Sing, Sweet Venezia
"Ancient Venezia was a city in northeast Italy, renowned for its outstanding beauty."
The boat slid through the waters glowing with an iridescent golden sheen.
"It was said to be like a romantic dream on the water, a city of passion, beauty and love."
The boat cut through the water smoothly, sending ripples spiraling away from it over the glossy surface of the water. The buildings passed by like a parade, their bright, elaborate facades shining proudly in the sunlight.
"Venezia charmed the world for centuries, inspiring a myriad of art, music and literature."
There was a slight thud as the man behind him shifted the oar, expertly weaving the gondola through the water with the long dark oar that was even taller than him. He slowly directed the boat to the middle of the broad, sweeping canal. The waters were completely undisturbed, save for the rhythmic strokes the gondolier was making.
"However, during the Great Rising of the Old Calendar circa 2050, the city finally lost its battle to the rising oceans. Yet this important site was soon recovered by the government and its breathtaking buildings and waterways rebuilt in this Neo-Venezia..."
The man's tone became wistful. His willowy figure cast a somber shadow in the bright sunlight, light brown hair seemingly alit by the sun.
"A new dream on the glowing waters."
A new dream, or a pitiful replica of lost memories?
Ludwig sighed and looked up impatiently at the brunette beaming away behind him. He crossed his arms and glared a little at the buildings that were passing by ever so slowly. The boat was far too slow and inefficient to be a decent transportation method. Then again, like this terribly over-decorated city laid out in such a bizarre, ineffective manner, the boat he was riding on was probably one of the odd steps the government culture board had taken to keep things 'authentic'. He had always thought the board should be shut down for good.
His eyes ran over the fine details, elaborate art and expensive engineering about him coldly. The expenses incurred in this ridiculous project... Why this was sheer madness, when they could have used the funds to achieve so much more - just imagine the amount of military research that could be accomplished with this capital.
They continued to glide through the water slowly. Ludwig let his gaze sweep over the broad pavements, stone bridges and rainbow coloured houses. What was the use of keeping all of these? Surely a documentation in the International History Archives was all that was needed, right? All of these had been lost in the oceans long ago, unlike the cities that had adapted and still survived. The weak should be forgotten. Clinging onto the past was not going to change the fact that it would never come back.
Like a memory once lost, it could never be returned.
"Um...Mr. Beilschmidt? Is there something wrong?" The other's bubbly voice sounded from behind him, though there was a tinge of concern...and something else Ludwig couldn't quite catch veiled within his voice.
Secrets, huh...He wasn't surprised at all. Ludwig sighed and shook his head. "Why don't you tell me something I don't already know, Mr..."
He frowned upon realising that he had not asked for the other's name. The other's large eyes blinked at him, then he brightened and chirped, "Oh, it's Vargas! Feliciano Vargas! You can call me Feliciano, or Feli!"
"Well then, Mr Vargas, I am fully aware of what the government has done...besides, are you not supposed to be giving me a tour of the compound?" Ludwig said pointedly. The other's eyes widened, then a shimmer of sadness flickered through them. Ludwig blinked, but when he looked again, the other was wearing his bright cheery smile once more. He frowned, wondering if he had imagined it, before deciding that he was just reading too much into things and turned back to the buildings before him.
The gondola sliced through the water easily. The buildings - both old ones that had been painstakingly restored and new replicas - basked in the warmth of the sun, the water lapping at them gently. Feliciano slowly navigated the gondola down the canal easily. It was quiet here. They had not yet begun to open up the city fully to workers, having just finished the last of the rebuilding some weeks ago. The only people here, were probably only him, the gondolier and several odd people here and there to start up the basic services of the city.
"We have reached Canal Grande, a great reverse S shaped canal that divides Neo Venezia into two districts. Up ahead, is the Rialto Bridge, which used to be the only bridge that spanned the Grand Canal for centuries. Of course, that is only a replica..." Feliciano's voice held a tinge of sadness, even as he expertly continued to propel them through the water with the long oar in his hand. "The original bridge was unable to be salvaged when it was recovered."
"Well, as long as it looks similar, it doesn't matter. Besides, this replica is probably more sturdy and practical than the old, original one..." Ludwig said curtly, his eyes scanning the passing buildings with only a slight interest. If his boss had not asked him to visit this new cultural project, he would have never thought of coming here at all. He had never been for the project anyway. It was such a waste of resources and money. Did they not have more pressing issues to address? Such as suppressing the unrest overseas, improving the infrastructure in some of the newly acquired territories...
"But...! But the original bridge managed to endure for so long, containing all the feelings and the stories of the people that passed through it...Don't you think it's a little sad that they're all lost just like that?" Ludwig turned to look at Feliciano, surprised by the other's outburst. Feliciano's eyes were ablaze with a fierce light. He blinked at the unexpected scene. The boatman had looked like such an easy-going, happy-go-lucky sort that would never make something out of his life. Who knew he could feel so strongly about these sorts of things? Then again, he did seem like the overly sentimental type.
"Don't you think it's sad..." Feliciano's voice faltered a little. His face was dark, darkened even more by the shadow of his wide-brimmed straw hat."It's like...someone forgetting all of their memories."
The sadness in the other's voice stunned him. There was deep pain reflected in those words that barely veiled the great hurt that lay behind them. Ludwig stared at the other, surprised. So...he had suffered too. For some reason, an odd tendril of concern burst out in his heart, but Ludwig hastily squashed it down and turned back to the front. It was irrational. There was no reason for it.
"Ah...I'm sorry, I seemed to have let my emotions get the better of me," Ludwig heard Feliciano's voice once again from behind him, though stronger this time. "I...I shall continue the tour now!"
As they continued to glide through the water, Ludwig couldn't help but think how fake the other sounded. A fake happiness. What could the other have gone through? Still, it wasn't his business to pry into someone else's affairs. He let his eyes drift over the buildings once again. They looked alien in this modern world, as if someone had tried too hard to bring back a slice of the past that had long already been forgotten.
Fake. They were fake too.
There was no getting back what had already been lost. In the end, it was all foolishness.
The past would never come back.
"This is Piazza San Marco, also the largest piazza in ancient Venezia. It used to be the city's main meeting place, and is filled with cafes, museums and wonderful architecture. One of the most famous cafes is Caffè Florian, possibly one of the world's oldest cafes. Some of the pieces of artwork in the cafe are originals salvaged from the Venetian ruins. The beverages served inside are also kept to the original recipes. It is currently run by Francis Bonnefoy, an expert patisserie also skilled in the art of making beverages..." Feliciano gently maneuvered the gondola next to the dock, throwing out a rope to the wooden post that stood on the stone platform, before stepping one foot onto the dock to steady the gondola.
"Let's take a break at Caffe Florian shall we? The caffellatte is heavenly!" Feliciano smiled brightly, holding out his hand to help Ludwig off the gondola. The boat swayed a little as he got off his seat, but Feliciano steadied it easily. Ludwig stepped silently off the gondola and onto the stone dock, glancing at the man clad in a simple white shirt with navy stripes and navy trousers as he tied the gondola tightly to the wooden post. Once that was done, he bounced up to Ludwig with a broad beam, eyes sparkling in the sunlight.
"Shall we go? It's right this way!"
Ludwig let himself be led by the enthusiastic Feliciano, wondering where the other's melancholy a moment ago had disappeared to. He soon found himself at the front of an elaborate cafe exterior. There were several tables and chairs laid outside in the warm sunlight, presumably for customers who enjoyed the fresh air. Ludwig followed the lively brunette into the cafe where a tall blonde man was seated on one of the seats, engrossed in his flashpad. At Feliciano's and Ludwig's entry, a small bell placed at the entrance rang out.
The blonde started up in his seat, nearly toppling over as he did so. Upon seeing Feliciano, he let out a long sigh and switched off the thin, translucent device on the table with a flick of his hand. Getting to his feet, he ran a tired hand through his long, wavy dirty blonde hair that brushed against his shoulders before shooting Feliciano an annoyed look with his dull blue eyes.
The man stared at Ludwig, eyes suddenly wide in shock. Then in a split second, the bored look in his eyes returned as he glared at Feliciano.
"You never told me he was coming today!"
The words were hissed, lowly, coldly, sharply, unfriendly...
Ludwig frowned, but Feliciano just laughed, rubbing the back of his head with an apologetic look. "I'm sorry about that, Francis. It was supposed to be next week but the change was so sudden..."
"Well, whatever," Francis mumbled, waving his hand carelessly at the duo as he floated back to the seat he had been seated and then slumped back down on his seat, turning his flashpad back on and flicking mindlessly through a series of videos. Ludwig raised an eyebrow at Francis' behaviour, shooting a questioning look at Feliciano.
The brunette was biting his lip, looking extremely embarrassed by Francis' actions. "Francis...couldn't you make a cup of your fantastic caffellatte for Ludwig to try? Or...at least, any beverage?"
For a moment, it was as if Francis had not heard Feliciano's plea.
"It's a café au lait," He said finally, looking up at Feliciano. The gaze he cast Ludwig was still cold and hard, but he stood up and glided over to a door in the side and vanished through it without a word more.
"I'm really sorry about that," Feliciano mumbled, his gaze downcast. Ludwig winced a little. For some reason, it disturbed him a lot to see Feliciano so sad. Those deep chocolate brown eyes looked the best sparkling with happiness...
"No, no! This is delicious, really! Your cooking is really good!" The brunette was laughing as he quickly ate the plate of miserable looking pasta before him. His eyes were shining brightly - with love, happiness, joy...He smiled back.
He winced as the sharp pain sliced through his mind before that dark mist covered that vision once again. What had that been? A hallucination? Ludwig blinked, then shook his head. He was not thinking clearly today. Maybe it was because he had failed to take his daily government issued medication this morning, a horrible break in his usual impeccable schedule.
"Hey, it's alright. It's not as if it's your fault, so stop beating yourself up over it," He replied gruffly before heading to one of the tables by the wall and slipping onto the cushioned chair. "What is his problem anyway?"
"Ah, no, Francis is just..." Feliciano's voice trailed away as he glanced at the door Francis had left through, a slightly guilty look passing through his features. "Um...It's...difficult to explain."
Ludwig frowned but did not say anything further. He let his eyes wander about the ornate decorations of the cafe's interior. The elaborate paintings were unlike anything that he had ever seen before. Glancing back to the quiet brunette opposite him, Ludwig decided to speak up to break the crackling silence.
"The paintings, they are very beautiful."
Feliciano's head jerked upwards at those words and for a moment, Ludwig could have sworn that he spotted tears glistening in his eyes...He frowned, then mentally shook his head once more. What was wrong with him today! He schooled his face to its usual impassive self and looked back at the paintings.
"I...painted some of those, back when I used to paint..." Feliciano replied softly. Ludwig blinked and then looked at the brunette curiously.
"Y-yes, I...used to paint in the past. My...lover used to love my paintings very much." Feliciano's eyes dimmed, then he hastily looked away from Ludwig. "I painted all these, for him...but he never got see any of them."
"Hm..." Ludwig looked back at the paintings. "That's a pity."
"Yes...it is a pity."
"That building over there with the elaborate paintings, arches and domes is Basilica di San Marco. It is a top example of Byzantine architecture at its finest. Just beside it..." Feliciano pointed out the two grand buildings which stood solemnly side by side in the silence. "That is the Palazzo Ducale, the Doge's Palace. It was built in a magnificent Gothic style and was the residence of the Doge, who was the ruler of Venezia! Its exterior is simply breathtaking, isn't it?"
"It is just as grand on the inside too. It had broad, sweeping halls, luxurious tapestries, and priceless paintings by the old Venetian masters like Tintoretto...The east rooms were always the coolest in the summer and the secret passageways could bring you to every part of the palace, even the hidden rooms..." Feliciano froze, the oar stopping in the midst of a broad stroke through the water. He looked shakily at Ludwig.
"I...I'm sorry, I was just...thinking what it would be like to live in there...Not that I can ever see it ever again, everything was..."
"They were lost to the waters?" Ludwig finished for the brunette which merely nodded quietly. He looked back at the palace. It certainly was quite a sight, but it still was a replic, but...how did the other speak of it as if he had seen it with his very eyes? Wandered through the halls, lived, breathed...painted, in the very rooms of the palace whilst watching the people pass by on the square below?
Feliciano resumed his rowing. The gondola moved slowly through the water, turning slowly into a smaller canal now. The Doge's Palace stood in its impressive splendour on one side, though the building that flanked the other side of the canal was a drab one made from grim grey bricks. A single pure white bridge connected the two.
"And this is the infamous Bridge of Sighs. The Ponte dei Sospiri..." Feliciano paused his rowing for a while, bringing the gondola to a smooth stop. He gestured to the bridge before them. "It was designed and built in 1600 by Antonio Contino. As you can see, it was built of fine, white limestone. There are lattice like screens covering two small rectangular windows."
"The bridge was used to lead prisoners from the examining rooms in the Doge's Palace to the Prigione, the prison." Feliciano sighed, brown eyes regarding the bridge with mixed emotions. "According to the legend, the prisoners who crossed through it would sigh as they caught their last glimpses of Venezia through the tiny windows..."
Ludwig gazed up at the bridge. He recalled reading about this before, in an old dusty, long-forgotten tome that he had discovered in a small rundown little library, while ordered to map out the countryside of the outskirt territories...
"...a palace and a prison on each hand." Ludwig froze, then turned back and grasped Feliciano's hand tightly. The brunette jerked in shock, but quickly regained his balance.
"Y-yes?" He asked nervously.
"That line, say it again." Ludwig said firmly. Feliciano looked confused, but nodded.
"I stood in Venice, on the Bridge of Sighs; a palace and a prison on each hand." He repeated, then continued. "Um...It was written by Lord Byron in the Childe Harold's Pilgrimage?"
"But it's so sad...even though it is a palace, it is more of a prison for the poor princess! She can't even leave it to seek the one she loves the most..." The brunette wailed about the novel he had been reading, from where he was curled up into a tight ball in the huge red armchair. He nodded, ruffling through the other's hair and curl sadly. "Sometimes a paradise can be a cage, Fel-"
Ludwig was startled out of his thoughts by the brunette's face right in front of his own. They look so similar... He gasped, then quickly regained his wits. He coughed lightly into his hand and averted his eyes away. "I am perfectly fine, Mr Vargas..."
"Oh no, I already told you that Feliciano's fine right!" He smiled brightly, striking a deep pang in Ludwig's heart. He shivered a little at that alien, unexplainable feeling and then shook his head.
"The tour, Mr Vargas?" He said sharply, forcing his gaze back to the front of the boat. The other immediately deflated a little, but nodded and straightened up and grasped the oar once more.
"Ludwig," He said finally, impulsively, the back of his mind still questioning his sanity. Feliciano cocked his head, blinking a little.
"I'm sorry, Mr Beilschmidt?"
"You can call me Ludwig, Feliciano."
The sun was starting to dip a little in the sky, making the buildings cast long, cool shadows across the canals they were passing by. Feliciano continued to bubble away happily, pointing excitedly to almost every single building that they past and firing off rapid commentaries on everything around them.
"And that is...Oh!" Feliciano suddenly cut his own words off, making the boat sway slightly in the water as he jumped up slightly in excitement. Ludwig's head snapped up in surprise, hand scrambling to the edges of the gondola to steady himself. How did the other manage to stay perfectly upright whilst upon this terrifying boat?
"Ciao, Antonio!" He piped up as he directed the gondola closer to the taller canal wall. He beamed brightly at the tanned figure with messy chocolate brown hair who was perched over the skeletal frame of a gondola in the sunny yard set right next to the waters. The said figure immediately shot his head up upon hearing Feliciano's voice and returned him a large smile.
"Ludwig! This is Antonio!" Feliciano beamed broadly as he waved his hand at Antonio's still smiling figure excitedly. The other man laughed and peeled off his gloves, rising from the chair to quickly jog over to the edge of the waters.
"He makes all the gondolas here! See, this here was made by him too! Isn't he incredible?"
"Hola Feli!"Antonio replied in a light, bright voice. His eyes fell onto him next, eyes widening slightly with barely perceptible shock that Ludwig's sharp eyes barely managed to catch. Still, it quickly gave way to a bright, happy expression. "Oh, buenas tardes, Ludwig!"
Ludwig blinked, wondering how the other knew his name - perhaps they had announced his visit? He was here in his capacity as a government official after all. Still, he nodded sharply in acknowledgement, all the while noting how similar the other's words, appearance and demeanour was to those of the Southern territories. Perhaps the man had roots there?
"Chigi, you stupid tomato bastard! Stop beaming about and get over here and help me!" A loud, brash voice suddenly rang out as a large pile of planks and tools came stumbling out of a small shack. The towering pile tottered about unsteadily through the yard, before falling apart with a mighty crash.
"Dios mio!" Antonio gasped and immediately dashed back to the collapsed pile, frantically pulling it apart desperately. "Lovino...!"
He only saw the moving plank too late. Both Feliciano and Ludwig paled slightly as the long wooden plank came flying out of the pile, smacking Antonio squarely across his face. The man stumbled back dizzily, but his eyes still lit up with instant joy and alertness at the shorter man who extracted himself from the pile, grumbling and cursing all the way. Almost immediately, Antonio was all over the other, hugging his struggling figure so tightly Ludwig could have sworn the man's face turned purple.
"Oh, my Lovi, I am so sorry! I am such a terrible being for not helping you, I am so glad that you are okay, my dear Lovi!"
"Put me down you bastard! And call me by my proper name! It's Lovino, not that Lovi crap!"
"Are they always like that?" Ludwig asked dryly, all the while still watching Antonio chase Lovino about the yard. Even though the interaction between the two startled him, somehow he just knew that it was the way it should be. Feliciano laughed and nodded, before taking up his long oar again.
"Lovino is my brother," He started, casting a small smile back at the two even as he began rowing away. "He really is good at heart, for all his insults and harsh remarks. Antonio...Both of them...they have been together for so long; they do not need words for what they already know."
Like lovers bound by a single red thread...
The flicker was in Feliciano's eyes again. It made Ludwig's heart twist painfully, guiltily, and the pounding in his head to resume once more. The gondolier noticed his gaze and then perked up slightly, cocking his head to the side and large brown eyes widening curiously. Ludwig froze, then coughed into his hand and quickly turned away.
The next few minutes passed by in total silence. He could hear the other shifting about slightly from where he stood at the back of the gondola, as if Feliciano wanted to speak, but the other's bright voice never came. Then the silence was swiftly punctuated by a merry female voice.
"Hey, Feli! Who do you have there!"
The gondola slid to a smooth stop as Feliciano once again greeted the girl who was perched at the edge of the canal, legs kicking just above the water's surface. She was dressed in a simple crisp shirt and brown trousers, with a worn sweater wrapping around her waist; her thick blonde curls bouncing about as she talked.
"Belle! Are you selling chocolate again?" Feliciano greeted in return. The girl laughed brightly and tossed a small, wrapped package at Feliciano, who caught it easily.
"It's a new recipe! I just thought of it last night!" Grinning, she turned to Ludwig, then froze, the small packet of chocolate in her hand slipping from her grasp and dropping into the canal with a loud splash.
"Belle!" Feliciano cried out, but the girl just remained staring at Ludwig, eyes suddenly awash with a hateful light. They gleamed at him accusingly, murderously...
Then she seemed to snap out of it totally and the bright smile was once more on her face. "Oh my, I'm so clumsy! Here, have another."
Belle turned back to the small basket of chocolate at her side and plucked one out, before handing it over to Ludwig who took it courteously, though his eyes followed her closely out of suspicion. With that, she easily leapt up to her feet, sweeping up her basket along with her.
"Well then, gentlemen, I hope you do enjoy the chocolates and have a nice day," Belle grinned, before doing a dramatic half bow and then spinning around on her thick boots and skipping away into the street.
Ludwig's gaze dropped to the chocolate that the other had given him.
"You really should try it you know! Belle makes the best chocolate in the world! Well it's probably because her coun-"
Feliciano stopped abruptly. Ludwig paused, fingers freezing over the half torn wrapper of the small piece of chocolate.
"Her family! Her family has been making chocolates for generations!" Feliciano finished weakly.
This place was becoming more and more peculiar by the minute. Ludwig cast a hidden look at the gondolier behind him out of the corner of his eye, then ran through the odd cast of people whom he had met in this town so far.
And the most mysterious puzzle of all: the gondolier, Feliciano Vargas. The familiar, sad, melancholic gondolier who confused him completely. He shivered a little as the other sprang into his mind, bringing along all the strange feelings with him. Why did the other make him feel so...so...! He could not find a word for it.
Ludwig could not wait to get out of this place.
"Gilbert! I will really put a bullet through your skull this time!" A furious yell shot through the air from above them, coupled with brash laughter and a nervous, soft female's voice.
"Please brother, it's really alright-"
"Kesesese, just you try, Vash!"
Feliciano drew the gondola once more to a stop just as an albino rushed down one side of the bridge, scrambling along the banks of the canal, all the while dodging the projectiles thrown by the short, furious man behind him. The young girl who rushed after the duo looked positively green with worry. She grabbed onto the shorter man's maroon coat, tugging at it to get his attention.
The tall albino whirled about, wearing a broad grin on his face while his crimson eyes flashed in the sunlight. His messy white hair fell about him loosely as he shot a gloved hand out and pointed accusingly at the short, red-faced blonde.
"All I did was to say your sister looked real cute with a flower in her hair, what's wrong about that!"
"You just try to touch her one more time and I-"
"Oh, Feliciano!" The girl gasped, before flashing Feliciano and Ludwig a sweet smile. She walked slowly to the edge of the canal, her long deep mauve dress swaying about her ankles. Kneeling down slightly such that she was level with Feliciano, she quickly selected a two small, dainty bright blue blossoms and held them out to Feliciano and Ludwig.
"Please take this!"
Ludwig stared at the forget-me-not in surprise. The innate meaning of the flower trickled into his mind. True love, memories....forget me not.
"Thank you Lilli!" Feliciano chirped in return, leaning forward to press a light kiss to the girl's cheek. She flushed a little but giggled, only to be cut off by a dark growl.
"Lilli!" Vash grabbed his sister's arm and hauled her back to her feet and behind him. His eyes narrowed as they met Ludwig's.
"We're going!" He snarled, before whirling around sharply and storming off, dragging his sister along with him. Ludwig blinked, though he wasn't really surprised anymore. It seemed like most of the people here for some reason seemed to hate, or at least severely dislike him for some reason.
A raspy whisper caught his attention and he directed his gaze to the albino who stared at him, eyes wide and mouth agape.
"Bruder..." Gilbert breathed out, gaze never once leaving Ludwig's figure. Feliciano flinched and quickly dipped his oar once more into the water. Ludwig stared at the albino, frowning. The other almost seemed to recognise him, but why would he call him brother? Had he heard it correctly? He flinched as a flash of pain shot through his head.
Ludwig gritted his teeth to ignore the pain, blue eyes rising once more to meet the crimson of the albino's eyes. Gilbert tore his gaze away, though Ludwig could make out small shivers on the other's skin now. He turned around silently, before suddenly breaking into a run and vanishing down the street.
Ludwig turned to Feliciano now, confused, but the gondolier looked terribly, terribly guilty even as he weakly started to row the gondola away once more.
"Feliciano, tell me, what is...who are all the people here? Why-" Ludwig winced once more as the pain tore through his mind. "Why are they acting like this?"
Feliciano looked torn. He shivered and looked away, pearly teeth tearing nervously at his pale roseate lips. "W-What are you talking about? There's nothing wrong...Nothing wrong at all!"
"What's going on, Feliciano?" Ludwig's voice grew sterner, eyes intently staring at the quivering brunette.
"Please, no, I can't...I can't! Please, I'm just supposed to give you a tour, that's all, I..." Feliciano whimpered. His rowing, previously rhythmic and perfect, was now shaky and uneven. The gondola shook and swayed. Ludwig's hands immediately shot to the sides of the boat to steady himself. His clear blue eyes quickly shot back to the brunette.
Feliciano's head was bowed, the fingers clutching the oar were trembling. Ludwig reached out for the other, then his eyes widened and he drew his hand back. Were those...tears? He faltered a little, taken off guard by the shimmering tears the other was trying to hide, then guiltily looked away. Those tears... It felt like someone had punched him in the gut.
"I apologise, Mr Vargas," Ludwig mumbled, hands curling up slightly on his lap, crumpling the perfectly pressed grey trousers he was wearing. The boat was starting to resume its previous steady pace. Feliciano must have recovered somewhat, he guessed.
"I-It's okay, Lud-...Oh, I mean...Mr. Beilschmidt."
Feliciano's voice was soft and sad. Ludwig gritted his teeth.
"That building over there, the one with the brilliant white marble facade, what is it?" He quickly asked, desperate for something to change the topic and liven the gloomy mood that disturbed him so much.
"Hm...?" Feliciano's voice was lighter, more cheerful now - for some reason, Ludwig heaved a sigh of relief. "Oh that is the Church of San Giorgio Maggiore! It was a 16th century Benedictine church. It looks really wonderful, doesn't it? It was a basilica in the classical renaissance style and the beautiful white marble looks breathtaking above the clear blue lagoon waters! Do you know it forms the focal point of the view from every part of the Riva degli Schiavoni?"
Ludwig honestly did not have a clue what the other was talking about, but he just nodded along with Feliciano, glad that the other no longer held any trace of his previous sorrow. Still, how quickly the other had changed back to his carefree, happy self chilled him. And the suspicion that the other was still hiding something kept nagging at him.
"Do you want to go in?" Ludwig blinked, startled by the sudden question and Feliciano's inquisitive gaze at him and then nodded, still not quite sure what the other had been talking about. Then the bright smile lit up on Feliciano's face, stilling his thoughts.
"I'll head there right away!"
Within minutes, Ludwig suddenly found himself in front of the grand church whilst Feliciano snappily tied the gondola to the pole and hopped on shore to join him. He quickly skipped to Ludwig's side as he started to walk swiftly to the church.
"I wonder if Arthur is here..."
He heard the other say thoughtfully mid-bounce and found himself asking in return, "Who's Arthur?"
Feliciano blinked back at him, then frowned. "Uh...well, Arthur...he's a librarian but everyday around this time, he's always at this church praying..."
"Oh..." Yet another person he was going to meet then. Ludwig wondered what this new person's reaction to him would be. Praying, huh...
Why would anyone still need to pray in this heaven?
He stepped into the quiet chapel, eyes falling on a shadowy figure kneeling down before the altar, hands clasped tightly together. The large cross before him cast a long shadow that draped over the man's bowed figure. All was still.
Then the man stood up from the thin carpet and turned around slowly, dulled emerald eyes widening in shock upon seeing them.
"Uh, hi Arthur!" Feliciano cut in, casting worried looks between Ludwig and the stranger. Arthur was wearing a simple shirt and brown pants, and Ludwig could spot several books tucked into the leather satchel in his hands. The dark brown bomber jacket he was wearing looked strangely out of place on him, yet perfectly fitting all the same.
"Ludwig?" The man, Arthur, breathed out, then it was as though something had snapped in him. The tired light in his eyes flared, becoming almost desperate. "Al...America. The American front...the Pacific, what happened? The latest news..."
The Pacific? What could the other mean? Ludwig looked at Feliciano questioningly but the other merely bit his lip, then mouthed some words at him. The Pacific War? But it had ended a few months ago and surely they had access to the news here?
Or maybe not, Ludwig's mind reasoned. After all, they probably had not installed in the transmitters and cables yet. Without the transmissions, all electronic devices would not work, save for archaic ones such as flashpads.
"The war, you mean? There was a temporary truce struck; and since then, a ceasefire has been observed. The United States of America suffered heavy losses, but overall, they seem to be recovering quite rapidly," He replied, observing how a small sparkle returned to the other's eyes for a split second. A tiny smile broke out over Arthur's lips as his shaking fingers clung onto the jacket he was wearing tightly..
"Thank goodness..."Arthur muttered so softly that Ludwig barely managed to catch his words. He blinked, surprised as the other's eyes started to tear up - were those tears of joy, perhaps?
"Thank goodness!" The man turned back to the altar again, dropping to his knees once more, all the while murmuring words of thanks and gratitude. Ludwig looked curiously at Feliciano but this time the brunette just shook his head, lightly taking him by the arm and guiding him out.
He opened his mouth to question the gondolier as he held onto the other's warm hand and stepped back onto the boat, but Feliciano just smiled slightly back at him.
"Arthur...he has been praying for so many years for him. We should let him be by himself in such a moment, shouldn't we?" Feliciano smiled, hair gliding in the wind and forming a soft shining halo about his head. He looked like an angel set against the pure blue sky.
...God, he was beautiful.
Wait, what? Ludwig froze, flushed and whipped his head away from the other's prying gaze. He coughed, eyes skidding over the landscape about him erratically. "T-the sun is about to set; we should return and e..."
If he ended the tour - he would never get to see the other again.
When had that become a consideration?
To part from a stranger - or was Feliciano truly a...stranger?
"Ah, but you haven't met Roderich! Or Elizaveta, or Feliks or-"
Ludwig did not look up. "I should return now, or else..."
Or else they might send a squad of guards to find him, and for some strange reason, Ludwig knew that he did not ever, ever, want Feliciano to be in a situation like that.
"They will send someone to find me. It's best that I return immediately, to also save you the trouble-"
A look of horror flashed through Feliciano's eyes but he quickly suppressed it, but Ludwig caught it all the same. "I-it's no trouble a-at all...! Really!"
"No, Feliciano," Ludwig said firmly. He still had so many questions about the place, the people...about Feliciano. Questions that he somehow knew that the answer lay with him - exactly how, he was not sure. He could only hope to discover the answer someday and hope it was not too late.
"I understand..." Feliciano whispered softly, then slowly began to row the gondola through the broad winding canals out to the open sea. Ludwig silently watched Neo-Venezia as it passed. A lost paradise now found again and made new. It was truly a different world from the rest of the world outside. Before, he had never realised that the sun could shine so brightly, without being hidden by the towering mechanical skyscrapers. Before, he had never known that one could shine so brightly in the golden sunlight.
They were nearing the boundary now. Ludwig could see the high steel walls pulsing with electronic beats that surrounded the entire project. For its protection, so he had been told. A large governmental project like this absolutely could not be attacked by the Resistenza. He glanced back at Feliciano who was humming a merry tune to himself. Feliciano. Antonio. Lovino. Belle. Vash. Lilli. ...Gilbert. Arthur.
They were the queerest people that Ludwig had ever met, though he supposed they would have to be queer to willingly move to this inconvenient artificial place the government was creating in search of a lost paradise.
His eyes darted once more to the thick walls. Nothing could get in - but nothing could get out too. This was supposed to be a safe sanctuary, a paradise, an oasis in a desert.
But the walls made it feel more like a prison.
...a palace and a prison on each hand...
The gondola stopped just before the entry of the deep gate, floating at the dip where the waters vanished into the vast underground system through which it would be recycled through the entire Neo-Venezia. The square just beyond the gate appeared empty, nothing but grey stones and bricks. Solid steel clamps emerged from the sides of the gate, their thick hands clamping the small gondola tightly and held it steady.
"This is as far as I can bring you, Ludwig," Feliciano muttered softly, a tinge of dark purple sadness colouring his voice. He was gripping his long oar tightly in his hands, light brown eyes sorrowful. Ludwig looked away guiltily as he stepped off the boat and onto the platform. The other continued standing on his gondola, head bowed.
Should he say goodbye? Or... Ludwig cast one more glance at Feliciano.
"Feliciano...gondoliers...sing, don't they?"
The brunette paused and looked up at him, surprised, but he nodded slowly. A small smile danced across his lips. "Do you wish to hear my canzone?"
"I would love to."
Feliciano's entire face lit up, the smile spreading and blossoming like a beautiful daisy. He straightened, closed his eyes and then took a deep breath. Then he started to sing.
All thoughts left Ludwig's mind. Feliciano's voice was sweet and flowed so smoothly with the delicate words to form a melodious harmony. It shimmered silver in the air - a soft, subtle, but wonderful silver like starlight in the night. Framed by the dark gates and with the setting sun behind him painting the backdrop a lovely hue of lavender and pastel orange, Feliciano looked simply breath-taking.
"... et benedetto il primo dolce affanno, ch'i' ebbi ad esser con Amor congiunto, et l'arco, et le saette ond'i' fui punto, et le piaghe che 'nfin al cor mi vanno..." Ludwig listened on as Feliciano let the words trail away and the final note fade away. Feliciano sighed deeply, dreamily, then looked up at Ludwig expectantly with a soft smile.
Ludwig jerked a little as he hastily forced his mind to search for a reply. He had been too entranced by the other's singing. Stumbling a little over his messy thoughts, he just stuttered out a reply, "T-that was...very good, Feliciano. I...er.."
" I thought you were...perfect," He finished.
The other's cheeks reddened a little as he ducked his head in embarrassment. "You...you really think so? Thank you...Those words mean everything to me."
"Oh..." Ludwig flushed a little at that - the other thought so highly of him? He coughed, eyes darting between Feliciano's figure and the space that lay beyond the gate. "I...will leave now."
Feliciano stiffened. "O-of course. I hope that you have...enjoyed the tour, Ludwig."
"I certainly have, Feliciano. I will definitely return as well," Ludwig said firmly. He would, if anything to seek out the answers to his questions and...to see the brunette again. Feliciano merely mustered a weak smile back at him.
"I...I look forward to that day too."
Ludwig nodded, then bit his lip, before deciding to head off through the gate. He could feel the rushing air, the slight crackling around him, signalling that the projection was in operation. He continued walking, but one step before the portal, he stopped and suddenly turned around.
He quickly turned around before the other could respond and passed through the portal.
It was a scene of perfect order on the other side of the portal. Ludwig glanced about the empty corridor and the occasional robot that hurried down, polishing the already gleaming marble floor. The pulse of the building's overall computer AI could be felt through the walls. Ludwig took a cautious step, suddenly finding the orderly, mechanised, computerized world that he was so used to...odd.
"Mr. Beilschmidt." The computer chimed in its usual monotone. Ludwig paused in his stride down the corridor only to see a wall panel open and extend to him.
"Your room systems have noted that you forgot to take your medication this morning. Please remember to take your pills daily; they are vital for your health and it is your duty to keep healthy for the sake of the Empire."
The white pills sat in the middle of the slate grey panel. Ludwig reached out for them automatically, but as his hand rose to place them into his mouth...he paused. The dull throbbing at the back of his head was beginning again.
Feliciano...Feliciano...Feliciano! The brunette's name whirled about in his mind like a tornado, his smiling face flashing again and again...
"Mr. Beilschmidt?" The computer repeated once more, its voice growing more insistent.
Ludwig dropped the pills into his mouth, swallowing them out of long-accustomed reflex...
"Addio...Ludwig." Feliciano called out, but it was too late and the other had already passed through the portal.
Had Ludwig really said that? Feli...Not Feliciano, not even Mr. Vargas. But Feli. Feliciano stared in mute shock at the now closed portal. It had taken all his strength and willpower to remain where he was, to not chase the other, hold onto him, beg him to come back and be by his side because he didn't think he could take this any longer...
But he couldn't.
"I will definitely return!"
It wasn't the first time he had heard the other say those words to him.
Feliciano slowly raised his right hand, staring at the small red light that glowed from his wrist in a mixture of sorrow and hatred. If he stepped past the boundary, the alarms would activate and he would be caught immediately.
He hadn't just tried that once.
It was before the madness. Before everything, in the old world, the Old Calendar, where Venezia stood instead of Neo-Venezia. But not for long.
Feliciano shivered a little, but smiled up at Ludwig as the other draped his large jacket about his frame. He wrapped Ludwig's jacket around him, happily burying himself in the other's scent as he nestled into Ludwig's side. He felt so safe, protected...loved...
He looked back to the remains of Venezia. The city was already lost, deserted and the rising waters only inches away from claiming it totally.
"We're going to lose it, aren't we? Venezia..." Feliciano muttered sadly. Ludwig reached out to take his hand, grasping his small hand with his warm, larger ones.
"It's okay, Feliciano. Even if this Venice goes...I'll build you another one. Another sanctuary for you and me. A paradise for us."
"Yes, my love."
"Yes...this was meant to be a heaven, but for us, this is our prison. And without you around, this is my hell." Feliciano muttered as he dropped to his knees. "How many times more must I lose you, Ludwig? I don't need a paradise, a heaven, a sanctuary...I just want you by my side. Even hell wouldn't matter if you were here with me."
His tears fell once more, silently, unnoticed, while the day turned into night.