A/N : I really don't know where this came from, except from my own struggle with insomnia lately, and let's face it : if you've never had insomnia, then you can't really understand just how horrible it really is. The mind is the worst thing to lose.
Warnings! : AU. Human characters. Set in modern Italy. A study of the effects of Fatal Familial Insomnia, which affects mostly Italians, and how a simple genetic mutation can ruin an entire family. Language, character death, angst, angst, angst. To me just friendship, however (if you choose) could probably be interpreted as smidgeons of Italy x Germany and/or Romano x Germany. Did I mention angst? Okay, good.
For all the fluff in this fast-paced chapter, I hope I made it perfectly clear that this IS NOT A HAPPY STORY. Just makin' sure you know.
I would LOVE to hear from you when you're done, but I won't beg.
Good music to listen to for this : Youtube / watch?v=ZDpHzYum0PE (cello at the beginning just KILLS me)
That's what people usually called him.
He was the 'weird' one, the quiet one who couldn't ever really make friends and keep them, the somewhat intimidating one who couldn't hold a candle to his outgoing charmer of a brother, the brooder that couldn't really function in a normal social setting.
He was used to that. It didn't really bother him so much, and he had pretty much resigned himself to being introduced as, 'and that's just Ludwig, he doesn't talk much'.
Well, it was true, so why get riled up about it?
Usually, his interactions with people ended after the handshake and a few exceedingly awkward exchanges. After that, the goodbye, and a look of relief as he was quickly left behind.
He was used to that, too.
And so it had surprised him when someone had finally shaken his hand and then continued to speak to him long after they should have been weirded out on that warm summer day by the sea.
It was nice here, at least.
He'd had a great time in Venice so far, sure, but by himself, and even though he was going to spend the next four years here in the respectable university, he hadn't really planned on making friends during his stay. Why bother? They'd get left behind anyway, and besides, this place was exciting enough on its own.
He was even starting to get a little bit of a tan. Just a little.
It had all started simply. Just an accident.
He had been standing there at the corner, staring into a shop and contemplating his next move in the vast city as he inhaled the salty breeze, when he had been all but knocked over by someone walking far too quickly and too hard. A quick rebuttal of, 'Look where you're goin', bastard,' had made him turn his head in annoyance.
Two men behind him, and even through his annoyance, he wasn't really surprised.
He was used to getting bumped into and knocked over by bustling Italians, even after only a few months. He was used to getting vulgarities spat at him, too.
So he had waited, hands tucked in his pockets, merely glaring as one of the men spat out a string of curses and threw him a very dirty look. He stayed quiet, and waited for the storm to pass.
Nothing he hadn't really expected.
What had really surprised him was when the other man, looking a bit embarrassed, shoved the other off to the side none too gently and offered an apology.
Ludwig had stood there, silently, and finally nodded.
But they hadn't left, and the more amicable one, seeing his pale hair and paler eyes, had tried to make polite conversation and asked, eagerly, 'Hey, you American?'
He snorted, and shook his head.
'German,' he'd offered, testing out his still choppy Italian, and the man's smile never faltered. The other one had shifted his weight, a foul look on his face, but had stayed silent.
'Let me buy you a drink for my stupid brother.'
An irritated grunt.
After a moment's consideration, Ludwig had nodded his head.
Why not? He wasn't busy. He didn't have anywhere to go. And it was rude to refuse a drink.
So, after a quick handshake, he had fallen into step with the two men, and walked down the street.
It had all rolled on from there.
As they walked, passing through the congested streets of Venice under the bright sun, the friendlier one looked over at him, hands tucked in his pockets and white teeth gleaming against his bronzed skin as he smiled, and introduced himself quite casually as Feliciano.
'And that's just my brother, Lovino.'
Ludwig had nearly laughed then.
So, he wasn't the only person in the world, after all, to be introduced as, 'and that's just so and so'.
Well, that was a relief.
'So,' Feliciano had pressed, when he had remained unwilling to offer conversation, 'What's your name, stranger?'
The more sour one sent him a narrow-eyed look and had promptly scoffed, 'What kinda name is that? Your parents come from the 1800s or somethin'?'
A very sharp rebuttal of, 'My parents are dead,' had ended that conversation as quickly as it had come, and the jerk called Lovino had pursed his lips and fallen abashedly silent.
'So are ours,' Feliciano said, in an effort to find common ground and pursue small talk, but Ludwig had only shrugged a shoulder, and left it at that.
Why talk? He was only in it for the free drink.
He wasn't used to the overly-vociferous ways of the Italians quite yet, so he let them do the talking and contented himself with sliding into the cool bar seat when he had been led inside of a little corner he had never noticed before. A dilapidated little place from the outside, but inside everything had been surprisingly vibrant.
Bright colors and plenty of alcohol.
The promised drink had come in a flash, as Feliciano settled in beside of him and Lovino beside of him, and Ludwig had only intended to finish it off and then bid the two men farewell.
It hadn't happened quite as planned.
Because Feliciano prattled away, and when Ludwig had pushed his empty glass forward and made a movement to stand, Feliciano gave a bright smile and quickly ordered him another.
He was responsible and respectable and proud, in every sense, but what fool refused free drinks when they were all but being shoved down their throats? He wasn't really so good of a person that he was going to say, 'no, thank you.'
So, he had stayed, and drank, watching the brothers with a bit of curiosity and wondering if all Italians were really just kind of insane. They drank hard and crooned and prattled to each other like noisy pigeons, sometimes falling into a high-pitched argument before being quickly distracted by a pretty girl.
They didn't seem to mind that Ludwig was a complete stranger, acting in front of him as they no doubt acted in the comfort of their own home.
Ludwig, with nothing better to do and vaguely amused, sat there until the bright sun began to fade in the distance, and the drinks just kept coming. So did the conversation, and after building up a rather pleasant buzz, he found that he engaged with Feliciano a bit better, offering answers to questions and even inputting a little to the conversation.
Lovino, eyeing him a bit more detachedly, was quick to toss in mild jabs and words that were meant to rile him. They didn't, not really, and he merely tossed back his own.
And he discovered, as the sun faded behind the city, that it was as much fun to argue with Lovino as it was to speak to Feliciano.
Time passed and alcohol flowed.
Lovino had asked later, in a slurred voice, if it was 'true that all Germans are born with calendars and feather-dusters up their asses?'
Ludwig, having never been asked such a stupid question in his entire life, did something he had not done in a long, long time :
He threw back his head, and laughed.
And it had been a lot easier from there.
He stayed because he wanted to, and not just because of the free drinks.
That first night had just went on and on in bursts of laughter and never-ending conversation and strangely satisfying sniping with Lovino, and the next morning, he was so exhausted and so mellow that he did something he had never done before :
He stayed in bed, and skipped class.
That night, after a whole day of smiling to himself and being in an uncharacteristically good mood, he found himself passing by the same shoddy little bar, just in case.
And, sure enough, there they had been. The two brothers, sitting together, nursing drinks and eyeballing passing girls just as they had the night before. Lovino had seen him first, and, after a strange moment of distasteful staring, had nudged his brother with an errant elbow. Feliciano had immediately invited him over.
Ludwig had accepted.
He didn't really know why, but then again, he didn't really know why he had gone out to the bar in the first place.
Maybe he was homesick and lonely.
This time, he paid his own drinks, and the brothers teased and prattled with him just as they had before. He dared himself to consider labeling them with the word 'acquaintances.'
They would be the first here. Probably the only ones, too, because of his awkward social graces (or lack, thereof). Feliciano even seemed pleased that they had crossed paths again, although Lovino's enthusiasm was considerably lacking, and he couldn't help but enjoy a moment in attention.
He was used to being alone.
The second night flew by as wonderfully as the first.
Feliciano asked him where he was staying, and phone numbers were exchanged.
'The next time,' Feliciano declared, merrily, 'we'll drink at my house! It's too expensive to go out every night, especially for you starving college students, eh? What d'ya say?'
Ludwig only smiled, and drawled, 'Sure, why not?'
He had spent the next day's classes with an unfocused mind, tapping his pencil mindlessly on the desk as he counted down the minutes.
It was strange to have something other than mounds of schoolwork to look forward to, although mounds of schoolwork was probably a little healthier for him than the obnoxious Italians.
Feliciano and Lovino. New friends.
Well, that was a strange word!
When the phone in his cramped little dorm had rang for the first time, he had been so nervous with adrenaline that he had almost missed the call all together, snatching it up at the very last second.
He was glad he had.
'Ludwig? That you? Hey, it's Feliciano, you wanna come over tonight? Meet me outside the bar at around six, and I'll show where I live! See you then! I hope you like grappa.'
The walk to the bar this time was weird, knowing that he would be going over to a stranger's house. Hell, he was twenty-two years old and he had never even spent the night with someone else before, not even in his childhood. A little embarrassing, but true.
His heart thudded the whole time.
Feliciano had been standing there, as promised, hands tucked in his pockets, shoulders loose and tank top fluttering in the sea breeze, his smile as bright as the sun, and when he had spotted Ludwig through the crowd, he waved him over. A quick greeting, and they were on their way.
He had been nervous and jittery.
Just because he had never had any friends didn't mean he had never wanted any.
Leaving the congested downtown to travel down a little side street, the first sight of the nice house had been a bit overwhelming at first.
It wasn't a manor, by any extent, but to a college student who was stuffed inside a dorm room that could barely fit his long legs, the two-story house of weathered wood and quaint windows seemed pretty damn impressive. And the inside, like the bar, was far more impressive than the outside, and it became immediately apparent that the brothers had a flare for decorating.
Maybe they were guilty of over-decoration, but that was forgivable.
Paintings hung everywhere, and he had been all but blown away when, sitting at the table with the brothers and trying his first grappa, it had become known to him that it was Feliciano who had painted the great majority of them.
'So,' he had begun, loosened by brandy, 'You're a painter? Bet you get a lot of commissions out here in the city, huh?'
Feliciano had smiled breezily.
'Most of the time! I like it, anyway. That's the important thing. So, what are you studying, exactly?'
Lovino had looked over at him then, a bit of interest upon his usually stern face.
Feliciano had burst into laughter, and said, 'You're gonna build rocket-ships?'
Ludwig had laughed too.
'Well, that's the idea.'
Hours passed with plenty of brandy and no lack of conversation, and he realized that staying at someone else's place actually felt pretty satisfying.
He felt, for once, like he was a normal guy.
Oh, if only Gilbert could have seen him. He might have been proud.
It was nice to feel 'cool' and 'fun' instead of being the quiet, moping, intense 'nerd' (Gilbert's favorite way to describe him to his boisterous friends) that he usually played.
Feliciano didn't seem to care that he needed alcohol to finally open his mouth a little, and Lovino must not have been that intimidated by him, because he certainly had no end of combative statements and taunts.
He found that, every passing day, Italy was more and more to his liking. He wasn't so homesick now. He had friends now.
And as the first few months went by, every day was really just a new adventure.
He had never been so happy and relaxed in his entire life.
What had been a frightening notion, staying so far from home and by himself, had suddenly turned into the best vacation of his life. So great, in fact, that he had left his brother high and dry when school was out of session for the holidays and decided to just stay in Venice.
He was having a good time here, and Feliciano had offered him the spare room in the house. He accepted, even though Lovino had made a scene about it.
If Lovino had really had a serious problem with it, it would have been immediately obvious, and he probably would have had some bruises to show for it.
Lovino got over it after a few days.
Everything was good.
He had gotten to know them, really know them, and there weren't a lot of people that he really knew.
He had sat down on the staircase and watched with chin in palm as Feliciano created a new painting out of nowhere. He had looked on as Feliciano and Lovino got into real arguments, which ended with one or both of them in tears and sometimes with black eyes. He had listened to their life stories, their goals and dreams and hopes. He had lent ears to Feliciano when he needed to lighten his shoulders. He had dealt with the brunt of Lovino's wrath when he needed to let off some steam.
He had learned that Feliciano's happiness masked a dark guilt; it had been he who had been driving, at only sixteen and still learning, when the car had slipped off the road and then into another lane via overcorrection, resulting in the devastating wreck that had claimed his parents' lives.
He had learned that Lovino's great dream all of his life had been to join the Italian air force, and get up in the sky. But it hadn't happened, and, Ludwig had learned from a mournful Feliciano, he had flunked the psych evaluation needed to join any branch of military.
Feliciano had lost his self-worth. Lovino had lost his wings.
But, for all their dysfunction and spats, they operated pretty well as a family, even a broken one, and even if they were the only ones left. A grandfather, he had learned, the last member of the family, had succumbed a couple of years prior.
But they were doing alright.
Feliciano painted and Lovino worked in the city as a mechanic, but they only worked to have something to do; they did not want for money. Their grandfather had left quite an inheritance.
Ludwig learned a little more about them every day.
Their house was far more welcoming than the dorm.
He liked being around them. He was happy. And that wasn't something he was used to feeling.
To think it had started so simply.
He was happy here.
Christmas came quickly.
He didn't really even consider returning home. Not for a while, anyway, and certainly not until school was finished all together. Gilbert had tons of friends. He wouldn't miss a few holidays with his little brother. They'd already had many together, and they'd have many more. For now, why not hang around in Italy and continue to explore this newfound life of excitement?
They did something new every day, it seemed. Theatres. Bars. Museums. Galleries. Parks. Auto shows. Parades. He had never gone out so much in his life.
It was intoxicating.
He was glad he had stayed.
He had tried to offer rent, of course, but Feliciano had refused. So, in light of crashing for free, he tried to be a good friend, as much as he really knew how to be. He must have been doing alright. They hadn't kicked him out yet.
And now, his first semester of school complete and free for a few weeks, he was content to watch the snow and rain fall and observe Feliciano painting.
The days until Christmas were zooming.
It was hard not to just smile all the time, surrounded everywhere by blinking lights and people singing and cheery television shows and happy tunes.
Feliciano noticed his good mood, like he always did.
"You've been smiling a lot lately," came the lazy drawl, and when Ludwig looked away from the window, it was to see Feliciano poking his head out from behind a canvas and peering at him.
He only tilted his head, and shrugged a shoulder.
Feliciano raised a brow, and then he smiled, too.
"I'm going to paint you soon, Ludovico. I like it when you smile. You're so tall, and that nose of yours reminds of those old Greek statues. You must have some royalty somewhere in your bloodline. You hold yourself so well."
A thoughtful snort.
"I like that about you. You're fun to watch. Even though you're so quiet."
Ludwig only crossed his arms in a rush of self-consciousness, and knew his cheeks had tinted.
"Sorry," he said, a bit dryly. "I don't think I'll make a good model."
"Nonsense!" Feliciano chided, without taking his eyes from the gliding of his paintbrush, "Nonsense, I say. You watch and see, I'll get you down on the couch in the end. I swear, sometimes you and Lovino sound just alike."
"No we don't!" came a rough cry from the kitchen, and Feliciano only pursed his lips, and rolled his eyes.
Ludwig turned his gaze back to the window, and by now the smile was back.
He was happy here.
How strange, that such a random encounter could lead up to such a great friendship.
He considered them friends. Even coarse, abrasive Lovino.
Strange, how he could have taken to these two men so quickly when it had been years before he had finally gathered up the courage just to tell one of Gilbert's pretty classmates 'hello'.
Well, they certainly had a charm about them, one that even he wasn't immune to.
Hours later, Feliciano put down his brush, and tilted his head left and right.
"There we go," finally came the approval, and with a sigh, he lifted hazel eyes up to Ludwig and said, "You wanna go out to the markets tonight and look around? Probably not as good as your markets back home, but, hey—we can play in the snow on the way."
"Well, alright. I'll take a look around your markets."
Standing, Feliciano turned his head to the kitchen and cried, to the out-of-sight Lovino, "Hey, are you comin' or not?"
A shuffle of clothes.
Lovino poked his head out, tilting back in his chair, and sent them an irritated look, as though weighing his options. Finally, his chair fell back on the floor, and he stood, coming into the foyer and grabbing up his coat, grunting, "Why not?"
Feliciano broke into a relieved smile.
Sometimes, Ludwig had observed, it was hard to get Lovino to engage in normal activities.
Lovino always just looked...sad.
Defeated, almost. In a constant depression. No doubt there were many things wrong up in his head, and sometimes he took out his frustrations and hurt on Feliciano, and Ludwig had heard him proclaim at least twice in a rage, when he felt Feliciano was being condescending or overbearing, 'well, at least I didn't kill mom and dad!'
Feliciano always folded first, hurt and looking horrified and so guilty, and even though Ludwig thought it a low, dirty blow, he stayed far back, and never opened his mouth. Not his fight, and Lovino was not as well-adjusted as Feliciano.
Ganging up on him would have damaged Lovino a thousand times more than it would have helped Feliciano.
He had sense enough to know when to keep quiet.
He wasn't too worried about it, in all honesty; the brothers fought all the time, but they always seemed to put it behind them before any real damage came. Lovino, for all the tough talk and proclaimed dislike for his younger brother, was always quick to leap up to defend him on the streets, using his big mouth for all it was worth.
Ludwig somehow sensed that Lovino's bark was far worse than his bite.
So seeing Lovino get up and tag along without any snide comments was welcome.
Together, they trudged out into the sludgy mixture of snow and rain and sleet, and even though the air was damp and chilly, the mood was not.
Ludwig may as well have been on the beach in the summer for the way he felt.
Cold weather didn't bother him. Rain didn't bother him, either.
Maybe Feliciano was shivering a bit and maybe Lovino looked a little cranky, but for the damp conditions the chatter was pretty amicable. Feliciano always strove to keep the mood going, and his cheeriness was pretty infectious.
Even Lovino wasn't griping now.
The market came and went in a great bustle of people and lights and shiny gifts, more wine than he had ever seen in his life, and Feliciano wound up buying so much stuff that Ludwig, in the end, became nothing more than a rather tall and rather resigned beast of burden, laden down with shopping bags and shiny papers and, to add insult to injury, Lovino grabbed a handful of glitter snow from one of the displays and rubbed in none-too-gently into his hair.
Ludwig shot him a scorching look, as Lovino observed his work and began to laugh, the glitter catching the light and making Ludwig look, for all of him, like a blond Christmas tree.
Now he just needed a fuckin' star on the top of his head.
"Look," Lovino chortled to Feliciano, "How shiny!" Turning a sly eye to Ludwig, he added, tauntingly, "Are you sure your name isn't Rudolf?"
Furrowing his brow and shaking his head as best he could to clear it of the glitter without dropping the bags, he had really no choice but to go along with them and deal with their endless teasing.
It wasn't so bad. Gilbert was worse.
And it was hard to stay in a bad mood inside of a Christmas market, and especially in Venice, and even more so with new friends.
He couldn't really stay mad much, anyway. A curse of his.
By the time they were trudging home again, close to midnight, he was quite content, even though his arms and back ached from the strain of being loaded down.
Besides, the wine that Feliciano had bought was already calling his name. It would be wise to keep cool if he was to have a chance at it before the two annihilated it.
As it happened, there was plenty to go around, and the rest of the morning hours ticked by in a warm burst of alcohol and a strange fluttering in his stomach that he could only attribute to exhilaration, at being with someone and being happy about it.
Maybe when school was over with, he would try to find a way to hang around in Italy for a while.
This place (and the brothers) was really growing on him.
Four bottles of wine later, Lovino smiling sloppily as he rocked back and forth in his chair and Feliciano laughing away at who knew what, Ludwig finally decided that it was safer to relocate into the living room, where he would at least have the couch available for when he decided to pass out.
They staggered through the kitchen threshold, and when Lovino decided that he wanted the couch and Ludwig refused to give it up, it wound up being a rather stubborn contest between them as neither one was willing to relent.
A compromise was reached when it was discovered that, with a little squirming and manipulation, they managed to both fit, as long as legs overlapped.
Feliciano nestled himself quite happily on the floor in front of them, crossing his legs and gripping the last glass of wine that remained in his hand, tottering back and forth as he watched the television.
Lovino fell first, the alcohol and blinking Christmas lights and sounds of the television just too much.
The cold air made it hard to stay awake.
Or maybe that was the wine.
Ludwig tried to last a little longer, because he was enjoying this night and falling asleep would mean that it would come to an end.
He hated when good things came to end. They always did, it seemed.
He didn't make it for too much longer. Sleep was just too tempting. Lying back as best he could for Lovino's intrusive legs, he heaved a great sigh, and closed his eyes.
Time slipped away.
Feliciano laid down on the floor below, and fell asleep.
And as the Christmas lights blinked slowly, bathing the room in fading glows of red and green in languid intervals, Ludwig laid there on the couch, drifting in and out of consciousness, and even through the intoxication, it struck him.
He felt at home.
Moonlight streamed in through the curtains.
Hopelessly comfortable, with Lovino sprawled out beside of him, legs tangled within his own and snoring to high heaven, he looked over, his head back on the cushion of the sofa, vision bleary as he faded, and he found that his arm, hanging off the edge and onto the floor, was atop Feliciano's side.
The surreal feeling of warmth and affection was new.
Feliciano's deep breathing was as comforting as the glow of the Christmas lights rising and falling.
He might not ever get sick of feeling like this.
It was nice.
The battle with sleep was finally lost, morning came, the next few days passed in a similar fashion, and he spent Christmas morning chatting on the phone with talkative Gilbert, who only chided him a little for not coming home. His conversation had been interrupted when Feliciano had finally come crawling out of his bedroom, hair sticking out in every direction and completely shirtless, as confident in his looks apparently as he was his powers of persuasion.
Rubbing bleary eyes, he had come forward, stumbling a bit, and promptly uttered a, 'Merry Christmas,' before leaning down above sitting Ludwig and kissing him upon either cheek.
The surprise had quickly caused him to drop the phone, but it passed as quickly as it had come, and he was steadily becoming used to the ways of the Italians. It was a normal thing, he supposed, to greet someone like that on an important occasion. And when Lovino came out, he and Feliciano kissed each others' cheeks without a thought.
Lovino glanced at him, shifted, and then walked on.
Well, looked like he wasn't getting any cheek-kisses from Lovino. He did, however, get a grumbled, 'Merry Christmas,' at the last second.
A friend, too.
That made him smile.
He liked being considered someone's 'friend'.
But he didn't tell Gilbert who he was with or that he had actually made a friend or two, if only because some part of him thought Gilbert might laugh at him for being so excited about it. For Gilbert, friends came easy. He wouldn't understand how big of a deal it was for Ludwig.
So, he stayed silent, and finally hung up the phone.
Christmas was exactly how he imagined Christmas would be around these two : fast-paced, glitzy, with lots of food and lots of wine and lots of presents.
Come to think, that was actually how most of the time with them was.
They couldn't ever really seem to sit still for too long when they were awake, and Ludwig found himself being dragged out for one reason or another, and he found himself complying quite easily, because in all honesty, he kind of liked being dragged around everywhere.
He felt like he was actually living for once. They never let him pass a dull moment. Every day that passed was something new.
The New Year rang in with a ruckus in the city.
For once, they all stayed home.
A clear winter night, when there wasn't a cloud in the sky, and only the burst of fireworks broke the silence. Lovino had retired long before, and Feliciano sat out the porch, legs propped up on the railing and arms crossed behind his head, a bottle of wine down at his side as he watched the stars above the haze of the city, bundled up in very thick clothes.
Ludwig joined him, a silent greeting passing between them as he sat down and threw his boots up next to Feliciano's, and perhaps they looked a little strange there together. Ludwig, blond hair white in the moonlight and eyes silver, tall and lean and as pale as the snow, calm and cool and serious, sitting next to Feliciano, auburn hair lit up copper and eyes golden, shorter and darker and with large hands and swift fingers, happy and good-natured and easily riled up.
Ludwig was surprised that they got along so well most of the time.
A little more friction came with Lovino, but nothing that wasn't tolerated. Lovino, for all of his talk, wasn't really so bad, and it was good to have someone to snit with so that he didn't die of sugar-shock from everything going so smoothly with Feliciano.
Rough edges could sometimes prove useful.
Lovino was as much of a friend as Feliciano was, if just in a different way, and even if Lovino would drop dead before he said it himself.
Looking over through calm, lidded eyes, Feliciano lifted his chin to acknowledge the fireworks, and said, simply, "Well, happy New Year. Think it'll be a good one?"
Ludwig repositioned his feet, and gave a short, deep, 'hm' in contemplation.
Feliciano waited patiently, looking subdued and a bit sleepy.
Finally, Ludwig came back with, "Well, I just hope it's as good as this year's been."
"Glass half empty? You've got a weird sense of optimism."
"So I hear."
Leering, Feliciano turned his eyes back up to the sky, and they fell silent, bathed in the light of stars and fireworks as the minutes flew by.
They didn't really need to talk. Just sitting together was enough.
And, luckily, the New Year started off as well as he could have ever hoped for.
Because not a thing changed, and that was exactly how he wanted it.
He didn't want a thing to change. Why mess with a good thing?
He spoke to Gilbert less frequently on the phone, and Gilbert didn't really call him up too often. He was preoccupied by friends and outings, and for once, Ludwig was too.
His time was consumed by Feliciano and Lovino.
Even so, he made a firm reminder to himself that, no matter how fun they were, and how much he liked them, they weren't worth flunking school after so much work, so he was forced to lay off the alcohol a bit and bring out the books when he sat on the porch with Feliciano or at the table with Lovino.
He found a good balance.
Everything was going great.
Another six months flew by.
It had been a year now, since Ludwig had by chance met the brothers in the street.
A whirlwind year of excitement and friendship and pretty much everything he could have ever hoped for.
He felt his age.
Summer came. School was out again.
He didn't go home.
Gilbert said, 'Oh well! See you next time. I bet you're gettin' dark! Send me some pictures.'
He took pictures, but didn't send them. It kept slipping his mind.
He was preoccupied.
Lovino finally began to drop his guard, just a little, and when the second Christmas came rolling around months later, he had, in a moment of being caught off-guard, actually smiled at Ludwig without thinking about it.
Feliciano had beamed the whole night.
And so had Ludwig.
Everything was going so well.
By then, he couldn't really have imagined up and leaving them.
He was too attached.
Time with them was vivid, and what he felt with them was what he imagined that Gilbert felt all the time.
He liked it.
He felt at home with them.
Could things have really gotten any better? It didn't seem so.
Maybe that was the problem.
It had been nearly two years of almost too-good contentment when it had happened.
Like everything else, it had started so simply.
Who could have ever known?
A simple thing had started a horrible course that spiraled downward with the speed of train and with as much ferocity.
A simple thing.
One night, Feliciano couldn't sleep.