Utopia, Are We All We Are?

Hello! I've been suffering from Itabros feels again, specifically Romano-induced ones, so a drabble turned into Game Of Cooks backstory that's just really fun. I like this AU a lot and have another project connected to it that I want to get done, but here you are!

An edit! April 8th 2013: because there are so many different ships in this story, I've added the names to the chapters where they apply! I promise nothing except that this story IS ultimately going to end with Prumano because Game of Cooks is a Prumano-based story. Otherwise, happy shipping!

Carlino = Seborga.
Nonna = Grandmano
Dad = ? I don't know…
Lars = Netherlands.
Belle = Belgium.


Big Brothers Don't Cry

An Angry Shit-Head

When Lovino was very young, it was their mother who took care of them. It was that good, traditional kind of set up where Mama played housewife while Papa was away at work.

Away for three, four, five weeks at a time at work.

So it was Mama who taught her boys how to tie their shoes and button their shirts, and she took them camping so they could sit shivering in the rain wondering why they couldn't get the stupid fire to start. Lovino's memories of his mother covered the whole range of experiences, from 'mom I'm ten I can walk to school on my own!' to 'my knee hurts now kiss it better'.

His last memory of his mother is the movie-night they planned for that weekend night. He remembers sitting on the couch with Feliciano bundled in blankets bouncing happily next to him, and his baby brother Carlino being a fussy brat in his lap and trying to pull his hair.

He remembers his mother putting on her green rain jacket and muttering under her breath about something, then putting on her smile and kissing each of her three boys on the head. They were out of something, he'll never remember what, and she promised to be back soon with it so they could watch the stack of films sitting on the coffee table.

The last thing Lovino said to his mother was "If Carlo bites me I'm putting him in the dryer".

Carlino was only six years old when it happened, so even at the time it made sense why he cried the whole night wailing for mama to come home.

Feliciano was eleven and kept asking Lovino to call Papa, or call Nonno, or call anybody, but Lovino didn't want to admit that he hadn't memorized the numbers. He just told his brother to sit down and watch the stupid movie because she was going to be home any minute so shut up.

The door didn't open until Lovino woke up in a house with two brothers, no parents, and a table of half-eaten snacks. He scribbled a note to Feliciano saying where he'd be and left the house with his key and his bike, and by the time he reached Nonna and Nonno's house he was crying.

He'd only been thirteen at the time. His grandmother is a small woman with a big voice, but at the time Nonna wasn't strong enough to pick him up anymore. While Nonno called the police from the back room Lovino helped Nonna Vargas quickly pack up a bag of food from the kitchen, and then she hailed a taxi that took them and his bike back to the house.

His brothers were terrified and crying when they got there, and after punching him Feliciano made Lovino swear to never ever run off like that again. They followed Nonna around like ducklings for the rest of the day with Carlino spending most of it balanced on her arm or her hip to quiet his tears. Lovino only broke from her side when the sight of the police officer at the door terrified Feliciano so badly that he had to drag his brother into the bathroom and scream at him to stop screaming.

Their father called that afternoon, and said he'd come home as soon as he could.

When the police found her… their father's words changed to "I'm getting on the plane right now."

Their father wasn't a bad person. He'd never been a bad dad or a poor husband. But he'd been absent, and he hadn't been there, and he'd been working hard for everything they had but when Lovino was thirteen and someone had to tell him that his mother wasn't coming home because she'd been a woman walking alone on a dark street late at night…

Lovino knew his father had never meant to be a bad dad, but he also knew he'd turned into a shit son regardless.

Maybe it was because he kept his job with the shipping company that had him driving from one end of the country to the other every few weeks. Maybe it was because he was ashamed of asking his parents to look after his sons, so after only a year his visits home became shorter than Lovino ever remembered. Maybe it was him never showing up when Carlino needed him, or Feliciano needed him, or Lovino himself needed him. Maybe those were the reasons why Lovino knew he'd turned into a bitter and obnoxious asshole whenever someone brought the old-man up to him.

The one and only time Lovino's grandfather ever hit him was the first and last time he ever said how much he wished it had been the other parent shot and left for dead in an alleyway.

His grandmother's way of keeping the household at peace was to give the angry shit-head something worth doing. And she didn't call him an angry shit-head when he butchered the onions she put in front of him, but he'd never heard his Nonna swear before that time their Easter dinner decided to char on one side.

"You fucking worthless piece of cock-sucking-"

"Nonna!?"

Feliciano didn't believe him, Carlino was eight and accused him (in a eight-year old's voice) of being full of shit.

Actually Carlino said he was full of stupid, but it meant the same thing so Lovino was obligated at fifteen to hold his little brother upside down over the toilet until the tyke shrieked for Feliciano to come rescue him.

Cooking started as Lovino's chore, but it only stayed that way for a few weeks at most. Once his Nonna showed him how to hold the knife and whatever the vegetable was properly, moving the sharp steel blade through them in even strokes came naturally. It took him a few tries to get over the squeamish feeling of blood under his fingernails and ribbons of cold fat twisting in his grasp, but he did get over it, and he took his Grandmother's approach to pain management the first time he seared himself with a splash of hot oil:

"Cunt fucking whore!"

Except his grandfather was right-

"Lovino!"

Okay so maybe he got more than one smack in his childhood, but he kind of deserved that one.

When he was sixteen his grandmother's arthritis started getting worse in her hips, making it harder for her to walk for long periods of time. Lovino himself was also sixteen and hadn't noticed that he was eating his weight in food every day until Nonna started just handing him the shopping list and money. Feliciano was no better, and between the two of them it was a wonder anyone else in the house ever got to eat at all.

"Go make him something." Actually it wasn't a wonder, it was Nonna actually paying attention.

"What? Why me I'm-" And Lovino picking up enough of her recipes that his complaints were only half-hearted.

"Lovino don't lie to me and say you're studying. I know you're not and I know you ate the rest of the pasta now go make your little brother something to eat!" Stupid Carlino not eating fast enough to actually make sure he got to eat.

But no, Lovino wasn't studying. He never studied, and he never scored very well on school tests either. It confused and frustrated the High School staff that the older Vargas brother was a waste of space in their classes, but his little brother Feliciano just showed up and scored A's. The only classes Lovino did well in were the ones where he worked with his hands, or there was something practical about it: sports, shop, home-economics, gym, metal-work, drafting.

His math mark dragged him out of chemistry. It did the same thing to his grade in physics and that ultimately made him give up drafting and the entire field of architecture and engineering.

He stopped taking gym and left the sports teams because after four years of high school, he couldn't stand the idea of spending another terrifying five minutes in the boy's change room. The sports themselves were fun, but the guy-talk about girls and who was hot and who was nice and who was sweet and smelled like chocolate drove him even further into the corner.

Lovino faked a crush on Belle for three years because it meant he could spend those three years being friends with Lars. It gave him an excuse to be awkward and quiet when they tried studying together, but all it took was one more D- in math after having Lars tutor him all semester before he gave up.

He just fucking gave up on school.

Nonno threatened to kick him out if he didn't graduate, Nonna called bullshit on the threat but told Lovino he'd still need a god-damned job.

Their dad actually fucking showed up for a few days around Lovino's eighteenth birthday and asked him if he could drive. By the time he left again looking old, washed-out and useless, Carlino had a new game-system, Feliciano was trying out his new paint-brushes, and Lovino had a chunk of cash in the bank for college that he seriously considered blowing on a used car.

Nonna swept in with a stainless-steel knife set.

Nonno got him a summer job working in a local restaurant, and Lovino almost didn't go back to school in August. Instead he taught Feliciano how to drive and he started packing Carlino's stupid lunches because damn that kid had better stop coming home so hungry that he ate a bunch of crap and then wasn't hungry for dinner the little shit.

Lovino oh-so-painfully agreed to go back for one last shot at getting the grade and graduating, but with Feliciano excelling and Lovino lagging so far behind, he almost couldn't show his face in the English class they had together.

He kept shorter hours at the restaurant because he fucking needed something that wasn't homework waiting for him after classes. He didn't care if he was bussing tables or peeling vegetables or stirring pots, he needed an environment where people weren't going to ask him questions that didn't matter or make him talk about things he didn't want to talk about. From the restaurant he went home at night and helped his grandmother make dinner while Feliciano helped Carlino with homework. It was the middle brother who was around for things like fixing Nonno's car when the old man couldn't get down and see what was wrong. And it was Carlino who got stuck with the dishes and the scrubbing chores that everyone but Nonna was too busy for, but damn it Nonna was old Lovino'd rather just give her a cup of tea and her soap operas.

And his marks suffered, and his self-esteem suffered, and when Lars started going steady with Madeline that Christmas, Lovino had to deal with Feliciano catching him breaking down in the fucking school bathroom.

"Vino?"

"Fuck off-!"

He didn't like girls. He'd never liked girls and after having to stand there and be fucking happy that his friend with someone-fucking-else it was like a great big fucking sign stapled to his back. It wasn't that Lovino didn't like anybody: he just didn't like girls, and he actually really did like guys.

So he was gay, a faggot, a piece of shit and he'd known if for longer than he could think right now, but right now he was just trying to stop the fucking tears and swallow his god-damned fear because what the hell was he supposed to do if anybody found out? Lars wouldn't come near him again, he'd treat him like he had the fucking plague. His grandparents were catholic: as a family they still fucking went to church every Sunday!

Nonno really would kick him out.

He'd actually kick him out of the house.

And Romano wasn't going to graduate and his shitty wage at the restaurant was fine for giving pocket change to his brothers or springing for a nicer cut of meat for dinner, but fuck him if he could live off of it.

Pay rent, buy groceries, car insurance, health insurance- and a thousand fucking other things.

His fucking dad wouldn't even be worth telling except he'd probably take his god-damned birthday money back.

His life was just all shit- shit- shit!

"Lovino stop-" He heard a sound he didn't know and then his brother's stupid arms were around him. "Stop, stop it you're scaring me: what's wrong?"

"I said go away-"

"And I said no!" It almost turned into a scuffle, but Feliciano just wasn't tiny anymore, and as much as Lovino wanted him to let go he didn't want to fucking hurt him.

So he gave up, because that was all he was fucking good at and he just let his idiot brother hug him and hold him tight around the shoulders. And he cried, because he was eighteen and the world was getting ready to chew him up and spit him out into the gutter.

"You don't cry…" Feliciano sounded like he was whispering, but then Lovino realized he was choking up too. "I cry a lot, and Carlino does it sometimes, but you don't…" He didn't want to hear this- "You never cry and you're always running around doing things, so please tell me what's wrong."

He really hated him for saying something like that right now, but it was a stupid lie and Lovino just put his arms around his brother and pulled him in tight.

"I'm scared-" So fucking scared…

"You don't get scared." Stupid little shit if he wanted Lovino to answer then he couldn't fucking cut him off it wasn't fair. "I've never seen you get scared before. You don't get scared."

"Well now I am…"

And Feliciano didn't try to choke the words out of him. They just hid in the bathroom until the next bell rang, and Feliciano cut class for the first time in his life to spend the rest of the day with him. They didn't do a lot, but they weren't in class and they didn't talk about what was wrong.

They were there to pick Carlino up from his middle school too, not because he was too young to walk home and needed to be picked up, but because Feliciano decided Lovino needed to see their little brother. Stupid shit turned out to be right…

"See, I'd believe you except you just told me he was crying." It was cold enough for there to be snow on the ground, but his brothers' favourite treat was ice-cream, so Lovino took them both to the mall where they picked up cups of hot-fudge and vanilla.

"But he was! Look, his face is still red." And Feliciano was honest to God a stupid shit.

"Fuck you I did not cry."

"See? Feli don't tell stupid lies." And Carlino was cool enough that he got to steal a spoonful of creamy chocolate goodness from Lovino's cup.

In the end, somehow, Lovino did graduate from highschool. But it meant he had to swallow a lot of his pride and that made the whole experiences one of the hardest things he'd ever done. He had to buckled down and get Feliciano to help him with writing assignments in English, and go crawling back to Lars for one last shot at passing a math class he'd failed twice. He broke down his own principles and asked Madeline and Belle for help with the only science class he had left, and to make up for it he threw himself headlong into things that actually mattered to him.

Lovino Vargas barely graduated, and he didn't go to commencement, and he ran away from Prom too. He spent the party night when the rest of his classmates were out dancing in dresses and suites working hard in the tiny kitchen where the sous chef had taken a shining to him. He spent all night doing prep work on the line instead of standing in the back rinsing bowls.

On the day he was supposed to walk across an empty stage wearing a stupid robe and shake the hand of an admin who would be as shocked to see him as everyone else, Lovino did a ton of shopping at the market his grandmother liked, and he cooked a full Italian meal with Nonna agreeing not to hover and watch him do it.

Lovino probably would have gone to prom if a week earlier Lars hadn't confronted him and demanded to know why he hadn't asked Belle to go with him.

Lovino almost went to commencement, but their father was in town. At the time he told himself he didn't want to give the jerk the satisfaction of watching him do the whole routine. Years later, he was man enough to admit that he wanted to show the man something he actually excelled at, not dress up something he'd barely achieved.

"Are you thinking about college?" Unfortunately, a good meal wasn't all it took to fix too many years of bad blood between them, because no: Lovino was not thinking about college. "How well does the restaurant pay you? Are they willing to take you on full time?"

"They might…" He'd been told he could try working the full hours this summer, but he knew there had been talk on the management side of things. It was a very small restaurant, only about six tables, hiring someone on for full wages would take a chunk out of their bottom line if they didn't need to have him.

"Why not culinary school?" Why not what school? His father was just a suit and a tie holding a fork at their dinner table, but for the first time in a long time Lovino actually listened to him. "I'd pay to eat a meal like this, and I can taste the difference between this and what your Nonna makes." Shit.

"Did I screw it up?" Lovino's eyes swung right around to where his grandmother was sitting in her pink sweater and shawl, a floral pin on her shoulder under the hair she'd curled for this dinner: just because they weren't going out didn't mean she wasn't going to dress up, damn it. She just lifted her thin grey eyebrows up and then took a sip of her wine though, her lips smiling over the smear of lipstick on the glass.

"Did I say anything?" No, but if he screwed up his own god-damned graduation dinner then-

"Vino's is better."

Either Feli or Nonno kicked Carlino off his chair, Lovino couldn't tell because the light pat on his wrist from Nonna turned into a bone-splintering hold.

"Mama he was just telling a joke-"

"He's being stupid: I think I forgot the garlic so just-" ow, ow, ow!

"You are going to culinary school in September." Oh no, she was doing her 'I've raised three teenagers going on four now do what I say you little shit'-face, Lovino would have been risking serious bodily harm by ignoring her.

"Yes, Nonna, now please I-"

"And you," Lovino didn't expect it, and neither did his dad, but Nonna's other hand shot out like a viper and snagged the ear of the grown man sitting next to her and across from the grandson she'd already latched onto. "You are going to pay for it."

"Mama I never said I wouldn't, he's my son!" Good god she was strong-!

"Rina enough, let them go."

"Don't order me around, old man."

"I'm not ordering you: I just don't want a disfigured son or a grandson who can't button his own shirt."

That was probably the third time Lovino had ever heard either of his grandparents use the other's first name, but if you'd been married since the last ice-age then it had to happen sometime. Either way it worked and he got his hand back while his dad was left nursing his twisted ear, but both of them were still a little wary of Nonna grumbling and stabbing her pasta between them with her fork.

"No punk cooks better than I do: a chef maybe, but not a punk." Which was Nonna for 'go become a trained chef or I'm never feeding you again you angry shit-head.'

So, right after five hellish years of high school, living in his grandparents' house and taking care of his two stupid brothers, Lovino… went… back to school?

Shit.


See you soon!