My dearest Lovino,

My heart aches to feel your hands upon me again. It is relieved only by the security of the knowledge that when people ask me why I do not cry for you, I can tell them that you are a brave and brilliant man, who understands what he sacrifices. I would not wish to be American with such a strong and capable (and handsome) recruit on the Italian side!

The war here is over, but it does not mean I have given up on you. I will continue to fight this and all that it means until I can hold you again.

Please stay safe, my love. Barter your cigarettes, as I am sending you extra ones because all of us know that you are somewhat lacking in your ability to make friends. I say so out of kindness and without the intention of hurting you, so please take it as such.

There is not a moment I find my thoughts unoccupied by you. I love you, you alone and you forever. Nothing has made me sure of that than these months without you.

I have heard other women speaking of complaints coming from the front – men are not seeing enough flesh that is not wounded! I wouldn't like for you to feel left out, my darling. Please accept the photograph and do not ask who took it.

Yours, with all our fondest love,

Belle

Lovino is conflicted, as he always is. He knows the formula by know, Belle's joking, light, thoughtful words dashed with Antonio's urgent promises, but all in her feminine, flowery hand. He is between laughing for her and crying for him, they cannot risk more than a few lines from him in every letter, and it is not nearly enough to say what has to be said.

But Belle does her best for them, and neither of them can complain. Lovino slides his fingers back into the envelope, closing his eyes, not sure if he even wants to see. His guffaw of laughter wakes the dark bunk beneath him, and he rocks when his mattress is kicked, but quickly hushes himself.

Belle is in her stockings and undergarments, posing on a clean bed. She is a woman of design and class, and knows how to be tasteful. However, this is anything but tasteful. She is kneeling, her breasts pushed so far forward her back is in an unnatural curve, her face over-painted as she tries a lusty glance at the camera. The film is cheap and grainy, her dark eye-make up gives the blurred illusion of two bruised sockets. Of course, Antonio has taken the picture, or at least was there to have it developed, since the edges are distorted where he sat it down beside a lit cigarette.

Lovino sleeps early and rises even earlier, to write a quick note in thanks. He tells her the photograph is beautiful, that he is lucky, and that he will enjoy it immensely. He tells her some other men managed to secure it on one occasion and he had to fight to get it back. He tells her that the cigarettes come in handy and that he is doing his best to stay safe. He tells her, always without names, that it is torture not to be able to see her smile, or to feel her strong, safe arms, or even to hear her voice, but that she is correct and it won't be long until they can be with each other again.

Antonio will understand.

Lovino hands his letter over at morning collection and awaits further correspondence. He does not have to wait very long.

Dearest Lovino,

I cannot pretend to be very happy with you allowing that photograph to fall into foreign hands! Were it not for the ache I feel at every thought of you... I cannot bear the thought of us fighting, especially when we are so far apart. Be more careful, it is for your eyes only.

I understand the situation isn't improving, I know you are doing all you can. Be brave for me, my love. You are so much stronger than you know.

I hope at least that the rest of them have taken you in, now that you are rubbing elbows with such a desirable woman! Perhaps they'll even let you keep a few of those cigarettes to smoke yourself! I heard things are really starting to get heated out there, so you may need it. I'm sending chocolate too, but keep that one quiet. You wouldn't want to have to share.

It won't do to assume that we have seen the last of each other. Tell yourself every day that you will come home to me, safe and sound. I will do the same, and in one way or another, it will be true.

As always, be alert, be aware, follow orders. I really do wish with all my heart that you will be delivered back to us again soon. You deserve your happiness.

I will never find my own until I find you again.

Yours, with all our fondest love,

Belle

Lovino's hands are shaking and caked in dry, yellowish dirt this time. There are dry blossoms of red underneath, shining through when he wipes his face and nose with his hands. The dirt transfers to his cheek instead. The red is stained on his fingers.

It isn't working anymore. Belle can continue to be his sweet, light faux-girlfriend, it will do nothing to hide the fact that someone is sending him a very clear message, much more serious and much more significant. Antonio is no longer hidden, if anything he's just inconvenienced by her inane chat in between his messages, and has stopped trying to cover himself properly.

Lovino cannot blame him. When he writes back now, he doesn't pay attention to his handwriting or his structure or his spelling, half the sentences don't even make sense, he is sure of it, but he doesn't read them back, either. The result is like vomit, nothing held back and completely unstoppable, reeking of everything he tried to supress. He attempts to clean it up – luckily, he talks directly, there is no need to swap 'him' for 'her', but he has to add a tail to the 'o's in the words he used to describe him, to make them 'a's, to make them fit for a woman.

He repeats himself often, and swears too. If he could just see his face again, just to have something to wait for… he has almost forgotten it by now. He remembers the creases at his eyes in his smile, he remembers the curl of hair that fell above his left eye and always irritated him, he remembers the slight tightening of his lips when he was told that Lovino had been conscripted, and how he had actually frowned when he was told that there were going to be no arguments about it. Like he had been disappointed he hadn't fought against goodbye had been rushed and stunted. He just wanted to see him again, make amends. If that was impossible, then to at least see him happy.

He quickly hands his letter in the next morning to be sent away, before he can become too embarrassed to change it, or rip it up completely, and goes to wolf down his rations. He is apprehensive, rather than eager, to receive a reply.

He isn't sure either of them will understand.

-
Lovino,

I had warned you about parading those secrets between us in front of your sleazy friends.

Find enclosed a picture of my new sweetheart and I. I will send the most handsome photographs of him periodically to remind you of your failure to satisfy me, if need be .I think you will agree that he is a vast improvement and hope you will only be happy for me.

I also hope you do not let yourself get shot, but it is about all I wish for you.

No longer yours, and with no fond love at all,

Belle

PS – Unless someone else has taken a shine to you, you will no longer receive cigarettes or chocolate either.

Lovino nearly gives himself a papercut, he dives back to the envelope so quickly. His fingers tremble, and he swears in frustration, tipping the envelope up and shaking it out. His eyes lock on the little square of paper, and Antonio smiles back.

The photograph is browned, and he looks exhausted – he is shirtless, with the soaked garment tucked into his waistband, he looked as if he has literally just stood up from putting something heavy down, because his smile is relieved and he isn't looking into the lens.

Belle is visible. Barely. Leaning on the car he is standing beside, so very easily cropped out with no damage done to Antonio whatsoever. Lovino will keep her too, but separate. Not so close. Not so carefully.

He opens the rest of the pack, a little cardboard box wrapped in brown paper, and finds double his usual ration of cigarettes and chocolate. There is a note at the bottom, scribbled, obviously intended to be read once and then thrown away. But Lovino will do no such thing. He touches the ink, thinks of how it has touched the pen Antonio has touched.

If you really do have any other secret admirers, tell them you're taken!

He writes back quickly. Tells Belle she's a heartless cow anyway and he'd rather see pictures of some stupid sweaty fucker than her in her stockings. That he's sending the picture back because he doesn't even want to look at it. That all the chocolate tasted like shit and he hadn't enjoyed it in the slightest.

Their wonderful Belle will understand.


Wonderful cover art by shooptastic - here on FFn and Tumblr by the same name!