Feliciano is crying.
I want to reach out to him and take his hand and tell him that everything is okay, but it's not and I don't. Germany however, tackles the situation without hesitation; within seconds he has gathered the weeping nation in his arms and settled him on his lap. It must be a habit at this point.
"I'm so sorry." It's all I can really manage right now; I want to cry as much as Italy. However, I must have run out of tears, because I can't. Or perhaps I just don't want to upset Italy further. My mind feels too muddled to tell.
He shakes his head furiously, scrubbing at his eyes with the backs of his hands. "Don't apologize. It's not your fault," he hiccups.
Germany nods in agreement. "You're really the only one who isn't at fault here. We all could have done more to prevent it."
The Italian in his arms whimpers quietly as though hurt and he seemingly instinctively holds the tremulous nation more tightly.
"I...I know, I just..." Just what? I just miss Lovino, and I just wish I'd stopped denying the inevitable and done something to say goodbye properly. Something to let Lovino know that I cared and I would always care rather than trying to live life as normal in my constant, ridiculous denial. I hadn't discussed a funeral as I should have, hadn't said anything about what towered so intimidatingly on the horizon other than a mantra of, "I'll fix it." And yet here I sit, having not tried hard enough, and remember, once again, the proposal that could have been, the wedding that could have been, the happiness that could have been. Lovino had been so kind, I realize suddenly, in his last few months. So patient. He hadn't pushed or argued nearly as much as normal.
And all I did was deny.
I bury my face in my hands, a heavy sigh escaping me, the slight tremor in it betraying my thoughts.
"A funeral,"I murmur finally, lifting my head to stare solemnly at my company. "He needs a funeral. I-I didn't plan one because...well...I didn't want..." I trails off again, but I know that Germany understands from the sympathetic look I receive from over Feliciano's actually sit and plan a funeral would have been to accept that South Italy was no more - no longer distinctly separate from his northern counterpart - and that Lovino would soon suffer the same fate.
There is a pregnant pause, the silence broken only by the sounds of a crying Italian, before I screw my eyes shut against the world and my eyebrows slant downwards because I really just want to cry. "I don't think I can," I breathe. Because even now, even after the fact, I can't stand to truly admit defeat in such a manner.
"I understand." I'm really not accustomed to Germany acting so gently, and wonder briefly if Italy finds it as unusual as I do. But then, he lives with it, so it must not be so foreign to him.
"I was thinking, since I really can't - and Feliciano, you're his brother," I sigh again and run a hand through my hair, ruffling the wavy locks into further dishevelment. I bounce one leg in a nervous manner. "Could you make arrangements, perhaps? I'm sure he'll be happy if you do it."
All too aware that I am referring to Lovino as though he is still alive, I clamp my mouth shut and stare despondently at the floor, missing Italy's solemn nod. Germany speaks up for him.
"Yes. I'll help him. Go do what you must. I think you should talk to him again once he's calmed down."
I can only manage a sympathetic look in Italy's direction as I stand to take my leave, mouthing a 'thank you' to the German. It hurts to realize just how understanding Germany is of our situations, especially Italy's. I can almost hear Gilbert now, telling me to cheer the fuck up as he hits me on the shoulder - perhaps a bit too hard - yet proceeds to sweep me into a brotherly embrace and comfort me under his breath. Stupid, stupid, Prussian. God, I miss him, too. I've never lost a sibling before, but now I've lost a lover, and something about the look Feliciano is receiving from Ludwig tells me the thought's running through his head more clearly than his words ever could have. What if it had been him? I want to kick myself for wishing, even briefly, that it had been. It is almost guaranteed that Germany would not have handled that well at all.
The door to Germany's house slams shut behind me, cutting off the quiet bawling of a morose Italian to give way to the ragged sobs rising in my throat. I stand on the porch for a few moments, frozen aside from the traitorous quivering of my shoulders. If Germany would not be capable of remaining composed in this situation, then how the hell should I?
I begin the relatively short trek home, stumbling occasionally, vision blurred with tears. At some point, I start conversing with Lovino. Not any important conversations, really; just the same pointless bantering that would take place any other day on any other walk. And it's comforting to pretend that Lovino is with me still, I think, as I reach out to take a hand that isn't really there.
Lovino is gone again, and somehow it hurts worse the second time, even if he wasn't truly present today. I let the memory (hallucination?) fade and now he is gone again and I am alone again and it's my fault again.
"Kiss me," I whisper. "Marry me. Lovi, come back."
The house remains as still and silent as ever. Perhaps he is hiding. Perhaps this is all some stupid scenario I dreamt up and if I can find him I'll have him back.
"Lovino!" I cry, and begin to rush from room to room because maybe, just maybe, I'll get him back. Lovino, I need you. Lovino, please come back. Lovino, stay here with me, please!"
I throw the bedsheets to the ground in frustration. He is not under them, he is not anywhere, and oh god I must be going insane because I already know he won't be anywhere. He's gone and I watched him being taken from our home in a body bag.
Cruel, terrible realization delivers a blow to my heart for what must be the thousandth time in less than 48 hours, and it burns. I hit the floor with a resounding thud but make no move to get up. Oh. Oh. He's not here. He's not here. He'll never be here.
But he must be.
But he's not.
I lash out at the empty air around me. Hitting nothing does nothing to help and instead I find myself screaming incoherent rubbish at the world.
I live in a world where I can never be truly happy. I am not okay with this. I will never be okay with this.
And I'm so lost in that world, so entranced by it, that when the front door slams open and footsteps pound up the stairs, I don't notice. When France barges into the bedroom, kneels beside me, tries to make me hear him, I barely register it. I wouldn't be able to hear him even if I realized he was speaking. I think I'm still screaming. That's the only explanation I have for the shrill wailing that beats incessantly at the inside of my skull like a caged animal looking for freedom.
I'm not entirely sure what happens as I sit there and France shakes me and mouths things I don't want to understand. But when darkness swarms the edges of my vision, I don't fight it.
Sleep is nice. It acts as a relief from the pain of reality. Like death without the commitment. This particular sleep is haunted by memories of my Lovino, as I imagine they will all be from now on. And he smiles and cries and gives me icing sugar kisses and when I wake there is a moment of happiness before I remember.
France is still here. I don't notice him at first, but as I begin to cry once again he appears above me and looks almost motherly as he tries to comfort me.
"Lovino. I need Lovino." I'm not entirely sure if that sounded like proper English. If the pained look France gives me is any indication, it was at least intelligible.
"I know. I understand. And I'm sorry."
The stupid hiccoughing sounds awful and pitiful but I can't stop it, even though all it's doing is making my head pound. I want to tell him that he's wrong, that he doesn't understand, that he'll never understand and none of them will and I am alone in this feeling. I can't bring myself to do it, primarily because my voice seems to have disappeared.
"Antonio, calm down."
I'm trying. Everything hurts again and I'm trying so hard to fix it. His hand is on my shoulder, helping me sit up, and he rubs my back soothingly until my breathing evens out a bit and I'm not shaking as much. God, I really could never have asked for a better friend then Francis. He presses a glass of cold water into my hand.
Nodding gratefully, I oblige, and when I'm confident that my voice won't fail me, I ask him why he's here.
"Germany called me last night and asked me to watch you," he explains, moving to sit beside me on the bed. "I really am so, so sorry."
"It's fine." I shrug, my grip on the glass tightening. "I'll be fine."
"Will you really?"
My lip trembles and my vision blurs again. "N-no."
France snatches the water from my grasp right before I drop it, setting it down on the nightstand as he pulls me into a hug. I press my face against his shoulder and break down. I didn't realize before how much I wanted someone here to help me, but in this moment I know that I've never been more thankful for France's existence. "I...I have to go to his funeral, Francis. I have to d-do this all over again. I thought we were immortal. I thought we didn't have to go through these things."
I think perhaps he's thinking about Prussia, because he's silent for a few moments before he nods slowly. "I know. Sometimes...I guess sometimes immortality is not quite what one would expect."
Dissolution is such a ridiculous thing, but it dawns on me that what's even more ridiculous is our indifference towards it until it directly affects us. We hear that this or that nation no longer exists, these borders have been relaid, this country has been divided, and we don't give it a second thought until it's us. Or someone important to us.
"What if I really do live forever?" Unlikely, yes, but not impossible. How am I to live for an eternity with Lovino gone when I'm afraid I can't even survive another day?
"Then you will experience more than any human could ever imagine."
More pain, he means. I can hear it in his voice. More pain than any human could ever imagine, all weighing down on my almost-human body and tearing apart my almost-human mind. My heart, too, must be human in some way, otherwise it would not hurt so much, and it will also have to bear the agony of my immortality.
"I wish I could die, too." I don't really mean to say it aloud, but in a way I suppose I do, because I want France to understand how much of that pain I'm experiencing right now. His breath catches in his throat and suddenly my face is in his hands, his eyes boring into mine.
"Do not say that, Antonio. Don't ever say that," he whispers. It was selfish of me to say, since he's already lost one close friend in the last century, but I can't bring myself to regret it. "You're too important to die, okay?" I nod slowly. "Now go shower. I'll make breakfast. We'll do whatever you want today, as long as it takes your mind off of..."
He doesn't have to finish the sentence; both of us know, so I simply nod again and extract myself from his grip, dragging myself toward the washroom.
"Anything for a friend in need, Antonio."
I close the door slowly behind me, careful not to let him see the fresh wave of tears gathering in my eyes.
"Antonio?" There is a light rapping of knuckles on my bedroom door. "Are you ready yet?"
"No," I call back, adjusting my tie for the umpteenth time since France started telling me to hurry up.
The door swings open anyway. I look over my reflection's shoulder at my friend, who leans against the frame with his arms crossed. "Antonio. Are you ready yet?"
He sighs exaggeratedly and strides across the room, placing his hands on my shoulders and looking me straight in the eye. "Look. I know you don't want to go. We both know this is going to suck. But you need to be there."
"I-I know, I just..."
"I'll be right there the whole time. If you need anything, just tell me."
I slump forward in defeat. I've been dreading this all week, and France, having practically lived with me the whole time, has seen how stressed it's made me. "Thanks."
"It's nothing." He adjusts my tie, and under different circumstances, I might have laughed. Ties have never really been my strong point. "Now, shall we?"
I can only manage a hesitant nod, but he gives me a commanding yet gentle push in the direction of the door, and before I realize it I'm stepping into a car to go to a funeral home that I don't even want to be at to see someone I really want to see in a situation that I really don't want to see them in. Nonetheless, one much too short and uncomfortably quiet car ride later, I find myself facing a funeral home that looks horrendously vivacious, given its purpose. And I really fucking don't want to go inside. But again, with a forceful push from a concerned friend, I continue in the direction of what can only be regret. He's inside. He's right by me again and he's only a short walk away but it won't be him. I'm not sure whether or not I'm even breathing anymore; as France guides me into a large, dimly lit room, I feel very lightheaded.
There aren't many people here yet, but I can hear Italy crying from across the room, and Germany comforting him as quietly as he can manage. I wonder if he's been crying all week. I know I have. Seborga's here, too, but he appears to be handling it a lot better than either of us. His eyes aren't very red, and he even manages a reassuring smile as he walks up to me and gives his condolences.
But the moment I see the casket sitting open at the back wall, surrounded by lilies and carnations, pictures of him, everyone is gone. I've reached into my pocket before I've even begun to move. "Lovino. Lovi." Whoever did his makeup did an exceptional job of restoring that lovely golden glow to his skin, but it's not the same and it could never be the same. Even so, when I run my fingers carefully through his hair and kiss his forehead, and tell him I love him, I could never mean it more. Dead or not, he's still my Lovino.
The ring fits, at least. I don't know what I'd do if it didn't. It looks nice, in my opinion, and despite the fact that technically I'm doing this backwards, and clearly too late, I lean down and ask him to marry me. The whispering falls on deaf ears, yet I still hear him saying yes.
"I love you," I murmur again. God, I'm crying again and it's so stupid because really this could be such a happy moment and it's not. It's fucking not happy at all. It just hurts.
France is standing behind me, acting almost like a guard, but the moment I call him he abandons his post and is at my side. "Francis, I think I need something now."
"What is it?"
"Ah, it's kind of stupid..."
"I doubt that. Antonio, what do you need?"
It's honestly very comforting to be enveloped in a friend's embrace, and I wish I could stay here longer, but I know there is a service that needs to start soon so I force myself to move away from him. Of course, it's not fixed anything, only made it hurt less for a few moments, but for that I am grateful.
"Here, come sit down," he says softly as he begins to guide me toward the rows of chairs facing the casket.
I shake my head and extract myself from his grip. "Can I just stay here until everyone arrives?" After all, we were among the first to show up, by the looks of it, and there's still at least 20 minutes before the service itself is due to start.
"Yes, of course. I'll be right there, okay?" France gestures to the front row of seats before actually moving to sit there.
I think my body's given up on functioning as I let myself sink to the floor, facing away from most of the room with my back pressed against the stand that's holding Lovino up. It is genuinely surprising that I can still produce tears, but even if the rest of me is numb, my eyes sting as they flow. God damn it, everything just feels so awful and empty and it's fucking agonizing and I don't know what to do.
There is a hand on my shoulder, and then two almost inaudible thuds on the floor beside me, and another hand reaches out to brush the tears from my cheeks. And as much as I appreciate it, as wonderful of a friend as France is, I think I just need to be alone right now.
My breath catches in my throat. Perhaps when my mind let him go, he hadn't really disappeared again. I risk opening my eyes and, sure enough, Lovino smiles down at me.
"Oh. Oh. Lovi." I'd really thought he'd been gone when I couldn't find him. "I...Lovi."
My hands move on their own to cup his face, my thumbs tracing over his cheekbones as I see him and feel him and assure myself that the person before me is real and I'm not dreaming. He, in turn, reaches up to rest his own hands atop mine, that golden ring glinting in the light from overhead. Hope swells in my chest. Or at least I think it's hope, but it's also a bit painful, like too many other emotions are trying to take over at once.
"You're really here?" I breathe, and his smile grows. God, I adore that smile.
"Yes, Toni, I'm here."
The most pitiful whimpering escapes me, but I don't care how I sound right now because I have Lovino back and nothing matters but that. "Dios mio. Lovi, I love you. I love you so much. Please don't ever leave again."
"I won't, Toni. I love you, too." He kisses me, ever so lightly, and I feel suddenly as though something is wrong.
"Lovino, wait." No, no, no. I don't know what it is, but I'm missing something still.
"No. I missed you. Kiss now, talk later." His lips are pressed against mine again, but it's just not right. For a moment, I think it's just because I'm shocked. But when I kiss him back, I realize that it's not me that's missing something, it's him. His kiss should taste like icing sugar, like all his kisses do no matter what. And it doesn't.
It takes an incredible amount of willpower to push him away. "Lovino, stop. Just...just wait a second." There is clearly something wrong and it's oh so frustrating.
"But Toni, why?" His eyes darken, and his grip on my hands tightens. "Don't you want to kiss me?"
I open and close my mouth a few times, but really I can't bring myself to say anything. I think I'm dreaming. Or hallucinating, even.
"Do you love me, Antonio?" he asks, working the engagement ring off of his finger to examine it in the palm of his hand. I nod. He laughs. "Well, guess what?"
"...What?" I'm not really sure I want to know.
I can feel his breath against my ear and I shiver, and I think it's because I'm scared. But I've never been afraid of Lovino before, so I don't see why I should be now.
"I hate you."
My head is pounding and my blood roaring in my ears is not helping one bit and everything is so so very wrong because he's told me that countless times before and now he means it. When he sits back again I can see how sincere those words are in his eyes and the way his jaw is set and the smirk that plays at the edges of his mouth.
I'm going to be sick.
Please tell me I'm dreaming.
I have to be dreaming; Lovino has never looked so intimidating, and the ring is melting in his hand, but he feels so real and I want him to be real even if there's so much wrong because I just miss him so, so desperately.
He disappears exactly when I don't want him to, replaced by France's worried face as he asks me to calm down and stop screaming, stop crying, it's okay.
But it's not.