Character(s): (In this part): Walesx2, Germany, Romano, America, N. Italy, mScotland, mNorthern Ireland, nEngland, nNorthern Ireland
Pairing(s): (in this part): One-sided Wales/Romano
Word Count: 9,346
Author(s): nekoian and moonlighten
Summary: A human AU featuring the Brit Bros (and Irelands) of Sewn On and Feel the Fear, and a supporting cast featuring a multitude of other characters, canon and otherwise.
Llewellyn’s breath is still heaving when he throws open the door to the small office. It seemed bigger when he first met with the school's headmaster a few months ago to discuss his terms of employment – being that the term hadn’t started at that point and the teacher he was replacing hadn’t been happy with her retirement.
Llewellyn is greeted by a desk full of bewildered looking people, ranging from young men and women, to older and more battle hardened sorts. One chair remains empty, and he supposes it must be his. He steps forward to claim with a cheerful sounding: “I’m so sorry I’m late. The bus… it left early and I had to run.”
The man in charge – a rather imposing looking man with slicked back blonde hair and eyes so blue as to look almost grey – only offers him a confused looking cock of his brow and a slow lowering of notes.
“I’m sorry, are you--” He cuts himself off, studying the chair Llewellyn was about to sit in, and allowing his sight to drift around the circle.
They all look surprised to see him, to the point where he believes he might have walked into the wrong school completely.
“I’m Llewellyn Walsh.” He pauses, as his face and name do nothing to cure the look of confusion on the face of the man named Ludwig Beilschmidt who had terrified Llewellyn when they’d first met and hasn’t improved upon his first impression at all. “I’m the new music teacher. You sent me a letter a few weeks ago about starting today.”
The idea that the school even has a music department appears to be news to Mr Beilschmidt, who makes a point to slowly pop open his briefcase and rummage around in search of some evidence of the story being true, or perhaps a phone with which to call the police and get him evicted. He slides a pair of reading glasses onto his face and gets to work reading; the process is almost excruciatingly slow, especially since Llewellyn can’t quite find the courage to sit down.
He allows himself a double-check of the people around him, eyes settling on a particularly handsome – but completely ill-tempered – looking man wearing what looks like an expensive Italian tie and a Rolex, whose expression darkens the second he notices the staring. Llewellyn looks away, studying the brown carpet. It feels wiry and rough even while he wears his shoes. The whole room has a funk of stale tobacco in it, likely infused there, considering smoking indoors is now banned.
“Ah yes, Mrs Terwilliger retired. I’d completely forgotten.”
“I’m sorry; perhaps I should have called to remind you.” Llewellyn sinks into his seat and immediately casts his eyes to the beaten up wood of the table, resting his arms there and curling his fingers neatly together. “It’s very nice to meet you all. I hope I --”
“I thought the music department was closing down.” The ill-tempered man says, loudly and rather peevishly. “You never said we were replacing Terwilliger. I thought that the room was opening up if we needed it.”
Llewellyn shrinks down in his seat, remembering how he’d fallen in love with the room when he’d first seen it, despite it being a little cold. It was flanked by wide glass windows and a small hall connecting it to the backstage of the small auditorium with several small rooms for storage and office work littered along its length.
“I thought it was a shame to lose the music department.” One helpful voice chimes in. “Mrs Terwilliger always said--”
“We do have other matters to attend to.” Mr Beilschmidt says sternly. “And that room would have gone to the Drama and English departments even if Music had closed down.”
Llewellyn feels his teeth clamp around his lower lip, somehow he’d expected a much warmer welcome.
“You’ve all been assigned form classes, I hope. I don’t want another mix up like last year.”
“That was Kirkland’s fault,” the ill-tempered man says, quickly and perfectly timed to cause a ripple of mixed irritation and agreement. Everyone seems to have taken sides, though Llewellyn can’t imagine why.
“Does this mean I don’t have to sign in two classes every morning instead of one?” a young looking lad in a T-shirt and track bottoms asks. He looks like he might just be in charge of physical education, right down to the unkempt blond hair and determined blue eyes. “I mean I know Room 6 is big but it’ll take forever and I have equipment to set up.”
“Mr Walsh will take one of the first year classes off you. Decide between yourselves.”
The feeling strikes Llewellyn that the PE teacher seems like the sort to make up his mind for himself and forget about other people. Not that he minds too much.
Richard doesn’t lift his head from his work even when Llewellyn clears his throat, as the early morning is dedicated to the planting of geraniums and getting window boxes put on the sills of the tavern, supposedly to disguise the fact that the windows are in need of replacing.
Llewellyn returns to his work, the infinite cycle of writing up music sheets and deciding how best to teach disinterested fourteen year olds about the different sorts of notes and how to shape them on the paper.
“You should have taken the job down in Surrey,” Richard chimes again, looking up swiftly from his task to frown and shake his head.
“I don’t want to leave, besides, I like that little private school,” Llewellyn says. “State schools are a bit scary.”
He instantly has flashbacks to his own experience of high school, which amounts to years of huddling in a corner clutching his books tight. Sometimes the monotony of that was broken up by the surly big blond bloke from the higher classes calling him a faggot and stealing his lunch money.
“You’re a fucking adult.” Richard lifts the wooden container and dumps it back onto the sill, where it blocks a sizable amount of the light that could actually illuminate the pub. “And you might have gotten a promotion if you’d gone to Surrey. You’d have been head of the department within a few years. With the right courses you could be teaching in a university.”
“I’m perfectly happy here. I can help you out at weekends and watch Oliver when it’s required of me.”
Said teenager glances up from his homework where it’s laid out on the table, his school uniform somewhere in the process of being removed – his blazer thrown carelessly over the back of his white plastic seat and his tie yanked loose. He chooses to roll his eyes and mutter something about being more than old enough to take care of himself.
“You had the chance to make something of yourself,” Richard carries on, his stern voice impeded by the effort of dragging another of his window boxes back towards the large white building. “And you threw it away, not that I’m surprised you understand. You always set your sights far too low, Mother always said so.”
“And you had dreams of moving to Cornwall and getting a foot in on the bed and breakfast, then starting a hotel, but you’re still here.”
“Cornwall is a horrid place.” Richard grabs hold of the white towel he’d set out and wanders closer. “Far too hot and much too expensive.”
“But you could have moved onto bigger and better things, yet you stayed here to run this dump.”
An offended look spills across Richard’s features and he pauses to tap the door to his beloved tavern. “The Turnpike is a splendid building, and it belonged to Uncle Henry, god rest his soul.”
Llewellyn isn’t sure he wants to carry on with his analysis on how hypocritical it is that Richard badger him constantly about his inability to leave when he’s been talking about bigger better things since he first took over the pub’s running when he was twenty, after years working inside it under their uncle, who in turn also worked for his Uncle and inherited it when the man eventually died.
“And when I’m good and ready Oli can take over after, can’t you?” Richard smiles fondly at the red-haired youth, who peers up at him with a hopeful glint in his eye, one that’s a little worrying.
“Really?” Oliver sets his pen down and bites his lower lip. “You’d let me run this place?”
“It’s a family tradition. But you’ll have to –”
“Throw all your hopes and dreams aside.” Llewellyn cuts him off. “You’d be better off getting a decent job.”
Oliver looks indecisive and shrugs. “Angus says I won’t amount to anything anyway.”
“You won’t if you don’t finish your homework.” Llewellyn smiles towards his little brother before turning his face towards Richard and scowling at him. “At any rate, I’d like you to stop gong on and on about my life when you’ve not done very much with your own.”
“It’s a family business, a tradition, it’s not the same thing.” Richard speeds up the cleaning of his hands, soiling the white towel with streaks of dirt.
“Regardless, I’m starting my new job tomorrow, the same as you’ll be opening this place.” Llewellyn scoots across and allows Richard to sit down beside him, and he immediately lifts Oliver’s maths homework and scrutinises it. “It’s not up for discussion.”
“You’ve done all these wrong.” Richard holds the workbook up and waves it accusingly. “You’ll never amount to anything if you can’t do basic long division.”
Llewellyn frowns at his brother and Oliver shrinks slightly under the scrutiny, his cheeks starting to burn as shame takes it’s usual little wander over his chubby features.
“That’s right, Oli,” Llewellyn says, “You wouldn’t want to end up like Richard, now would you?”
Richard closes the book and immediately smacks Llewellyn on the shoulder with it. “You cheeky bastard.”
By happy coincidence, Dylan gets out of his car on his second day back at work at just the right moment to walk into the school with Lovino.
At least, that’s what he tells Lovino as he falls into step beside him. Lovino gives him a long and distinctly unimpressed sidelong look in lieu of taking picking up this small conversational bait Dylan has cast his way, and Dylan’s face flushes with heat, wondering if the other man has seen through his tissue-thin attempt at subterfuge. Perhaps it was the exaggerated gasp of surprise he’d feigned when he’d turned away from his car to find Lovino behind him that had given him away, or the equally forced breathless laughter afterwards. Even more embarrassingly, perhaps he had been spotted scrambling back inside his little Clio when he saw Lovino’s Fiat 500 pull into the car park, or else when he began his absurd pantomime of rifling through the detritus in his glove box in search the cigarette lighter he already knew was in his jacket pocket.
Dylan takes a deep breath and holds it tight in his chest for a couple of strides to keep himself from blurting out some ridiculous, ill-conceived justification for his actions as that would doubtless just draw even more unwelcome attention to them. More than likely, Lovino hadn’t even noticed anything unusual in the first place, because it’s very unlikely that he pays enough attention to Dylan to have any concept of he might ordinarily act, anyway.
When he finally allows his lungs to empty, the urge to defend himself has passed, and Dylan feels more equal to the task of attempting to make small talk. Small talk, he thinks, is only to be expected upon running into a colleague after the long hiatus of the summer holidays, and thus a small step towards normal and, most importantly, one that leads away from the sort of dubious behaviour exemplified by manufacturing ‘accidental’ meetings with them, and any thoughts that might be lingering thereon.
“Went by fast, didn’t they?” he says with false brightness. “The holidays, I mean.”
Dylan’s break from work hadn’t ended up being much of one at all. Despite having ostensibly moved out of the family money pit, he found himself spending more time there than his own home due to Alasdair’s unparalleled skill at guilt-tripping. Somehow, he always managed to persuade Dylan that every bit of DIY that needed doing there – no matter how small – was a matter of life and death; that if it was neglected, they’d have blood on their hands as Michael would surely keel over and die from the lack of it. So whenever his days weren’t taken up with planning lessons for the upcoming year at school, they were filled with wallpapering, tiling and plumbing at the Kirkland ancestral home, whilst his own house still has no carpets and two leaky sinks even though he’s lived there for over a year.
Lovino’s top lip curls slightly, either disgusted by the triteness of Dylan’s statement or else his sneer is meant to pay mute testament to his disappointment with his own holiday.
Choosing to believe it’s the latter, if only to spare himself from sinking further into shame, Dylan presses on, “Did you and your brother end up going to Italy to see your granddad?”
The glance Lovino shoots him appears distinctly puzzled, as though the possibility that he might have a granddad, in Italy or otherwise, is one that’s never occurred to him before. Or, as seems infinitely more likely, he has absolutely no idea how Dylan might have got wind of his projected travel plans.
“You mentioned you might,” Dylan quickly elaborates, eager to reassure that he isn’t creepily over-invested enough in Lovino’s comings and goings to be keeping track of his whereabouts over the summer by any sort of nefarious means, just creepily over-invested enough to have remembered near every word the other man has ever said in his earshot. “Near the end of last term? At Alfred’s birthday party?”
Lovino doesn’t look as though he remembers saying anything of the sort, nor does he look particularly reassured. In fact, judging by the way his eyebrows scrunch down low and nostrils pinch tight, he’s probably imagining all the nefariousness Dylan was hoping to avoid implying.
“Right,” Lovino says eventually, his tone flat and uninterested. “Yeah.”
No more elaboration is forthcoming, and Dylan is left to wonder whether Lovino’s confirming that he’s finally remembered their discussion at the party, or that the visit to his grandfather had indeed taken place. Dylan decides to opt out of questioning him further, however, as the entire subject seems poisoned somehow; too fraught with potential pitfalls for all that it should be one of the least controversial of all possible conversation topics.
The rest of their slow trudge towards the main school building is conducted in silence. Dylan keeps his eyes fixed firmly on his shoes and the few autumn crisped leaves slowly drifting across the tarmac underfoot so he doesn’t have to watch the frantic scanning of his surroundings that he’s sure Lovino is involved in, desperately searching for better company.
Lovino finally speaks up again when they reach the wide stone steps leading up to the school’s front door, albeit only to ask if he can borrow a cigarette before they go inside. Dylan hands him one wordlessly – he thinks that his usual rejoinder when faced with the same request from his brothers that they should just ask if they can ‘nick one instead because they’re hardly going to give the same one back, so borrow is semantically inaccurate’ will go down like a lead balloon, and thus keeps it to himself – and then watches him light it out of the corner of his eye.
Lovino Vargas has, Dylan had concluded after months of careful study, absolutely beautiful hands. He’d never really thought of hands in terms of their aesthetics before, only their practical skill, but there was something about the combination of those long, slim artist’s fingers, well-manicured nails, and tanned skin that had caught his attention on the very first day they met and exchanged a loose, quickly-dropped handshake, and the appreciation had simply deepened over the year that followed. He’s even written poetry inspired by them on occasion, though it has all ended up being very quickly destroyed after rereading and the subsequent realisation that what had at the time seemed like philosophical meditations on attraction were actually an elegies chronicling his descent into sexual frustration.
It’s been eighteen months since Cerys dumped him, almost ten since he got over her as best as he thinks he’s ever going to, and a good six since he started the slow slide into his current state of despair, believing that he is going to be alone for the rest of his life.
If he wasn’t at such a low relational ebb, he’s sure he would never have noticed Lovino’s hands, or how handsome his profile is (something which often transfixes him so completely during staff meetings that he has to go and beg for a recap from Alfred or Feliciano afterwards because he hasn’t been able to take in a single word), or even the fact that all his trousers are invariably so tight that they look almost painted on (something that causes him to loiter around corners so that he can be sure of following Lovino up stairs rather than preceding him), because everything else about him is awful.
He is – as Alasdair had announced within minutes of being introduced to him at Alfred’s party – a complete wanker, but, unfortunately, Dylan’s libido seems more than content to overlook his abrasiveness and petulance, his seeming dislike of everything Dylan – and most other people, besides – does or says, and, most importantly, his apparently staunch heterosexuality, if his flirting patterns are anything to go by. (Adult and female seem to be his only criteria; even Mrs Terwilliger hadn’t escaped his winks and effusive compliments, though she had been more bemused than flattered by his attentions.)
Dylan thinks he really needs to make the effort to meet some new people this year – broaden his social circle – because he’s pretty much convinced it’s nothing but desperation at work.
His new room needs to be aired, and he has various files and forms to fill in. A number of the schools instruments, now out of storage, need a good hard clean and tidy, the piano needs retuned and several of the violins need fresh strings.
Llewellyn still manages to run late however, dashing like a school boy down the corridors, a stack of files and folders under one arm and his favourite violin case firmly in hand. He darts past the greetings of his co workers -being late always leaves in in a terrible cloud of panic that renders him impolite- before swiftly barging into his door instead of through it.
His files scatter in several directions, but his violin case remains unmolested. The loss of his cargo does allow him to rummage through his bag for his keys, it’s an old leather thing that he used at school and never saw fit to part with. It seems fitting somehow, even if its use had been purely out of desperation. He’d not thought of what to carry things in before and he’d been unable to spare the time required to wander into town.
Somehow he keeps finding tasks to complete: worksheets to type up or a memorising the syllabus.
The folders are rounded up, and he notes how several of his co-workers study him, apparently having forgotten who he is in the short space of time since they saw him last. Not that he minds too much, he isn’t sure he made much of an impression, and they’re likely busy anyway.
He settles at his desk and immediately flips open his syllabus, as well as the complicated page of tick boxes he needs to hand in to the headmaster by the end of the day. A routine check that he’s not cutting corners or slipping in anything he shouldn’t.
“Hey,” The voice is confident and bright, and its owner sees fit to stride into the room, trainers squeaking on the floor: the PE teacher currently without a name as Llewellyn hadn’t thought to ask anyone before dashing home yesterday. “You’re the new music teacher, right?”
Llewellyn lowers his pen and studies the room around him, making sure it is actually his music room he’s inhabiting.
The old poster of orchestra arrangement that’s peeling from the back notice board confirms it.
“Yes, that’s me.” He tries to smile, but his attention still finds itself hooked into the syllabus, a thing he'd never thought much of as a student and finds even worse now that he has to implement it. “And you’re --”
“Alfred Jones.” His grin broadens. “I came to give you your form class assignment.”
Which is not how the conversation had gone yesterday; he’d been promised a discussion on the matter. Still, Alfred slides the paper in his direction: Class A18.
“All you have to do is mark them in every morning and tell them what’s what,” Alfred reassures, nodding to himself.
“Class A18 is…?”
“First years. Dylan mentioned that since you were new here you may as well take the new kids. Made sense to me.” Alfred leans back on the balls of his feet and surveys the music room. He appears not to have ever been in it before considering how he examines all around him, like a small child. “This room is way bigger than I remember it.”
“I assume it’s due to a lack of desks.” Llewellyn eyes the expanse of empty floor, nothing but a supply of chairs huddled in one corner under a musty tarp. It seems like the chairs always end up in the music room during long closures.
The location of the tables, however, is a mystery.
“So do you know where all the other classrooms are?” Alfred looks unconcerned about it, his attention falling to one of the old posters on the wall, one explaining the very basics of sheet music. He seems to disapprove of it, judging by the tiny wrinkle in his slightly off centre nose. “They don’t tell you when you just start, but you end up wandering all over the place to cover for other people.”
“I didn’t know th–”
“But you’re just across the hall from my office, if you follow the lockers you’ll find it. In the opposite direction is the girls PE area. It’s pink.” Alfred adjusts the sit of his glasses, squinting through them as if to check for dirt. “Generally nobody bothers with the music room, though, because it’s full of music junk and no other teacher wants to manoeuvre around it. It’s why I leave mats and ball bins in the little cranny next to the assembly hall.”
“That’s normally where they store the sports equipment. In every school.”
“Do you want to go look around?” Alfred jabs his thumb towards the door. “I can show you where the rest of the art rooms are.”
This act of kindness seems only to be born from Alfred’s boredom. He turns on his heel and strides out the door.
Llewellyn is still swept up in how offended he is about his music equipment being regarded as ‘junk’ and considers not bothering. His desperation to know where his fellow teachers are is the only thing that convinces him otherwise. He quickly grabs up his satchel and scuttles after, making a point to adjust his tie and wipe the dust off his brown jumper as best he can.
“So you’re the head of the Physical Education department?” Llewellyn asks, hoping to slow the taller man’s stride a touch, and he does pause to take the question in, beaming proudly and stuffing his hands into his pockets.
“That’s right. I took over when the older guy retired last year.” The news comes as a surprise, as Llewellyn hardly remembers any of his teachers retiring at all while he was in school, merely the comings and goings of younger teachers and classroom assistants.
“And music is part of the art department?”
“Yup, though you’re the only music teacher we have. I guess that makes you the head of department.” Alfred’s laugh is loud and a little obnoxious, but the news is startling, though not to be relished. Being in charge simply by merit of being the only person available is akin to proclaiming yourself head of a country that technically doesn’t exist.
“So who’s the head of the art department? I was never introduced.”
Alfred veers off down a previously unseen hallway, which is flanked by a half dozen doors on each side. It appears to be a mass of geography, science, history and religious education, with room for a small staircase at the end which Alfred proceeds to wander up.
“Depends, Feliciano tends to be in charge, but he sort of sucks at it. Not that the art department ever really came together anyway.” Alfred shrugs as he heads up another floor and down a second main corridor. “They all get distracted and do their own thing.”
“Good to know.”
The rooms on this floor seem to house the English, drama and computer studies rooms, with three exceptionally large rooms on the opposite side that appears to be the cookery and home Economics department.
“Lovino is the one in charge of those rooms.” Alfred says, hand sweeping towards the home Ec rooms, which have a strange, almost sinister aura about them. “And Dylan is sort of in charge of English. The computer rooms belong to the tech guys, so we leave them alone.”
“I think it’s nice that the English department gets to stay where it is, I always enjoy the smell of your cooking,” says the happier looking of the two men wandering down the corridor towards them.
The grumpy one is the handsome man Llewellyn remembers from yesterday. He shrugs the compliment off and tuts.
“I like it better when those rooms were for the --” He stops dead upon seeing Alfred, and chooses to double his scowl. “What are you doing here, Jones? No hurdles for you to jump over here.”
“I’m just showing the new music teacher the lay of the land.” Alfred cocks his head in Llewellyn’s direction, and then proceeds to look stumped. “Sorry, I forgot your name.”
“Llewellyn Walsh,” Llewellyn replies, gripping the handle of his bag a little tighter and shuffling forward to join their circle, yet not quite able to complete it. “I was just hoping to find the other members of –”
“Do we even need a music department?” Lovino asks, stuffing his nose into the air.
“Music is part of the curriculum, as well as an important part of the art department.” The unnamed man with the pleasant face responds quickly. “Just like how the Home Ec department helps the physical education department teach the youngsters about healthy eating and –”
“But we barely have students who actually go on to be musicians. The funding is wasted.”
“We don’t have a huge number of famous chefs, athletes or poets leaving our doors, but they keep us around.” Pleasant man nods, trying to sound reasonable, it seems. “Though I can understand your irritation at not being able to use the room, I’m sure…” Pleasant-faced man turns his attention fully on Llewellyn, studying his posture – hunched and nervous – and face – hidden behind his hair – before carrying on. “I’m sorry; I’ve forgotten your name already.”
“Llewellyn.” he responds, watching the ‘oh’ form on the man’s lips silently.
“That’s an uncommon name. Very fitting for a music teacher, don’t you think so, Lovino?”
Lovino makes a loud sound of disapproval before wandering unannounced into the nearest of his three home ec rooms.
“He really is very sweet once you get to know him.”
Llewellyn nods, if only because Lovino’s exceedingly handsome face has a certain appeal.
“So, this is Dylan Kirkland. He’s one of the English teachers,” Alfred says, as if the English teacher is the single least interesting thing in the corridor.
“I specialise in creative writing and poetry,” the man says, and then sticks his hand out. Llewellyn takes it, shaking instinctively. “It’s nice to have another member of the arts in the building. Music, literature and the visual arts, part of the art department triad. Mrs Terwilliger always said so.” Dylan forms a triangle with his fingers.
“So are you still coming out after work?” Alfred asks Dylan casually. “A bunch of us were going to enjoy our last few days of freedom.” It appears to be the only reason Alfred thought to drag Llewellyn along on this little tour of the school.
“I don’t see the harm. It’s either that or spend it at home. Aly has been rather… demanding lately.”
Alfred’s eyebrows rise in interest, yet only slightly. “How come?”
“Well you know what he’s like, once he finds a job to do he just has to see it through.”
“That does sound like him.” Alfred smirks and rolls his shoulders, as if they’ve suddenly grown stiff from standing still too long. “Anyway, a meal and a drink tonight, let us know if you’re interested. I need to go finish what I was doing. Talk to you later.”
Then the taller man turns and strides away, and Llewellyn stares after him, mouth falling open as a call for him to stop fails to come out.
Back when he first finished his teacher training, Dylan had his eye on a position at a failing state school in Newcastle. He’d done his research on it, read its Ofsted report (a little frightening, to be honest), and become infused with a sense of purpose, imagining that he might, with his passion and enthusiasm for the subject, somehow imbue all of his hypothetical pupils with some measure of his own deep, abiding love for great literature and poetry, and thus single-handedly reverse the steady downward trend of their English GCSE results.
Admittedly, it was a dream inspired largely by feel-good films about American teachers that were more than likely largely, or even entirely, fictional – no matter that they might purport to be ‘based on a true story’ – and Alasdair had been quick to point that out when Dylan first tentatively revealed his plans to him. He’d been just as eager to share that he thought Dylan would get ‘eaten alive’ seeing as though he was a ‘posh, dumpy short-arse’.
Dylan had tried to push his brother’s words out of his mind, but it proved a little difficult as Alasdair seemed determined to repeat them as often as he could – they were dropped into unrelated conversations with such regularity that Dylan became convinced that Alasdair had a schedule drawn up towards the end – and eventually, over the course of a month or so, Dylan’s dream eroded away along with his confidence that he could ever have the skills necessary to realise it.
Luckily, Alasdair had been on hand to let him know about an opening for an English and Drama teacher at a school that was a ‘bit more his speed’, due it being, apparently, almost as posh as Dylan himself. Dylan hadn’t even bothered looking for positions at private schools, and only in part because he’d fancied himself some sort of social crusader. Mainly, he’d thought they’d all want someone with a bit more experience, a proven track record rather than the ink barely being dry on their PGCE, but Alasdair had reassured him that the headmaster at this particular school was a forward thinking individual who actually preferred to work with young teachers, who he believed would bring fresh ideas to the table. Even more importantly, the head of the school’s board of directors was an old family friend; one who had, years ago, been angling for the title of Dad Number Four, and was still half in love with their mum’s memory.
Dylan isn’t sure whether it was his fresh ideas or cronyism in action that got him his job at Rookery Downs School, but was at first grateful to his brother all the same for bringing the opportunity to his attention. The gratitude was short-lived, however, as it soon became clear that Alasdair’s preference for this school over the one in Newcastle had nothing to do with Dylan’s career prospects, or even his physical safety and mental health, and everything to do with the fact that it is within easy driving distance of the Kirkland estate.
Consequently, he ignores his mobile the first time it rings, knowing without looking that it will simply be Alasdair, wanting to impose on his meagre weekday free time to deal with some disaster or other that, more often than not, could easily wait until the weekend. He is the only person of Dylan’s acquaintance who ever calls him during work, and that’s solely because he can’t seem to grasp that ‘lunch hour’ is something of a misnomer for a teacher, and thus he can’t make the fifty minute round trip chez Kirkland to help shift a bag of concrete or some such before his afternoon lessons begin, and, no, the evening’s no better because there’s marking and planning to be done (not stuffing his face and watching telly, thank you, Alasdair).
He would have been happy to ignore it the second time it rings, too, but Feliciano pauses in his animated recounting of his and Lovino’s time in Italy (the junior Vargas had apparently had a wonderful time, despite his sullen silence on the subject), and his energetic gesticulation towards Dylan’s trouser pocket makes it clear that he thinks Dylan should answer. It seems even ruder to deny him than interrupt their conversation after that, as so, with a heavy heart, Dylan feels obliged to comply.
It doesn’t mean that he has to be happy about doing so, however. “I’m at work, Aly,” he growls as soon as he connects the call. “Fuck’s sake, how many more times do I have to tell you? Unless someone’s in the process of dying or already dead, it can wait till tonight.”
His brother, as per usual, seems completely unfazed by the frustration that Dylan’s certain is clearly evident in his tone. “The kids aren’t there, are they?” he points out. “You said you’d just be lugging things around and going to pointless meetings about things you already know, right?”
Alasdair, unfortunately, is entirely right, and Dylan bitterly regrets complaining to him about the arrangement the other week. Drunkenness was absolutely no guarantee that Alasdair would forget anything he was told, especially if it was something he might later be able to use it to his advantage.
“I’m still getting paid for it,” Dylan argues.
Alasdair makes a dismissive noise. “Fair enough, but I’m guessing they’re not going to bother that much if you’ve got a real emergency on your hands. And this IS an emergency, Dyl. Mikey’s bedroom ceiling finally collapsed.”
They’d done a patch job on the ceiling a couple of summers back using a few bits of old chipboard they’d found lying around in the garage, but it had always been meant as a stopgap measure until Alasdair had the time and money to fix it properly. It had slipped down the list of tasks pending as even more essential parts of the house disintegrated, however, and Dylan has always had a niggling worry at the back of his mind that some day their negligence might result in their little brother being crushed in his bed beneath a heap of rotted beams and plaster.
The image that thought conjures up makes Dylan’s stomach feel as though it’s taken a swift lurch upwards towards his throat. The resultant tight, clogged feeling makes his words come out strained and halting. “Jesus, is he… Is he okay?”
The faint sound of Michael’s voice drifts to his ear before Alasdair can reply. “I’m fine. I wasn’t even in there when it happened.”
“But he could have been,” Alasdair cuts in quickly, sounding fractious. “And where’s he going to sleep tonight?” His voice grows a little muffled, doubtless because he’s moved the phone from his mouth so he can better treat Michael to the full force of his disapproving glare. “And don’t YOU say the blue bedroom, because you know full well the window doesn’t close properly; you’d catch your fucking death of cold.”
Dylan sighs. “Why do you need me there? I’m sure Michael can help you just as well I would.”
Perhaps more so, as their little brother already has almost half a foot of height on Dylan – who can barely reach the manor’s high ceilings even when he’s standing on the topmost rung of their longest ladder – and Alasdair’s never had a good word to say about Dylan’s DIY skills besides, no matter how many times he presses them into service.
Alasdair snorts disparagingly. “No he fucking couldn’t. He’s got arms like bloody toothpicks; at least you’ve got a bit of weight behind you, even if it is all blubber.”
Michael, who hasn’t quite had enough years of Alasdair’s offhand insults to let them roll off his back like so much water, mounts a snarled protest to that. Dylan, who has, doesn’t bother to acknowledge the taunt, and says, “Well, I’ve got a meeting in half an hour, so you’re just going to have to wait for a while.”
A meeting Dylan thinks he could probably skip out on if push came to shove, as Ludwig will probably just be peddling the same shtick about the internet and so on as he did the previous year, and Dylan has already acquainted himself with the new disciplinary rules, but he wants to start as he means to go on, and that means putting down a firm foot when it comes to Alasdair’s demands on his time.
“How about you come over after you’ve finished there, then?” Alasdair says somewhat grudgingly, as though he’s offering Dylan his right testicle to use as a football instead of a slight concession. “I’ve already rung work and got myself the night off, anyway.”
There’s a ‘team building’ exercise planned down at the pub this evening, designed to help them bond with the new staff members by getting shit-faced together. Again, something Dylan can easily miss, but he doesn’t want to. He gets precious little chance to do anything that could even remotely be perceived as ‘fun’ as it is, and those opportunities will just dwindle exponentially once term starts, and Dylan will be lucky if he even manages to make his choir and rugby practices on a consistent basis.
“Can’t make it, I’m afraid, Aly,” he says, inwardly proud of the strength of his spine, which usually turns to nothing better than rubber in short order where his big brother’s concerned. “How about the weekend?”
Alasdair makes a strange noise in reply; a sort of strangled gasp that sounds like hastily swallowed laughter. “I’m going down to see Arthur and Gabriela,” he says eventually, once he’s sufficiently recovered his composure.
Dylan grimaces, annoyed that his brother doesn’t even have the decency to invent a halfway decent excuse to fob him off with. Arthur hasn’t mentioned anything about such a visit (nor can Dylan imagine a situation where he might conceive of inviting Alasdair alone), and the only time Alasdair had taken two days off work in a row since he finished school was to spend them in the only company he seems to find worthy of missing wages for; company which certainly isn’t any of his siblings’.
“I’m sending Mikey to stay with Claire,” Alasdair continues unprompted. “Didn’t want to come back to half the house smashed up and everything covered in sick.”
Dylan very much doubts that Michael would do anything worse than playing video games into the early hours of the morning if left to his own devices. He’s not exactly a party sort of person, and neither is his solitary friend (though said friend IS liable to leave a trail of destruction behind him, if only due to over-exuberance and clumsiness).
If it is a lie, though, it would be one easily dismantled by a single phone call to their cousin, and that, coupled with the lack of a rebuttal from Michael, leads Dylan to the conclusion that, amazing though it seems, Alasdair really is planning on spending his weekend in London.
Which leaves him little choice but to suggest, “I suppose I could come over a little later tonight; maybe eight o’clock or so?” because he really wouldn’t want Michael to have to resort to the blue bedroom and then possibly have his resulting bout of pneumonia on his conscience.
A quick half pint of cider and apologies will have to make do in lieu of actually enjoying himself tonight.
“See you then,” Alasdair says, and then ends the call without either thanks or farewells.
Dylan scowls at his now silent phone, but, unfortunately, it isn’t half as satisfying as being able to do it to his brother’s face, and thus his aggravation remains undimmed until he looks up and sees Feliciano regarding him with wide, worried eyes.
“Is your brother okay?” he asks.
Alasdair had been in a particularly – and Dylan is feeling uncharitable enough to dub it uncharacteristically – good mood the night of Alfred’s party, and Feliciano – along with several of Dylan’s other colleagues – seems quite enamoured with him following it; enough that he sounds genuinely concerned.
So Dylan bites down the complaint he was going to make, and attempts to smile reassuringly. “He’s fine. There’s just been a bit of an accident at his house. Nothing major.”
The smile obviously passes muster, as Feliciano returns a relieved-looking one of his own, before turning his attention back to making an inventory of his art supplies and picking up the dropped threads of their interrupted conversation.
The stink of coffee hits Llewellyn as he wanders in through the staff room door. It’s a familiar smell too, the sort he’d often walked into when Angus was still married and the women he lived with insisted on drinking the stuff. She left with her coffee maker about three years ago, so the scent is like walking into a memory.
The owner of the coffee turns out to be the handsome man but ill-tempered Lovino, who sits nonchalantly on the edge of the table, his coffee mug in one hand while he reams through a newspaper. He looks like the sort of composed model Llewellyn often notices in magazines, if only because of the slight downturn of his lips and the way his left leg hooks over his right one.
He can’t think of a greeting though, as he’s neither friendly enough with the man to warrant it, and he’s certain Lovino heard him enter but has decided he cares more about whatever is printed on the page.
The making and consumption of tea is the only thing that matters to Llewellyn, regardless, as he’s still drifting in circles, knowing all the things that need doing yet not practised enough to have an efficient system in place to cope. There are certain things they can teach you in your training, but putting it all into practice is a different matter. Hopefully the scheduled meeting will go better.
He pops the kettle on, making every illusion possible that he’s failed to notice Lovino as much as Lovino has failed to notice him. So far he’s talked to the other members of the art department and had another visit from Alfred, who seems like he’s simply wandering around the building, supposedly from being completely efficient and having everything done.
There are only a few mugs on offer, so he selects the one that’s drying upside down by the sink, and then drops a teabag into it and listens to the water bubble and hiss. As soon as the tea is made and the teabag discarded in the bin – which is already half full of spent paper cups, sandwich boxes and a single tin of what looks like red bull – Llewellyn plops himself down at the table, making a point to sit a polite and not overly-familiar distance away from his co-worker.
He pulls out his wad of sheet music and begins his plans for a lesson about scales and arpeggios, the names of all the notes and a basic tune for the students to learn on a clarinet.
He only starts to feel Lovino’s eyes burn the side of his skull when he makes an impromptu bid to undo the foil around one of the Viscounts he pilfered from Richard’s cupboards (he feels a touch guilty as they were for Oliver’s lunch, but he likely didn’t need the added sugar anyway).
He ceases all movement and turns his head. Lovino is indeed looking at him, hard and unflinching. Though his eyes are a wonderful colour: a sort of honey glaze with green undertones. Unusual and fascinating. Hot and smouldering yet icey and cool like a bitter wind cutting through a warm day.
“I’m sorry, I’ll be quiet.” Llewellyn quickly pulls his biscuit free and sets the foil aside, flattening it out with his palm as quietly as he can. “I was just –”
Lovino’s mouth twitches up on one side, wrinkling his nose in such a way that the expression appears to be worn quite often. His attention skims back to the newspaper but his posture tightens off, as if to make a bigger shown of himself than he was previously.
“I was wondering,” Llewellyn blurts out before the silence can grow too uncomfortable, “what exactly were you hoping to do. With the room I’m in?”
Lovino doesn’t answer, merely focuses in more on the newspaper, his shoulders slanting upwards to make a show of his disinterest in talking to anybody about anything.
Llewellyn is mildly concerned, as the fact he’s even on the teaching staff at all seems to bother the other man, which is a shame. He’s the sort that he’d prefer to be on the better side of.
Not that Lovino has a bad side, he’s handsome from every angle and makes scowling look like the endless radiance of God himself, shining down upon mere mortals like a rain of gold.
Or, something like that. Maybe not quite so poetic.
Llewellyn scoops up his tea, and feels the need to cower on the side of his chair that’s furthest away from his companion. He rather wishes for the company of any of the other teachers, who seem at least a little amiable, if completely forgetful.
Llewellyn takes a swift bite from his biscuit, turning it in his fingers as he listens to the rustle of paper as Lovino finally turns the page. Time ticks by, continuing the slow crawl towards twelve o’clock and the next staff meeting. The hard part starts on Monday, which is a worry, as Llewellyn was called in at such short notice and has to wonder if perhaps he hasn’t ruined his life by being here.
He could easily have worked for Richard and frittered his life away without as much stress.
“So, um, I should get back to work. I want to see about arranging the desks in my room a little.” Why he feels a need to inform Lovino of this is unclear, even to himself, and the pointlessness of it isn’t lost on the other man it seems. He makes a single irked noise and flips the paper over.
Llewellyn’s next move is swift, stupidly instinctive but driven by a sort of politeness that most of his family have for no reason other than the inability to stop themselves. His hand sinks into his bag and he produces his last pilfered viscount, holding it out for Lovino to take. “I’m sorry for the interruption,” he says, unable to withdraw his hand now he’s committed himself to the action.
Lovino peers at his hand like it might be some form of hideous spider, before he looks to Llewellyn’s face indignantly, apparently hating even the most delicious – and fanciest – of biscuits Llewellyn is capable of getting his hands on at short notice.
Yet, eventually the silence and awkwardness grows to be too much even for him it seems, as he plucks the green foil up and holds it between his thumb and fore finger, like he’s holding something smelly and distasteful.
The smile that slithers onto Llewellyn’s face feels far too bright and chirpy, and the way he kinks himself up onto his toes and down again almost childish. Yet his eyes drift to Lovino’s hands. Elegant, dexterous things which look soft and supple. The sort of fingers that-
“You have pianist’s hands.” Llewellyn says, his own way of diverting his attention away from less tasteful thoughts. Yet he knows instantly that it was a mistake.
Lovino’s eyes narrow and his lips part into the bud of a snarled: “What?”
“Your hands,” Llewellyn holds his own hand up, he was told many times he had the hands of a pianist, as they’re long and slender, even if they’re a little coarse and unattractive from years of near abusive instrument playing. They’re also naturally dry which doesn’t help matters. “You have nice hands, the hands of somebody who can play piano.”
Lovino’s eyes wander to his own hand, where it remains in the air, clutching the biscuit, then drift to Llewellyn’s, face screwing up as he seems to find them as distasteful as the mint flavoured treat in his grasp.
“It means you have wonderfully slender fingers. Not that you necessarily play the piano.” Llewellyn feels his laughter pop out and his fingers dash through his hair. “Though you might play piano, I probably shouldn’t jump to conclusions.”
“I don’t play piano.” Lovino answers, his hand curling around the gifted biscuit and his face angling away.
“Chefs hands then. For skilful cutting and dicing and such,” Llewellyn amends and shuffles backwards, lifting his bag and papers before starting the swift scuttle out of the room, taking his tea with him. “I’ll see you later. Desks to arrange.”
With that he manages to barge into Dylan and Feliciano nearly upending all his supplies and scalding himself with his tea. He wrestles it into shape and politely scoots out the door, keeping his head low and his pace swift.
“I wonder where he’s off to in such a hurry,” Dylan asks, sounding a little peevish to Llewellyn’s ears, likely for the rude behaviour, which Llewellyn decides to apologise for as soon as the opportunity arises. He hopes he can blame such skittishness on first day nerves
He’s treated to the sound of Lovino setting the biscuit aside with a dismissive sounding, “Who knows, he’s a weirdo,” before the fluttering of paper starts up again.
Feliciano, who seems to already be splattered with paint and charcoal dust, chimes in with a bemused-sounding, “Who was he? I’ve never seen him before.”
Llewellyn is beginning to think that all of this is just some cruel form of hazing. As there’s no way a group of people can possibly be so forgetful as a unit. Especially since he spoke to Feliciano for a good ten minutes, and had apparently made a fairly good first impression.
As far as those go anyway.
He can only lament his own ridiculousness with a muttering of “Chef’s hands, ugh, stupid, stupid!” before he realises he’s gone in the wrong direction, and has to pivot around and slink past the – still baffled looking – Dylan and Feliciano again, making sure to avoid all eye contact.
He plans on venting his frustrations out on his violin or piano, then heading around for the scheduled lecture on internet safety and disciplinary procedures.
Sometimes, Dylan can hardly believe that Feliciano and Lovino are brothers. Facially, they might almost be close enough to be twins, but somehow the childish fullness of Feliciano’s cheeks and the guileless breadth of his eyes renders his equally handsome features merely pleasant rather than mouth-drying-ly striking.
He’s as open and good-natured as his brother is shuttered and standoffish, perpetually happy where Lovino’s expression has lifted from a frown all of twice since Dylan met him, and even the slightly irritating habits the brothers share seem somehow less irksome when practiced by Feliciano. (Their penchant for peppering their speech with Italian, for example, which seems like something of an affectation given that they were both born and brought up in Macclesfield, as were their parents.)
As far Dylan’s concerned, however, the most noteworthy difference between them is that he actually enjoys talking to Feliciano rather than just looking at him.
He’d tried telling Lovino about the poetry competition he was considering running this year, but had met with nothing but indifference. (Even that was probably wishful thinking; it was more likely boredom.) Feliciano, on the other hand, is full of questions for him as they wander towards the staff room in search of tea and – if they’re lucky and someone has actually thought to restock the little kitchenette ahead of time – perhaps a biscuit or two.
Will there be a prize for the best one? (Dylan was considering publishing the two best from each year in a little book, and then flogging it to the parents in the name of fundraising for the school.)
Will the staff be able to enter? (Dylan hadn’t considered that, but on reflection, it sounds like a fantastic idea, though he doubts he’ll get many takers.)
Whatever Feliciano was about to ask dissolves into a shocked rush of exhaled air as someone barrels into them, apparently in such a rush to escape the staff room that he didn’t have chance to check whether or not the way was clear first before running out of its door. Feliciano looks a little winded in the aftermath, and his accidental assailant looks a little shocked and contrite, although he doesn’t actually vocalise an apology before haring off down the corridor towards the cafeteria as though his arse is on fire.
“I wonder where he’s off to in such a hurry?” Dylan muses aloud, because the cafeteria’s closed today, so food can’t be answer. It strikes him a second later that the fleeing man is a new teacher, and thus probably just lost, but before he has chance to raise his voice and shout after him, Lovino speaks up from within the staff room with a dismissive, “Who knows. He’s a weirdo.”
Apparently weird enough to put him off his food, given the way he drops the biscuit he was holding with a disgusted sneer more suited to finding it unexpectedly full of maggots. Dylan tries to give him a sympathetic look, but Lovino ignores him in favour of picking up the newspaper that had been resting on his lap, and opening it full spread so his face is completely hidden from view.
“Who was he?” Feliciano asks, sounding a little bemused. “I’ve never seen him before.”
Dylan is about to tell him, but realises as soon as he opens his mouth that he can’t remember the new teacher’s surname.
He’s a little ashamed to admit it to himself, but he’s fairly sure he only remembers his first name because it just so happened to be the same one that Dylan and Arthur’s Swansea-born dad had initially wanted to call Arthur. Their mum, however, had had other ideas. After being persuaded into Alasdair James and Caitlin Aoife by Scots-Irish American Dad Number One for her twins, and Dylan Gwyn for her next boy, she was adamant that child number four should be called Arthur George, in honour of her father and grandfather.
“Llewellyn,” Dylan decides to say anyway – reasoning that a little knowledge is surely better than none – peering down the corridor after the man in question, whose steps have started slowing; perhaps realising without intervention that he’s headed the wrong way. “I think he’s taking over from Mrs Terwilliger.”