"It hurts, doesn't it?" Lovino stopped in the middle of buttoning up his shirt. "That dark feeling, crawling all over your body and weighing you down. Feels like no matter how much you try to breathe, it just stays stuck in your throat like thick smoke. And you try to get it out but all that comes out is that sick feeling in your stomach and you can't help but panic and think that your body is finally giving up on you. Just like everyone else."
Lovino turned to look at the sad look on Matthew's face. He was in shock, because how could someone else explain what exactly he had been feeling these past few days? It's almost as though… But of course Matthew knew what he was talking about. How couldn't he?
In that moment, Lovino knew he could trust Matthew to understand exactly how he was feeling.
"How did you stop feeling like this?" Lovino desperately asked, stepping closer to the Canadian. Matthew stood up off the bed and placed a supporting hand on the other's shoulder.
"I never stopped feeling it," He halted Lovino's questioning look. "But… I found a reason to wake up the next day. And the more reasons I found, the less I began to feel that way. There would be days were I would go back to feeling it again, and it hurt just as bad as it did before. But I never let it win because I knew I was stronger than that. Just like how I know you're stronger than people think you are." Matthew's encouraging smile made Lovino flush in embarrassment, but also in gratitude. He awkwardly bobbed his head in thanks and moved away from the Canadian's calming touch. He turned his back on the other man and finished buttoning up his shirt before distractedly brushing his hair the mirror. Matthew politely excused himself and softly closed the door behind him. Lovino breathed a sigh of relief. Subtly, he could feel a layer of understanding settle over them.
If Matthew made any kind of connection with Lovino, he didn't particularly show it as he made his way down the stairs and into the foyer where Alfred was pacing in dreaded anticipation. Head shooting up at his brother's steps, he halted briefly but when he didn't see Lovino accompanying him, Alfred just continued his pacing.
Rolling his eyes in fond annoyance, Matthew grabbed his brother by the arm and tugged him none-too-gently towards everyone in the kitchen. They stopped just before the kitchen doorway and Matthew pulled Alfred aside and gave him a serious look.
"Your nervousness is too obvious Al," Matthew chided his supposed older brother, feeling every bit his age as he watched how his brother stressed himself out. Alfred chewed on his lower lip and glanced over at Matthew.
"Do you think he hates that I wasn't there for him?" Alfred asked, eyes glassy as he nervously ran his fingers through his hair. Matthew just patted his brother on the shoulder in comfort, shaking his head in denial.
"He's not the type, I think," Matthew said, reaching up and smacking his brother's hand away from messing up his hair further. "If anything he'll be glad to know you were so worked up about it you practically shot through all kinds of air laws in order to bring us here, yeah?"
Not waiting for anything more than the simple nod Alfred gave him, Matthew dragged them both into the kitchen and plopped Alfred into a seat close to the door. Before he had a chance to offer any assistance for dinner Matthew was engulfed in a tight hug with warm arms and he tried to hide his smile as his boyfriend happily greeted him as though they had been apart for months instead of minutes.
"Birdy, birdy, my birdy! You're here!" Gilbert's excitement was contagious and Matthew let out a small laugh as Gilbert exaggeratedly kissed all over his face. Pushing him away, he swatted his arm and affectionately kissed him back on the cheek. The besotted smile he received made his heart burst in affection. He could never hate how much Gilbert adored him.
A cough to the left of them brought them out of their little bubble and Matthew looked over to see Feliciano beaming up at them with Ludwig watching them with a politely stoic look on his face. Gilbert rolled his eyes and looped his arm around Matthew's shoulders, pulling him close.
"Brother, Feli, you both remember Matthew right? He came over last week for lunch?" Gilbert gestured to Matthew ceremoniously as the other man just waved shyly from his side.
"You mean the man you dragged through for 5 minutes to just grab some beers from the fridge and leave just as quickly?" Ludwig raised his eyebrow unimpressed as Gilbert made a face at him in response. While the brothers bickered more over proper introductions, Feliciano turned to Matthew and enthusiastically shook his hand.
"It's very nice to meet you Matthew!" The Italian beams up at him. "Gilbert was very secretive about you coming over and at first I was worried about not making enough food for everyone but then I found some extra loaves of bread so we can get full on that, ve?"
Matthew, willing to let Feliciano take over the talking this once, simply nods along as he follows Feliciano back into the kitchen while Gilbert and Ludwig both take their seats at the table with Alfred.
Alfred snapped from his forlorn expression and focused in on the two men who pulled out seats next to him, leaving the chair on the left of him empty. The table was fully set and a plate of bread and dipping oil was laid out, along with two bottles of dark red wine.
Taking an interest in the conversation the brothers were having, he leaned in as Gilbert kept a running commentary on the best and worst introductions he's ever had. His sudden laugh as Gilbert tapered off his story startled the brothers, as if they both forgot someone else was there at the table. Grinning at Alfred, Gilbert leaned across Ludwig and nodded over at Alfred with a challenge in his eyes.
"Laugh all you want, I still remember that disastrous opening you did the first time the world meeting was held at your place," He cackled when Alfred's face bloomed into red as Ludwig elbowing Gilbert sharply with a huff of annoyance. He turned to apologize for his brother's rudeness but Alfred just waved it off.
"As bad as that was," Alfred spoke through the embarrassment coloring his face. "I can't help but remember that if it wasn't for that then Lovino wouldn't have ever spoken to me afterwards or kept me in his life since then."
Despite the lightness of his words, the heaviness in his tone didn't escape their notice. Gilbert got a knowing look in his eyes as he hummed back in reply.
"I think I remember that actually," He pulled the bread closer to them and dipped a piece into the olive oil plate, ignoring Ludwig's complaint of waiting for everyone to sit down. "He cornered you outside at the benches and it looked like he was ripping you a new one but I heard from Elizaveta that Lovino was telling you what to not say and wear next time you start a meeting from your own country."
He was smiling ridiculously wide, Alfred could tell without seeing a mirror. "Yeah, he said he had never seen a more sorrier suit in his life. I still have the paper with the address of the tailor he recommended to me too."
Hearing that made Gilbert laugh uproariously and even Ludwig let ou a small chuckle making Alfred relax more into his chair.
"Did you know," Alfred said, gaining their attention once more. "When I went to visit the place he told me about-"
"Wait, you actually went where he told you to go?" Gilbert interrupted, eyes wide with surprise.
Alfred waved a hand at him as though to ignore what he said. "Yes, shut up, anyways the family that owned the place had apparently been waiting for me to show up cuz when I got there they immediately had me tied down and in a newly fitted business suit within 30 minutes. They swear up and down that they were going based off measurements that were sent ahead of time but I always had my suspicions that Lovino had a secret talent for knowing people's measurements."
He sat there proudly as Ludwig nodded along in surprise at that. Alfred loved showing off Lovino's talents because he knows his best friend should be more appreciated and he had no problem doing it for him. Meanwhile Gilbert had an indescribable look on his face, the hand reaching out for another bread piece hovering in place.
Ludwig, who didn't see this expression on Gilbert's face because his face was turned away from him, asked Alfred if he had any other stories about Lovino. "I've known him almost as long as I've known Feliciano and yet I can't claim to know more than the average nation." Not for lack of trying, but he knows how much Lovino can't stand him so he never tried to make an effort. Maybe it was time to try and change that.
"Oh, do I!" Alfred's eyes shone in excitement. "When he visited my house in California for the first time he had asked if he should bring something along as a gift and I insisted he didn't need to cuz, you know, I wasn't expecting much from friends visiting, right? Anyways, when he landed down and I drove over to meet him he shoved a pot of violets at me as a gift and years later to this day I still have the same flower-bed with the original violet bunch in it."
"Years?" Ludwig asked incredulously, while Gilbert made a slight choking noise behind him. "Most of the garden I tend to usually only lasts me a while before I have to switch out a newer batch. How have yours lasted so long?"
"Well, honestly I love taking care of flowers but I never would have made it this long if Lovino hadn't shared some of his secret gardening tips. But I'm sorry buddy, I was sworn to secrecy not to repeat the tricks to anyone," Alfred said remorsefully. Ludwig just shrugged in slight disappointment but wasn't all that offended by it.
"Wait, wait, wait," Gilbert interrupted, right arm slashing downwards as though to stop the conversation from taking off from this point. "What color were the flowers?"
"Brother, what does that matter?" Ludwig turned to him in confusion, frown taking over his face. Alfred just tilted his head to look over Ludwig's shoulder at the albino.
"Of course it matters!" Gilbert threw his hands up, the bread in his hand flying out and landing on the floor for Gilbird to peck at. "Just answer the question! I'm almost having an epiphany!"
Alfred just laughed at his antics before answering warmly, "They were purple, and the most vivid purple I've ever seen on any flower." They had a special spot on his front porch garden, so whenever he had a chance to relax at home he would sit down on the outside deck and watch the wind play with the petals; the colors a bright spot in the sun and in his yard.
Gilbert gasped and started slapping Ludwig's arm in excitement, making his brother lift his arm out of the way in irritation. "Oh mein gott, I knew it! I knew Elizaveta's flower lessons were going to come in handy one day!"
"What?" Alfred smiled confusedly, unaware of the bomb about to be dropped on him, but before Gilbert could say anything his mouth was suddenly stuffed with a bread piece. Nearly choking on it, Gilbert whirled around and was face to face with Matthew's polite but unbearably smug smile.
"You looked a bit hungry, Gil," Matthew said as he pulled out the chair to the right of Alfred and took a seat. Gilbert just chewed faster and swallowed before dramatically gesturing at the empty chair next to him.
"Birdy, a whole chair right here and you just abandon me like that?" He fakes a stab through the heart as Matthew just sighs and rolls his eyes, gesturing at the empty chair next to him as well.
"Or you could sit next to me instead?" Matthew smiled sweetly at him, as though knowing Gilbert couldn't refuse him. Which is true but Gilbert was grumbling too much to take note of that as he shuffled out of his chair over to where Matthew was sitting on the other side of the table. Ludwig and Alfred locked eyes at the wrong time and both had to hold in their laughter at the totally docile behavior Gilbert was showing after making a nuisance of himself earlier.
"Yeah, yeah, laugh it off," Gilbert smirked at them as they wiped tears from their eyes. "Don't act like you two don't aren't any worse than me."
Ludwig was about to protest but held off on that as he quickly left the table when Feliciano called for his help bringing out the dishes. Alfred cackled at that but quickly quieted down when Matthew reached over and pinched his upper arm in warning.
"Al, you're just as bad with Lovino." Matthew said under his breath, making Alfred scramble to cover his hands over his brother's mouth in case someone else had heard him. Glancing over at Gilbert in alarm, he saw the albino smirking at him like the cat that got the cream.
"We won't say anything Alfred," Matthew promised, patting Alfred on the arm before grabbing Gilbert's hand in a vice grip and leaning close to his boyfriend. "Won't we, Gilbert?"
Unable to deny his Birdy anything, and unable to feel anything in the hand that was slowly being crushed under his Canadian love's unrelenting grip, he could only nod along in agreement before sighing in relief as the pressure on his hand released into a soft hold.
Alfred wanted to ask a million questions, ranging from asking how they knew, to if he was that obvious (and if so did Lovino know?) but before he could say anything the sound of a throat being cleared behind him had him sit up abruptly and get out of his chair in one fluid motion.
Heart pounding at his throat, he turned around in anticipation and worry. There Lovino stood, his arms crossed as he hunched in a bit, as though he didn't fully know if he was welcomed to join them. His crisp button up was tucked in and his hair was gleaming, a glint of metal showing through the strands of hair that covered his ears. Alfred felt his heart flutter at the gorgeous picture he made.
"Lovino," Alfred reached out hesitantly, an unasked question in the tilt of his head. Lovino glanced up at him through his lashes and Alfred could feel his heart clench at the slightly scared look in those eyes. He wanted to pull him close and tell him everything's going to be fine. He wanted to tell him that nothing bad will happen again so long as Alfred was there. He needed Lovino to know-
Instead, Alfred plastered on a brave smile and gentle reached over to grasp at Lovino's shoulder, grounding the both of them at the same time. "Hey buddy, I missed you." He said gently.
Lovino looked up at him startled, his eyes going wide before he shifted his gaze to the side in embarrassment. The redness in his cheeks blazing like the sun.
"Idiot," Lovino scoffed, the fondness in his tone something Alfred was actively seeking. "It's only been a few weeks, we've gone longer without bothering each other every second of the day-"
"You could never bother me," Alfred blurted out, honesty bleeding through those few words and making him almost choke at how quickly he said them. Surely Lovino knows he's the sun and Alfred orbits around him, willingly and eagerly. If he could he would insert himself in Lovino's life as surely as Lovino did his.
Lovino could only roll his eyes and pulled out of Alfred's hold and made a move to sit in the seat across from Matthew, right next to where Alfred was previously sitting. The red in his cheeks faded but only slightly. Alfred mentally hoped he wasn't still suffering from his bought of sickness, as he eased back into his seat.
"Potato bastard number 2," Lovino inclined his head in Gilbert's direction. Matthew let out a giggle at the affronted look on Gilbert's face at the nickname. "I'm sure I don't need to tell you that for the sake of a relatively painless dinner, whatever happened upstairs isn't mentioned again, capisce?"
Gilbert, smart man that he is, didn't need Mattie's warning grip on his hand, nor Alfred's terrifying glare across the table, to know the right answer to this.
"Whatever you say Mano," Gilbert waved his hand up as though to toss the topic of conversation away. "I only care about when the food is gonna finally get served."
At that moment Feliciano walked in with Ludwig trailing behind him, the both of them carrying plates piled with food. The smell wafted over the table and drew several appreciative sniffs at the appetizing entree being placed before them. Alfred could see though, how tense Lovino got when Feliciano came closer as he made room on the table for all the food. He tensed even further as Feliciano sat on his left, with Ludwig taking the last open seat at the head of the table and directly across from Alfred.
"Fratello, is this alright?" Feliciano had asked, studiously ignoring the warning look from Ludwig who must have said something back in the kitchen for Feliciano to receive it now. "Because if you'd like-?"
"What I'd like," Lovino interrupted quietly, bringing himself to look back at his brother's earnest face. "Is for dinner to happen now, and everything else to happen later."
Feliciano wavered a bit, unsure if he should push for Lovino to feel more comfortable with everything or if he should just go along with his brother's wishes and pretend there wasn't anything to worry about. But one pleading look from Lovino shut him up and Feliciano pulled out a smile for the rest of the table as he helped dish out the plates.
As plates were being passed around and everyone got comfortable in their seats, small, mutual topics of conversation arose here and there, mostly by Matthew and Feliciano in order to not let the table crash and burn under the heavy atmosphere. Ludwig had surprised everyone when he turned to Matthew and asked him about any embarrassing stories about Gilbert. That in turn had the table in a spirited mood as it seemed everyone had something terribly funny to say about that.
Gilbert, who at that point took everything in stride, drew the line at Feliciano showing everyone the blurry selfies he had taken on a rollercoaster and accidentally sent to him, and instead demanded penance in the form of embarrassing stories of the Italy brothers. Feliciano's eyes lit up and had opened his mouth to reply, but visibly hesitated as he nervously chanced a look at Lovino.
Lovino, who up till that point had been silently following the conversation with a small smile, looked just as startled at Feliciano. A moment passed, enough for everyone to pause and wonder if this is the point in the night where things go wrong, when Lovino suddenly gave a wicked grin.
"Well," He drawled, raising his fork as though to prove a point. "If we're telling embarrassing stories I do have one where Feli accidentally wooed a grandmother when he was trying to flirt with her granddaughter for a discount on groceries."
The table erupted in raucous laugher as Feliciano's face flamed up, the relieved grin on his face wobbling slightly at the edges as he weakly pushed at Lovino's arm in retaliation. Taking over the story from there, Feliciano attempted to explain through his laughter the real reason things had gone out of control during that grocery run.
As everyone's attention was on Feliciano, Lovino felt a nudge on his ankle and he jumped a bit as he looked over at Alfred. His blue eyes were warm as he gazed at him with a smile at the edges of his lips, the foot that was leaning against his ankle nudged him again gently before looping under his own and resting there. Whether as a show of support or something else Lovino couldn't tell, but he knows for a sure fact, as he let his leg relax a bit more into the contact, that his heart was going to beat out of his chest from how hard it was running.
The two of them remained that way for the rest of the dinner.
As desert was coming to a close and Lovino had reluctantly admitted that Ludwig did a decent job, causing the German to tamp down on his surprise and Feliciano to squeeze his arm in affection, the topic turned over to who how late it was getting and who would stay to help clean up the mess. Matthew volunteered immediately and so did Ludwig, who had already started gathering the empty dishes in one hand.
Alfred had reluctantly pulled away and stood up to help clean the rest of the table, leaving Lovino slightly cold and missing the warmth he provided. Gilbert stretched obnoxiously and downed the rest of the wine in his glass before scraping his chair back and leaving the table in a dramatic fashion, his pet bird following along faithfully.
Feliciano and Lovino remained sitting at the table, the silence between them stretching uncomfortably long. Lovino was steadfastly not looking at Feli, but he could see out the corner of his eyes his brother was biting at his lips in an effort to not blurt out what he was thinking. Normally Feli wouldn't put so much effort into being careful what he says, as is his nature to be honest without any cause to over think his words. But Lovino knows that what happened upstairs was as much a wake-up call to Feli as it was to him. And as much as he wanted to snap at his brother to stop acting like he was made of glass and just get on with it, he knows Feliciano wants to say the right things, right now. So with that in mind Lovino grit his teeth and turned to face his brother.
"I'm sorry for yelling at you," Lovino said, eyes not wavering from his brothers' despite the shaking in his hands.
Feliciano furrowed his eyebrows and shook his head in denial as he moved closer. "No, no, you don't need to apologize for what you said fratello-"
"Oh, I know," Lovino replied, hands idly reaching for the last of the wine in his glass. "I'm sorry I yelled, not for what I said."
Feliciano bit his lip in surprise, but then let out a gust of a laugh. "Ah, I suppose me saying I'm sorry wouldn't be right, ve?"
Lovino twitched his shoulder in a mock of a shrug. Weariness etched across his face as he fiddled with the glass in his hands. Truthfully, he would love for them to drop the subject of his earlier outburst and never speak of it again. But the thought of them ignoring what happened and to continue acting like nothing was wrong, to go back to how things were, brought a sour taste to his mouth. It wouldn't be right and the problem would never go away.
How do they even begin to make this right? Lovino knows his brother, knows he would do anything to make things right between them, even at the cost of his own happiness. If the best thing for them was distance, Feliciano would do it. If Lovino was to never feel alone again, Feliciano would drop everything and be with him. Anything could be asked, and Feliciano would do his best to make it happen. All this, Lovino knows. He also knows that he could never ask his brother to sacrifice his happiness for him. Knows that distance would kill him, and being apart from his friends would make him sad.
He sipped the last of the wine and let the glass land with a soft thunk. He made up his mind.
Turning bodily once more to Feliciano, he reached for both his hands and held them together in his lap. His brother's amber eyes locked onto his in rapt attention.
"Pay attention Feli because I'm only going to say this once," Lovino said seriously, jaw tight with nerves. "I love you, because everyone loves you and it's hard to be unhappy when you're around. You're the best of us, because you let yourself be and I always wanted to be as good as you. You're a good person, and I know that you would never intentionally hurt me. You can be the most airheaded person alive, and gullible as shit too, but you have not a single mean bone in your body and I really am sorry that what I said upstairs upset you enough to think everything was your fault. I want us to be close, I do. I want to make things better, to be better, and I just… I…"
He stopped there, the lump in his throat making it hard to continue. His eyes blurred with unshed tears as he watched Feliciano shake with silent sobs across from him. His hands were held in a death grip and his face was red from embarrassment, but he felt… free. There was more to talk about, more to say, but in that moment when Feliciano pulled him into a fierce hug and cried into his shoulder, all he could feel was the years of anger and resentment slowly melt away.
Can you mf believe I updated so close to the last time I uploaded the last chapter? Wild! We're almost to the end guys, thanks for sticking around if you've been here since day 1! I've got another Romerica story in the works so make sure to keep an eye out for that one. For those who have been leaving reviews, thank you so much for the supportive words I've been receiving and the follows and subscribes I've been getting! I recently got a review from a guest who (according to them) was rambling about Romerica and honestly? Their enthusiasm for the chemistry between America and Romano lit me up and I wrote this as fast as I could because they reminded me of why I wrote this in the first place; because I love Romerica and I want to see more of their story out there. To whoever you were that left that review: I can't thank you enough for giving me back that enthusiasm for writing about my otp and reminding me of how much I love this pairing. To everyone else, don't be afraid to leave more comments and reviews! I love and live for it!