Antonio's parents were the most striking couple on the dance floor. And he envied them.
|The entire room was captivated as they danced.
To everyone else, to all the outside observers, it looked as though his father was leading the two of them through each step, each spin, but Antonio could see the subtle glances in his mother’s face as she turned, as his father watched and took his cues from the twitch of her lips, a press to his hand or his back, nuances in expression that guided him through the steps Maria improvised each beat.
And Matteo followed, smile hidden but visible just enough to those who knew how to look. They matched perfectly. Matteo’s skill through years of practice and logical, learned routines, Maria’s intuition and instinct and love for the melodies, and how in tune they both were with every note of the music, each stroke of the violin, each key pressed on the piano, and each step they took perfectly timed with one another’s.
To Antonio, they were the most striking couple on the dance floor.
And he envied them, not their talent - not at all; they’d each taught him, on those days when that modicum of loneliness running through the manor felt just a little too strong, and he had fallen in love with the music just as his mother had - but that they could dance with the one they loved without fears of scorn, of hatred, without hearing the murmurs of disapproval from the sidelines. He knew it was ridiculous, that their happiness shouldn’t affect his own this much, and yet as he glanced at Micael from across the room, Antonio knew his lover felt as he did. The wistful smile he received did nothing to assuage his guilt, unsurprisingly, but the anger that flared up was unexpected.
Why should they have to hide? Why should it matter that Antonio loved a count, rather than a countess?
He strode around the room, moving swiftly around the servants, dodging the lords and ladies that attempted to make hollow conversation, coming to stand by Micael’s side with an affectionate smile.
He grabbed his lover’s arm, gently pulling him towards the ballroom floor, and he murmured gently, “Dance with me,” ignoring the whispers that flared as Antonio let his palm rest on his shoulder, as Micael grasped his hand in his own in return, and both took a step, then another, in the familiar one-two-three, one-two-three pattern he’d spent months practising until flawless, shifting into a spin that let the candlelight shine in his lover’s eyes, reminiscent of the stars outside, but with a beauty he found even more endearing. Micael clutched his hand tighter, letting his eyes close just slightly as an expression of contentment washed over him, an adoring smile - one he knew mirrored his own - gracing his face as he gazed back down at Antonio, and in that moment, the room around him ceased to matter; the music and the man in front of him became everything, overcoming his senses, and yet they were not even close to being overwhelming. And suddenly, the music calmed, easing into a slow, passionate melody, and the quick steps they were both taking moved into graceful glides.
“You know, I’ve wanted to do this for years,” Micael said softly, “Every time my father tried to force the duchess my way, or invite a marchioness to dine with us, all I could think about was dancing with you, just so they knew,” his voice cracked slightly, and Antonio brushed a hand over his cheek in encouragement, “So they knew that there was a reason I hadn’t fallen in love with them.”
“You don’t have to say it if you-”
“No.” He repeated, more confidently, “No, I want to. I need to, hjärtanskär.”
Micael took a breath. “It’ll be four years since the day we met, in a week’s time. England, remember? You’d already spoke English for years, and I could just about stutter a ‘hello’ before going back to Swedish. I thought I was going wrong learning it when it didn’t sound like yours.”
“And then you found out I was Italian all along.”
“And then I found out, yes. I felt like an idiot for weeks, you know, I’d been preparing to impress when we next met.”
“Your English wasn’t that bad-”
Micael interrupted him quickly: “That’s a lie, and we both know it, kärlek.” Antonio just gave a soft laugh in response. “At least you could understand me a little; everyone else looked at me as if I was an idiot. But you’d grinned at that stupid joke I made, even though it made absolutely no sense to you.”
“I’m sure it made sense in Swedish.”
“It does, and you- Stop distracting me, Tonio, I was practising this for next week, but you had to get all romantic, so I need to do it now-”
“Sorry, tesoro.” Micael placed a finger over his lips.
“Shh. I don’t want to forget it,” he paused, again, leading Antonio through another turn in the centre of the room, and then continued, quieter, “When I saw you smiling, that was the time I realised I was in love with you. You were beautiful, and I knew that wasn’t just because of how you looked. You’re the most kind-hearted, incredible man I’ve ever known, and I don’t know what I did to deserve you, and I need to say this right, for you: Sei l’amore della mia vita, Antonio, I fell in love with you, and I fell hard. You’ve been my every waking moment, every dream, and I want to stay by your side, if you’ll have me.”
And in that second, Antonio was sure he could have fallen to the floor if it wasn’t for the arms holding him close, and he stumbled even so. “Gods, Micael. Of course I love you, too, you’ve always been the only one for me. Non posso vivere senza di te, e voglio invecchiare con te.”
“I didn’t learn that much, kärlek.”
“I can’t live without you, Micael. I want to grow old with you, I want you by my side for the rest of my days.” It was Micael’s breath that caught then, and he stood on his toes to press a kiss to his cheek. “And, if you’d leave with me, I want to start now.”
He dropped his arms, grazing his sides just barely before Micael caught his hands and entwined them in his own. “You’ve always been my first choice, Tonio. Nothing matters more to me than you do.”
And as they turned towards the door, as the shouts of rage and the curses from the court barely registered in his mind, as they left the ballroom, and Micael pulled him into a passionate, breathtaking kiss, he could say for certain that nothing mattered more to Antonio in that world than Micael, as well.