Lovino leans his chin into his hand and struggles to fight the heaviness in his eyelids as he watches Sadiq explain carving techniques to a bunch of nervous first years. It's an annoying quirk of his area adviser that he requires his assistants to attend all of the print classes, regardless of their assigned duties. Most other professors let their scholarship students do as they please, provided they maintain a steady workload, but Lovino's forced to sit through boring repeat lessons week after week till he's heard each lecture and empty threat against improper studio behavior so many times he swears he could recite them if prompted.
His mind has just wandered to the tomato quiche Antonio made for dinner the night before and whether or not it will taste as good reheated, when a vibration in his pocket anchors his attention to the present. He glances at Sadiq, finding him busy yelling at a flustered young girl for carving towards her body, and covertly slips his phone from his pocket far enough to see the caller. The number isn't in his address book, and the area code isn't one he recognizes, but some nagging voice inside of him won't let him ignore it altogether, so he excuses himself from the room with some transparent lie about having to go to the bathroom and retreats outside to return the call.
He presses the redial button as soon as the heavy exterior door closes behind him and paces up and down the cement sidewalk. He has no reason to think this is anything more than a solicitor or a wrong number, but his heart pounds heavily nonetheless and when the tinny ring silences and an unfamiliar voice greets him with a brusque "what?" he's not certain how to reply.
"You-you called me," he bites back, shock laying waste to irritation that this person that just pulled him from class would dare to be so rude.
"Who is this? Is it Lovi?"
Lovino pulls the phone away from his ear and scowls at it as if the weak and crackling reception will carry his silent disdain, "It's Lovino." He corrects, voice sharp, "what do you want? Who are you?"
"Oh yeah my brother's told me about that attitude of yours," the other person cackles and Lovino's grasping his phone so tight he thinks it might crumple between his fingers.
"Right, okay, fuck you," the Italian shouts and pulls his thumb towards the end button when loud protests filter through the earpiece.
"No, stop, it's about Antonio!"
Lovino feels his heart freeze and he knits his eyebrows, "what about him?"
"He cut his finger, I think it might need stitches."
The Italian starts pacing again and tries to allay panic with logic, "Okay, so take him to get the fucking stitches then, you don't need my permission."
"Gee, thanks," the other voice drips sarcastically, "but he's refusing to go, he wants his 'sweet Lovi' to be with him."
Lovino fights the urge to pound his head into the nearby brick wall and deliberately ignores the snickering voice on the other side going on about how Antonio must be delirious if he thinks this kid is sweet. "Okay, stop," the Italian says, interrupting the ranting midway, "tell that bastard that if he doesn't get up and go to the hospital right now that I will rip his fucking balls off and mail them to Antarctica."
Laughter explodes through the speaker and he hears some distant exchanges before the voice returns, "no dice, he still refuses."
Lovino squeezes the bridge of his nose and fills his lungs with the warming March air. "Tell him," he starts, and starts to reconsider before shaking his head and powering through, "tell him if he doesn't go I'll never give him another fucking blowjob ever again, and I mean it."
The cackling increases ten-fold at this, and the Italian feels his body burning so hot he worries he might melt into the floor. But when the abrasive voice returns it's to tell him that this threat worked and Antonio's agreed to leave for treatment.
"Okay, I'll meet you guys there," Lovino replies, he's not sure how because the Spaniard took the car to school today and the thought of waiting on the bus makes him nauseous, but he'll figure it out when he doesn't have this annoying person on the line.
"What? There's no reason for you to come, he's not gonna die or anything, dude." The voice sounds affronted, and Lovino would reply but his boyfriend and death being mentioned in the same sentence sends his head reeling.
"I'm coming," he says when he's somewhat recovered, words cold and final. "Oh, and one more thing." He doesn't wait for confirmation before huffing in a forced whisper, "if you tell anyone about the blowjobs, that Antarctica thing is still on the table."
A stilted laugh filters through the earpiece and Lovino's pretty sure this guy might actually believe him, so they mutter half-hearted goodbyes and he pockets his phone and allows 5 seconds to cup his head in his hands and feel sorry for himself, before taking off back to class to tell Sadiq there's been an emergency and he can't stick around for another 2 hours of monotonous repeat lessons.
His professor is surprisingly understanding, though he guesses his face probably gives away the panic his voice doesn't, and he heads down to the basement to solicit the only person he knows with a car. He pounds his fist against the closed door and wants to collapse in relief when a familiar blonde head pops out of the studio.
"I'm here, I'm here," the Frenchman waves a hand to stop the raucous knocking, "what do you want?"
"I need to borrow your car," Lovino drops his fist and backs up a few paces.
"No need to be so loud, there are classes going on down here you know."
"Fuck the classes," the Italian returns, voice strengthening from exasperation. "Can I borrow your car or not?"
Francis tilts his head and notes the younger boy's pale face and shaking hands, "is everything okay?" He asks, placing a comforting hand on the others shoulder. "Just relax for a minute."
Lovino takes a deep breath and digs his nails into his palm, "Antonio's in the hospital."
The Frenchman's chin quirks up in interest, "Toni? What happened?"
"What do you think? He cut himself or some shit, he's a fucking idiot, I always tell him-" Lovino catches himself and pulls his mind back to the present. "So your car, can I take it?"
Francis considers teasing the boy and asking what's in it for him, but he can tell from the Italian's state that this isn't the time for games, so he simply nods and retreats into his studio for his keys. "I'll drive you." Lovino starts to argue, but the Frenchman quirks a smile and pats his cheek, laughing when his hand is immediately swatted away. "I bet you don't even know where the hospital is, right?"
Lovino presses his lips together and says nothing, they both know he's right, so there's no point arguing.
"Did he drive himself there?" Francis asks once the pair are buckled safely in the car.
Lovino stares out the window, eyes glazing at the passing street lights, "no, some cocky jerk took him."
"Cocky jerk?" Francis reiterates and hums as he searches his mind, "what did he sound like?"
Lovino shrugs and leans back into his seat, "I don't know, like an idiot," he says and picks at a seam on his pants. "He laughed a lot," he adds, "like a really obnoxious shit-face laugh."
Francis quirks a smile at that and nods, "oh, sounds like Gil."
"Gil?" Lovino asks back, scowling as if the name tastes bad in his mouth.
"Gilbert," the Frenchman corrects and pulls into a turning lane, "you know his brother."
Lovino turns to the older man and slowly considers the people he's met at the school, "I don't-" he begins before pausing. "Wait, you don't mean that potato bastard, do you?"
Francis laughs and pulls into the Hospital parking lot, "if that's code-word for Ludwig, then yes." He smirks and pulls into a visitor's spot, "Isn't he dating your brother?"
Lovino jerks his head to the side and unfastens his seatbelt, "one problem at a time," he replies and reaches for the door handle before the older man has even shifted into park.
The emergency room is blessedly empty when they make it inside, Francis supposes it's because it's March and lunchtime and a Tuesday, and Lovino doesn't suppose anything because he just really wants to see his boyfriend with his own two eyes and be absolutely certain that everything is fine like everyone else seems certain it is. When they ask the nice, middle-aged looking nurse behind the front desk about Antonio, she looks ready to tell them to sit in the waiting room, and Lovino's not sure if it's his pale, worried face, the fact that the place is so slow, or Francis' flirting, but she finally concedes, pulls up his information and beckons another woman to lead them to the cubicle the Spaniard is occupying.
He can hear the obnoxious laughing and loud voices echoing down the hallway, and while it's somewhat of a relief, Lovino finds himself irritated that he seems more concerned about this incident than anyone else, including his boyfriend. And when they enter the sectioned room and Antonio smiles and waves his bandaged hand in the air, the Italian pushes himself into a corner and watches quietly as the three friends talk and repeat inside jokes and act as if meeting up in hospital rooms is a regular occurrence.
Lovino's relieved when the doctor comes in a few minutes later with instructions for care and information about the treatment that was provided-5 stitches and some lidocaine to numb the pain-before sending them on their way.
"Hey, who wants to get lunch, since we're skipping class anyway," Gilbert proposes when they exit the antiseptic environment into warm afternoon air.
Antonio pats his friend on the back with his good hand and his smile is so warm and familiar that Lovino can't help but feel immediately inferior. "You always have the best ideas, Gil."
"Yeah, except for the part where he wasn't the one that just had a hospital visit with no fucking health insurance," Lovino pipes up. The Spaniard jerks his head behind him as if he had forgotten his boyfriend's presence, and isn't that just fucking perfect.
"What crawled up your ass?" Gilbert sneers back and Lovino gnaws on the inside of his lip and has to remind himself that getting in a fist fight in the middle of a hospital parking lot is a really terrible idea.
Lovino opens his mouth to retaliate and Francis steps between them and pats the Italian's shoulder, "Gil, I don't believe you've met Lovino."
"Him? Really? Man, Toni, this guy better give amazing head-"
But he doesn't get to finish the sentence because the Italian charges forward and swings an arm. He misses, some small part of him thinks he intentionally misses, but it still feels good when Gilbert opens his palms in front of his chest in defense and chuckles awkwardly, "Chill, I'm just kidding, why would you want to damage this awesome face?"
Lovino manages to find the situation vaguely amusing, despite his irritation, but then a familiar calloused hand wraps around his forearm and he blinks up at his boyfriend's face now so close to his own. He expects for Antonio to shout at his friends, to tell them that he's more than just a good fuck and that they shouldn't treat him like someone expendable, but instead he says, "Lovi, Gil doesn't mean it, that's just how he jokes." And then he's done and he wants to be miles away from all of these bastards and their blind adoration for each other.
"Are you fucking kidding me?" Lovino asks and he would pull himself away except he doesn't want to hurt the older boy.
"Why don't I just bring you both home," Francis interjects, and Lovino nods vigorously and stomps off to the car as soon as Antonio releases his hold. He watches the three friends hugging and patting each others backs from a distance, wondering what they're saying, wondering if they're talking about him, and he feels a distant relief when Antonio and Francis peel off together in his direction.
The ride back to the Spaniard's apartment-no, their apartment-is awkwardly quiet. The Frenchman had insisted on the "two lovebirds" sitting in the back seat together, and after a few minutes Antonio sighs and leans his head onto Lovino's shoulder. His warm breath pools in the Italian's collar bone and he sits stiff and still, not altogether thrilled at sharing contact with the source of the moment's aggravation, but distant empathy making him unwilling to stir the injured man. Still, he can't help the relief that drains through his limbs when they pull into the parking lot and he has a reason to shake off the sleeping Spaniard.
"Hey, bastard, we're here." He says and jostles his shoulder.
Antonio straightens up and nods in thanks when Francis opens his door for him, and Lovino hops out and fights the urge to stomp up to the apartment and slam the door. He stands awkwardly next to his boyfriend in their doorway as the Spaniard waves his friend off, and when the car is finally out of view, retreats into the kitchen to search the cabinets for any of the painkillers the doctor approved.
He pauses in his search when a hand squeezes the back of his neck and he feels warm breath upsetting his hair, "thanks for coming today, babe." Lovino doesn't respond and instead shakes a bottle of Tylenol to determine how many days it will last them. Antonio seems unmoved by being ignored and pulls himself even closer till the Italian is certain he must be able to count every pore.
"Are you fucking serious right now?" He snaps finally and slams the half empty pill bottle on the counter.
"What?" Antonio steps back, affronted.
"That's the farthest thing from my mind right now," he says and takes a glass from the cabinet. "You can be a real fucking asshole sometimes, you know that?"
"Me?" Antonio catches onto the direction of the conversation and pulls away from his boyfriend, "You think I'm the asshole?"
Lovino quirks an eyebrow and stomp over to the sink, "if the shoe fits."
"You're the one that tried to punch my best friend."
Lovino wrenches the faucet and fills the glass with water, "well maybe if you would fucking stand up for me-"
"Wow, really? I do, Lovi, I do all the fucking time."
The Italian turns off the faucet and shakes his head in disbelief.
"'Lovi's not mean, he's just shy,'" Antonio recites in an affected voice and paces across the room towards his boyfriend. "'Lovi's not selfish, you just have to get to know him, Lovi's not demanding, he just has trouble expressing himself-'"
"Shut up!" the younger boy interrupts and twists his body around, knocking the full glass from the counter and shattering it into a hundred glistening pieces. He glances down at the mess and back to Antonio and thinks how easy it would be to tell him he hates him, to end this, but then the Spaniard slips out of the room for a rag and Lovino realizes that this fight isn't fatal, that Antonio trusts him enough to worry about messes in the middle of an argument and that means something more than any words exchanged between them.
Antonio returns and starts to bend down, but Lovino wrenches the cloth from his hand and pushes him back. "Just go sit down," he says and starts swiping together the glistening shards.
He doesn't sit down, though, instead he sighs and leans against the counter and watches his boyfriend dump handful after handful of glass into a plastic bag. "You're mad at me," he says when Lovino rinses out the cloth and swipes it across the floor one last time.
The Italian gives a stilted laugh and knots the grocery bag ties together, "Really? What was your first clue."
"It's-you of all people, Toni. You know that I-" He stops and swallows down the lump in his throat, because he's not going to give anyone the satisfaction of him crying over this, dammit, that isn't how this is going to work.
"Stop," Antonio says and pushes off the counter, momentarily forgetting his injured hand and wincing in pain when it makes contact with the hard surface.
Lovino rushes to his side and pulls his wrist out, gently turning the hand over to check for any sign that the stitches have been disturbed. "Be more careful, idiot," he chastises half-heartedly before heading to the freezer for a bag of peas.
"You really are all those things I said, you know," Antonio says and cradles his hand to his chest as he watches the Italian wrap the frozen bag into a dry dishcloth before handing it to him.
"Well, apparently you're the only one that thinks so," Lovino replies and wipes his numb fingers on his slacks.
"I didn't mean that," Antonio amends and shifts the cold bundle on top of his hand, "I was just mad."
The Italian quirks an eyebrow and digs through the fridge for leftover quiche. "The fact that people hate me isn't exactly news," he says and drops the plastic container on the counter.
"People don't hate you."
"Your friends do."
"They don't," Antonio argues and moves out of the way so his boyfriend can retrieve two plates from the cabinet, "Francis likes you and Gil's just an idiot."
"You like them more than me." Lovino doles portions of cold quiche onto plates and wonders how the Spaniard can't see the underlying problem. The relationship, the affection, will never be equally reciprocated because Antonio has a support group and Lovino doesn't. He's always told himself that the one rule of relationships is to be the one that cares less, that has less to lose, but somehow he's gotten it wrong on this one, somehow he's ended up loving the Spaniard more than he'll ever get in return, because Antonio is social, Antonio has friends, and that's something Lovino feels will never be fully in his grasp.
"I love you all equally, just-differently."
The Italian doesn't acknowledge this, because it makes no sense to him. Love is love, and if it's being directed towards someone else, that means less of it is leftover for him.
Antonio sighs and puts the peas on the counter. "You're still mad."
Lovino covers the plates with paper towels and fiddles with the microwave settings.
"Why? What do you need from me?"
The Italian wants to tell him, 'I need for you to realize that today was really scary for me and being ignored didn't help that,' but it's selfish and he knows that. Today wasn't about him, not everything is about him, because, 'Lovi's not selfish, you just have to get to know him.' Sure.
"I don't know," he says and closes the microwave, "I don't know."
"Yes you do, I can tell," Antonio says and watches his boyfriend put the newly-empty container in the sink before turning around and tapping his fingers against the laminate bar. "You have to tell me though, because I'll never get it otherwise."
Lovino knows that's true, but he also doesn't know if honesty is the smartest avenue. "It just-" he starts and then contemplates his words, turns them over and over in his head, "I don't like losing out to them, Toni."
"What do you mea-"
"Fuck," Lovino growls and digs his fingernails into his scalp, "I don't-I'm not-I'm not like you. I don't have a lot of friends. You and Feliciano are all I fucking have."
"Are you," Antonio starts and shifts awkwardly, "are you jealous?"
The Italian chokes back a disbelieving laugh, "yeah, maybe, I don't know. But you-you don't have to fucking ignore me just because your friends are around. Do you know how much that sucks?"
The Spaniard nods slowly and a hint of a smile edges his lips, "you were worried." It's not a question, he's slow on the uptake sometimes, but he's certain he's nailed this one.
"Yes," Lovino practically yells and slams his fist on the counter, "think about it for a goddamn second, yes I was worried!"
"Hey," Antonio soothes and closes the distance between them, "look at me, I'm fine."
The Italian sighs and rolls his eyes but he doesn't pull away when his boyfriend tucks his hair behind his ear and thumbs his eyebrow like he's trying to find something more the face he shows the world, like he's trying to actually see him.
"You need to be more careful," Lovino says, just to make himself feel better, because he needs to make some point out of this, and if it is indeed selfish to want Antonio around, to want him alive and well, then so be it, that's what he is, he can learn to accept that.
"Yeah, I know," the Spaniard nods.
"And you need to keep your weirdo friends under control."
"I make no promises," Antonio laughs, and when Lovino shoots him an angry look, adds, "well, I guess I can try."
That's what this is about anyway, because they don't have any instruction manuals or classes or parents telling them how to do this, so they're trying. And sometimes they make mistakes, but as long as they're not fatal, it can be okay. They can make it be okay.
"Hey, Toni," Lovino asks and carefully pulls a steaming plate from the microwave.
"Hmm?" Antonio replies and re-handles the frozen peas.
"How much do you think postage is to Antarctica?"