Face to face
My city your mountain
Stay with me, stay
No sooner had they awoken from their nap than Romano and (Reader) found themselves back in their apartment preparing themselves pappardelle arrabbiata. (Reader) had insisted she try her hand at making something simple for dinner, and Romano only agreed because he was so exhausted. There were not enough naps in the world to help him overcome the fatigue of nearly losing her, and anyone else preparing food was always welcome. Throughout (Reader)’s time at the stove, Romano wrapped his arms around her waist, insisting he was only there to “make sure she didn’t Americanize the pasta when he wasn’t looking.” Any other time, (Reader) would have been annoyed, but that day (Reader) allowed herself to laugh and kiss him on the cheek. Neither of them could bring themselves to say it, but they knew the real reason Romano was there.
Per favore, non lasciarmi, tesoro. Tu sei il mio cuore. La mia anima. Il mio tutto. Non so come potrei continuare a vivere se tu non fossi in giro. (Please do not leave me, treasure/darling. You are my heart. My soul. My everything. I do not know how I could go on living if you were not around.)
“Take the pasta off the water right when it’s al dente,” Romano said, “then put it back in the saucepan after you drain it. It’ll finish cooking inside the sauce and soak up the flavor.”
“So that’s what makes the sauce so powerful in restaurants.”
“You’re fucking right it does, especially with arrabbiata.”
“It means angry in Italian. It’s from the Lazio region in Rome and it’s spicy as hell if done right.”
Romano always put his heart into food, even if it was only through instructing another person. Picking arrabbiata sauce was the closest he could come to expressing any lingering rage he had at (Reader). Though they seemed to have mostly recovered from their fight, Romano was still angry at how easily (Reader) shut him out. How she had the habit of shutting him out the moment she got even the tiniest bit frightened, leaving him to fear he would be abandoned again. A part of Romano still wanted to scream at (Reader) until he couldn’t breathe, but he knew that would only drive her further from his arms. If it wasn’t memories from the temper of her ex-boyfriends, then it would be the constant waking terror of her mother’s volatile mood that would make her run. (Reader) would see the violent figures of her life coming back in Romano’s yelling, and procure the abandonment he was desperate to avoid. Arrabbiata proved to be the next best thing because the sauce could do all of the screaming he had to keep to himself.
Of course, there was also a benefit for (Reader) in Romano releasing il suo rabbia (his anger) in the spice of arrabbiata.
“Fuck yes!” (Reader) exclaimed, “I never get to have spicy food at home. Mom screams at me if I even think about putting spices on my food.”
“Well, that’s one thing you’ll never have to worry about here, (Reader). You can have all the spices you want.”
At least this way when I’m fucking pissed off at you, I can use it to make you happy instead of scaring you off like I have with other girls. Poi di nuovo ... nessuno di loro era forte come te, (Reader). Anche provare ad amare qualcuno - soprattutto un uomo - dopo quello che quel fottuto maiale Joel ha fatto a te? Sei una delle persone più coraggiose che abbia mai incontrato ... e farò tutto il possibile per prendermi cura di te. (Then again ... none of them were as strong as you, (Reader). Even trying to love someone - especially a man - after what that fucking pig Joel did to you? You're one of the bravest people I've ever met ... and I'll do everything I can to take care of you.)
It was a promise Romano first made to himself the first time (Reader)’s fiore opened for him, and one that he reiterated when something tightened his bond with her. Of course…that promise was never easy when taking care of (Reader) required that Romano be vulnerable. Rarely did he ever talk about the details surrounding multiple abandonments, and almost nobody knew about the content of his nightmares. Not even Antonio, the man he called a father figure, knew about the horrors buried inside of Romano’s mind. Mainly because Antonio was to blame for a good number of the abandonment issues Romano had in the first place. If Romano had not been pained enough by the favoritism of his grandfather and Roderick trading him away, Antonio trying to trade him for his brother was enough to break his heart. (Reader) knew about the separation of the brothers and Antonio attempting to trade Romano, but she never heard the ugliest of details. For all that Romano hated reliving them in conversation, (Reader) needed to understand them if he was going to take care of her. Their relationship was never going to work if he could not share that same vulnerability and courage (Reader) showed in telling him about her exes, especially Joel.
“Ve, fratello, (brother) are you making arrabbia--” Feliciano said before cutting himself off, “SORELLA! (sister) I’m so glad to see you here with fratello! Oh, you don’t know how happy it makes me to see you two together, and that photo Mabel sent me of you two was so cute!”
“Photo?” Romano exclaimed as (Reader) finished up the pasta.
“Mabel took a picture of us while we were napping,” (Reader) explained, “She sent it to me and Feli shortly after. Not sure why she didn’t send it to you though.”
Romano scoffed, unhappy that his brother had returned from conference calls with the boss earlier than expected.
How the fuck am I supposed to talk to (Reader) when Buttcrotch is here? He’s going to cry over everything and make it all about him, and we’ll have to comfort him and it’ll be so fucking annoying.
“Hey, Roma,” (Reader) interjected, sensing Romano’s frustration at Feliciano’s arrival, “How about we take the pasta into your room?”
“Are you two talking about something private?” Feliciano asked, “Cause I can go see Ludbug if you two need to be alone.”
“Go be with that fucking potato bas—”
“We’re fine,” (Reader) said, slopping an extra helping of pappardelle onto her plate. Before Romano could object, she stabbed their dinner with a fork and grabbed his right hand, dragging him from the kitchen to his bedroom.
“I got an extra helping of dinner so we could share,” she continued while sliding onto Romano’s bed.
“Why did you drag me back here?” Romano groaned, “Buttcrotch said he would go.”
“I don’t like kicking him out of the apartment every time we have to have a difficult discussion.”
Romano huffed, thinking it was another instance of someone thinking of Feliciano first until (Reader) continued, “Besides…I thought you’d be more comfortable in bed. Easier to snuggle and all that.”
With a sigh, Romano crawled into bed, nestling himself as close to (Reader) as possible. Much as he wanted to have dinner with an arm around her shoulders, Romano found utensils difficult when using his left hand, and putting (Reader) on his left side was out of the question.
Few things are as cruel as deliberately sitting on the deafened side of a person with unilateral hearing loss, especially amidst a painful but necessary discussion. Forcing (Reader) to strain for his words would have added futile difficulties to the conversation, and Romano needed any break he could get. Telling (Reader) about his nightmares would be one of the hardest things Romano had to do since meeting her four months earlier.
“Just hold me, ragazza,” (girl/girlfriend) Romano sighed, “I don’t care if you’re only holding my hand or whatever…”
Although holding hands was out of the question when eating dinner, (Reader) settled for gently squeezing his lower arm. Romano smiled before whispering a gentle, “grazie.” (Thank you)
Both of them started taking bites of the pasta, and while they were satisfied by the meal, Romano and (Reader) thought of ways it could be improved.
Not bad for an American’s first attempt at real pasta…but she took the pasta out of the water too late. It’s too pasty, and it didn't absorb the sauce as well as it could. I’ll have to give her a better lesson on pasta timing when we’re both feeling better.
Angry pasta? Romano thinks this is spicy enough to be angry pasta? He's either going to have to up the red pepper flakes, mix in more cayenne powder, or at least let a habanero sit in there for a few minutes before it’s pissed off pasta to me.
Neither one was really disgusted or disappointed when thinking of ways to improve the pasta…instead, they were both excited for the next time they would cook together. The thought of a next time was more than enough to make even a McDonald’s hamburger sound delicious. Romano cracked a half-smile it, and a small blush tinted his cheeks while (Reader) squeezed his arm. For someone who was facing the terror of opening his heart, mustering even half a smile was a large gesture. (Reader) knew it just from looking into his eyes, the storms in which were quelled by her touch.
“I…I haven’t forgotten what I said back at Mabel’s apartment,” (Reader) started, “I still want to talk about why you thought I was going to leave…especially because of that nightmare you had, and how outrageously jealous you got over Bonnie on Sunday.”
“I…I…I wish I had better words to explain.”.
“Try your best, and if you need help, I’m here.”
Squeezing his arm again, (Reader) leaned over to kiss Romano on the cheek.
“Actually…wait a minute,” (Reader) said, leaving Romano to wonder what she was going to do until she grabbed the pasta plate and put it on his nightstand. Romano was about to complain when he felt (Reader)’s arms snake around his torso, pulling him close to her chest. Resting his head on her shoulder, Romano wrapped both of his arms around her waist, squeezing her as tight as he could without making her sick.
“I know you're not a fan of cold pasta,” she continued, “but something tells me this will make it easier for you to talk.”
“Grazie, ragazza.” (Thank you, girl/girlfriend)
Unlike (Reader), Romano found that having someone touch him made it easier for him to open up about his most painful memories. Feeling (Reader)’s body against his was a strong ground into the present, and a reminder that she was not leaving him anytime soon. As long as he could feel her delicate frame and her small yet strong hands, Romano was safe, no matter what memory he discussed.
“I don’t understand why you’re with me,” Romano whimpered, “I really don’t…and every time I see you talking to someone else, it drives me crazy…because you’re one of the best parts of my life, and if you talk to someone else, how do I know you won't trade me away like Roderick or that jerk bastard Spain?”
“Because that's not who I am,” (Reader) said, “If I’m with you, it’s because I want to be with you. I don’t believe in leaving someone for another person because it’s disrespectful for everyone involved. I know Bonnie and I got a little heavy at the mall, and I’m sorry for how that came across…but please believe me when I say she and I have nothing to talk about outside of Sephora. It may seem like we have a lot in common, but aside from liking girls and makeup, there's nothing else. With you, we may be different, but we've got a lot to share with each other. I wouldn't trade you away for anybody else, not only because it’s a desecration of character, but also because I like you. Why would I want to trade away someone I like?”
“That jerk bastard Antonio said the same thing before trying to trade me away for my brother…locking me up in his giant fucking house all day with no food and no fucking bathroom. Yelling at me when he came home and I couldn’t fucking clean because I was shaking, starving, and covered in my own piss.”
“What? You never told me it was that bad. I knew Antonio tried to trade you away, but you never mentioned anything else.”
“It was fucking awful, (Reader). I still have nightmares about it.”
“Is that what you were dreaming about the night before The Balance Clinic?”
Romano nodded, several tears falling from his eyes onto (Reader)’s dress. Between words, Romano’s voice cracked and was interrupted by hiccups.
“I could feel all of it like it was, happening all over again. My throat felt as sore as it did screaming and, crying for anybody in that house. All of those ugly paintings came back, with paint, globs that looked like melting faces, and the doors that led to, nowhere. Those stupid fucking dresses he made me wear, and how easily I'd trip over them, and how much they'd fucking itch…and how much my shoes buckled and hurt my feet after I’d piss on them—”
“OH FUCK!” (Reader) exclaimed.
“I know…it was really fucking bad.”
“It's not just that, Roma. I royally fucked up and I didn't even realize it! I’m so sorry!”
“For barfing on your shoes and then shutting you out! I can’t believe I didn't put two and two together sooner."
I should have guessed something must have triggered Romano for him to be that clumsy with his mouth. He has abandonment nightmares the night before The Balance Clinic, and I have to make them worse by being clumsy and loose with doctor regulations. That's why he was so upset when I threw up. I accidentally recreated a scenario from his worst memories and made him feel like he was going to be abandoned again.
“Putting what together, (Reader)? I don't understand."
“Romano, you know what a trigger is, right?”
“You mean on a gun, or do you mean those bullshit things social justice warriors say when they want to shut down a discussion about something they don’t like?”
“…no. A trigger is a specific term used for when something brings back a really bad memory from the past and makes you feel like you're reliving it, or like a bad thing from the past is about to happen again. Triggers can include anything, depending on the memories of the person who is having the flashbacks. I wasn't even thinking about it…but you were having nightmares about ruined clothes when you couldn't control your bodily functions when Antonio tried to abandon you…and then I ruin your clothes because I lost control of my stomach right after hardcore flirting that really bothered you. I didn’t realize how many triggers I set off by getting sick…and if I had known, I wouldn't have shut you out like that…”
“Is that what happened to you when you got scared I was going to hurt you or leave you for being sick?"
(Reader) nodded and said, “I just don't use the word “trigger” unless I have a chance to explain it in a specific context. The term has been co-opted by so many people that it’s too difficult unless you have a good setup.”
“Like you explaining to me why my nightmares could cause me to lose my temper.”
“Yeah…but that doesn’t mean it’s okay for you to lose your temper, or say the awful things you said, or do anything really bad.”
“I know that! I wouldn't ever deliberately try to hurt you! What kind of person do you—”
Cutting himself off, Romano looked into (Reader)’s terrified eyes.
That's right. All of the bullshit excuses Joel made up for behaving badly...and all the times someone’s done something similar to her at home. It must be a trigger for her if she does not clarify that abuse is never okay.
“Right,” Romano said, “I wasn’t even thinking about that. Mi dispiace, bambolina.” (I'm sorry, baby doll).
“Grazie, caro. (Thank you, dear) Umm…mi…dis…piace…um…what’s “too” in Italian?"
“I think you want to say Dispiace anche a me (I'm sorry too)…but I appreciate you trying to say it in my language.”
“Sure…I really am sorry, Roma. I’m sorry I didn't know about your nightmares sooner, and wasn't careful when it came to your triggers.”
“It's okay, (Reader). You didn't know. I know you wouldn’t have done it if you did…you’re so defensive when it comes to illness, I doubt you'd ever forgive yourself if you deliberately hurt someone that way.”
“Especially if it were you,” (Reader) said while petting his hair.
Romano let out a small moan and shuddered, burying his face into the crook of (Reader)'s neck. Unbeknownst to (Reader), stroking Romano's scalp would send tingles across his body, relaxing him into a state of bliss halfway between lust and limerence. These feelings were only further intensified by his love for (Reader), which grew with every passing minute they spent together. (Reader) smiled to herself as Romano’s skin turned as pink as his shirt and his curl formed into a heart. Though she may not have been able to see the curl itself, its twisting tickled her ears and her neck, teasing her with its developing shape.
“I don't want to hurt you at all, baby. I want to know about your triggers and bad dreams and fears so that I can help you feel better, like you've been doing for me."
Reaching out across her body, Romano gently took (Reader)’s right hand into his left, grabbing it tightly while interlacing their fingers.
“It always hurts to see you flirt with other people, if that helps. I have nightmares about you and the other person…especially that Bonnie, where I’ll see you making out with them and saying the only reason you're with me is because I have a dick…how do I know I’m enough if you flirt with other girls…they have something I obviously don't have and never will…how do I know if I’m enough for you if you need women too?”
That's why people have fantasies, Roma. I get that satisfaction from imagining other women, and save the rest for when we're together. No need to look for it with other people when you've got the strength of your own heart and mind. A little bit of fantasy goes a long way, and is really good for appreciating what's real. Of course, I'll have to tell you that on a day when you're not so emotionally fragile.
“I've told you before, Roma, it makes no difference to me if you're a man, woman, or another gender…I just follow the chemistry and my heart. Now, it just so happens Bonnie is a girl and we have good chemistry, and it just so happens that you're a boy and I’m with you. If the sexes were reversed, nothing would change. It’ll never matter to me what gender you are or what body parts you have. You're enough because you’re you.”
(Reader) bit the sides of her cheeks to keep herself from saying, “Whether you were a boy or a girl, I'd still love you, Romano.”
He's not ready to hear “I love you.” He’ll have a nervous breakdown if I tell him right now. I’ll wait until things have cooled down a bit, or maybe until Christmas so I can tell him somewhere really pretty in a place he'll never forget. God, with how scared he is of me leaving him though, I have to tell him…whether I tell him first or immediately after...and do it with something really fancy and nice so he knows I mean it.
“That hasn't been enough for a lot of people before," Romano groaned.
“Well…I'm not a lot of people, Roma. You said you’re my bastardo (bastard) of a ragazzo (boy/boyfriend) …well…sono la tua ragazza pazza (I'm your crazy girl/girlfriend)…and I have a whole laundry list of reasons why you're more than just enough…your gender having nothing to do with them. I’m not going to abandon you for someone else or trade you away like Roderick and Antonio, and I don't want your brother more than you…there's a reason why I’m sorella, and it's not because Feli's gay. Me and him?”
Doing her best impression of Feliciano, (Reader) shrieked, “Yucky!”
For the first time in his entire life, Romano actually found something in Feliciano's sympathy problem hilarious. Full-bellied laughter vibrated against (Reader)'s skin as she squeezed Romano tightly, rocking him in her arms. Romano responded by kissing (Reader)'s neck all the way up to her cheeks, giggling with her until their lips intertwined. Therein their laughter was seized by an overwhelming desire to hold the other one close, only breaking the kiss for (Reader) to add one last comment.
“Me and Feli? Yucky. Me and you? Lovely.”
What followed (Reader)'s comment was a passionate night that made arrabbiata seem nothing short of frigid.
I need you to love me
I need you today
Give to me your leather
Take from me, my lace
After The Balance Clinic on Monday, (Reader) swore she would never eat Nutella again…at least, until Romano surprised her for breakfast two days later. It was not hard to change (Reader)'s mind by presenting her with Nutella toast served with cappuccino covered in cinnamon and chocolate. Alongside the toast were small dishes of chopped strawberries lightly coated in powdered sugar, prepared in such a way that they could be eaten alone or on the toast itself. The single rose Romano brought to (Reader) now sat in a towering vase, its red petals beaming against the gray view of November weather. Both (Reader) and Romano were huddled under blankets, barely able to keep themselves from shivering and intermittently cursing the impending winter. Aside from breakfast and blankets, the main thing keeping them warm was the agreements they were making to work with each other’s painful memories. Neither one of them ever wanted to have a fight that involved icing the other out again, and the best means of prevention was communication.
“So we agree, no flirting with others when we're together," (Reader) said.
“Right,” Romano replied, “And definitely no flirting that involves any direct references to sex, even when there are puns all over the place.”
“Got it, and you won't get mad if I flirt with girls.”
“Only if you don't get mad if I do.”
“But we keep it at flirting, and keep it superficial…nothing else."
I wouldn't fucking think of touching another girl, (Reader). Not as long as we're together, and you welcome me into il tuo fiore e il tuo cuore.
“Oh, and one more thing,” Romano said, “We do our best to tell each other what's in our heads and what's happened to us. No secrets.”
“No secrets, and no icing each other out.”
Romano put one hand around (Reader)'s waist and pulled her into a kiss. (Reader) could not help smiling, her heart fluttering as she tasted the chocolate and cappuccino on Romano's breath. Twirling his hair in her fingers, (Reader) giggled in between kisses and gasped when Romano ran his fingers up her spine. Just before Romano could deepen their kiss with his tongue, he and (Reader) found themselves interrupted by a perturbed Feliciano.
“I'm happy you two made up,” Feliciano started, “but could you at least cool it at the breakfast table? I’ve already walked in on you two doing it at least three times in a month, and I know so much more than I ever needed to about my brother's dick thanks to you, (Reader).”
“Karmic retribution, Feli,” (Reader) chortled, “karmic retribution for demanding I help you make pasta in "the shape of Ludwig's anatomy.”
“Ugh," Romano coughed, “You want karmic retribution? You'll get your karmic retribution for Monday if you mention that potato bastard's anatomy again!”
Feliciano and (Reader) laughed, happy that things had mostly returned to normal.
“Want to join us?” (Reader) asked, “There's still cappuccino and toast in the kitchen.”
“Just please don't start doing it at the table.”
Romano was about to snap at Feliciano when (Reader) squeezed his arm and shook her head. Rolling his eyes, Romano sank back into his chair, only agreeing to be quiet because (Reader) asked. It was an unspoken request that they have breakfast like a family, squabbles and all, and Romano was happy to oblige, if only to keep (Reader) happy. It did not hurt as well that she rewarded Romano with a kiss on the nose, which caused him to ferociously blush and Feliciano to laugh at his cheeks upon returning to the breakfast table.
“You look like un bambino piccolo (a small child/little baby) with your cheeks all red like that," Feliciano exclaimed.
“Well, he is my baby after all,” (Reader) said, giving him another kiss. Romano folded his arms, trying to play it cool yet failing as his face made fire engines look pale.
“And he's really fucking cute," she continued.
Only because it's you, (Reader). Only because it's you do I tolerate this embarrassing bullshit.
Though he would never let himself admit it, Romano overjoyed with what he saw at the breakfast table. (Reader) smothering him with kisses and laughing alongside his brother made Romano feel as though he had a real family. To him, it was the beginning of a glimpse at happily ever after, where fights were overcome with affection and trust, bringing him and (Reader) closer together. Where each boundary overcome made simple moments much sweeter, giving him a here and now so beautiful he wanted to cry. Chewing his lips, Romano stayed silent, pretending he was still embarrassed by (Reader) and Feliciano, even though he couldn't be happier with the joy they brought into his life.
(Reader), on the other hand, had no problem showing her happiness, even if it came through unusual signs. Excessive laughter at the breakfast table, and smothering Romano with kisses. Teasing Romano with reminders that he was cute, and refusing to let him forget it. Putting on elaborate makeup, yet enjoying every second of Romano smearing her lipstick over both of their faces. Sorrow that he had to leave for his work for the boss, yet enthrallment at their planned evening in the art museum, sketching their favorite paintings and helping improve the other's technique. All of it came through with every kiss and every look (Reader) gave Romano, eagerly speaking her hope for all the memories they would build, good and bad.
The Balance Clinic was originally designed to procure balance through insights into vestibular disorders, but it moved beyond its purpose by creating equilibrium for (Reader) and Romano. What started out as an ugly fight turned into a mutual understanding that gave Romano and (Reader) plenty of room for a beautiful future. Balance was restored by listening to the other's story, and allowing pain and forgiveness to coexist. No matter how much they had been hurt in the unexpected fight, (Reader) and Romano learned all too well that such pain could not hold weight against the thought of losing each other. With a gentle kiss after breakfast, (Reader) and Romano found themselves intertwined by heartfelt yet unspoken words.
No fear or fight is worth as much as you.
Take from me my lace
Take from me my lace