Warnings: incest, mild sexual content, reference to sexual harassment, traumatic event flashback

Disclaimer: Hetalia belongs to Himaruya.

...

Chapter 7, Part 2

Ludwig and Gilbert walked back across campus in silence, until Gilbert's phone went off. He fumbled to get it out of his pocket and had to try several times to hit the "answer" button.

"Heya, Mattie."

Ludwig gave his brother a questioning glance.

"No, actually I just left. Had a little… I mean, I had a bit to drink… yeah. No, yeah, sure. I'm headin' over with Lud. No prob, see you in a minute."

Gilbert hung up. "Goin' to Matt's," he grunted.

Ludwig nodded. "Gathered as much."

Neither of them said anything for a little while. Then Gilbert spoke up. "So, what'd… What did Francis have to say?"

Ludwig pursed his lips. "Nothing. Nothing important."

Gilbert gave him a sidelong look. "Ya sure? I mean, what'd he say?"

Ludwig shrugged. "Just…" He swallowed. He shook his head. "Don't worry about it. He was just being… stupid."

Gilbert was silent a moment. Then, "Okay. But he didn't… I mean, did he… He didn't try anything, did he?"

Ludwig shook his head, and Gilbert let it drop.

They reached the dorm, went up to Ludwig's floor, and parted in front of his door.

"'Night Lud," said Gilbert, giving him a quick, ill-aimed peck on the cheek.

"Gil," muttered Ludwig in protest, glancing around. But the hall was empty. "Um, yeah, good night."

Gilbert tottered off towards Matthew's room, and Ludwig entered his own.

He drank two glasses of water in a row, went through an abbreviated bedtime routine, and crawled under his blankets, wondering if he should have bothered to call Angie. He figured she was probably already asleep though.

But sleep had a hard time finding Ludwig. He couldn't get Francis' voice, his leer, out of his head.

Poor girl… You smell like sex. Tell me, is that from your girlfriend?

It's clear you feel attracted to men, attracted to me… I assure you, what we were doing was perfectly normal… it's common to feel a bit of shame… I can't imagine how shameful it must feel to have your own brother catch you like that…

What did Gilbert think of that? They hadn't spoken about where Gilbert had found Ludwig that night, what he'd been doing. Was Gilbert disgusted by it? By him? Or was he afraid Ludwig had liked it, might want to go back to Francis?

Ludwig tried to remember that night, before… everything that happened with Gilbert. And after Angie, in the bar.

Francis had found him crying. Ludwig hated that. Hated that he'd seen him so weak. And then he'd been weaker still, to follow Francis. What had he expected would happen? He must have known, how things would end up. What else would Francis be taking him home for, other than to have sex? He'd known, and he'd gone willingly.

Well of course he'd known. It wasn't like Francis' behavior was a surprise. It wasn't as if he'd been caught off guard by it.

And Francis hadn't forced him to do anything. He'd done that himself. Hadn't he. And sure, it had been a little uncomfortable, but what more could he expect, going home with a guy like that? He had known what he was getting into. Maybe he wished Francis would have gone about it a little differently—that was it, if he'd just said things differently, been a bit more considerate, it would have been fine. Ludwig just had to make sure that in the future, he stood up for himself a little better. If he didn't like what someone was doing, he would say so. After all, how would Francis even know what he wasn't enjoying, if he hadn't said anything? That was on Ludwig. He should have said something. If he'd just said something, it would have been fine. He could have refused. But he didn't. So Francis had done what he'd wanted. That was the way it worked. He shouldn't expect anything different, so there was nothing to mope about. Just a lesson to be learned.

Maybe, maybe if it had gone differently, he could have enjoyed it.

These thoughts looped over and over in Ludwig's head, until finally, he fell asleep.

"Hey boo," said Gilbert when his boyfriend opened the door. He gave him a quick hug and peck on the cheek.

"Hey," responded Matthew with a smile. He closed the door and turned to Gilbert. "We missed you at dinner, you should have come."

Gilbert rubbed his neck. "Sorry, you know I just… I get nervous about the whole meet-the-parents thing. I mean I know your parents know about us and they're fine with it, but I guess… I don't feel ready. And I mean, I feel kinda bad since… I dunno when I can introduce you to my dad."

"Yeah, I know," said Matthew, slipping his arms around Gilbert's waist. "But, you know my parents would love to meet you. There's nothing to worry about, and you can introduce me to your dad when you're—or when he's ready. I don't mind waiting." He buried his nose in Gilbert's neck with a little hum.

Gilbert laughed slightly. "Yer nose's cold."

"Mm, warm it up for me then."

Gilbert leaned down to plant a kiss and playful nip on Matt's nose, making him giggle.

They got ready for bed and snuggled together under Matthew's thick comforter. Gilbert automatically put a protective arm over his boyfriend's waist, enjoying the fresh smell of his strawberry shampoo.

"Hey Gil."

"Hm?"

Matthew turned to face him. "I've been meaning to ask—maybe it's not the best time, but before I forget—have you heard anything more about that paid internship you were talking about? In New York?"

Gilbert blinked, trying to clear his drowsy mind. He hadn't exactly been spending a lot of time thinking about after graduation recently.

"Oh, um, no I haven't heard anything. I mean I don't apply till spring."

"Oh it's not till spring?"

"No. But, I think… I have a good chance. I should be able to get a good recommendation. And I mean, I've studied copyright law a lot, so I think I'd be able to take it on. It's honestly so fucked up in the music industry. That's why I really wanna get this one, actually work on the side of musicians and consumers. It'd be a hell of a lot better than the marketing stuff I'm doing now, anyway. Although, I guess it's been good, getting to work from home, even if they pay me peanuts."

"At least you're getting paid," said Matt wistfully. "Last summer I was reading a thousand pages a week at least and I didn't get anything for it. It's supposed to look good on my resume. But yeah, I've been looking for stuff with publishers in the city, and there are a few options. I just think… you know, it would be nice if we were in the same place."

"Yeah, well, I definitely wanna be in the city. Or, well maybe not Manhattan, but I'm sure we could afford a place in some shady neighborhood in the boroughs, right?"

Matt grinned. "Yeah." He considered Gilbert a moment. "Okay. Thanks, I just wanted to check we're… on the same page. Because I know we've kind of mentioned it, but… I mean of course we can't plan anything for sure yet, but… it's… good to think about that stuff."

"Yeah, of course," said Gilbert softly.

"Okay. Good night Gil." Matthew kissed him briefly on the lips and nestled further into his arms.

Gilbert held him, stroking his hair and thinking.

He did want to work and live in the city. It was the best place to get a start in music production, and the internship he was looking at was a perfect fit. And if it didn't work out, there were other positions he could try for. Of course not all of them were paid, but he would manage, somehow. It would be nice to be with Matt. Then he wouldn't be starting out in a new place all alone. The idea of them sharing a tiny apartment in Brooklyn—or considering rising prices, more likely the Bronx—was oddly… cozy. The domesticity of it. It would be nice. And there would be plenty of couples like them there. Young urban gays. Good bars. A good arts scene. Maybe Gilbert could meet some creative types, join a band again. He hadn't played in a group since freshman year. That was how he met Francis and Toni. But he didn't want to think about them.

He should get his guitar back out. He was rusty.

…But Ludwig. What would he do about Ludwig?

Gilbert closed his eyes. He didn't want to think about it. He didn't need to, yet. It was still a long time till graduation. Well, not a long time. Just over one semester. But still. He didn't need to make any decisions about his brother yet.

Maybe they could just go on as they were. Not fucking every day, obviously, but they'd see each other sometimes. It wasn't too long a train ride to the city; Gilbert could come visit Ludwig weekends and vice versa. Surely Ludwig would be alright with that. After all, they were brothers, not boyfriends. Gilbert would move in with Matt, Ludwig would do his own thing.

So what if he was enjoying their little trysts? It was… a way to connect with his brother. Sort of. Actually, most of the connections between them recently had been of a purely physical nature. But wasn't that what Ludwig wanted? And if Gilbert were being honest with himself, what he wanted as well? Maybe not all he wanted, but still.

He had thought that with Ludwig coming here they would have a chance to be closer again, like they had been before Gilbert had left for school. It had been hard to tell Ludwig about his life in college, to make him really understand. He had kept a lot from him. Which was only natural, while Ludwig was young. Younger, at least. But now… well, they were closer, weren't they? Though not exactly the way he'd imagined it would be.

He sighed deeply and tried to clear his mind. Don't think about it too much, there's nothing you can do right now. It will all get sorted out, somehow or other. Just sleep, for now.

It was the Tuesday before Thanksgiving, and Ludwig was exhausted. He'd had a paper due that morning, and one due the day before. He was fairly certain they were both terrible. He'd had to pull an all-nighter and planned to only take a nap Monday morning, but he hadn't woken up to his alarm and he'd missed Kirkland's class. Realizing it was too late to do anything and that he really didn't feel like going to his psychology lecture, he crawled back into bed and slept for another couple hours, before spending another night in the library. He'd even turned down Gilbert's offer to find a secluded spot with the car.

Ludwig was torn between collapsing in bed or inviting Gilbert over. Feliciano had just left to catch his bus home for the holiday (his profs had been kind enough to cancel Wednesday classes), so they would have the room to themselves.

Ludwig was piling his laundry into the suitcase he'd take home the next day, still undecided, when he caught sight of a red pair of underwear he did not immediately recognize. He wondered for a moment if some of Feliciano's laundry had gotten mixed in with his, when he remembered. They were Gilbert's.

The underwear he'd taken. He still hadn't washed them.

Ludwig picked them up. He stared at them. He could see the slightly crusty bit where…

It seemed like ages ago. But it had only been a few weeks. How could that be possible. How could he go from pining after his brother, fantasizing about him, jerking off to the thought of him and crying himself to sleep in guilt, to enthusiastically fucking him nearly every day, having to keep a look out, making sure no one else found out, sometimes even having to admonish his brother for his reckless eagerness?

It was surreal. He had been a different person. Someone else had marked those underwear. Between then and now, Ludwig felt he'd experienced the lowest lows and highest highs of his entire short life.

He decided to invite Gilbert over.

The red underwear had joined the rest of his dirty laundry in his suitcase by the time Gilbert arrived.

"Hey Brüderchen, how ya doin'?" asked Gilbert with a grin when Ludwig let him in. This time the pet name seemed just like any affectionate, slightly teasing term used by an older brother.

"Exhausted. I was just going to go to sleep, but… I wanted to see you. Before Angie comes over."

"Manage to get those essays done?"

"Barely. And they're horrible." He groaned. "And I had to miss my classes Monday."

"Kesese, don't get so bent out of shape about it. Everyone skips sometimes. Hell, I think hardly a week goes by I actually make every one of my classes."

Without warning Gilbert pushed his brother against the edge of the bed. "But enough chit chat. We're alone, right? What'd you have in mind?" He grinned, more predatory than friendly now.

Ludwig looked at his brother a moment, growing red in the face. Then he stepped away from him and started to undress.

Gilbert watched him with interest, giving him a quizzical look when Ludwig simply got in bed, naked, and pulled the covers up. But he followed suit and stripped down, then joined Ludwig under the covers.

He immediately went in for a kiss, hands reaching for Ludwig's bare skin under the covers. Ludwig allowed it, but when Gilbert's hand started to slip towards his crotch he caught it and pulled it up to his chest.

Gilbert pulled back and looked at him, confused.

"I don't… want to have sex," Ludwig stated.

Gilbert raised an eyebrow. "Wait, why not?"

Ludwig bit his lip. "Well, first, the walls are actually paper thin, and I don't know when Herakles and Kiku might be back. I've heard them, uh… going at it, before," he muttered, red. "But, also… well, didn't you say, back when we, started this, we don't have to have sex every time we see each other, right?"

Gilbert blinked. "Oh. Uh, yeah."

"So… I guess I just, wanted…"

Gilbert grinned mischievously. "…Naked cuddles?"

Ludwig blushed and rolled his eyes. "Well. One way of saying it."

Gilbert thought for a moment, then nodded slowly. "Okay then." Maybe he had been pushing things too far. He had said that, hadn't he. So why had he suddenly started demanding sex, all the time? Not that Ludwig had been an unwilling partner, but… Sex was easy, he supposed. Easier than trying to actually figure out what the hell they were doing.

But hadn't he just been thinking recently about how his only contact with Ludwig seemed to be physical these days? This was good, wasn't it? Focusing on something else, for a change. After all, they were still brothers. Their relationship didn't depend solely on sex. Ludwig wasn't a fuck buddy. He was his little brother.

Gilbert swallowed harder and said again, more quietly, "Okay."

Ludwig looked at him. "Gil? You okay?"

Gilbert blinked in surprise. "What? Yeah, of course!"

Ludwig didn't look certain. "Oh. You know, I've been wondering… well, ever since… you know, when we had that argument, and then we were smoking together, and I said, we should just, be happy. You've… Have you been happy, Gilbert?" He met his brother's eyes.

The corner of Gilbert's mouth twitched upwards in an attempt at a smile. "Well, yeah. Haven't you?"

"Yes! I mean, it's been…" Ludwig's face reddened. "…Um, an adventure. Don't get me wrong—I've loved, I mean, um—the, uh, sex. It's just… I guess, I wanted… I want other things too. Don't you? Don't you want to do more than just have sex?"

"Well, yeah. I just thought… Yeah, no, you're right."

"But, you're not going to start feeling guilty again, are you?"

Gilbert rolled his eyes. "Lud…" He sighed, looking into space. "Don't worry."

Ludwig was worried. He couldn't help it. But in spite of it, he nodded. "Okay."

Tentatively, he shifted closer to Gilbert, bringing his arms around his waist and slipping a leg between his.

Gilbert looked at him. He smiled a little. "I thought you always didn't like cuddling."

"Well. Maybe I've changed."

"Yeah. You have," said Gilbert, reaching up to stroke his hair back from where it had fallen in his face. He seemed to be looking through him, remembering.

"What are you thinking about?" whispered Ludwig.

"Hmm? Oh. Uh, heh, actually, you'll laugh."

"Yeah? What?"

"Ok. Um, you remember that winter we got so much snow? You were really little though, like only two or three. It was one of our first winters in the States. And the snow was just about as tall as you. We went outside to go sledding on the hill and—" He laughed. "Oh my god, you were the cutest thing. I think that picture of you on the fridge must be from then. Where you're so bundled up you look about as wide as you are tall. You could hardly move in so many layers. So when we were climbing back up the hill you'd be trying to wade through the snow, but you kept falling over and couldn't get back up. And so every few seconds behind me I'd hear this little voice calling out 'Gilber! Gilber!' 'cause that's how you said my name back then, do you remember? And I'd have to come back and help you up on your feet, and then we'd keep going, and after a couple more steps it was 'Gilber! Gilber!' again, kesese. I don't know why I didn't just walk behind you. Maybe I was too impatient. I guess I coulda pulled you in the sled but that would have been too much work. I think I thought it was kinda funny seeing you fall in the snow, too."

Ludwig smiled. "Jerk."

Gilbert chuckled. "Jesus that was a long time ago."

"Yeah. I do think I remember that though. Or maybe I've just heard you tell the story before."

"Could be."

Gilbert smiled, looking into the distance again. "You remember 'monster' though, right?"

"Oh God, how could I forget? Talk about childhood trauma," Ludwig groaned.

"Kesesese, oh my God that was the best. Your face when I'd jump out at you—priceless."

"It was the worst! Because I never knew when you were going to do it! I'd be minding my own business, or even looking for you, and then suddenly—out of nowhere! It was terrifying! I started getting scared of just walking past closets because of that. I think you must have taken years off my life. My poor heart."

"Yeah," Gilbert giggled. "But I made up for it with the elephant rides, right?"

"Haha, oh yeah—maybe almost. Why were you an elephant again?"

"I dunno, 'cause you told me to be! You probably saw something in a movie, like that live action Jungle Book you used to love—and you wanted to ride an elephant too. Sheesh, the things I did for you. You know it's not easy to crawl around with a five-year-old on your back when you're using one arm as a pretend trunk."

"Well, I appreciate the effort. I seem to remember you forcing me into your own make believe games more often than the other way around though. You remember 'kidnapped'?"

"Yeah, and I always saved you! You should be grateful!"

"I dunno, I think that was just an excuse to tie me up and leave me in the closet for hours."

"It wasn't hours. Lies and slander."

"Okay, but you did intentionally leave me in the forest that one time."

"I've apologized for that! Like, a million times! I don't know what I was thinking, I was nine years old and dumb."

"It was cold. And getting dark." Ludwig gave his brother an accusing look, but amusement twitched at his lips.

Gilbert shoved him playfully. "I'm sorry, really! It was all in the name of science, though. I was doing an experiment."

"What on earth could you possibly find out from that?"

"Um, see what happens when I leave Ludwig alone in the forest at night?"

"Psh, very nice. You're lucky I got hungry and decided to come back, and that I didn't actually get lost. And that Dad never found out."

"Yeah… but then I made you pizza, remember? I think I felt bad pretty much right away. I came home and turned on the TV and then I started worrying you'd get eaten by wild animals or something. I'm sure I would have come and got you eventually."

"Sure, sure. Actually I'm kind of surprised Dad left us home alone that young. And I never got to eat the pizza. You nearly burned down the house with it."

"Okay, I didn't 'nearly burn down the house.' I just… approximated the cooking time."

Ludwig laughed. "Yeah, and I remember you yelling at me to get a glass of water."

"Well it worked, didn't it?"

"Except for the smoke stain on the ceiling."

"Ugh, that fucking smoke stain. Dad never would have found out if it weren't for the smoke stain. Well, he might have found the burnt pizza in the trash. But man, he was so pissed. I wasn't allowed to use the oven; I was supposed to just put leftovers in the microwave for dinner, but no, I was trying to be nice to you by getting the frozen pizza out, and what'd I get for it."

Ludwig gave his brother a sympathetic smile. "Well, it's the thought that counts. Even if you did leave me out in the woods first."

Gilbert rolled his eyes, but smiled.

Ludwig looked at his face, the momentary contentment in his eyes, his silvery hair fanning out on the pillow. It was a bit longer than usual. Gilbert would probably get it trimmed soon.

Ludwig pressed his face into the crook of his neck and sighed. He was glad when Gilbert's hand rubbed lightly over his back, as if to say this was okay, that he liked this too.

Gilbert tilted his head to rest it against his brother's. "Y'know, I miss the dogs. It was always nice to be able to go home to them."

Ludwig hummed in agreement. Their last dog, Aster, had died while he was a senior in high school.

"I want a new pet," mused Gilbert. "You know, I've actually been thinking of asking for one for Christmas. It would just, be really nice. I mean, having something that depends on you, that you're responsible for… It—I dunno. Could be… good motivation. And company. I dunno if Dad would want to get me one, though. Probably thinks I can't even take care of myself so I'd let it die or something."

Ludwig caught the resentful tone of his brother's voice. "It's your decision, though. You're an adult. Maybe he wouldn't pay for it, but… you have enough money for pet food, right? And maybe you could adopt from a shelter or something. That can be cheap sometimes."

"Maybe…" Gilbert bit his lip. "I mean, I've been thinking what kind of pet I'd like… something that's not too hard to care for, and not too big, so it can stay in my room mostly… I was thinking maybe a bird."

Ludwig smiled at that. "You did always like birds."

"Yeah… remember when I wanted to be an ornithologist?"

"Haha yeah, you made me go bird-watching with you. It was one of the most boring things I've ever done."

"It was just a bad day for it! And well… it didn't help that I can't see that great even with binoculars. But birds are great, man. I think I definitely want a bird. But like, a little one. I don't want its wings to be clipped, that's cruel. And some birds really aren't meant for captivity. I want a bird that can do well on it's own and doesn't need much space."

Ludwig remembered something and snorted. "Are you going to name it Gilbird?"

Gilbert gave him a confused look, but then remembered a moment later. "Oh my God I did say that, didn't I? Kesesese well of course! Obviously that's the most awesome name possible for a bird."

They both laughed. Ludwig was happy. Happy to see his brother happy, happy to feel the warmth of his body, their smooth skin brushing together.

He wanted it to always be like this. He wanted to show Gilbert that this could work, that they could still be brothers, but also more. That they could laugh and reminisce and tease each other, even if they'd just had sex, even if it led to making out, even if they were naked together under the covers.

He leaned in and planted a kiss on his lips, lingering long enough to breathe in a lungful of the musky-sweet scent that was so uniquely Gilbert.

He drew back. Gilbert looked at him through his feathery white lashes. Ludwig had always loved how delicately they framed his eyes.

Gilbert brought a hand up to Ludwig's cheek and drew him in for another kiss, harder than before. His hands smoothed over Ludwig's broad shoulders, his muscled back. The skin of their hips and groins touched.

In that moment, Gilbert wanted Ludwig in a way he hadn't before. He didn't just want sex for the sake of orgasmic bliss, he didn't want it as a cop out for talking about feelings, he didn't want it just to make Ludwig happy, nor to feel that rush from knowing what power he held over his brother. He just wanted to hold him close, love him, experience him, this beautiful boy his little brother had grown into and who still, inexplicably, loved him so much. Ludwig knew him better than anyone else, and somehow he still loved him. Saw all his flaws, but still saw someone worth loving. Knew his weaknesses, most of his embarrassing secrets, everything Gilbert had tried to hide from partners in the past and still hid from Matthew. But Ludwig accepted him, wanted him even. And Gilbert felt sure, as sure as he ever dared to feel about anything, that Ludwig wouldn't leave him. Nobody else was a given. But Ludwig was safe, the safest, surest thing Gilbert had ever had. His little brother was strong, and warm, and Gilbert wanted to wrap himself in that warmth and forget about everything besides the two of them for just a little while.

Their hands were roaming, their kiss becoming breathless. Gilbert moved his mouth down Ludwig's jaw line to his neck and reached around to knead his fingers into his wonderfully round, tight bottom, making his intentions known.

But Ludwig drew back. "I… Gilbert, I want to, I really do, but…" He sighed.

Gilbert quickly withdrew his hands and looked down, abashed.

Ludwig felt bad. He wished he could take advantage of this moment, of Gilbert's eagerness. It was thrilling to feel wanted by his brother. "It's just… Angie will probably be over soon… I told her she could spend the night. I mean, it's the last night before break so she really wanted to… But we'll be home soon! We'll have all of break together!" He pleaded with his eyes for Gilbert to understand.

Gilbert shrugged, face carefully nonchalant. "Yeah, 'course. No problem." He rolled out of the bed and instantly Ludwig missed his heat next to him.

Gilbert dressed, and Ludwig pulled his boxers on.

"Okay Brüderlein of mine, I will come by at 3:30 tomorrow with the car to get you. Right?"

Ludwig nodded. "Right."

Gilbert clapped him on the shoulder. "'Kay, see you then," and with that he left.

Ludwig suddenly regretted inviting Angie over. He wished Gilbert could have stayed. But they would have all of break, like he'd said. And it was only fair to see Angie. Not that he was only doing it to be fair. He liked Angie. She usually had a way of making him feel better, helping him see things more clearly, even if she didn't really know what the problem was.

It was indeed only a few minutes later that his girlfriend arrived. His exhaustion had hit him hard after Gilbert had left, so he apologetically explained how sleep deprived he was, and that he would have to get to bed soon.

"That's alright, I could use an early night myself," she said brightly, and went to get ready in his restroom.

"Hey, Ludwig," called Angie from the bathroom in the entryway, "is it alright if I use your toothbrush? I didn't bring one."

Ludwig stiffened. "Erm—" He'd really rather she not. He never used hers, when he was the one staying over. He valued personal hygiene, but he did not count sharing toiletry items as hygienic. "There should be extras still in the package under the sink! You can take one of those," he called back.

"Oh, okay, thanks!"

He hoped she wouldn't expect him to take down simple personal boundaries like that. Didn't she think that was gross? Was it normal for couples to do that?

He arranged the blankets on his bed, making sure it was impossible to tell two people had been there earlier, and then joined Angie to brush his teeth.

They got into bed, Ludwig feeling slightly guilty that Angie was now lying exactly where Gilbert had just a bit ago. Except she was in a t-shirt and underwear, rather than naked.

"Hey, don't I get a goodnight kiss?" she teased.

Ludwig obligingly kissed her. She tasted different from Gilbert. Minty. Well, that was from the toothpaste.

It was pleasant though. Angie threaded her fingers through his hair and pulled him closer, and Ludwig ventured to reach down to the curve of her hip. He was struck, not for the first time, by how different from Gilbert's body hers felt against him. Soft and pliable, rather than all hard planes and sharp angles.

You smell like sex. Tell me, is that from your girlfriend?

The words entered unbidden into Ludwig's mind. He felt something stubborn tighten in his stomach, and he kissed Angie harder. He did like her. He liked her, and he liked kissing her.

Poor girl… If you grow tired of your new facial hair... you can always come to me…

Angie rubbed a hand down his bare chest and stomach, brushing her fingertips along the band of his boxers. Ludwig tightened his grip on her hip, deepening the kiss, trying to block out Francis' words, his face, prove him wrong.

Angie's hand slipped down to feel for his member through the cloth of his boxers. Ludwig's breaths came short, his pulse quickened, skin flushed. Then, Angie's fingers slid under the elastic and wrapped around the base of his flaccid cock.

Ludwig's whole body stiffened. Suddenly, he was not in his own room, his own bed, it was not Angie kissing him, feeling him. The hand touching him so intimately was larger, rougher, scratchy lips were pressing down on his mouth, he couldn't breathe, he couldn't move, he couldn't open his eyes, because if he did he would be there, smirking at him with his cool blue eyes—

"Lud? Ludwig, are you okay?"

Ludwig's eyes shot open. He felt sweaty, and as if someone had punched him in the gut.

Angie was looking at him with concern in her eyes. Her hand wasn't in his boxers anymore; it rested lightly against his side.

"…Is everything alright? You went all tense… I'm sorry, I thought—"

"No!" said Ludwig quickly. "No, it's fine! Uh, sorry…" He sat up slightly, trying to shake off the lingering feeling of unwanted hands and eyes on his body. "Just… um. I'm really tired, I don't think… I don't want to do this now."

Angie was silent a moment. She started again, softly, "I'm sorry, I was rushing things, I shouldn't have pushed it, I just, it seemed like you… I thought…"

Ludwig glanced down at her guilty face. He knew it must have seemed to her as if he were eager at first. He couldn't blame her.

"It's okay, really, don't worry," he said gently, lying back down next to her. "Let's just, get some sleep." He pulled her closer, partly to assure her he wasn't angry, partly to assure himself of the solid reality of the person next to him.

"Okay." She pecked his cheek lightly. "Good night, Ludwig."

"Good night." He yawned, realizing again just how much his body needed sleep.

But he couldn't find sleep for a while. He kept on thinking about what had just happened. Why had he thought of Francis? He hadn't been able to control it, and that frightened him. But that had never happened when Gilbert touched him like that… what had triggered it this time?

Furthermore, was he really ready for that sort of thing with Angie? It certainly wouldn't be unusual, after seeing each other for a couple of weeks. She probably expected it.

But tomorrow he'd be going home with Gilbert, and he wouldn't have to think about it for a while, at least.

In Western Lit the next day, he didn't speak. He avoided Kirkland's eyes. He hadn't given him any explanation for his absence on Monday. He knew the professor was probably used to student not showing up with no excuse, but Ludwig felt as if he had personally let Kirkland down. He seemed to think highly of Ludwig, and he didn't want to ruin that.

He determined to make up for it after break. He would got to Kirkland's office hours to ask about what he'd missed, and tell him how chaotically busy he'd been, and apologize. Surely Kirkland would appreciate that.

When class was done he left quickly with Angie. They headed towards the walkway where they would part ways to their respective dorms. Ludwig still had to finish packing.

"Yeah, luckily my evening class was canceled, so Gilbert's coming to pick me up soon," he was telling Angie. "We should be home for dinner. It's about a three hour drive when roads are good, but there'll probably be holiday traffic."

"Hey, Ludwig!"

Ludwig looked over and saw that Mathias had caught up with them. He could feel his face heat up at the memory of how Mathias had found him and Gilbert at the party last weekend. He hoped the blush wasn't too visible.

"Hi Mathias," he said somewhat stiffly.

"Hey Angie," Mathias grinned, and Ludwig felt a twinge of defensiveness, thinking of how Mathias had expressed some interest in her in the past.

"Hey," said Angie casually. Ludwig remembered Angie stating her opinion on Mathias before though, and felt a little better.

Mathias turned back to Ludwig. "So that was some party at Berry's, right?"

Ludwig wrinkled his nose. He didn't think Berwald would appreciate Mathias' nickname. He nodded noncommittally, hoping Mathias wouldn't pursue the subject.

"Shame we didn't get to talk; we missed you at lit group last week."

Ludwig had to try not to snort. 'Lit group.' So that's what he was calling it now. "Uh, yeah, sorry."

"I guess you were pretty busy at the party though. What were you doing with your brother in that closet, anyway?"

Ludwig flushed and swallowed harshly, struggling to keep his features composed. Angie was giving him a quizzical look.

"Uh—I told you, we just needed to speak alone," he said as evenly as possible.

"And you had to go all the way into the janitor's closet to do it? Like, the stairwell wasn't private enough?" Mathias laughed. "Gilbert looked pretty plastered, too. I dunno what kind of conversation you could've had with him."

Ludwig tried not to panic. It wasn't as if Mathias or Angie would jump to the correct conclusion, just from that. "Yeah, well… I was pretty drunk too, I guess the janitor's closet made sense with my… drunk logic. And our conversation is our own business, thanks," he added, trying to sound indignant. After all, Mathias was being nosy.

"Haha, I guess you and your bro get into some pretty crazy drunken shenanigans. Hey, I gotta ask—is it true you guys kissed at Alfred's Halloween party? Felix and Toris said so, but I didn't see it—you know, don't wanna go spreading false rumors."

Ludwig blanched. He'd thought everyone had forgotten about that. He wished he could deny it, but that would just make things worse. Enough people had seen. He couldn't pretend it hadn't happened. And he had a feeling Mathias believed it—he probably just wanted to hear it from Ludwig's own lips, and in front of Angie.

"It's not like that!" he burst out, hoping he didn't sound too desperate. "It was—just a stupid accident."

"Dude, how do you kiss your brother by accident?" Mathias shot him an odd look.

Ludwig felt ready to explode from mortification. "I didn't kiss him, he kissed me! Look, it wasn't—Gilbert was really high. He couldn't tell me from the next person. I was just trying to keep him out of the way and calm him down, and suddenly he planted one on me. Okay? No big deal. It was awkward and gross and I'd rather forget about it."

Mathias twisted his lip in what might have been disappointment. "Yeah, I figured it had to be something like that. Dude, that sucks, must be embarrassing to have people spreading that story around."

Spreading that story around? Were people really spreading it around, or was Mathias playing with him?

"Well anyway, you guys have a happy Thanksgiving, right? See you!" And with that Mathias walked off.

Ludwig stood stiffly next to his girlfriend, afraid to look at her.

Angie laughed nervously to break the awkward silence. "Wow, what a jerk. That was so rude, right?" But she didn't sound certain.

"Yeah… he's not exactly the most tactful tool in the shed." He rubbed his neck.

"Um… so you really did kiss your brother? Or, I mean, he kissed you?" Angie sounded uncomfortable. "Someone—mentioned that, when I told them I was seeing you… I didn't think it was true."

Ludwig blinked at her. Christ, how many people are talking about this behind my back?

She caught his shocked expression and was quick to add, "It's okay though, I understand now, that must have been awful! People are just blowing it out of proportion, like they always do. I'm sure they'll forget about it soon. Although, um… hanging out in closets with your brother… might… not be the best way to stop rumors…"

Ludwig's mouth was dry. "Rumors?"

"Well—God, I'm not suggesting anything, it's just—you know how people are…"

Ludwig wanted to challenge her, say I don't know, how are people? But he didn't dare. Not when they were scraping so dangerously close to the truth.

Instead he stared dumbly at Angie.

She sighed. "Sorry, forget I said anything. Don't worry about it, it will all blow over."

"…Yeah. Um. I have to go."

"Oh, right. Well. Have a nice Thanksgiving! See you when we get back."

Ludwig realized he must have sounded brusque, so he hugged her. "Right. You too, have a good break."

That seemed to make Angie a little happier. "Call me," she said with a little smile.

"Of course." He smiled back, then gave her a quick peck on the lips.

They parted ways. When Ludwig turned back to look at her, he saw she was lighting up a cigarette. He realized he hadn't noticed her smoking much recently. He wondered if she was really trying to quit, or if she just tried not to smoke around him.

When he got back to his dorm he packed his things quickly. Gilbert texted him to let him know he'd be there in a few minutes, and Ludwig brought his bags down to the small parking lot behind his building.

When Gilbert pulled up Ludwig threw his suitcase in the back seat and climbed in the passenger's side.

Gilbert grinned over at him through his sunglasses, and Ludwig felt the uneasiness that had settled in his stomach dissipate slightly.

"Buckle up little bro, we're goin' home."

...

A/N: Surprise, another chapter without a million year wait! I myself am very surprised by my writing productivity. So happy Thanksgiving, to my readers in the States, and happy normal day to everyone else! Fun fact: it was the Tuesday before Thanksgiving when I was writing about the Tuesday before Thanksgiving. Season-appropriate, for once! I hope you all enjoyed the brotherly fluff; it was so fun to write.

Thanks so much for your reviews! They make me smile.

Next chapter: Thanksgiving, at last. The brothers do have time together, but now there's their father to watch out for.