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[FIFTEEN YEARS LATER]

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And then Antonio woke up, and there were no infants or chairs being thrown at his face to be found.

There were, however, two very bony teenage boys sprawled over him, two teenage boys that were definitely too old to be sleeping with him. He tried to move, only to find an elbow jabbing into his side painfully, and then a foot kicking into his cheek as if in protest.

Antonio felt his cheek twitch with annoyance, before finally deciding this was the last straw. "Get out of my bed!" he bellowed, and shoved both boys onto the floor.

Ah, sweet bliss.


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chapter 1

|sweet rolls|

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Feliciano sulked, cradling his sore head tenderly. It wasn't his fault that the harvest seasons in the Chinatown Encampment were too cold, or that Lov refused to share the blankets equally with him on their own pitifully stuffed straw mattress. Anyway, Antonio was a hypocrite. He had no problem sleeping in the same bed with Mister Roderich or Miss Anri, but somehow if it was him or Lov instead it was like sleeping with the Devil.

It wasn't fair, he thought, and pulled his knees closer to himself. It was afternoon in the town, but autumn nonetheless, and he could see his breath come out in translucent puffs whenever he exhaled. Antonio had, at the very least, been merciful enough to hand him a shawl before he kicked Feliciano out of the house.

"Feliciano!" Feliciano brightened when he recognized the voice calling towards him, looking up. It was Miss Elizaveta, in her arm carrying a basket of sweet rolls, the kind she liked to sneak to Feliciano whenever she thought Mister Roderich wasn't looking. She looked beautiful as she smiled at him, her glossy brown hair tied into a neat bun, her green eyes twinkling in the cold air.

He blushed at the gaze, almost breaking eye contact. He used to think that he would marry her one day, until one day Lov had smacked him on the head and told him you idiot, Miss Elizaveta's already married to that no-good Mister Roderich. It was a sad truth that most of the pretty, nice women in the town like Miss Elizaveta ended up with mean men like Mister Roderich, who used to teach Feliciano the church organ and would snap at him whenever he played a wrong note.

"Feliciano!" Miss Elizaveta repeated, walking towards him. She was wearing a long red dress that fluttered prettily whenever she moved, Feliciano noticed, and stared at that instead of her face. "What are you doing out here on the streets, alone like that? You'll catch a cold!"

"Antonio kicked me out of the house," Feliciano said, hugging his knees a little tighter. It wasn't that cold, actually, but if he was lucky Miss Elizaveta might take pity on him and give him one of those sweet rolls.

Miss Elizaveta's sweet rolls were the best in the town, he knew. She'd won the food competition for the Feast of Awakening seventeen years in a row, longer than he'd even been alive for, and a crabby man like Mister Roderich clearly didn't know how lucky he was to have a wife like that.

She didn't look at her basket, which was both a pity and a waste, because there was no one out there better at appreciating one of her sweet rolls than Feliciano. Instead she looked angry, her eyebrows furrowing together in that funny way where they were almost touching but not quite, and she set down the basket to ruffle Feliciano's hair gently.

"That Antonio, I'll be having a word with him," Miss Elizaveta said sternly. "I bet he's in the tavern right now. Town priest—ha! I know exactly where that tithe I pay goes to, and it's not the Church." There was another moment of comfortable silence, where Feliciano tried to lose himself in that comfortable feeling of having his hair played with, before she finally asked, "And how's Lovino?"

The question was so unexpected Feliciano almost sat up, which would have ruined the moment. Miss Elizaveta never asked after Lov, ever. Whenever they were in social situations Lov always tried to ignore her, and in return Miss Elizaveta pretended he didn't exist. It was almost like an unspoken rule between the two of them not to interact, though God knew why.

"Well," Feliciano began, thinking of how to reply without potentially embarrassing Lov. Everyone in the town knew that Lov was secretly pining after Miss Anri, even though Miss Anri was almost old enough to be his mother, and it was also no big secret he lingered awkwardly at the front door of her armory shop every day. "He's..."

Did Miss Elizaveta already know all of this? Everybody knew, didn't they? But what if she didn't? What if he told her and then she told Lov, I heard your brother tell me that you like to follow around Miss Anri in your spare time...

Lov's wrath wasn't worth the risk, Feliciano decided finally. Lov was scarier than Antonio or even Mister Roderich and Mister Vash when he got angry, and though he rarely became truly enraged, he liked to take his anger out on Feliciano the times he did.

He licked his lips, thinking of how to answer her. "He's busy," he finally said, purposefully vague. Was that an okay answer? "He doesn't really spend much time with me anymore, though."

Miss Elizaveta's face softened. "I'm sorry to hear that," she said, and she clearly meant it, too. That's what Feliciano liked about Miss Elizaveta, she told it like it was; if she was sorry, she told you, and if she wasn't, she told you too.

"No, it's fine," Feliciano said, looking at the ground. "We're not kids anymore, I know that." He did, he really did. It was just that it was hard to see Lov moon after Miss Anri every day with that stupid-looking lovesick expression of his, the same Lov that used to tease Feliciano and make him cry and then make the other kids who thought that meant they could push around Feliciano cry as well.

Something wet formed in his eye, and he blinked, feeling whatever it was drop out onto the ground. Was he—was he crying? He hadn't cried since last year, not even when their fifteenth birthday rolled around and Lov had unwrapped all of their combined presents first keeping all the best ones for himself and the leaving the stupid ones like knitted socks for Feliciano. Even worse, this time he was crying in front of Miss Elizaveta, which was a hundred times more mortifying than sobbing under the sheets and being yelled at later by Antonio.

Miss Elizaveta didn't make a judging noise, or tell him that he was too old to cry, grow up already, Feliciano, like what Antonio or Mister Roderich might have done. Instead, she nodded her head as if in understanding, crouching down a little bit to face eye-to-eye with Feliciano.

"We don't have to talk about him if you don't want to," she told him suddenly, and he gave a few watery blinks at the non sequitur. She gave him a reassuring smile, her eyes sparkling in that friendly way that made Feliciano want to fall in love with her a million times again even though she was easily double his age and married. "Here, want a sweet roll?"

She offered one of the sweet rolls from her basket, and Feliciano's stomach growled unwillingly at the sight. He hadn't had a chance to eat breakfast, not with Antonio being in a bad mood that morning, and Miss Elizaveta's sweet rolls weren't something that he'd refuse even with a full stomach.

"Thanks," Feliciano muttered, biting into the pastry. It was still warm and tasted like butter and cinnamon, the flaky layers melting in his mouth, and suddenly he was six again and bawling in the bakery, nursing a skinned knee after Lov had pushed him after a fight.

Miss Elizaveta wordlessly offered him another one after he had finished the first. He devoured that one too, until both were gone and he was left staring at a pile of messy crumbs on his shirt.

"Good?" Miss Elizaveta asked, her eyes crinkling as she smiled. She was beautiful, so beautiful, and definitely a hundred times prettier that Miss Anri who stupid Lov liked. He could stare at her forever, lost in the mesmerising emerald green intensity of her eyes, the glossy silkiness of her wood-brown hair.

Feliciano snapped back to reality, trying to clear his head of stupid thoughts. She was already married, and it wasn't like somebody like Miss Elizaveta would want to marry a stupid loser crybaby like Feliciano even if she weren't.

"Yeah," he said, looking down again. "Your sweet rolls are the best. Mister Roderich is lucky to have a wife like you." Oh God, why did he have to add that last comment in? It sounded so stupid and immature and desperate, like that time he wrote a love poem to Lili back when they were both five and he was certain she liked him back, and then Mister Vash had never quite forgotten that moment afterwards.

"Why thank you," Miss Elizaveta grinned, sounding flattered. She didn't seem to notice Feliciano's internal anguish, which was a huge relief. "Well, I think I'm lucky to have a little brother who I can share sweet rolls with too."

A small part of Feliciano died right then and there, although he tried not to show it. Of course she wouldn't view him in a romantic light. Little brother. He was somebody she'd changed diapers for as a baby, cleaned wounds for when he tripped, fed sweet rolls to when he was crying. He wasn't even on the same level as her, and he wouldn't ever be, at this rate.

"Yeah," Feliciano repeated dully, biting his lip tightly.

Miss Elizaveta didn't seem to notice his sudden change in temperament, and draped a casual hand around his shoulder, giving a comforting smile. "Well, I'll be going then," she said, chuckling. "I can't feed all my sweet rolls to you, after all. I have to leave some for my no-good husband, and the bakery too."

She turned around to continue down the street, clutching her basket, and suddenly Feliciano was so angry and jealous that he wished nothing more than to never allow those sweet rolls to touch stupid Mister Roderich's mouth. Almost in accordance to his wishes, a sudden updraft swept the street, blowing the basket out of Miss Elizaveta's hands and knocking all the sweet rolls onto the ground.

Feliciano stared, unable to tear his eyes away from the sight of those pastries littering the ground like drying mushrooms after a successful picking. What happened? Had the winds somehow read his mind, complying to his wishes? No, it couldn't have been it. It must have been a coincidence, it must have been. He didn't have powers, or something stupid like that, because everyone knew only mages could have magic, and everyone in town also knew that both of Antonio's adopted twins had magic potentials marked as incompetent by the test administrator.

Still, somewhere inside him hoped.


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