"What?" Feliciano replies, voice fading in and out from bad reception.
Lovino clucks deep in his throat and fingers the magazine clipping stuck to the fridge, "he's going to make pizza, what the hell should I do?"
"Ve~I dunno, eat it?"
Lovino grasps the phone to his ear with both hands and leans against the kitchen counter, "but he's going to ask me if it's good." He insists, trying to impress the gravity of the situation onto his brother.
"Toni's a great chef, I'm sure you'll like it."
"You don't get it, though, you so don't get it." Lovino shakes his head and turns the faucet on, staring into the roaring stream, "Antonio's like the fucking old chick in Snow White," he says in a grave whisper, "he'll be all like, 'is my pizza the fairest of them all?' And I can't lie to him, I'm a really fucking shitty liar."
"Yeah, you are," Feliciano laughs and Lovino turns the water back off and pouts.
"You're not helping."
"Ve~just be honest, then. Toni's a student after all, he has to be used to criticism."
"You don't know him like I know him," Lovino argues. And it's true, Antonio is a people pleaser, he puts on the biggest smile when they're out in public and is so helpful and polite towards others, sometimes to the point that he forgets the needs of those that put up with him when he's not acting perfect. It used to bug Lovino, he used to dream of ways to expose the real Antonio, the one that has to be asked a million times to finish a chore or the Antonio that says he's going to be back before his boyfriend goes to sleep so they can have some quality time, but instead stays out late into the night drinking with his friends. Lovino used to spend his time pacing in the hallway (because a certain Spaniard said he'd be back at 10 and now it's 3am and he's past the point of mad and moved on to just plain worried), scheming of ways to reveal this person to every individual that's ever wondered why Antonio puts up with someone as mean and foul and fucked up as Lovino. He would never do it, though, because as maddening as that person is, it's Antonio, his Antonio, and somewhere inside he realizes that it's a privilege to be let into this side of his personality, the flawed side, the-in Lovino's opinion-more beautiful side.
Feliciano just sighs and then hums absentmindedly, "I'm sure he'd understand."
"Yeah, maybe," Lovino mumbles. He didn't actually expect his brother to have an answer anyway, he just sort of wanted to hear his voice, to be reminded that he's real. "You're in the studio, huh?"
"Mmhmm," Feliciano replies, "how can you tell?"
"Reception's always bad in there," Lovino says. It's not a total lie, and it's nicer than saying, 'you never really listen to me when you're painting,' even if that's closer to the truth. "Well, I'll let you get back to work."
"Okay, good luck!"
Lovino ducks his chin into his chest and quirks a sideways smile. "Thanks," he says and turns the faucet back on, "love you."
He fumbles for the end button as soon as Feliciano chirps, "love you, too," and pockets the phone before turning off the rushing water. His smile falters slightly when his eyes fall back to the picture of pizza affixed to the fridge, and he reaches out and yanks it off, wincing when the tomato-shaped magnet clatters to the floor. The clipping crumbles effortlessly in his palm and he digs under the sink for their small stack of magazines, combing through the covers before finding a November 1982 issue decorated with an image of unnaturally green peas and a greasy plastic turkey.
He leans on his palm as he flips through the pages, looking for the perfect response, the perfect picture that encapsulates both his anxiety and his gratitude. This message system isn't as precise as hand-written notes: it doesn't tell him what time Antonio left this morning, when he'll return, or when dinner will be served, but it's Sunday so Lovino already knows the answer to those questions, because they've lived together long enough to figure out the easy things like schedules. It's the complicated messages that, for Lovino, are more easily conveyed through image. The ones like: 'some girls were throwing flowers off the roof today for some kind of fucking Andy Goldsworthy rip-off sculpture project and I don't know why but I swear I could feel every bruise I've ever had throbbing. And no I don't want to talk about it because how can you even explain that without sounding like a fucking psycho?' Sometimes language is faulty, sometimes words can't properly convey the complexity of an event.
The conversation isn't so serious today, but Lovino still takes care choosing his response (a couple sitting over a lush Thanksgiving spread, turned slightly towards each other with knowing, almost plaintive expressions), even though he knows Antonio probably won't understand no matter how artfully his emotions are displayed. Somehow this task makes it easier for him to cope, and so they continue.
He stares glaze-eyed at the image on the dimpled fridge surface, examining it's suitability, squinting till the colors blur, before nodding slightly, sighing, and padding to the bathroom.
"Smells good," Lovino yells down the hall as he turns the lock to the front door and shakes his shoes from his feet.
Antonio peers from the kitchen and smiles at his boyfriend as if he'd been gone for months and not just the afternoon, "hey, babe."
Lovino quirks a sideways smile and closes the distance between them, drawing his arms around the Spaniard's waist and allowing himself to be pulled into a warm hug. "Missed you," Antonio says, his voice muffled from Lovino's shoulder.
"Yeah," Lovino says, but he means 'missed you, too.'
"What've you been up to today?" Antonio asks before turning away to peer into the oven.
Lovino shrugs and opens a cupboard, "just getting work done in the studio." He pulls out a wine glass and tips it towards Antonio in an unspoken question.
The Spaniard nods in agreement and wipes his hands on his ridiculously frilly apron, "how'd it go? You still having problems with needy students?"
Lovino laughs slightly and wrenches the cork from a bottle of Chianti. "Nah, it's pretty empty in there on the weekends, thank god."
"Does that mean I get your undivided attention tonight?"
Lovino hands him a glass of wine and rolls his eyes to the side, "we'll see, we'll see. I still have research to do."
"Me too," Antonio says solemnly, "biology research."
"You're not funny," Lovino snaps back, but he barely conceals his smile.
"You can tutor me, right?"
"Oh my god, you are a nerd."
"Yeah, but I'm your nerd."
They sit in silence a while and Lovino sips his wine and notices the image of the Thanksgiving couple has been replaced by a photo Feliciano took a month or two ago of Antonio whispering something into Lovino's ear. He can't remember what the Spaniard was saying, only that it was warm and Antonio's hands were soft on his arm and he felt safe. The look of adoration in both of their faces is so blatant that Lovino can't help but blush every time he sees it, so he hides his smile in his wine glass and pretends to pick a crumb off the countertop.
"So pizza, huh?"
"Yeah," Antonio looks up from a sizzling pot of tomato sauce, "why?"
Lovino shrugs and considers saying nothing.
"What's wrong? I know that face. What's wrong?"
"Nothing," Lovino chews on the inside of his cheek, "it's just, well," he pauses when Antonio tilts his head to the side and briefly marvels at how this person could be sofuckingcute, before regaining his sanity and rediscovering his words. "Well, I'm Italian, you know?"
Antonio drops his wooden spoon to the counter and stares, mouth agape, at his boyfriend. "You are!"
Lovino fights back a smile and hides his blushing cheeks behind his hands, "shut up!"
"No, no, seriously, babe, oh my god, no." Antonio continues and jogs to the other side of the counter to wrench Lovino's hands from his face. "How long has this been going on? How could you not tell me? Don't you trust me?"
"Shut up, shut up, I hate you!" But he doesn't and they both know that.
Antonio laughs and kisses his boyfriend's cheek, "well while we're in the business of confessing things, I thought you should know I'm Spanish."
"Oh, fuck you!" Lovino laughs despite himself.
"You're more than welcome to!" Antonio winks and pinches the Italian's side before returning to the stove.
"Yeah, yeah, but seriously though," Lovino flattens imaginary wrinkles from his shirt and pretends not to notice Antonio's stare, "don't you think I should be the one making the pizza in this house?"
Antonio looks to the ceiling and considers it, "mm, I dunno, should you?"
"It's like my fucking birthright or something." Lovino nods solemnly.
"But do you even really know how to make pizza?"
It's a fair question, because despite his heritage, Lovino spent his adolescence in Austria, but he finds it impossible to fight back the irritation that blooms in his chest from the insinuation. "Uh, yeah, I make fucking amazing pizza, actually."
Antonio quirks an eyebrow and holds back a laugh, "is that so?"
"Yeah, it is," Lovino snaps back quickly, "so you can wipe that shit eating grin off your face."
"I believe you," the Spaniard returns, voice annoyingly condescending.
"Alright, that's it." Lovino says and drains his glass before jumping from the stool and walking around the counter. "You asked for it," he warns Antonio and nudges the boy over with his hip.
"Asked for what?"
Lovino squats down and pulls a small pot from the cupboard under the stove. "You, me, pizza battle," he says, and his tone is only somewhat serious because pizza is important but it's not that important. Not as important as knocking Antonio down a peg, anyway.
"But we don't have anyone to judge," Antonio reasons.
Lovino drops his pot onto the stove and stares solemnly into his boyfriend's face, "I would never lie about pizza."
Antonio chuckles and ruffles the Italian's hair in that way he hates because it makes him feel like a child. "What's my prize if I win?"
Lovino crosses the small space between the bar and the stove and begins chopping an onion. "Biology lessons," he says after a moment's consideration.
"And what's your prize?"
"Bragging rights." He replies, tipping his onions into a pot.
"Okay, you're on," Antonio says and sprinkles some salt into his sauce. "What kind you making?" He asks and peers at Lovino's ingredients.
"Uh-uh," Lovino clucks and shoulders the older boy away, "no cheating."
"How is that even cheating?" Antonio pouts playfully, "it's not like I'm asking for the recipe."
"You're a chef, who knows what kind of ingredient gauging powers you possess."
"Geez, Lovi, I'm not Superman."
"Yeah, cause if you were you'd be way more muscular," Lovino agrees and then screams when Antonio takes the opportunity to lift him up by his waist to prove his strength. "The fuck are you doing!" He yells and wiggles around till he's released.
"I'm more muscular than you, at least," Antonio smirks and winks and pours himself another glass of wine.
"Sabotage, I call sabotage," Lovino snaps and fights back the heat filling his face.
Antonio doesn't respond and instead checks the heat on the oven again and rubs the Italian's shoulder as he passes by him for the flour. Eventually he stops joking around and falls into a studied, quiet rhythm. Lovino likes to sit at the bar sometimes while Antonio is cooking, he pretends to do research or sketch, but really he just likes to glance up at his boyfriend and marvel at how his face lights up as he handles each spice or vegetable. The look is one of deep admiration, of love, and Lovino knows that because he's seen the same look pointed at him.
Even when the pizzas are in the oven, Antonio feigns helping Lovino clean-up but really just peers nervously into the oven and worries about humidity and uneven heating and inaccurate thermometers. It's annoying, but Lovino puts up with it because it's just who he is and knowing he has flaws makes him feel comfortable.
"I think they're ready," Antonio says after a while, turning from the oven to watch Lovino wipe suds from his hands.
"Let me see," the younger boy says and moves next to the Spaniard. "Yeah," he agrees as he admires the perfectly melted cheese, "yeah, definitely ready."
Antonio nods, removes the pizzas and pretends to busy himself jotting down some recipe notes before finally giving up and waving his oven mitt over the steaming pans.
"Whose should we try first?" Antonio asks when the pies have finally reached a palatable temperature.
"Yours," Lovino says and digs around in a drawer for their pizza cutter. He wants to say that they should save the best for last but he doesn't because he's not five.
"You sure, if yours gets colder it may not taste as good," Antonio says and smirks.
"Oh shut up, like you're not taking this seriously, too," Lovino snaps back before carefully slicing two pieces from the Spaniard's pan. "It smells good," he admits when Antonio hands him a plate.
"Well what did you expect?"
"For your pizza to be full of shit like you are."
"You deserve it," Lovino returns, turning his back from Antonio's examining eyes and taking a bite.
"How is it?" The older boy asks and picks up his piece.
"Nuhuh," The Italian shakes his head, "try it yourself first and then we can discuss it."
Antonio huffs and then takes a bite. The dough is crisp and warm and pairs brilliantly with the slightly sweet tomatoes and bitter cheese. "It could use a bit of basil maybe to brighten the taste, and I think I used too much oil in the sauce, but-"
"But?" Lovino prompts and places his plate down to fold his arms across his chest.
"But I think it's pretty damn good, maybe the best I've had." Antonio shrugs. He's not at all embarrassed about being so confident and Lovino has to fight back the urge to punch him in the arm. "What do you think?"
"It's fine," Lovino huffs because he knows it's better than fine.
The Italian chews the inside of his lip and tries not to pout, "it's great, okay?" He concedes, "but it does need more basil."
Antonio smiles like he knows he's already won and picks up the pizza cutter, "let's try yours now."
Lovino nods, accepts his piece and pretends not to watch the Spaniard intently as he draws the pie to his lips and takes a bite. Antonio chews once, twice, and then stops altogether and turns his back on his boyfriend.
"What's wrong?" Lovino demands and touches the older boy's shoulder. "Is it too hot?" Antonio shakes his head and the Italian steps back and chews his lips, "is it really bad?" The Spaniard doesn't respond and so he scoffs and takes a bite of his own slice. He gets it then, and his eyes grow as big as saucers. Antonio's pizza was delicious, it was undeniably impeccable, but if that was delicious, then Lovino's is from a whole other dimension: if the other pie was great, then the Italian's is phenomenal. If Lovino didn't know better, he'd call it perfect.
"So." Lovino says and he tries really hard not to gloat but he can't help the excitement that enters his voice.
Antonio clears his throat and turns around to face the Italian, "so."
"You gonna announce the winner or what?" The younger boy says. He knows he's won but it means nothing if his boyfriend won't admit it.
"Mm, I dunno," Antonio says and scratches his chin, "I think I need another taste."
"Toni-" Lovino starts to argue, but then long fingers are tangled in his hair and his mouth is being pulled towards warm, soft lips. He forgets about the competition for a minute, he always loses touch with reality when he's drawn into the Spaniard's sweet taste, but eventually he finds the earth beneath his feet, so despite his body's protests, he spreads his palms across Antonio's chest and pushes away. "Not fair," he says and wipes his mouth on his wrist, "you're not getting out of this."
"Out of what?" Antonio tries to sound innocent and fails magnificently.
"You need to admit that I won this thing."
"Does it really matter? It's just pizza."
Lovino quirks and eyebrow, "It mattered the past two hours when you were freaking out because I had the 'better burner.'"
Antonio sighs and crosses his arms over his stomach, "Lovi."
"Fine," the older boy concedes finally. "You win, yours is better."
Lovino had assumed that when he was announced the winner he would smile and tell Antonio it wasn't a big deal. Instead, his heart freezes and he pounds his fist on the counter and pumps the other into the air while shouting, "yes," and "who's the boss now?" till his breath runs out.
"Wow, babe," Antonio laughs and shakes his head.
Lovino realizes what he's doing and immediately pulls his arms back to his side as his face brightens as red as the tomato sauce he's just slaved over. "Ah, I mean uh-s-sorry, I just, uh, got excited."
"Well, uh, like I said, I'm Italian." Lovino stutters and feels his face burn impossibly hotter when Antonio leans in and kisses his cheek.
"It's okay, bragging rights was your prize, after all."
"Yeah," Lovino clears his throat and combs his hair from his forehead, "I guess that's true."
"Should we invite your brother and Ludwig over to help us eat this pizza?"
"Mm, I dunno." Lovino replies noncommittally and fiddles with one of his shirt buttons.
"Well what were you thinking?"
The Italian shrugs and considers retrieving a cold washcloth for his flaming face, "um, maybe a consolation prize?"
Antonio stops in his task of slicing the remaining pizza and glances at his boyfriend, "like-a biology lesson type consolation prize?"
"Christ you're embarrassing."
"So that's a yes then?"
"God fucking dammit, yes."
The next morning Antonio pads into the kitchen to find his boyfriend already gone. The pizza sits forgotten on the counter, now stale and inedible, and the photo of him and Lovino has been replaced by a stock image of a female in a white lab coat, diligently peering into a microscope. The Spaniard pulls the photo from the fridge, slides it lovingly into his pocket, and, despite his less than perfect pizza, feels like a winner.