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it took a wild heart to tame mine

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Augusto never wanted a family.

It's not something for him, it's not something he needs nor something he feels necessary. Family is something for the mortal ones, family is something for the weaker ones.

He could list a thousand reasons why he isn’t a family man, but the only one he truly needs is that first of all he’s a soldier. He doesn’t need a family: he has his empire, and that’s more than enough for him.

And maybe, just maybe, there's also the fact that he doesn’t know how he could actually have a family. Families are for mortals. He couldn’t have one even if he wanted it. Not unless he also wanted to watch his wife and his children grow old and die before him. And who would want that?

But that doesn’t matter because Augusto doesn’t need a family and Augusto doesn’t want a family. Never wanted one of those things. Absolutely never wanted to know how it feels like to be surrounded by people who really know you. By people who really love you. Who would want that?

Augusto is a soldier, Augusto has his empire and that’s more than enough for him.

Those things don’t seem to be enough for others, though. Augusto has heard of others like him and how they someway try to form families. He has heard of Hellas and he has heard of the way she treated some of her colonies like children. Although Augusto tries to have with her as little contacts as he can, since they don’t really get along, he can’t help but think of her.

He wonders if that’s enough. He wonders if that’s even slightly the same thing as what having a family would actually feel. He wonders and he convinces himself that he doesn’t really care, that he’s simply curious about something so different from his own needs.

 

And then, then he meets Gaul. He meets Epona.

Epona, who’s shorter than him and fiercer than him and almost as strong as him. Epona, who’s loud and clumsy and moody and beautiful. Epona, who’s the first woman Augusto doesn’t simply want to fuck. Augusto falls for her like he never fell for any other person, even though he can’t explain why.

His generals talk about conquers and belligerent tribes to defeat and Augusto tries his best, he really does. Everything he can think of is Epona and her fierce resistance.

They meet again and again and she almost beat the shit out of him every time and Augusto falls in love again and again. Every time a little deeper, a little more helplessly.

He keeps fighting, keeps conquering, keeps doing whatever his generals suggest because he does want his empire. He does want everything they promise he’ll have: fortune and fame and power and respect. Everything he always wanted and always needed to prove he's better than anybody else.

He keeps fighting, keeps conquering but at the same time Augusto dreams of her. Augusto dreams of the family they could have and the life they could live. And it’s something so entirely different from this life of glory and conquests that Augusto finds out he's scared. He doesn’t want to leave behind his dreams of glory - and yet there’s something in these new dreams that he can’t quite shake away.

So he keeps fighting, keeps conquering, keeps seeing Epona on the battlefield, keeps watching her from afar. Epona, who’s even more beautiful, who’s even fiercer and prouder than him. Epona who’s just like him - because she’s immortal and because they’re actually quite similar.

Epona who loves someone else.

Augusto knows even before he can see them together. Augusto knows and hates the other man more than he ever hated anyone. The other man (and he’s one of them, he’s immortal too) tries to help her in battle and Augusto hates him even more. It's so clear, so obvious she loves that man and it’s obvious she wouldn’t ever love him.

There are days when Augusto tries to convince himself he actually has a chance. Then he sees the other man and the way Epona looks at him - and how he’s taller and more handsome and clearly smarter than Augusto could ever be - and all he can feel inside him is that ancient rage he always tries to keep at bay.

He’s been acting like a fool, he almost threw away his dreams, and for what? A woman who doesn’t even love him?

Augusto never really wanted a family.

It just isn’t something for him, it isn’t something he needs nor something he feels necessary. Family is something for the mortal ones, family is something for the weaker ones.

Augusto is a soldier, Augusto has his empire and that’s more than enough for him.

So he stops thinking about her. Or at least he likes to fool himself thinking he can actually stop thinking about her. 

Augusto stops thinking about her and keeps fighting and winning and fighting and killing and winning until his empire has more pressing problems and he has to leave Gaul and return home.

When he comes back, Epona doesn’t exist anymore.

Augusto doesn’t know what happened, doesn’t know how it happened, doesn’t even know why this happened. He has a pretty good idea why, but fooling himself into thinking he doesn’t know why is way better than the alternative.

He asks around, trying to make sense into the fact that the woman he loved isn’t there anymore, but no one can tell him anything. He still asks, though, trying to overcome hostile faces and angry words, trying to convince someone to tell him exactly what happened to Epona.

What he finds out is exactly what he expected and at the same time not at all what he thought.

Epona doesn’t exist anymore. 

There’s a child in her place.

Augusto has trouble getting the locals to explain to him what does that exactly mean. Epona had a child? There’s a child that lives where Epona used to live? Nothing seems to be the right answer and maybe it’s because they don’t really know what happened. All they can say is that she was gone and then that child appeared.

Augusto scoffs because kids don’t appear out of thin air - and then he stops and tries to think how nations are born. How people like him are born. He doesn’t find an answer and that’s the exact moment he starts to believe those men.

They let him see the child after weeks of grueling attempts and infinite requests. Augusto isn’t even mad, he actually admires those protective instincts. They let him see the child and suddenly Augusto doesn’t have any doubts anymore. They let him see the child, and the child has Epona’s eyes and Epona’s hair and Augusto feels his heart shrinking painfully in his chest.

It’s the first time in his entire existence he feels something like this, something so painful for a moment he actually wishes he was dead. 

Augusto doesn’t like it at all. 

The kid still doesn’t have a name and while Augusto knows it has something to do with that particular tribe's costumes, he can’t help but think that’s really fucking stupid. He has to call the kid, somehow. He can’t just go ahead and call him kid every time.

So he arbitrarily decides to call him Francis, because it’s not exactly Latin and because it reminds him of the man Epona loved - the man who could be a father to this child, the man she would have wanted to form a family with - and because he found out the only thing keeping him from crying is anger. 

And the kid, Francis, makes him angry. Every time he looks at the kid he sees Epona, every time he looks at the kid he sees what he did to her. Every time he looks at the kid, Augusto sees his own foolishness and his own feelings and his unrequited love. Every time it’s like being stabbed right where his heart is.

Augusto wants nothing more than go back to his city and leave behind that kid who looks at him with those sad, blue eyes. Eyes that now fill his nightmares. At the same time he’s a soldier and a tactician and he knows he can’t. That child is his colony - a colony he fought years and years and years to conquer - and Augusto knows far too well the importance of a significant hostage.

So Augusto sets aside his feelings, takes the child and goes back to Rome.

In the beginning Francis does nothing but avoid him, and honestly? Augusto likes it that way. The kid is nothing but a fancy insurance and Augusto really doesn’t want anything to do with him, thank you very much.

It’s much easier to ignore him if the kid doesn’t want to be near him in the first place.

The fact is that maybe Augusto is just a little bit better at understanding children than he thinks he is. After a while one thing becomes quite clear: Francis is afraid of him.

 

And to be honest, it’s quite easy to notice. Francis doesn’t talk. And while it's true Augusto doesn’t know much about children, Francis looks like he could be four or five years old and Augusto is pretty sure he should know how to talk. But Francis doesn’t talk. Francis doesn’t want to stay in the same room with him.

Francis looks at him with sad, blue eyes.

As time goes by, Augusto notices he can’t stand those sad, blue eyes anymore. Things change without actually changing and now it’s him who runs away from Francis. 

He doesn’t know if it’s because those eyes remind him of Epona or just because... because the kid didn’t do anything wrong and Augusto knows it. He doesn’t really want to think about it and so he runs away - from the rooms of his home, from his palace, even from his city.

Augusto never really wanted a family. Augusto is a soldier, Augusto has his empire and that’s more than enough for him.

When he returns home, Francis is somehow changed. It’s been a few years and honestly Augusto hoped the kid would have found something to do or someone to get attached to.

Instead, Francis starts to follow him everywhere he can.

He still doesn't talk, still haven’t said a word - not to Augusto, at least - but now he follows him everywhere, even in places he shouldn’t be.

Augusto knows this should annoy him. The fact is he simply isn’t. How could he be? That tiny, fragile child who seemed to be so scared of him now is... not so scared anymore? Augusto knows half of the servants in the palace are still afraid of him. Hell, most of the people he knows are afraid of him.

Augusto can’t help but admire all that courage.

He doesn’t understand what Francis’ plan is. He follows around, never says a word and does absolutely nothing more. If there’s a point in these actions, Augusto doesn’t get it.

Still, time after time, he starts getting used to that little figure following him everywhere - until this becomes sort of a routine and those few times Francis can’t or doesn’t want to follow him, Augusto actually... misses him?

 

It’s not like he got attached to the kid, not at all. Augusto knows better than that. It’s just that Francis is a welcome distraction from everything he has to do. That's what this is about.

So he allows Francis to follow him around and keeps enjoying his silent company, even though he still wonders when and if Francis is ever gonna say something.

It’s only after a few more weeks that Augusto all of a sudden realizes that the reason Francis never talked is because he doesn’t know the damn language.

A few more years pass and Francis' tutors are delighted with the kid’s progress. They ramble about how smart he is, how eager to learn new things, how responsive, how already well-versed in three different languages he is. And still, Augusto hasn’t heard him talk, not one single word.

Augusto is at a point when he’s pretty sure Francis isn’t scared of him anymore. But if that’s not why Francis doesn’t talk to him, then what’s the answer? It’s not like he cares or anything, he just wants to know why.

“I see you, kid,” Augusto grumbles lowly and tries to hide the half-smile that crosses his mouth. Francis is currently hiding behind a very small tree, but he seems to be pretty sure of his decision. Augusto can’t help but find it really funny.

It’s not the first time they play that sort of strange hide and seek. Francis hides in plain sight and runs away when Augusto finds him, only to come back and do the same again and again.

Francis doesn’t answer, as usual, and Augusto shakes his head and goes back to his daily training.

He could do this with his eyes closed. In fact he tried to do so, a few times, so he knows he can. He’s been doing this training since he was just a scrawny kid and, if he has anything to do with it, he’s never gonna stop until the day he dies.

Augusto buries his sword deep in the wooden dummy in front of him, patting himself on the back when said dummy falls apart on the ground. He’s always glad to see his physical strength is still the same as it was a few years ago. A few centuries ago.

That’s when he hears something coming from behind him. “Can you teach me to do that?”

 

Augusto turns around and Francis is there, looking at him with the most serious look in his eyes. And he just asked him a question. Francis. Francis just talked with him.

“… You’re too young,” it’s the first thing that comes to his mind, but the exact second Augusto says that he realizes it’s a big fucking mistake.

“I’m not too young!” Augusto is now staring at big, stormy blue eyes and a look that could only be described as furious. A furious look on the face of a tiny child, basically the size of his left arm.

There’s a part of him that wants to laugh - because honestly? What’s happening in front of him is hilarious. And then there’s a part of him that understands the implications of this. Francis just decided to talk to him, without Augusto even asking, without anyone asking him to. Francis just decided to talk to him and Augusto cannot blow this. He doesn’t even know when this thing because so important, he just knows he cannot blow this.

“You’re right, that’s true. You’re not too young.”

Francis looks positively shocked by that sudden change of heart and remains silent for a few seconds.

“… Good. So you’ll teach me?”

“I can send for another tutor.”

“No, I want you to teach me.”

“Me? Why me?”

“Because I say so.”

Francis is cheeky and proud and Augusto can’t wait to start teaching him things. There's a part of him that's busy blocking out the voice in the back of his head that tells him he’s getting attached to him. The voice that warns him that's he's growing closer to someone who was supposed to be nothing more than a political hostage.

No he’s not. He’s a soldier and a warrior and an empire and he doesn’t get attached.

Augusto never really wanted a family.

It just isn’t something for him, it isn’t something he needs nor something he feels necessary. Family is something for the mortal ones, family is something for the weaker ones.

He could list a thousand reasons why he really isn’t a family man, but the only one he truly needs is that first of all he’s a soldier. He doesn’t need a family: he has his empire, and that’s more than enough for him.

At the end of the day he has already started teaching Francis.

It’s strange, really, having someone close who isn’t an enemy nor a lover. It’s strange and weird and somewhat... soothing? When he spends time with Francis, Augusto doesn’t have to worry about hidden agendas and betrayals. Francis is just a kid and the worst thing he can do is stop talking again. Which he does, when Augusto pushes too far - and to be honest it never stops being funny.

Francis is different from what Augusto thought he was. Maybe it’s just that the kid is changing, maybe it’s just that as time passes, he feels safer. Francis seems even happier, and there’s a part of Augusto that can’t help but be glad.

When he successfully puts aside everything else - politics and Epona and the other man and more politics -, he knows Francis is just a kid. And, as much as he doesn't want kids, he isn’t a monster and seeing Francis happy certainly feels better.

“What are we doing today?” the kid is basically chirping on his shoulder, clinging to Augusto.

“We? I have very important things to do,” Augusto says solemnly, hiding a smirk. “You can go play by yourself.”

“But I don’t want to!”

“But you will.”

“I won’t!”

“But you will come with me.”

“I won’t!”

“Oh, so you won’t come with me?”

“… No wait!”

Augusto is only marginally aware of the strange looks of his servants and of the other people in the palace. He knows why they’re looking at him that way, and to be honest he’d look at himself that way too. He’s doing things just for the sake of seeing Francis smile, he knows what that looks like.

And he doesn’t really care.

 

Francis’ eyes still follow him even when he goes to sleep. Augusto doesn’t even know if he should say Epona’s eyes because he’s at a point when he isn’t really sure of anything. When he dreams of big, blue eyes is he dreaming about a woman he loved? Or is he dreaming about the kid that follows him everywhere? The kid that makes him laugh, the kid that wants to learn things from him?

Is he dreaming about a woman that never loved him or is he dreaming about the kid that hugged him, a few days ago?

“Father? I had a nightmare, can I sleep with you?”

Augusto is still half asleep so he hears that first word and convinces himself he must’ve dreamt it. He tries his best to wake up, at least enough to help Francis get into the bed, and he only closes his eyes when he feels the kid snuggled up against him. 

“What was the nightmare about?”

“I don’t know. I remember blood and people were screaming and then I woke up.”

Francis’ voice is almost shaking and all of a sudden Augusto is wide awake. He doesn’t really know what kind of instinct that is and he’s not entirely sure he wants to know.

“It was just a dream, Francis, you’re safe here.”

“I know,” Francis whispers and Augusto is fairly certain he’s already falling back to sleep. And he’s glad, really, because he doesn’t even know where to begin to reassure a kid.

“Go back to sleep, now. I’m here.”

“Yes...” Francis yaws, closing his eyes with a drowsy look on his face. “Thank you father.”

This time there’s no mistaking and while Francis sleeps, Augusto is left staring at the ceiling and wondering what just happened.

After a few months Augusto realizes what happened that night is now a thing. Francis calls him father, now, and he really doesn’t know how to react. Hell, he doesn’t know what he thinks, let alone what he should do.

 

He’s conflicted, really. As much as he wants to hide it, there’s a part of him that’s actually happy with what’s happening. He doesn’t know why, doesn’t know from where this comes. He’s just painfully aware of the warmth in his stomach knows every time Francis calls him father.

It’s something he never experienced before, it’s a feeling he didn’t even think was possible. It’s something completely new and bewildering and to be honest Augusto isn’t sure he’s ever gonna get used to it.

It’s the first time in his whole existence that he feels like there’s someone who loves him without wanting anything in return. He doesn’t even know why Francis would love him - he certainly wasn’t nice to him, not in the beginning. But Francis calls him father and Augusto is starting to get addicted to that warmth he feels inside.

Augusto never really wanted a family. It just wasn’t something for him, it wasn’t something he needed nor something he felt necessary. Family was something for the mortal ones, family was something for the weaker ones.

“I like the place where we went last week.”

Augusto is neglecting all of his duties and yet he’s never been happier. “We can go again, if you want.”

Francis’ face lits up and there it is again, that warmth in his stomach and that feeling of unconditional love. “Really?”

“Yes, really”.

Francis almost squeals and then grabs his hand and doesn't let go for the rest of the day. Augusto can see fond looks coming from strangers across the streets and he can’t help but feel proud of what they must look like.

The most beautiful child in the whole world - he’s not sure exactly when he started thinking this, he really doesn't care since it’s the truth - is holding his hand, and Augusto looks like the proudest father ever. Looks like, he has to remind himself, because he’s not actually Francis’ father.

Augusto doesn’t really know what and how much Francis remembers from the years before. Judging from the way he acts he doesn’t remember much, but that isn't an excuse Augusto can use to justify himself.

 

He does remember. He does know the truth.

But people on the streets smile at them and Francis smile at him and the only thing Augusto knows is that he loves the way he feels in that moment.

They’ve been sitting outside, in the gardens, for quite some time but now Francis looks pensive and Augusto is waiting for him to say what’s going on. Just a few minutes before Augusto was busy narrating stories from his childhood. Something that always managed to peak Francis’ attention.

Augusto waits and waits and waits until Francis decides it’s time to voice his thoughts.

“They say one day you’re gonna send me away.”

Augusto isn't really shocked: he knows how rumors are quick to spread around him. Around everyone, really. But he can see how this is affecting Francis. “Who is saying that?”

“A few servants. And some of the important men.”

“They don’t know anything.”

“So you’re not gonna send me away?” Francis asks again, chewing on his bottom lip, and Augusto finds out he can't stand that worried look in his eyes.

“ I would never send you away.”

“Why?”

Augusto finds himself in front of a crossroad. And maybe this isn’t the right thing to do, maybe he’s selfish as always but he really doesn’t care. Francis is the first good thing he has in centuries and he’s not gonna risk it. Even if he has to lie to a child in order to do it.

“I would never send you away. You’re my son.”

“But see, they say I’m not. They say I’m not your son.” 

“But you know the truth, don’t you?”

“I think so... I think I am but I can’t really remember much from the past.”

Augusto’s heart tightens painfully and yet he’s still sure he’s doing the right thing, even for Francis. Who really cares about truth or lies? Who really cares about who could be considered Francis father? They’re nations, it doesn't really matter. The only thing that matters is that Francis is like a son to him. The only thing that matters is that Augusto is like a father to him.

“Do you trust me, Francis?”

“Yes, I do.”

Augusto looks at him right in the eyes and then opens his arms, allowing Francis to huddle closer to his chest.

“Do you really trust me, Francis?”

“Yes, father.”

Augusto doesn’t know what he did to deserve something as good as Francis. He’s pretty sure he has never done anything quite that right in his whole existence.

Maybe it’s because of this that he’s constantly scared of what could happen. Constantly scared of Francis being taken away from him, even if he doesn't know how that could happen.

He dreamt about sad, blue eyes and now he dreams about this, about Francis going away. Francis disappearing from his life, leaving behind the same loneliness he couldn’t even recognize before.

But he knows, now, he knows how lonely he was before. How empty his life was before. He recognizes why he used to look at families the way that he did. Not with pity, not with contempt like he thought, but with envy and jealousy.

Francis smiles at him, Francis laughs with him. Francis kisses him and hugs him and holds his hand and Augusto knows he won’t be able to live without this anymore.

He’s amazed at these feelings, amazed because this is the happiest he’s ever been. Amazed because the love of a kid makes him feel better than anything he ever felt before.

All the lovers he had don’t count nothing, whatever feeling he had for anybody else in the whole world amounts to nothing when put in front of what he feels for... for his son.

Francis smiles at him, Francis laughs with him and Augusto only wants to lavish him with gifts. Augusto wants to give him the moon, wants to give him everything he’d like to have, wants to give him the whole world.

 

He’ll conquer the whole world just to give it to Francis.

 

Augusto never wanted a family.

It wasn't something for him, it wasn't something he needed nor something he felt necessary. Family was something for the mortal ones, family was something for the weaker ones. He didn't need a family: he had his empire, and that was more than enough for him.

Augusto was a soldier, Augusto had his empire and that was more than enough for him.

And all of these things, everything he thought, have been blown away by one single little kid. Francis appeared in his life and everything changed in what felt like a single instant. Augusto knows that’s not the case, knows he had to go through different phases and knows years passed before he felt anything towards Francis. Augusto knows all of this.

But then he sees that tiny, blonde head and that bright smile and honestly? Everything stops making sense.

And that isn’t entirely true. It seems more like everything starts making sense. It seems like finally Augusto has a real reason to do everything he did before.

And maybe this is why he takes Antonio home with him.

This time he didn’t actually found the child: they brought Antonio to him and explained who he was. If he’s being honest, Augusto doesn’t recall meeting Hiberia nor has he ever seen this child. But the look in the kid’s eyes is the same Francis had and Augusto doesn’t find it hard to believe.

He decides to take him home because he has the same look Francis had, because he knows once again he’s the responsible for the disappearance of Hiberia. Because that’s only a child and a child shouldn’t live out there alone. He decides to take him home because he’s getting soft towards children, and he’s fully aware of this, and he doesn’t really care.

During the journey back to Rome, Augusto finds out that Antonio does actually speak Latin. He asks the kid to tell him something about Hiberia, about his mother. Antonio doesn’t want to answer and Augusto doesn’t push him because he doesn’t care, because he was just trying to be nice. But the first night in the tent Antonio wakes up screaming and crying and Augusto starts thinking maybe it has something to do with the kid’s past. When he thinks too much about his own past he starts remembering his father and the beatings. He supposes not only men can be cruel.

Augusto doesn’t ask again and Antonio seems relieved.

When they arrive in Rome, Francis is there waiting for Augusto. He throws himself in Augusto’s arms and peppers his face with tiny kisses and Augusto feels like he wants to cry. It’s the first time he went away since Francis is home and it’s the first time in his entire life someone is waiting for him.

“I missed you, kid.”

“I missed you too, father!”

And then Francis looks at his side and sees the other kid. Augusto is sure he saw his face darken and he sure sees the way Francis is looking at him, waiting for an explanation.

“This is Antonio,” Augusto says. “I’m sure you’ll be a good brother and you’ll make him feel right at home.”

Francis turns pale but Augusto doesn’t notice, too busy recovering all the gifts he brought back for his son. 

He’s sure everything is gonna be alright: after all, Francis is so nice and kind, what could go wrong?

I don’t want him here, that’s the only rational thought that crosses Francis’ mind. I don’t want him here, take him back where you found him.

He doesn’t want a brother, he doesn’t need a brother and he’s pretty sure Augusto doesn’t need another son. Why should he? Why should Augusto need another son when he’s doing everything to be the perfect child? When he’s doing everything to make him proud and make him happy.

No, Francis doesn’t need a brother, Augusto doesn’t need another son and that’s all.

I don’t want him here, I don’t want him here, take him back where you found him, I don’t want him here. But he can’t say that, not to his father. He can’t say that and think Augusto is still gonna love him.

Francis needs to be good, needs to be whatever his father wants him to be. He still remembers the servants they had quite some time ago and how they used to speculate on how long their master would’ve actually put up with that whole father thing.

Francis didn’t understand that, at first. He didn’t understand why they would say something like that. Didn’t understand why Augusto would ever send him away.

Time after time, though, he started asking question and Augusto started opening up. 

Augusto never wanted a family. 

It took Francis a long time to understand that, but he’s painfully aware now that Augusto didn’t want him. Not at first, at least. Francis understands now that Augusto didn’t always wanted a family. That he happened to be in his life by chance.

And Francis loves him so much, adores him so much that even the idea of losing him is enough to hurt him. He isn’t going to let any other kid take his spot in the only family he ever knew. Not a chance.

So he doesn’t say it, doesn’t tell Augusto that he doesn’t want Antonio here. That he doesn’t understand why the other kid is here, that he hasn’t got any brothers.

Francis smiles and nods and takes Antonio to his new rooms and leaves him there, hoping that’ll be enough.

 

Of course that isn’t enough.

Augusto wants Antonio to feel right at home and Francis has to show him the whole palace. And the gardens and the streets near them and the whole city and all their favorite spots.

Augusto wants Antonio to feel right at home and Francis has to sleep in the same room as the new kid. Francis has to eat with him and play with him and even study with him.

Francis doesn’t like any of this.

And it’s not like the other kid is trying, too! He doesn’t talk much and doesn’t want to play and doesn’t really want to do anything and to be honest? He should be a little bit more grateful since Augusto has been so good to him.

Francis takes advantage of these moments to observe the other kid, past the obvious things he already noticed.

Antonio looks slightly older than him but the first thing that Francis sees when he looks at him it’s the sadness in his eyes. It’s not even sadness. It’s something Francis recognizes immediately. It’s something he immediately shuts off.

It’s much easier to focus on what he hates about the other boy. So much easier to focus on their differences and the possible ways Augusto could love him more.

One night Francis wakes up to the sound of someone crying. He’s still confused and half asleep and doesn’t immediately understand where the crying comes from.

It takes him quite some times but finally he understands that Antonio is the one crying.

He doesn’t know what to do, not at first. Antonio is crying in the bed on the other side of the room and Francis doesn’t have the slightest idea why. Antonio is the only thing that stands between himself and Augusto’s unconditional love. For a few seconds Francis contemplates the idea of turning the other side and go back to sleep.

Antonio sniffles and Francis is already out of his bed.

“What’s going on?” he asks, trying to be as gentle as he can be. Antonio still winces and then curls up under the blankets, without answering.

“What’s happening? You can tell me,” he tries again, sitting next to the other boy.

There’s another sniffle, then a moment of quiet and then a half trembling voice. “Why do you care?”

To be honest, Francis isn’t sure what he should answer. He isn’t really sure what he thinks, let alone what the best thing to say should be. Why does he care? Why does he care if Antonio is crying? Why does he care if he can’t sleep and is obviously feeling bad for some reason? Why should he care about finding out what that reason is?

“Because I cried too when father took me home,” he blurts out, without even thinking about what he’s saying. “And I was alone and I would’ve liked someone with me. Someone who cared about me.”

“You don’t care about me.”

“Yes I do,” Francis whispers when he hears Antonio’s voice breaking. He sees himself in that bed, crying until he falls asleep, alone and miserable. Francis doesn’t want anyone to feel those things. “You’re my brother after all, aren’t you?”

They both remain silent for a few minutes and Francis supposes he can count as a win the fact that Antonio is not crying anymore.

“Can I sleep with you?” he asks, when he’s confident Antonio has calmed down, and then waits a few more seconds before adding something else. “I have a lot of bad dreams and I don’t like to sleep alone.”

Francis has always been good at understanding people and he knows that this will do the trick.

“Yeah,” Antonio answers after a long moment of quiet, proving his point. “Only because I don’t want you to have nightmares.”

Francis smiles and curls up against the other boy. The night goes by without any other incidents and Augusto finds them in the morning, still in bed, still holding hands.

 

“I see things are going well between you and Antonio.”

Augusto is smiling knowingly and Francis pouts a bit, wondering what exactly does his father know. He feels a little bit antsy and Augusto has to hold him down, almost pinned on his legs. “I guess so. He’s okay.”

“Oh, he’s okay?”

“Yeah,” once again Francis’ face darkens and Augusto is left wondering what exactly does that mean. “He’s okay. He isn’t... he isn’t better than me, though.”

They both remain silent after those words and finally, finally Augusto understands what’s wrong. What has always been wrong, since the minute Francis saw Antonio at his side. Finally Augusto understands those looks and those unsaid words and why exactly Francis seemed unhappy.

“There isn’t anyone better than you,” Augusto whispers, holding Francis closer. He bathes in the way Francis lights up, eyes wide open and that adorable surprised look on his face.

There’s nothing in the world he loves more than this.

It took quite some time, but the moment Francis accepts Antonio into their lives things go as smoothly as they could. Augusto doesn’t have to do anything but observe how his two kids become, day after day, closer and more inseparable than he could’ve hoped. 

“Father! Antonio and I are going to the Forum again!” Francis bursts into the room smiling, immediately followed by his brother’s laughter.

“Again? You’re spending more time there than here with your old man,” Augusto pretends to be shocked and sad only to start laughing when he sees their expressions. “Is there something I should know? Are you hiding something? Is there another father you love more than me?”

Francis squeals with outrage and Antonio audibly gasps and a few seconds later they’re all laughing. 

Augusto feels like the happiest man in the whole world.