Oh, well, you see, there was this kitty – "
Luckily for all present, Erzsébet managed to stop him before he could start rambling about the adventure that led him to Ludwig's department.
"So, Feliciano, what do you think of Ludwig?" she asked silkily. Francis's expression would not have gone amiss on a hungry shark. Gilbert looked as if Christmas had come early, Erzsébet herself positively depraved. Ludwig groaned mentally and wished, this time, for the ground to swallow him up. Alas, his prayers went unanswered.
"Well," said Feliciano, placing a finger to his chin pensively. " I think he's very nice, and helpful, and brave, and handsome, too!"
Ludwig nearly dropped his bottle, shocked. Didn't the Italian have any sense of propriety?
"Well, then, why don't you ask Lud to dance?" Gilbert asked smoothly, grinning like the Devil himself. Ludwig's jaw dropped like a drawbridge, his eyes widening in horror. Had his brother gone mad, finally? He'd been expecting it, to be honest…
But Feliciano just beamed, his cheeks turning an adorable pink, and turned to Ludwig. "Oh! Oh, do you want to dance, Ludwig? Please, oh, please!"
Feliciano had a very dangerous set of puppy eyes, Ludwig decided. He had just enough time to place his bottle on the table before he was dragged away. He caught sight of a second Italian – who had to be Feliciano's brother, the resemblance was uncanny – about to protest and held back by Antonio. Feliciano had the decency to pull him far enough into the crowd, away from the prying eyes of his brother and his friends. He was startled back towards Feliciano, however, when the Italian placed a hand on his shoulder.
"Do you dance, Ludwig?" he asked, shouting over the music. His voice was annoyingly high, Ludwig thought. The German shook his head, glancing around. They were probably holding up other dancers, in the middle of the throng and not moving.
"No, I hate this music," he said honestly. Feliciano smiled.
"Good," he chirped, leading Ludwig away from the dance floor to the other side of the room. He sat him down on another couch and perched next to him, looking extremely pleased with himself. "I hate dancing too. Well, except tarantella, but my brother's better at that. Our southern grandmother taught him, and she taught me how to make pasta. Oh, and Latin American dances are nice. Antonio can dance the salsa, did you know that? He sometimes helps out in that dance studio run by that Dominican girl, you know, near the bus station? With that huge scary Cuban guy who's always smoking a cigar? He's really nice, but really scary, sort of like you, but you're not scary anymore…"
Ludwig almost clutched the side of head in agony. Great, he was alone with Feliciano, who never shut up, and he had no way of slipping away without seeming rude. He simply wasn't the type to excuse himself to the bathroom and not come back. He also suspected that if he did that, Feliciano would be heartbroken, and as much as the Italian irritated him, he couldn't have borne that. Feliciano was much sweeter when he smiled, it lit up his face, so bright and happy, and… And he most certainly did not just think that.
But the way Feliciano was just nattering away, his hands flying along with his words and the strobe lights flickering over him, he was deceptively pretty. Undeniably masculine, but pretty as well. Handsome didn't carry the right connotations to describe him. Cute, perhaps, could have been a better word. Feliciano turned to him with that bright, happy smile that made Ludwig's heart skip the clichéd beat.
"So, do you want to get something to drink?" he asked brightly. Ludwig bit his lip.
"No, er, I'm fine, thank you," he muttered. He flinched when Feliciano pressed himself against his arm. The Italian didn't seem to notice, and just giggled.
"I mean let's get out of here and talk some more! I want to know more about you, Ludwig!"
Well, no one had ever asked Ludwig that before. He had always been the more uninteresting of the two brothers. Gilbert was the party animal, the daredevil, the one who entertained and amused with his antics that made Großvater throw his arms up in defeat. Ludwig had his hobbies, his studies and his own small group of friends, but… No one had ever taken such an interest in him before. He cleared his throat and lowered his eyes, hoping Feliciano wouldn't notice his blush.
"I… very well." Oh, what was he doing? Had he gone mad? He didn't want to encourage this maddening, impossible, adorable little Italian anymore… did he? But his thoughts didn't stop him from standing up and following Feliciano to the door. They collected their coats, shook their heads at the bouncer offering to stamp their hands and went out into the cool October night. It was uncharacteristically warm for this time of year, and Ludwig found himself enjoying this little walk with Feliciano beneath the streetlights. He wondered what it would be like to hold the other's hand as they walked, Feliciano humming a little tune as they strolled along a tree-lined avenue… Ludwig shook his head for what seemed like the umpteenth time that night, trying to rid himself of the mental image. He certainly didn't have time for such frivolities. He was a busy engineering student, that should take all his time. He had to make Großvater proud, after all.
Feliciano ended up leading him to a small, cosy-looking pizzeria. He wondered why on Earth he'd been lead there, but Feliciano was greeted with such empathy by a dark-haired, olive-skinned man that Ludwig figured it out quickly enough: free food.
Feliciano and the man chatted for a few moments in rapid Italian, leaving Ludwig feeling very awkward indeed, until the man led them to a smaller, dimly-lit room with fewer tables, only one occupied by other people, a couple, by the looks of things. Feliciano took a seat in the corner, and Ludwig sat down as well, feeling even more awkward now. The dark man offered them a menu, which Feliciano took with a "grazie, Gennaro!" and handed to Ludwig. He placed an order and then turned to Ludwig.
"So, are you going to tell me more about yourself?" he asked. Ludwig frowned at his menu, wondering whether he wanted pizza or not, as a bottle of red wine on the table. Chianti? Was he that important? He gave… Gennaro? a stuttered order and waited for Feliciano to pour the wine.
"Well, there's not much to tell. I grew up with Gilbert and my grandfather in Bavaria, moved to Berlin when I was ten."
"Oh, you were raised by your grandfather too! Are you an orphan as well?"
Ludwig glanced at Feliciano, who was wearing an inquisitive smile. He certainly wouldn't have pegged the Italian as an orphan, raised by his grandfather. He expected him to have an extremely happy family life surrounded by a myriad of relatives. Maybe he was simply an optimistic young man. That certainly seemed like Feliciano.
"Yes, they… they died in a plane crash when I was three. I don't remember them much. My mother came from East Germany, they met when the Wall came down…"
"Mine met at university, in Pavia," Feliciano said. "My mother came from the south, Puglia, and my father was born in Rome but lived in Milan since forever. Your parents' meeting is definitely more romantic." He nodded with great fervour. Ludwig couldn't help but blush a little
"My grandfather said they were almost foolishly in love," he said. Feliciano frowned.
"My grandfather says love is the best thing in the whole world! It's what makes life worth living, and is worth dying for!"
Ludwig raised his eyebrows. "And education? A career? Family?"
"Well, friends and family are love, aren't they? But what is a career without someone to share what you earn with, and what's education without someone to share knowledge with?"
Ludwig looked taken aback. He certainly hadn't expected someone like Feliciano to have such strong convictions.
"And freedom?" Ludwig asked. Feliciano pouted.
"You can't ask me that, because I've never been anything but free. My grandfather could answer, though," he said. "He was a partisan!" he added proudly.
Ludwig hummed. "Mine… Mine was a Luftwaffe pilot. He got shot down by the Americans over Italy. He's never told us anything else. Bad memories, probably."
They lapsed into a thoughtful silence, during which Ludwig's pizza came. And Feliciano's, although the Italian hadn't ordered. Suddenly Feliciano giggled.
"What?" Ludwig asked.
"I sort of expected you to have the pizza with frankfurters," he said with another giggle, starting to hack his pizza into manageable slices with great enthusiasm. Ludwig groaned.
The rest of the evening passed rather nicely, and Ludwig found Feliciano's company wasn't as irritating as he had first believed it. He walked the Feliciano home, stopping outside the front door. Feliciano's cheeks were red – from the cold or something else? – and he was gazing at Ludwig expectantly. Ludwig licked his lips. Feliciano shouldn't look at him like that. It made him want to tilt his chin up and just… just… The German cleared his throat and nodded curtly.
"Well, er, I suppose we'll be see each other around," he said. Feliciano nodded briefly.
"Good night," he mumbled, and he sounded horribly disappointed. Ludwig merely nodded again, fighting the urge to lean down and just peck the short young man on the lips, and turned back into the cold.
He kept calling himself an idiot all the way home – though whether it was because he hadn't acted on instinct or because he was still thinking of Feliciano, he did not know. It was only once he was on his doorstep, slipping his set of keys in the door, that he realised that the entire evening could have been construed as a date.
He went to bed without even changing his clothes, a hitherto unheard of occurrence, and tried to drown himself in his pillow.
Lovino was furious with himself. He'd let his brother out of his sight for one moment and he'd disappeared. With that German freak, too! And Feliciano hadn't been lying, he really did have enough muscles to bench press a tank, but… they certainly weren't brave ones for protecting people with. If he'd taken Lovino in a headlock, he probably would have killed him by just flexing his fucking bicep! But that wasn't what was important right now. What was important was that his brother was at the mercy of that evil, monstrous German, and Lovino was not about to allow his little brother to be raped or beaten up or… something.
And, as usual, Antonio had decided to be the most annoying shadow in the universe. He was talking words at him again, and Lovino had neither the time or willpower to listen.
"You know, Lovi, you needn't worry about Ludwig. He's very nice, he wouldn't hurt a fly, Feliciano is in good hands…"
Lovino needed to shut him up somehow. He whirled around and glared at the Spaniard.
"I don't care if the guy is a volunteer cat from tree rescuer, I'm not leaving him alone with my brother!" he snarled. Antonio sighed, took his wrist and rudely invaded the Italian's personal space by pulling him closer.
"Relax, Lovino, I can vouch for Ludwig, he won't touch your brother with a finger – and I'm quite sure Feliciano will be disappointed about that," he said. Lovino opened his mouth, appalled that Antonio would doubt his brother's virtue, but he found himself pulled onto the dance floor. He was being smiled at again, smiled at in that horribly easy way with those perfect white teeth. It was all very blush-inducing, much to his chagrin.
"Come on, Lovi, dance with me!" Antonio urged, placing a hand on Lovino's hip. Lovino wished his heart wasn't pumping like a war drum. He huffed, not trusting himself to actually raise his eyes and look at the other man.
"F-fine. But it doesn't mean anything!" he added vehemently. Antonio just laughed a carefree laugh and began to move in that evilly, disgustingly sexy way, his hips moving like no man's ever should. He couldn't take this anymore, really. Antonio was burrowing his way under his skin, into him, like some sort of parasite. These feelings that treated his heart like an Occupy Wall Street protest made him so mad with himself… He wasn't supposed to feel these things for another man, let alone Antonio! His boss! But… no matter how hard he tried, he couldn't resist him. Just the way the other man moved, and talked, and smiled, and everything about him that was so fucking infuriating and so fucking wonderful…
He placed an arm on Antonio's shoulder, startling the other man slightly. He let his fingers twist into the curls at the base of Antonio's neck, his face on fire, as he allowed the thump-thump of the music to rush through him, controlling his movements, instinctively going with Antonio's despite the huge difference in ability.
"I hate you," he mumbled, without any feeling whatsoever, hoping Antonio wouldn't hear him over the music.
"Lo se, cariño," Antonio replied, his breath ghosting over Lovino's ear. Lovino sighed, trying to ignore the way he trembled and his heart pounded along with the music and his need.
Lovino stumbled home an hour later, wishing he wasn't grinning like an idiot. He managed to get the key in the lock the third time, and staggered in. He wasn't even drunk, he'd had about a glass of wine, but… God, that fucking Spanish dickhead had the worst effect on him. He shrugged his leather jacket off, missing the coat peg entirely. What was that line in that retarded book that Belarusian girl liked? 'Own personal brand of heroin?' Man, that sounded lame, but it summed up his feelings perfectly.
He sobered up when he heard sobbing from Feliciano's bedroom. The door was slightly ajar, and the bedside lamp still on. He poked his head in, frowning.
Feliciano just sobbed louder. Suddenly angry, Lovino opened the door and stormed it. Well, he didn't look raped. Or beaten up. But it definitely had something to do with that Crucco bastard. Way to ruin his good mood. He didn't have one very often, and he liked to enjoy the few he had.
"What did he do to you?" he demanded. Feliciano raised his head and wiped his eyes, his pillow drenched with tears.
"He… h-h-h-he… d-d-d-d-"
Lovino rolled his eyes. "Spit it out, Feli," he ordered.
"He didn't give me a goodnight kiss!" Feliciano wailed, a fresh flood of tears pouring from his eyes. "He didn't even ask for my number!"
Lovino winced, both at the volume of Feliciano's voice and the German's insensitivity. How could anyone be that thick and survive? Oh, wait… Feliciano. Scratch that.
The older brother placed a hand on Feliciano's back, comforting him through his despair. They ended up sleeping in the same bed together, Feliciano curled around his brother in absolute dejection.
By the time Gilbert got home, Roderich was also back. The Austrian was curled up on the sofa, a cup of what smelt like herbal tea in his hand, going over sheets of music. Gilbert hung his jacket up and sauntered into the living room, leaning over the back of the couch to kiss Roderich on the cheek.
"Have a good rehearsal?" he asked. Roerich raised an eyebrow.
"It was rehearsal, Gilbert, it was as boring as ever," he replied, smiling slightly. Gilbert shrugged his shoulders.
"I'll always ask. Don't want you ratting me out to Erzsi, saying I'm an inconsiderate boyfriend."
"You've grown into the role," Roderich conceded. "Oh, I think you should check on Ludwig, by the way. He didn't even greet me when he returned, went straight to his bedroom."
Gilbert frowned. "Was he alone?"
Roderich raised an eyebrow. "I should hope you are not implying what I believe you're implying."
Gilbert scoffed. "Just answer."
The Austrian took a sip of his tea and nodded. "Yes, he was. He looked rather annoyed with himself, truth be told. Why?"
"You know that Italian I told you about?"
"The angry one Antonio inexplicably adores?"
"No, the cute one."
Roderich nodded, placing his sheets of music down on the sofa and leaning up. He was curious now. Gilbert ran a hand through his hair, frowning to himself.
"We kind of set him and Ludi up on a date. Guess it didn't work out quite like me and the guys planned. Toni got lucky though," he added, shrugging with the sort of expression that said the evening wasn't a total loss for Gilbert's matchmaking plans.
"I see." Roderich stroked his chin. "All the same, do go and see him. I think he needs to be talked to. Be considerate, though." It wasn't a suggestion, rather an order. Gilbert snorted.
"Aren't I always?" he said breezily as he left the room and headed towards Ludwig's bedroom. The light was off when Gilbert creaked the door open. That, of course, did not deter the elder German. "Yo, Ludi!"
Ludwig groaned and raised his head. "What do you want, Gilbert?" he asked, his voice rather hoarse. He must really have been asleep.
"How did it go with Feliciano?" Gilbert asked with convincing nonchalance, throwing himself on the bed next to his brother. Ludwig groaned again, dropping his head back to his pillow.
"We went for pizza, we talked, I walked him home," Ludwig said stiffly. "That was it."
Gilbert scowled. That was it? No kiss, no hug, no promise of a second date? He tried to coax out more information, but Gilbert did subtle like an elephant did ballet, and so Ludwig ended up staring at his brother, his face as red as Antonio's favourite fruit.
"Why would I do that?" Ludwig demanded, aghast. "I barely know him!"
Gilbert waved a dismissive hand. "Maybe not that, but… Did you kiss him, at least?"
Ludwig shook his head weakly. Gilbert slapped his forehead, more exasperated than he had right to be.
"You moron! Please tell me you got his number?" Ludwig's somewhat guilty silence was answer enough. Gilbert's fingers twitched. He really, really wanted to strangle his brother right now. How could anyone let such an amazing chance slip them by? You had to be crazy!
Fortunately, Gilbert was too tired to deal with his brother being about as perceptive as your average piece of granite. He slipped off the bed, moving around and disturbing Ludwig as much as he could, and shut the door behind him.
"Well?" Roderich asked. It seemed he had been heading from the bathroom to the bedroom. He was wearing those hideous pyjamas that somehow looked good on him. Gilbert shook his head.
"He's real smart, but sometimes he can be so stupid," he said. "Anyone can see a mile off he likes the kid, so why doesn't he act on it?" He shoved his hands in his pockets and followed Roderich to their bedroom. The Austrian sighed.
"Ludwig is a very… private young man. He's not one for this sort of thing, he hasn't much experience. You shouldn't push him towards what he might not feel ready for."
Gilbert kicked off his trousers and pulled off his t-shirt, dumping them unceremoniously on the floor, much to Roderich's visible distaste. "Yeah, but… Come on, when you've got more experience that my brother, something's wrong. Did the Beilschmidt blood go wrong, there? Did he get it from my mother's side?"
Roderich rolled his eyes and placed his glasses on the bedside table. "Maybe he just needs to figure it out for himself. Give him time."
Gilbert muttered something evasive and wound his arms around Roderich's waist, burying his face in his boyfriend's neck.
Lovino had had a whole Sunday to get over Saturday night. It didn't work. It had grown like a canker in his mind, festering evilly, and Monday morning, not only did Lovino have his stupid brother to worry about, but he also couldn't look Antonio in the eye. He couldn't believe how wanton he'd been the other night. It was downright humiliating. Especially when Antonio greeted him with a smile that was brighter than usual, and Charlotte gave him that stupid, cat-like smirk of hers. She'd probably seen everything, omniscient bartender that she was.
His eyes trained on the floor, Lovino fetched his apron from the backroom and set to work cleaning the coffee machine without even being told. Charlotte and Antonio exchanged a bewildered look.
"Lovi…" Antonio began, but the Italian turned to look at him and… if looks could kill, Antonio would have been crucified.
"Don't. Talk to me," he bit out. Antonio flinched and nodded meekly, turning to his own job in accepting the pastries from the baker. Charlotte scowled.
"Don't treat him like that, Lovino," she said coldly. "And don't lead him on. He doesn't deserve that."
Lovino snorted. "What do you know about what he deserves and what he doesn't deserve?"
Charlotte's gaze could have rivalled Lovino's for intensity of death-induction. She gripped the Italian's upper arm with a grip like cold steel and squeezed. It was certainly going to leave a bruise. Lovino swallowed, suddenly feeling a righteous fear of God… or rather, Charlotte.
"I've been Antonio's friend for three years, and believe me, if you break his heart, I will cut your balls off and make you eat them. I'm sick of you dancing circles around him with your dithering. Either say yes or say no. Stop humming and ha-ing and saying maybe."
Lovino nodded docilely, terrified. Antonio chose that moment to return, and the Belgian girl was all smiles once again.
"So, I'll set the tables up, boss!" she trilled sweetly, and Lovino wondered at women at their amazingly fast mood swings. Oestrogen was evil stuff. He happened to catch Antonio's eye once Charlotte was out of sight, and bit his lip.
"S-sorry," he muttered, almost inaudibly. But it was enough to make Antonio smile again.
The rest of the day passed relatively uneventfully, if one didn't count that crazy Danish guy getting shouted at by his on-off Norwegian boyfriend for the umpteenth time. And Lovino's inner turmoil, of course. He'd brushed against Antonio accidentally at least twice, and it was beginning to weigh on him. He'd never felt it this badly before, and he'd been working here for at least two months. He was finally beginning to notice what everyone else had noticed from day one: this prickly, electric sexual tension between them. It scared him shitless. And Charlotte's words didn't help him at all. He was indecisive at the best of times, and, well… What if Antonio got bored? What if Antonio didn't really want anything serious? What if Antonio ate and ran? After a lifetime of taking second billing, he couldn't stand it if Antonio left him.
After the fourth time he accidentally ended up too close to the Spaniard, Lovino actually ran. Not too far though: just to the alleyway out back. He needed to breathe air that was thick and hot, air that didn't make his skin itch in need.
Lovino jumped and turned around to find Antonio at the doorway to the alleyway, looking at him with concern. Antonio's eyes just had to be the most perfect thing on the planet, didn't they? They drove themselves into Lovino's flesh, through his defences with such utter ease it physically hurt. The Italian rubbed folded his arms, scuffing the wet ground with his toes.
"'M fine, really," he muttered. Antonio sighed.
"You're not, I know you," he said, taking a few steps forward so he was closer to the other young man. "Is it about the night before last?"
Lovino didn't have the courage to answer. He was a coward, after all. He didn't flinch when Antonio placed his hand on his shoulder, and he gave himself more credit than he was probably due for that.
"If I was out of order in any way, please forgive me, Lovino. I… I'm not the kind of man that imposes himself on someone who doesn't want them, or –"
Ever the gentleman, ever the fucking martyr. If Lovino didn't know it was his own fault, he would have punched him.
"It's not you, damn it!" Lovino cried suddenly, throwing his hands up. "It was never you, never could be you! It's all me!"
Antonio just stared in bewilderment. Lovino wished the words he could squeeze out on paper would pour from his mouth, and he flung around for them like a drowning man for a lifesaver. But they all hung on the edge of his consciousness, mocking him, until he had to resort to the dreaded Buffy-speak.
"It's me!" he said, flailing more than was necessary. "I don't know how to deal with this! I don't know how to deal with what I feel! I hate it, I hate you for making me feel it, but… Oh, God, Antonio, you're so wonderful you make me hate myself."
Antonio's jaw dropped. It was obvious he hadn't been expecting that of all answers. Lovino hugged himself, finally feeling the cold as what little courage he was naturally endowed with drained away from him.
"And I'm terrified that once you know me better you'll leave like everyone else," he muttered, his eyes firmly planted on Antonio's red shirt, around sternum height. He blinked as that shirt came closer, and two warm, strong arms wound around his shoulders.
"Lovino, don't be stupid," Antonio said, carding his fingers through Lovino's hair. "I know you're difficult, I know you have issues and you can be a little shit…"
Lovino frowned. Well, that wasn't what he'd expected. Touché, Antonio.
"…But I wouldn't want you any other way, believe me."
Antonio pulled away. Lovino gave him a sceptical look, but it didn't last long. Antonio pressed his lips to Lovino's, and Lovino couldn't help but melt like snow on a sunny day. Had he really been so hesitant and worked up over all this? Had he really doubted? Because how could one doubt a kisser like this, really?
Unfortunately, it was all over far too soon, and it left Lovino slightly dizzy. Antonio was smiling again, but this time it was so pure and sincere it made Lovino's stomach do backflips. He licked his lips.
"Charlotte can deal with the café," Antonio said, light-heartedly and irresponsibly. Lovino certainly couldn't find it in him to argue, and they returned inside to fetch their coats and tell Charlotte.
"You can close up, right?" Antonio said cheerfully. Charlotte stared at him, pointing behind her to the full tables.
"Are you insane?" she demanded, outraged. Antonio grinned.
"Insane? Oh, probably. Call up Erzsi, she'll help!" And with that, he and Lovino were gone, out into the night like two absolute fools.
Charlotte scowled. Once again, she'd been left to deal with a full house on her own. There was no way she could serve all the tables, make the orders and deal with the cash register at the same time. Antonio and Lovino were probably the worst boss and colleague, respectively, that one could ever encounter. Or maybe not, seeing as Antonio let her do pretty much whatever she wanted and Lovino had stopped hitting on her as soon as he'd seen a pissed-off Erzsi.
With a sigh, she pulled out her mobile and dialled Erzsébet's number, the only one she knew from memory except for her own and her brother's. While she waited for her girlfriend to answer, she thought about the two idiots leaving her there on her own. Antonio had been over the moon about something, and she grinned. It seemed her little speech earlier had paid off.
She frowned when she heard Erzsébet's ringtone right behind her, and she turned to see her saviour standing there, waving her phone, all long nut-brown hair and green eyes and divine figure.
"Oh, thank God!" she said, dramatically, draping herself over Erzsébet. "I need your help!"
Erzsébet laughed and steered Charlotte behind the counter. "I've seen how full this place is. I also passed Antonio and Lovino as I came here, holding hands, of all things. About bloody time, too."
Charlotte whooped. "Finally! For real?"
Erzsébet nodded. "For real!" She sounded positively gleeful. Charlotte, grinning from ear to ear, gave her girlfriend the café apron, green with a coffee cup on the chest, which Erzsébet slipped on easily. She'd done this before, after all.
"Antonio must be near ecstatic," Charlotte mused as she handed Erzsébet a tray with two cups of coffee and a small cake on it, ordering her to table three. Erzsébet deftly skipped up the few steps to the table area, and headed to a table where two young men sat talking and laughing.
"Here you go, guys," she said cheerfully. "Sorry for the wait."
They both looked at her as if she was a lump of meat and they were starving hyenas. She hated looks like that.
"Hi, what time do you get off?" asked one, grinning in what he mistakenly thought was a winning way. Erzsébet sighed to herself.
"I'm sorry, I have a girlfriend," she said mechanically. The two men looked horrified.
"What the fuck?"
"A girl as hot as you, a dyke?"
Quite a few disapproving heads turned at hearing that. Erzsébet's eyes flashed, her fingers tightening around the edges of the coffee tray. It would be so, so easy to just slam it in this dickwad's face. But no, she would refrain. She was more mature than that.
"Yes, I am. If you have a problem with that, kindly leave. We do not accept your kind of clientele upon these premises."
Both men sneered at her, gathered their coats and left without even paying. Erzsébet returned to the counter and slapped the tray down with more force than necessary.
"Fucking fuckers," she snarled. Charlotte shrugged.
"Doesn't matter," she said with a smile, leaning over the counter and giving Erzsébet a light peck on the lips. "Now take this two table seven," she added brightly, dodging as Erzsébet tried to lightly whack her with the coffee tray.
Lovino had never been to Antonio's house before. He'd had no reason to, of course, but now he was here… he had to admit, he was curious. He sat down on the threadbare sofa and looked around, studying every nook and cranny from the small TV to the piles of textbooks on the kitchen table. There were several photos on the dresser of Antonio and an older woman, and one or two of Antonio and another man, and one of all three. Lovino's eyes narrowed, and he walked over to study them better. The man was good-looking, with gelled-back hair and an easy, suave grin.
"Who's that?" Lovino demanded, pointing at a photo. Antonio glanced at it, tearing his eyes away from the pan of thick hot chocolate mix for a split second.
"My stepbrother José ," he replied. "His father married my mother. He's Portuguese."
Lovino suddenly felt disgusted with himself at feeling jealous. They were brothers. Well… stepbrothers, but still family. It was only natural there be photos of them together. However, he didn't see any of a man old enough to be Antonio's stepfather.
"Your stepdad? Don't you have any photos of him?"
Antonio smiled sadly, shrugging. He handed Lovino a red mug with a bright yellow, spirally sun on it and sat next to him with his own. "He died before we could get any decent photos all together. He had cancer of the pancreas, and then José just had me and my mother. I have their wedding photos, if you'd like…"
Antonio placed his mug on the table and headed to the dresser, pulling out an elegant, leather-bound photo album before sitting down next to Lovino again.
"Here," he said, pointing to two very happy-looking people. Antonio's mother, who had given him her rich, curly hair and green eyes, looked so happy, and so did José's father. The two boys, only about nine, stood on either side of their parents, both smiling happily. "They'd been dating for two years before this, José and I were already like brothers."
"And your real dad?" Lovino asked.
"Never knew him. He left my mother as soon as she told him she was pregnant. She raised me all on her own."
Lovino had never expected this cheerful man, full of sunshine and the joys of spring, to have such a past. He wished he knew more about him, now. But, he supposed, he would have the chance now. He tried to hide an unusual smile with his mug.
Lovino woke up to his phone ringing annoyingly. His mouth tasted like he'd been licking a welcome mat, and throat was sore as hell. He felt whatever he had been using as a pillow stir beneath him, and a yawn come from somewhere above him. He pried his eyes opened, blinking at the early morning light that shone straight into his protesting retinas, snuggling deeper into those arms around him and trying, in vain, to ignore the rendition of Le Mille Bolle Blu that was driving itself through his skull like the nails used to secure Christ to the cross.
He scowled as his phone was waved in front of his face.
"Answer, querido, it's your brother," said Antonio. He sounded like Lovino felt, plus the hoarse voice. Lovino didn't think he'd ever talked so much in one go in his life. He liked it, actually. It was the kind of sore throat that was worth it.
"Pronto?" Lovino croaked.
"Oh, Lovi, thank God, I thought you were dead!"
Lovino winced as his brother's voice shot right through his head. "Yeah, well, I'm not. And I'm fine. Happy?"
"Where are you?" Feliciano asked desperately. Lovino tried his damnedest to ignore the kisses Antonio was planting along his bare forearm. He was wearing one of Antonio's t-shirts and his boxers. Antonio was gloriously half-naked, and he liked it. Jesus, the man was sculpted from freaking marble, all lean and sinewy and Greek godlike. And even though they hadn't done anything except talk and cuddle, he felt quite satisfied indeed.
"At Antonio's," he answered easily, thoroughly enjoying how Antonio was lavishing affection on his fingers.
"Oh my – You didn't!"
"No, you're right, we didn't." Lovino was aware he sounded far too relaxed, but he didn't really care. "We just talked, a lot."
"Hola, Feli!" Antonio called, earning himself a hand in the face, pushing him away. The Spaniard just laughed.
"In case you didn't believe me," Lovino said, rolling over onto his stomach and trying to squirm away from Antonio's exploratory fingers. "S-see you later!" he yelped as Antonio pinched his arse. Quickly shutting the call off, he scowled at the wall and was about to turn around and give Antonio a large, profanity-laden piece of his mind, when the other man slid up his t-shirt slowly and teasingly and began to kiss along his spine: sweet, open-mouthed kisses that made Lovino tingle from head to toe.
He could get angry later. Right now, all he wanted to do was get naked.
Feliciano heard Lovino yelp and the call was cut off. He sighed, staring at the screen of his phone as if it held all the answers. His brother certainly was lucky, he thought enviously. Slipping his phone back in his pocket, he raised his head and began looking around. It wasn't entirely familiar, this area, but he was sure if he asked it wouldn't be that difficult. There were lots of elegant-looking photos of people playing instruments on the walls. He knew he was somewhere, that was for sure.
For most of Sunday and quite a bit of Monday he'd moped around the flat he and Lovino shared, eating stracciatella ice-cream and watching television. He'd seen enough reruns of Xena – Warrior Princess to last him a lifetime, he supposed. He preferred Gabrielle with short hair, although he did wonder why they called her Gabrielle in English and Olimpia in Italian. Olimpia sounded much better, the thought. But then he vaguely thought Gabrielle-with-short-hair looked vaguely like a girl Ludwig, and that depressed him again. A call from his grandfather had cheered him up a little. He'd learnt the old man had met some German on holiday, some man he'd met during the war… He didn't catch the details, because Nonno didn't give them, but he seemed happy enough. He didn't catch on to Feliciano's dejection, and Feliciano was glad of that. He didn't want his grandfather worrying.
He was bitterly, bitterly disappointed. He'd expected Ludwig to at least kiss him on the cheek, maybe even ask for email or a phone number… But just say goodbye and walk off into the night? That had torn Feliciano's little heart apart. It seemed Ludwig really wasn't interested, and he felt horrid about it.
But, he supposed, his grandfather wouldn't give up so easily. And he was a Vargas: he could be brave if he needed to. Deep down, he knew he had enough courage to actually ask Ludwig outright. He even recognised he'd been rather silly about this whole situation. And even though he knew he was naturally silly, he didn't like realising he'd been especially silly.
So he'd steeled his resolve, putting his white flag away for once, and decided to go and find Ludwig in Engineering. The trouble was, he'd only found Ludwig quite by chance, as he'd been lost the previous time. He could try getting lost again, but that only worked in Venice, and he had the suspicion he'd end up somewhere else entirely. So he wandered aimlessly around the different faculties, looking for the right one.
And he'd ended up here. Where people were playing instruments, which meant that was probably music. He headed down a corridor, hoping there would be someone to ask around the next corner…
"I'll come and get you in half-an-hour, 'k?"
Well, that voice sounded familiar. It was rather… Oh, what was the word Lovino might use? It began with O…
"Honestly, you don't need to come and get me, I'm perfectly capable of going around on my own…"
Feliciano didn't know that voice. It had an accent similar to the first voice, but not quite the same… He poked his head around the corner and sighed with relief. At least he'd spotted someone he knew. Gilbert, Ludwig's brother, was talking to another young man with brown hair and glasses, who seemed offended over something. However, he, as usual, ignored the fact they were talking on their own and simply hurried over.
"Gilbert!" he called. Both young men turned to look at him, and Gilbert grinned.
"Oh, hey, Feli!"
"Thank God I found someone I know!" said the Italian, relieved. He then looked at the other man curiously. The bespectacled man held his hand out politely.
"Roderich Edelstein," he said. Feliciano shook it with half his usual smile.
"Feliciano Vargas," he replied. Roderich nodded, his lips twitching.
"I know you by reputation," the Austrian said. Feliciano didn't understand what that meant, so he turned back to Gilbert.
"I need your help!" he begged. Gilbert smirked.
"Let me guess… You need to get to Engineering?"
Feliciano nodded vigorously, and Gilbert winked at Roderich, who merely rolled his eyes.
"I'll see you later, then," the Austrian said, blushing slightly as Gilbert kissed him on the cheek briefly.
"And I will come and pick you up!" he called back as he accompanied Feliciano. Roderich merely shook his head and entered the room they'd been standing outside of.
Kiku was not entirely sure what was wrong with his friend. Ludwig had been quite distracted for a time last week, and now he was clearly unhappy. Kiku wasn't good with talking about feelings, or offering advice on them, but he could offer to cheer him up somehow.
"Would you like to go to lunch together, Ludwig?" he asked as they gathered their notes and put them away. He offered Ludwig a small, sincere smile. Ludwig sighed and nodded. Maybe lunch with Kiku would distract him from his constant dilemma of the Italian he'd met only twice, but just wouldn't leave his mind. He'd been mentally kicking himself since Saturday night, wishing he hadn't just left Feliciano on his doorstep. It not only seemed rude, but also stupid. The thing was, he was actually far too embarrassed to go and talk to Feliciano. His bravery had its limits, after all, although Lord knew he didn't know why. He briefly pondered telling Kiku about his predicament, and wondered what the Japanese man would say. He'd either give him perfectly sound advice despite the fact the only relationship he had was some muddle with a narcoleptic Greek who studied philosophy, or blush and stumble over his words. Ludwig was sometimes at a loss in understanding his friend.
He and Kiku made their way along the corridor to the cafeteria, talking about their lesson and the assignment they'd been given.
And that was when Feliciano and Gilbert rounded the corner.
Feliciano's heart soared when he saw Ludwig – and plummeted again when he realised what he was going to do. Was he crazy? He couldn't do this! He'd been so stupid! He froze on the spot, his stomach turning icy cold. Gilbert looked back in time to see the Italian shaking his head, eyes wide and terrified, and taking a step back before turning and run. What little courage he had had given out.
Ludwig started at the sight of his brother and Feliciano. He'd just been about to mention his problem to Kiku when he saw the two of them. He tried not to blush at Feliciano's presence, not matter how far away it was, but he couldn't help it. Kiku glanced from Ludwig to Gilbert, to the third young man, politely curious, but the Italian had already turned tail and run.
Gilbert groaned as Ludwig didn't moved. "Ludi! This is the part where you run after him!" he yelled, loud enough for everyone else around to hear.
And, despite Erzsébet's earlier advice, Ludwig really did listen to his brother. He actually dropped the folder with his notes in and gave chase. He didn't know why Feliciano was running (maybe it was genetic?) but he was more than fast enough to catch up to him, even though Feliciano could run like the wind when he needed to. It did take the wind out of him, though, and by the time he'd actually caught his wrist and stopped him, even Ludwig was slightly out of breath. Nothing compared to the Italian, though, who was clearly unfit. He was panting like one of Großvater's dogs in the summer heat.
"Fe… Feliciano, why did you run?" he asked, taking a deep breath. Feliciano gave him a worried look, biting his lip.
"I… I don't know," he answered sincerely. "Seeing you just… scared me," he admitted, sitting heavily on one of the benches along the wall. Ludwig sighed, rubbing his temple. Feliciano was a headache-inducer, that was certain.
They dawdled for a moment, skittishly looking up whenever the other wasn't and sometimes meeting each other's gaze, but dropping it again like a live grenade. Finally, Feliciano did something and moved up the bench slightly. Ludwig took the hint this time, sitting down rather stiffly, his face red. Feliciano's matched his.
"So, er…" Ludwig started – anything, anything to break that horrible, brittle, awkward silence – but Feliciano cut him off.
"Ludwig, be honest," he murmured. "Do you hate me?"
Ludwig turned, staring at the little Italian. Feliciano was gazing up at him with eyes full of sincerity and desperation, and Ludwig felt so guilty, all of a sudden. He shook his head. No, he didn't hate Feliciano. How could anyone hate him, really? He didn't think it was physically possible.
"No, Feliciano, I… I don't think I could hate you."
Feliciano smiled slightly, hopefully, and it stabbed at Ludwig's heart to realise how stupid he'd been. Feliciano had been so optimistic about this whole affair (well, that was a bad word choice), and Ludwig… Well, he'd been rather horrible, he had to admit. When he'd first helped Feliciano find his way back to the Art Department last Tuesday – wait, last Tuesday? It felt like a lifetime ago – he'd found the Italian irritating beyond belief. But somewhere in between that and Saturday night, he'd grown on him. And their conversation in the pizzeria… he'd recognised that Feliciano was a lot cleverer that he seemed. He was just a free spirit, naïve, kind, a little unaware, happy-go-lucky, but not stupid in the slightest. Maybe… Maybe Ludwig needed someone like him. Someone who could drag him away from his books and his blueprints and make him live a little.
And, three days late, but not too late, Ludwig leant down and kissed him.
It was inept, to say the least: they were sitting at odd angles on a hard bench in a draughty corridor, both with very little experience in the kissing or relationship department. But as first kisses went, for them it was perfect. The way Feliciano placed his hand on Ludwig's arm gently, delicately, as if he was afraid he might disappear, sent shivers along the German's spine. And he actually smiled when he heard Feliciano sigh after he cupped the other's cheek.
Behind the corner, Gilbert grinned in triumph. Kiku was red and supposedly shielding his eyes demurely, but Gilbert had seen the camera slowly slip out of the Japanese boy's pocket. Oh, Erzsébet would like this one. Finally, someone she didn't need to actually corrupt beforehand to get into her clique.
"About frigging time," Gilbert said, feeling extremely and unnecessarily proud of himself for aiding in the burgeoning love between his brother and the lunatic Italian. All he needed was Roderich naked on the bed, preferably with Sachertorte, and his life would be complete.
Today was a Good Day. Großvater would reward him for this, for sure. He couldn't wait for Christmas.
"Ding dong merrily on high, oh something-something-something!"
Roderich glared daggers at Gilbert. "Stop singing. You're no good at it."
Gilbert huffed. "Fine, you sing then," he ordered. He was fully aware he'd just signed his own death warrant. No one could sing like Roderich, which the Austrian immediately demonstrated, to his own joy and Gilbert's humiliation.
"Adeste fideles laeti triumphantes. Venite, venite in Bethlehem!"
Gilbert groaned. "I hate you."
"No, you don't, mein Herz," Roderich replied easily, hanging another bauble on the Christmas tree. A traditional German one would have been nicer and more apt for the location, but no doubt someone would have gotten drunk, knocked it down and set fire to the place. Probably Gilbert himself. The German dumped the brand-new box of outdoor Christmas lights on the larger dining table and looked at the tree. It was rather nice, all red and gold.
"You're really good at this stuff," he said admiringly. Long gone were the days when he'd constantly antagonise the Austrian over every little detail. Roderich tried his hardest not to turn pink with pleasure, but he failed dismally. Gilbert took that chance to kneel beside him and pull him into a sloppy kiss, with much complaining on Roderich's part.
He pulled away when a rush of cold air entered the living room, and Feliciano bounced in, followed by Ludwig, who was much more sedate. Both were reddened by the chill outside, and Feliciano looked exceptionally happy. He placed a pile of bags on the sofa, making Roderich and Ludwig cringe, as they were slightly wet, and hopped over to the Christmas tree.
"You only do it on Christmas Eve?" he asked. Ludwig was glaring at the Italian's boots, dripping on the clean floor. "We do it from the eighth onwards."
"Just the tree," Roderich said. "Everything else is up."
"Ready for the party!" Feliciano cheered, skipping back to Ludwig and noticing something. "Ooh, look, Ludwig!" He pointed upwards gleefully. Ludwig blushed and glared at his brother, who just sniggered.
"V-very well then," he muttered. Mistletoe. His brother was evil. Feliciano closed his eyes and tilted his face up expectantly, and Ludwig complied, kissing Feliciano and wishing his brother wouldn't wolf-whistle like that. It was extremely embarrassing.
Feliciano then kicked off his boots and dumped his jacket by the door, leaving Ludwig to clean up after him, as usual, and bounced like Tigger on speed back into the living to wrap the final few presents they'd bought at the little Christmas market.
An hour later, perhaps, people started arriving, regardless of the state of preparation everything was in. Good friends came on the time they were given, best friends came earlier to lounge around, give orders and generally take the piss. First Erzsébet and Charlotte, who were carrying some sort of foodstuff with them.
"It's not Hungarian, is it?" Roderich asked warily, wanting to protect his delicate palate from omnipresent paprika. Erzsébet glowered at him, but Charlotte laughed.
"Nope, good Belgian stuff!"
Roderich looked relieved, and earned himself a whack around the head for it.
Next were Antonio and Lovino, the former of whom took delightful advantage of the mistletoe hanging in the living room doorway, much to the latter's blushing annoyance. The last people to arrive were Lars and his new… whatever he chose to define who he slept with, a very interesting Australian who never seemed to run out of exciting anecdotes and filthy jokes, much to Gilbert's glee.
"Francis isn't coming?" Antonio asked, accepting the bottle of beer from Gilbert. Gilbert shook his head.
"Nah, he's spending Christmas with Matt's family. Hey, guess who his brother-in-law is, Matt's brother's boyfriend?"
Antonio burst out laughing. "Oh, that will be a fun Christmas indeed! Can't you just imagine the food fight and the insults and the drunken brawl?"
"Makes me almost wish I was there," Gilbert said wistfully, clinking his bottle to Antonio's in a silent toast.
Dinner came and went, wine bottles were dutifully emptied, Lars and Bruce left to go partying and everyone retreated to in front of the fire. Erzsébet was snuggled up to Charlotte on the carpet, giggling childishly over her new smartphone (she'd already found all the good fanfiction sites and favourited them, and she'd only had it four hours) as her girlfriend indulged herself in chocolates, guarding them ferociously. Antonio had convinced Lovino to cuddle on the sofa, nuzzling the Italian's neck lazily. Roderich was idly playing the piano, Gilbert using him as a makeshift cushion and half-watching his boyfriend's lovely fingers picking out Christmas tunes. Feliciano and Ludwig, however, had been relegated to washing the dishes, the Italian drying as Ludwig scrubbed (Roderich, being the one that footed most of the bills as the rich snot he was, had categorically forbidden any use of the dishwasher).
Feliciano hummed happily to himself, putting yet another spotless plate on the pile for Ludwig to put away. He was too short the reach the cupboard, and he'd probably break something if he tried, either his bones or the crockery itself.
"I'm glad to be spending Christmas with you," he murmured, rubbing his face against Ludwig's upper arm. The German blushed vividly and cleared his throat.
"I… I am too," he muttered. Feliciano beamed at him, that lovely bright smile Ludwig loved so much lighting the whole kitchen and making Ludwig's Christmas just that much more brilliant. It never failed to make him smile too, contagious as it was.
"Merry Christmas, Ludwig," Feliciano said, reaching up as Ludwig bent down, their mouths meeting halfway in a way they'd perfected in the last two months.
"Merry Christmas to you too, Feliciano."
Well, I wrote 12,100 words in a week. I CAN DO IT. Whether it's worth anything remains to be seen. Happy Birthday, George, hope you have loads of fun.
The gratuitous Italian:
Nonno = Grandfather
Nonna = Grandmother
Polentoni = non-affectionate nickname used by southern Italians in reference to northern ones, usually as retaliation for the much worse 'terroni'. Derives from the beloved (read = disgusting) northern Italian dish, polenta.
Fratellino = little brother
Crucco = Kraut
Pronto = hello. Used only for answering the phone. Literally means 'ready'.
The gratuitous Spanish:
Lo se, cariño = I know, darling
Querido = dear, darling, that sort of thing
The gratuitous German:
Großvater = Grandfather, obviously.
Mein Herz = my heart.
Charlotte = Belgium
Lars = Netherlands
José = Portugal
Bruce = Australia
Those two guys from the cafe aren't nations, just two random dickheads for the sake of story.
Gennaro is an OC of mine, Campania. Campania is where Naples is, guys! Pizza!
On Hungary's name = never gets old, but… Elizaveta (or rather, Yelizaveta) is Russian, and while Hungarians do sometimes Russianise their names so foreigners can more easily understand them, Magyar being a terrifying language to pronounce at the best of times, in Hungarian Elizabeth is Erzsébet (see the Countess Erzsébet Báthory for an unpleasant example), with Erzsi, Erzskó and Erzsike for short. I actually prefer Erzsébet, so she'll always be Erzsébet in my fics, with Erzsi for short.
On Gabrielle and Olimpia = in the Italian dub of Xena – Warrior Princess, Gabrielle's name was changed to Olympia, justifiably, in my opinion. Feliciano's only ever seen it in Italian, therefore he's kind of annoyed by her being called Gabrielle. It doesn't sound very Ancient Greek to him. But, then again, the dub changed all the Greek names of the Gods to the Roman ones for reasons known only to the Powers that Be. I have no idea why I'm telling you all this, just thought you needed to know.
On "Adeste fideles laeti triumphantes. Venite, venite in Bethlehem!" = Latin lyrics of O Come, All Ye Faithful. Rod knows it from memory, he's been singing it at Christmas family gatherings in his parents' posh mansion in Austria since he was teeny-tiny.