A/N: Hey guys! It's 11:35 PM my time, and I'm absolutely lovin' it! Not! I just wanted to get this chapter out to you. I don't have much to say up here (the block of my rambling will be at the bottom) other then I fixed my double hyphen problem! "—" to the rescue!
(((Oh, wait, never mind, I do have stuff to say! As some of you may recall, there's been a boring and drab author's note relating the details of my untimely robbery where chapter ten should be. Don't want to spoil the surprise, but — well, it's not there any more. I left y'all two little 'thank you's for all your patience and support, and I hope you enjoy them.)))
Enjoy them, that is, after you read this chapter. Please? ;D
I apologize in advance for any typos or epic fails. I might have mentioned it, but I should be sleeping. -_-;;;
WARNING(S): It's shirtless day! Why? Who knows!
If Tino had gotten to write in his notebook this day, he would've done so in the morning, and the entry might've sounded something like this:
Today is my birthday. It's been a few days since my last entry, and things are still awkward around the house with Berwald. I'm glad to have him back at work, even if it is where I intend to have my party. Hopefully things will go smoothly.
Unfortunately, he didn't get to write. Nothing went smoothly. And on it goes.
"Holy shit, dude. I thought you died — I thought you ate something of Art's and, just, fell over dead."
Alfred leaned over the counter at the 24 Hour Espresso, bewildering a woman trying to pay for her macchiato by pointing at the newly arrived Berwald and yelling at the top of his lungs. The Swede, who'd taken Arthur up on his offer to switch shifts after he'd become suddenly, violently ill, didn't bat an eyelash as he let himself behind the counter and took his shirt off. He got a few appreciative whistles as he tied the uniform apron on over his slacks, but ultimately just shrugged as he took his place next to the equally shirtless Alfred.
Other than that, no one commented. Strange times.
"No, m'fine," Berwald assured, digging under the counter for more teabags. "M'ybe Arth'r did, tho'. Nasty s'ckn'ss, mhm?"
The American just laughed. "Yeah, a likely story. More like he stayed home to perfect his makeup technique, tryin' to cover up his tattoos."
Berwald nodded, neither agreeing nor denying, and started on a steamed milk. Alfred, as used to supplying chatter as Tino now was, just kept talking. "I don't know about you, but I'm digging this new 'no shirt, all service' thing. Too bad no chicks work here! But then again, that wouldn't do much for you, huh? Whatevs! I'm just glad you decided to swap shifts with Art, man. I would've been busier than a one legged man in an ass kickin' contest on my own. You know how Monday is — everybody and their grandma's gotta come in and get a fix. Oh! But, man, did you hear? We're givin' the bikini baristas two blocks over a run for their money!"
He went on, but Berwald tuned him out, waiting for what he knew was inevitable. It was the main reason he'd agreed to swap shifts with Arthur when he so wasn't a morning person — right about now, Tino would walk in and…
"Oh my God…"
The Finn was perfectly frozen for about a millisecond, the look on his face suspended somewhere between surprised and flustered. Then he was jostled from behind by a customer coming in the door, and snapped out of it. He stepped out of the threshold in a real hurry, cheeks burning, obviously wondering why in the hell his roommate was running the register sans the button-down he'd walked out the door in that morning.
"Oh! Tino! Happy Birthday!" Alfred yelled, waving with excess enthusiasm. "Art sends his 'regards', whatever those are, and this weird-looking package! My present's the awesome one—"
"—in red, white, and blue?" Tino finished for him, acting casual as he made his way into the Espresso proper, already burdened down a fair number of gifts. "I wouldn't have guessed."
He winked at the American, who laughed good naturedly and went on making coffee for people. Tino let the pile of gifts in his arms slide to join those of Arthur and Alfred on a small table near the counter, sighing when his arms were free. "At least you had the decency not to do a drive-by, Al. Five people this morning yelled 'Happy Birthday, Tino!', threw something at me, and ran. Thus is the life of your average chronically late college student, I suppose."
All through this Tino hadn't stopped smiling, but it was obvious he was making a concerted effort not to look at Berwald. Shirtless day, shirtless day — why did today, of all days, have to be shirtless day?
Little did Tino know, but it wasn't just going to be 'shirtless day' — it was going to be 'indefinitely shirtless until furniture sales improve' for Berwald. Winter never was a good season for his carpentry. He tended to be outsold by IKEA. The irony wasn't lost on him.
"Happy Birthday, Tin… oh. Hell. My day is made."
Elizabeta had walked in and forcibly relocated Tino's attention from his gifts to the resident bare-chested Swede. She'd been prepared to fling her gift at the unassuming Finn — who'd been braced for it — but nearly dropped it when she caught sight of Berwald. He cleared his throat in embarrassment and became suddenly very interested in the register.
"That's been about the general reaction," Alfred supplied helpfully, flexing a bare arm to steal a little of her appreciative gaze. "Business is up two hundred and ten percent!"
"And I can certainly see why," Eliza agreed, boosting herself up on the counter so she could link arms with Berwald. "See, Tino? Here's somebody who fears not the scorning college masses. At least you were fully dressed in your viral photo! By the time I'm done taking pictures there won't be a soul in this town who hasn't seen these abs."
An encore of the earlier 'bingo' was in order. It was obvious that Tino hadn't quite recovered from his terrifying run-in with cross-dressing notoriety, and he needed to be shown that, on the scale of embarrassing stuff you could do in college, it really didn't rank. And that was just what Berwald had done. From the look on Tino's face, he got the point — and from the look on Eliza's, it would be good for a certain top to be found again sometime soon.
"Shirtless Swedish dudes aside," Alfred said, "it's time to get this party started. When are Toris and Ed gonna get here?"
"They said around ten, so anytime now," Tino answered, glancing up at the Espresso's door as the bell jangled. "And speak of the devil, here they are!"
Two men stepped inside, one of them holding the door for a lady on her way out, before they turned to give Tino bright smiles and quiet greetings of, "Happy Birthday."
"I'm so glad you two could make it," he replied, dragging over a pair of chairs so that the two newest arrivals could grab seats. Alfred scanned the rest of the shop, and, seeing as the morning rush had cleared out, declared it closed. He ran up and taped a sign into the glass of the door, letting those concerned about their caffeine fix know that the shop would reopen later. When, specifically, he didn't bother to indicate. He figured the awesome doodle of himself giving a thumbs-up would appease any perspective sign viewers. On his return to the group, he found Tino making introductions for Berwald, who was unsuccessfully trying to get his top without Eliza noticing.
"Anyway, Berwald, this is my good friend Eduard and his good friend Toris; Toris and Eduard, this is my roommate Berwald."
"A pleasure to meet you," Eduard said, shaking the much taller man's hand. He got a nod signifying that the pleasure was mutual, before Berwald looked down to find Toris, who'd appeared sane enough, determining the length of his arm with measuring tape he'd gotten from... Well, nowhere.
"Um?" the Swede asked, exercising all of his eloquence in one, blinding burst. Toris's head snapped up, and he had the decency to look embarrassed for a brief second before he asked:
"What's your inseam?"
Berwald's brain was working on figuring out what the hell was going on, but in the meantime he just spat out the answer that was required. "36 inches."
Toris practically gasped, his smile blinding as he recorded the number in pen on the back of his hand. Eduard coughed in embarrassment, tugging gently on the man's collar to try to get him to stop his frantic measuring. Everyone else just kind of stared — well, except Elizabeta, who never passed up a chance to take photos of men doing awkward things.
"I'm terribly sorry," the more composed of the two new arrivals said. "He's a tailor, and he just hasn't had many opportunities — since his business opened two months ago — to measure someone so…"
"…tall," Toris finished for him, clenching the end of his tape between his teeth before he moved down to snap it around Berwald's waist. "And fit. Wow, this is… is… extremely awkward."
Seeming to realize himself for the first time, the Lithuanian snapped to his feet and jammed his measuring tape into his pocket, red as the late evening sunset over Vilnius. Tino shared a look with Eduard, getting quite a bit of apology from the Estonian's end, and forced a laugh to lighten the mood.
"Well, that was certainly… enlightening!"
"If what you wanted to be 'enlightened' about was Berwald's pants size, then yeah, wow, Buddha-tastic," Alfred observed, leaning on the bar like he was seriously bored. "How come you've never tangled me up in measurin' tape, Tor?"
"Matthew's about your size, and I met him first," the tailor explained, still nervously fidgeting. Alfred gave him a blank look.
"Oh! Right! Man, I need more coffee!"
While the American dove back behind the machines in pursuit of caffeine, Toris began an earnest litany of apologies, directed both at Berwald and Tino, for starting the celebration off so strangely. After he'd been assured by both of them that he'd caused no trouble, he took Berwald's hand and shoved a business card in it.
"Just in case you're downtown again sometime…" Toris explained, clearing his throat and pointing discreetly to the address line. "We're nearby. Feel free to stop in."
"I j'st m'ght," Berwald said, before returning his attention to might've become a party given half the chance, noting the conspicuous absence of someone he didn't like to know was conspicuously absent. "Wh're's 'Liza?"
"Yes, that would be good to know," Eduard agreed, suddenly looking as nervous as Toris had earlier. "When she disappears you just never know what she's up to…"
"Come now, you're talking about me like I'm some kind of deviant," her voice chimed in, and without further ado, Elizabeta reappeared with several cakes on a tray — having apparently ducked into the back to get them — and Berwald realized he'd missed a very good opportunity to become not shirtless. "There was nothing devious about my work setting you up with that lovely Icelander—"
"Ahahaha!" Eduard cut in, clapping his hands together to drown out whatever she was going to finish with. "Correct me if I'm wrong, Tino, but aren't those Runebergintorttuja?"
Tino seemed to be in shock as he eyed the eight dark cakes neatly set out on the tray. "They are! Elizabeta, where on Earth did you get these? If you say Helsinki, I'll be forced to hit you."
"If I disclose my source I just know you'll go broke there," the Hungarian countered, setting the tray of individual, raspberry-topped cakes down on a clear area of counter, "not to mention grow amazingly round. No, if you'd like more of these babies, you'll have to hunt up the shop on your own."
Tino didn't get to pout for very long. With a cry of, "Let's get this party started!" Alfred resurfaced, bearing a hot cuppa joe and brightly colored birthday candles. Before Tino, Elizabeta, or Eduard could get out any kind of warning, he'd lit one and brought it to the top of a cake.
It is a little known fact that Runebergintorttuja, or 'Runeberg Cakes', are generally brushed with syrup that was, in this case, laced with rum.
It is a more commonly known fact that rum is flammable.
It would've been nice for Alfred to have known that beforehand. It would've been especially nice to have known that before the man's hand faltered, bringing the candle's flame within ignition range of the seemingly innocuous syrup.
There was a kind of stunned silence as the cake began to flame. Then, without a word, Berwald took the glass pastry cover off of the 24 Hour Espresso's meager selection of Danishes. He slammed it down over the cake before any of its neighbors could catch, cutting off oxygen to the fire. It went out, and Alfred began to laugh.
"Guess you don't get to make a wish, Tino!"
"That's perfectly fine with me," the Finn replied, "as long as you don't set any more of my cake on fire."
There was general agreement on that — and a collective thankful look sent Berwald's way — before the party really did get started. After everyone had talked plenty and indulged in some of the amazing(ly flammable) Finnish cake, Tino turned to paper demolishing and present receiving. He got a good haul, but there were two presents in particular that stood out among the rest.
The first was Arthur's.
"Dear God, should I even try to open this one?" Tino asked, turning the slightly lumpy package over in his hands to see if he could suss out what it was before having to free it from its papery prison. He got a mixed response of "Does Berwald still have the pastry cover?", "Of course!", and "Depends; is this shop insured?", but he ultimately ended up pulling off the ribbon and at least looking at the card.
"Wow, Art's penmanship is still amazing…" he observed, before beginning to read, "'Dear Tino, on the occasion of your twenty-second birthday, I would like to thank you for your unfailing good humor, open-mindedness, and help in my research of Finnish pagan rites and practices. Enjoy your day, and your gift. Sincerely, Arthur Kirkland'…"
"Aw, that's sweet," Eliza commented, poking the still-wrapped package experimentally. "You've got to open it."
"I would, but…" Tino trailed off, gesturing to the bottom of the card. "There's a post script."
"'P.S. I'm afraid I cannot be held responsible for any damages incurred by this gift.'"
Everyone stared down at the package. It moved.
"Ooookay, I'm just going to open this at home, where I can borrow some of Berwald's safety equipment," Tino decided, getting a nod of agreement from his roommate, who was trying to remember where his nail gun was, should it come down to a battle with supernatural forces. He swept the package into his satchel, and that was that.
The second memorable gift was from Berwald himself.
When he produced the small black jewelry box it was in, both Tino and Elizabeta's hearts stopped.
It looked like an engagement ring case.
While Eliza thought something along the lines of, Christ, I told you to make a move, not corner him! Tino's mind went disturbingly blank. Everyone who wasn't clued into their thoughts, Berwald included, just looked perplexed.
"Aren't you going to take it, Tino?" Toris asked, sipping an iced mocha Alfred had provided on the house. Eduard laughed lightly. "This one's not bewitched, right?"
"Um, sure," Tino sputtered, taking the case from Berwald's extended hand like it was something both irritable and venomous. He took a deep breath, steeled himself not to inflict psychological damage on his roommate with his rejection, and opened the box.
"Score, necklace! Dude, is that a coin?" Alfred asked, leaning over Tino's small shoulder. "What's up with the hippos?"
Tino's blind terror had melted straight into amusement and delight — with absolutely no tiny twinge of hopeless disappointment in between, he would have you know. "They're not hippos, they're Moomins! This is a Finnish coin minted to commemorate Tove Jansson's popular comics. Which I love." He turned to Berwald, lifting the pendant out of the box to get a good look at the whole thing. "How did you know?"
The Swede coughed conspiratorially. "M'source'll pref'r t'be unnam'd."
That got a laugh out of everyone, and what tension had been generated by the suspect jewelry case passed. Tino hung the pendant around his neck, admiring the delicate mounting Berwald had fashioned, and was pleased to find that it didn't make him look too girly, as was always a hazard when he received jewelry. Just as he was about to thank the other man, he noticed something strange out of the corner of his eye.
Peter was standing in the Espresso's window making faces at him and Berwald. Tino had to fight not to crack up.
"Um, Su-san, I think there's somebody…"
He pointed to the window, but before Berwald could catch the littlest Kirkland making faces, he scooted off, making like he'd been calmly strolling down the street the whole time. The Swede sighed and grumbled a bit, obviously used to the kid's antics and embarrassed by them. Tino wondered briefly why the man seemed to feel so responsible for Peter, but let the thought go as his American friend leaned forward on braced arms, letting out an uncharacteristic sigh.
"Man, he's an awesome kid, but Art sucks at parenting," Alfred said, watching Peter kicking a can along. "I mean, what the heck's he doing wandering around on his own, trailed by the creep parade?"
"'Creep parade'?" Eduard repeated, confused — and that was when they saw them. Three men were following the boy from a safe distance, not exactly looking like they were out to sell Girl Scout cookies and pick flowers, if you get the drift. Peter, oblivious to his surroundings, kicked his can down an alleyway and took off after it, apparently pissed about something. The guys followed, picking up their pace a little.
"That's not good…" Toris said, standing and turning to Alfred. "Somebody should go after… where's Tino?"
The Espresso's door bell jangled, announcing a certain Finn's departure into imminent danger. There was a beat of silence, and then suddenly the shop burst into activity, the mood pulling a one-eighty from light and celebratory to panicked and tense. Peter was an obnoxious kid, but there was no way any of the assembled could let something happen to him.
"Berwald, go after them; Alfred, find the phone and call somebody," Eliza directed, tugging on her coat. "I'm going to try to find a policeman. Or Vash."
Berwald didn't have to be told twice, but it took a little pushing to knock Al out of his shock. "Do something!"
Toris and Eduard took off in Berwald's wake; Alfred almost knocked the phone off the wall in his hurry to get a number, any number, dialed. Eliza was out the door and gone in a flurry of brown hair and skirt.
And somewhere down an alley, Tino had found Peter and his dubious followers, and come to a painful conclusion.
This had not been his smartest idea ever, was Tino's conclusion.
He'd managed to get between the boy and the three — now comically surprised — men, but he didn't think that was going to do Peter any good.
Upon closer inspection, he discovered he was kinda short.
They weren't. And they actually looked like they wanted to hurt somebody.
The men were armed with not only their size, but also an unfair amount of painful armaments — a pipe, a length of chain, a box cutter… not exactly the most refined of weapons, but they definitely made Tino's odds a lot slimmer.
Then again, he was Finnish, and that had to count for something.
"Wow, did we get a two-fer?" one of the men asked his companions, laughing a bit. "Seriously? Kid, you've got some lame back-up."
"I don't need any back-up!" Peter shouted, giving them the finger. "I could take you on my own!"
Definitely Arthur's brother, Tino reflected. "Peter, now would be a great time for you to stop talking."
"Shut up! You're not my mother!"
Tino took a deep, deep breath. The kid's attitude was the least of his problems — right now he didn't have any back-up, and the guys were starting to circle like vultures.
"So, are we going to do this the easy way or the hard way?" a man, who seemed to be the ringleader, asked. He had the box cutter, and Tino kept eyes on him, despite the fact that the other two were feinting at him, moving backwards and forwards with little laughs and jabs. They were screwing around. Creep #1 wasn't.
"We're not doing anything," Tino said, voice not exactly steady. Berwald could show up any time now. Really. Even if all he did was glare at them, it would be a better plan than the one he was currently working on.
Which went something like this:
Fuelled by adrenaline and the leftover sugar rush from cake that was fighting to come up, Tino was ready when Creep #2, wielding the pipe, swung at him. Here, his height was an advantage.
He put an arm up to shield his eyes from a blow and punched the guy's abdomen, not going for the easy target between his legs because that would've been expected and guarded for. By focusing his bodyweight into the hit, Tino was able to force the man back a few steps, giving himself time to hit the ground when Creep #3 started swinging his length of chain. Peter had wisely plastered himself against one of the alley walls, well out of harm's way, but he wouldn't be any better off than five minutes ago if Tino couldn't at least give him an opening to run.
Tino hadn't taken self-defense classes. He'd never lived on the streets. He hadn't even watched that many fighting movies. That being said, all his 'combat experience' came from schoolyard brawls, and he had to employ a few of those tactics now.
He dove forward and got his arms around Creep #3's legs, keeping the man from regaining his balance by holding on just that much tighter when he struggled. The Finn got a few kicks to the sides and back, but he managed to bring the man down hard on his spine. Tino rolled away from more kicks amid strings of curses, pushing himself halfway upright against a dumpster he'd rolled into. Just as he was about to try to charge Creep #1, something interesting happened.
Berwald punched the man in the back of the head.
This was very interesting to Tino, as it meant that he could probably just sit down now and check on what felt like bruised ribs. Ow.
Shortly behind Berwald came Eduard and Toris, both of which promptly rat-packed Creep #3, who began yelling something about 'having been roped into it' and 'not wanting to go back to jail'. Berwald pressed his heel into the man's throat. He shut up.
Toris stood and wiped his brow with a shaking hand. "Interesting birthday party you're having, Tino."
"I know," the Finn agreed, wincing as he shifted and jostled his ribs, "it's just the bestest one yet."
Berwald spared Tino a half smile for the sarcasm and knelt to get a look at his side after making sure that Peter was okay. He was, just annoyed that he hadn't gotten to fight too. After hearing this, Berwald had closed his eyes very tightly, taken off his glasses, and counted to ten.
It hadn't helped.
Focused on discerning whether Tino's ribs were just bruised, as the psych major insisted, or cracked, Berwald was taken entirely by surprise when an obnoxious voice boomed towards him.
"Huzzah! Your saviors are here!"
Five heads turned to find Gilbert and the vast majority of the gang crowding into the alleyway, trailed by Alfred and Elizabeta, who wore similar annoyed expressions for entirely different reasons — Alfred because he hadn't gotten to be the 'hero', and Eliza because the American had called Gilbert, of all people.
"Y're just in t'me t'do n'thin'," Berwald observed, gratefully noting Ludwig's approach with a first aid kit. About half of the gang became visibly disappointed at his words while the others all seemed to roll their eyes as a whole.
"Aw, who handled the bad guys?" Gilbo asked, looking honestly dejected that things had been taken care of so quickly. A lot of fingers were pointed, but most of them ended up on Tino, who got busy brushing himself off and generally not meeting anyone's eyes. This would just do wonders for his reputation. Lovino, who'd been standing just behind the self-proclaimed Prussian, gave him a skeptical — but also strangely appraising — look.
"Is that so?"
"Yes, though I'm kind of regretting it…" Tino said, gingerly poking a pipe-shaped bruise on his arm. "It would have been nice to have my resident head-puncher with me from the beginning."
The fact that Tino said 'my' made Berwald light up a little bit, but no one really noticed outside of Lovino. The two shared a look, where their terse conversation the other day about whether or not anything was going on between the Swede and his roommate was remembered. Berwald didn't know how to fill Lovino in on his deal with Elizabeta, but the Italian seemed to get the shape of it. He spared Tino, who was trying to figure out where Peter had wandered off to, a moment's consideration, then gave Berwald a small nod…
…which either meant he approved, or Berwald owed him a lot of tomatoes — you never could tell. The Swede decided to hedge his bets and hit the supermarket before the week was out.
All this took place in the space of a few seconds. Then the Italian pretended to really focus on Berwald for the first time.
"Why, in the name of Holy Mary, is the Swedish bastard not wearing a shirt?"
"It's Tino's birthday," Elizabeta supplied helpfully.
"Ah," Lovino said, as if that had really explained it. The Finn went through three shades of scarlet.
"Hey, I'm not wearing a shirt either!" Alfred chimed in, only to be ignored by everyone but Feliciano, who'd arrived late and was looking for something to do. Sadiq crouched next to Creep #2, who'd been playing dead since Tino got in the first good hit. He tightly covered the man's mouth and nose with his hand, leaving his only options suffocation or quitting his act. He popped up and gasped like a fish.
"And Sleeping Beauty wakes," the Turk drawled, the white of his shark smile stark against the tan of his skin. "Since the cops were too busy to show for the main event, what do you say we help 'em out by 'escorting' this guy and his buddies downtown?"
"We are downtown," Vash pointed out, completely deadpan. Sadiq frowned.
"Okay, we'll 'escort' 'em into the back of your SUV, drive to an undisclosed location and beat 'em senseless, then come back here to walk 'em the three blocks to the police station. That work for you, Zwingli?"
"As long as I still get to shoot someone, ja."
"Hey, no shooting people," Tino protested, numbly surprised at how not vindicated he was by 'the gang' actually acting like a gang. Somehow, getting into a brawl and then having them come as backup, even if it was late, endeared them to him. Besides which, he didn't have time to get preachy. It was nearly two o' clock, and he wanted to get home and see what Arthur had cooked up for him this year.
Okay, he really didn't, but anything was preferable to being propped up against a dumpster with bruised ribs.
"Best birthday ever," he muttered again, feeling suddenly very tired. He didn't get to wallow in it for long, though.
"If there's a birthday going on, why is it being celebrated in this alley, and not in high style?" Francis asked, extending a hand to help the psych major to his feet. "This simply will not do. Vash, bring the car around, s'il te plait."
"What am I, a valet? And for the last time, it's all-terrain—"
"Oui, oui, whatever — just go do it."
Vash grumbled off in pursuit of his baby tank as the rest of the gang dispersed, preparing for what they guaranteed would be a wild evening. They'd even roped Alfred and an all-too-willing Elizabeta into the plan, and would've gotten Toris too, if he hadn't had the very legitimate excuse of having to get up and go to work in the morning. Eduard checked his PDA and found he suddenly had very pressing code to write, but he left Tino with well wishes before making his own exit. Tino looked over at Berwald, who seemed just about as thrilled at the prospect of a giant party as he did.
"Do you think we have a choice?" he asked, giving his clothes a quick brush off before stretching his tired bones. Berwald shook his head. After the numbered creeps were 'escorted' several places they would never relate to the authorities, Tino resigned himself to being unceremoniously packed into Vash's SUV, seated halfway in Berwald's lap with no idea of where he was going.
By the time the gang was done with them, the surprise tailoring, flaming cake and back alley brawl seemed like the tamest parts of their day.
"Hey, I was homeless for a whole thirteen minutes — I could've beat up those guys without the help of some runt!"
Peter sat on Berwald's very nice sofa, arms crossed with his shoes on the upholstery, looking like someone had seriously pissed in his cereal. Said couch's creator was crouched on the carpet in front of the boy, trying, against all odds, to reason with him — something Tino had given up on when Peter moved on from addressing him as "short" and "pint-sized" to "vertically challenged" and "midget-y".
"Pot calling the kettle black," the Finn grumbled from the kitchen, where he was reheating some leftovers for dinner. The party hadn't exactly given either he or Berwald time to cook. The Swede himself appeared only a moment later, obviously counting to ten several times over as he pinched the bridge of his nose to ward off a headache.
"Best I c'n tell," he began, "Arth'r r'lly is sick. Pet'r took th'opp'rtun'ty t'run off, an' now he's bitt'r 'cause he want'd t live in a box."
"Strangely, I'm unsympathetic," Tino griped, wincing as he took his plate out of the microwave and burned himself, and then wincing again as the initial wince jostled his ribs. It would've been a never-ending cycle of wincing if Berwald hadn't gently supported his side with a large hand, allowing his taped-up ribs to stop throbbing for a moment.
"Ludwig was good w'th th'tape, but y'should st'll see a doct'r," Berwald insisted, nervously withdrawing his hand as soon he was sure Tino was okay.
"Maybe it wouldn't have been so bad if somebody hadn't been poking me all the way home," the psych major groaned, directing his voice towards the boy who still sat in the living room sulking. Berwald hung his head, embarrassed on Peter's behalf.
"There's a good k'd in th're… somewher'."
Tino sighed but cracked a small smile for the man's benefit as he dished him a portion to be nuked. "If you say so. How long is the little terror going to be staying?"
Berwald looked as if he'd been physically kicked. "Um. Mnm. 'Bout th't…"
"Wait. Don't tell me. I don't want to know."
At that point Peter skidded into the kitchen, shoes shucked in favor of socks, all the better to slide across hardwood floors in.
"I saw dog stuff," he said, looking excited. "Do you have a dog?"
"Yes," Tino replied, resisting the urge to mutter, 'no, we just keep it around for kicks'. "She's at the vet's overnight for vaccinations and a check-up, though. Do you want some dinner?"
Peter didn't seem to hear the last part. He just frowned and tromped back to the sofa, where he went about sulking and channel surfing until he found some cartoons that could retain his interest.
"I'm bored!" he called back, just in case the two adults in the house hadn't noticed. Tino handed his roommate a plate, taking a deep breath.
"'There's a good kid in there somewhere', huh?"
"S'a cry f'r help. I th'nk. Th't's what th'broch'res say, 'nyway."
While Tino sat down to the re-run of last night's dinner, Berwald slunk off (as best he could 'slink', being six feet tall and all), returning after a moment with an over-large box Tino vaguely recalled having once contained a pedestal table. He propped it on the island to Tino's left, and began the hunt for a permanent marker. The Finn gave him a confused look through a mouthful of reheated spinach.
"What are you up to?"
"Said he want'd t'live in a box, he c'n live in a box," Berwald grumbled, finding a Sharpie and returning to the cardboard creation. "But th't doesn't mean he goes unpun'sh'd."
Tino watched, an eyebrow cocked skeptically, as the man scrawled the word "England" on the side of the box in his no-nonsense script.
"Su-san, is that a metaphor or a psychological trigger?"
"Neith'r. I th'nk. Appar'ntly 'Ngland's all Arth'r ev'r talks 'bout. This's a tort're d'vice."
The cocked eyebrow was quickly joined by its mate in upraised surprise as Berwald stepped back into the living room, this time armed with cardboard and a very serious expression indeed. Tino stood up from the table and followed, wondering what exactly the man was going to do.
"Stupid brother, stupid blond midget, stupid Berwald," Peter muttered, angrily pressing buttons on the TV remote to work off some spare energy. "Doesn't even pay attention to me. No, now there's a new short guy he's gotta fawn over. Pfft."
Berwald got within arm's reach of the boy, allowing himself to smirk only slightly at the kid's unhappy rambling. He held the box up, tilted to slip right over Peter's head, as Tino stood in the doorway and watched. The only warning Peter got was the reflection of his impending doom as the program he'd settled on faded to black for commercial. Then—
"Ack! No! Stop it!"
Berwald dropped the box over his head and shook it, startling the kid into a thrashing fit. Berwald put all his weight on his 'device' to keep it from popping up and letting the boy escape as his indignant cries dissolved into giggles and half-hearted threats of a Viking burial while the Swede was still alive.
"Whaddya th'nk?" he asked, turning to Tino with his elbows firmly braced on the bucking box. Tino just let his face sink into his hands, trying hard not to laugh.
"Please don't ask me what I think."
"Hey! Is that the midget? This was all his plan, wasn't—"
Another round of shakes cut him off, and Tino crouched next to Peter's pseudo-English prison. "Afraid not. This was all of Berwald's evil devising — but it does give me a perfect opportunity."
"To do what?" Peter asked, tone wary. Tino waved for Berwald to quit manufacturing mini-earthquakes, then lifted the edge of the box to peek in at the boy, who lay in a jumbled heap.
"To try this again," he replied, extending a hand into the box for Peter to shake in the spirit of peace. "I'm Tino. It's nice to meet you."
Peter stared the offered hand, oversized brows knitting together in cautious confusion. "…you're not here to steal Berwald?"
"That's not the main plan, no."
"And you're still not my mother."
"God, I hope not."
"I'm Peter," the kid grunted, rejecting the hand but accidentally letting a laugh sneak out when Berwald gave his box an approving shake. Tino gave the boy a smile, willing to maybe let Berwald's good opinion of him be weighed evenly against his earlier behavior. There was a contented pause as quiet reigned throughout the house. Then—
"Might've mentioned this, but I'm not your mother. Get it yourself."
A/N: Hey, look, Dambolis! And family unit! ...but it's not perfect. Sorry, but in my headcanon, Peter's still a Kirkland — and England, aka Arthur Kirkland was a pirate at one point according to word of God. Sealand's a little troublemaker, needing some attention and tough love, but ultimately I like his character and writing them as a family. I couldn't resist.
Also, fist fight! How many SuFin, romance/humor fics have you seen a fist fight in? That didn't involve Denmark? I just felt Tino needed a little more badass factor than some people give him credit for. And it flowed better than the scene where I wrote him beating creeps with his satchel (read, man-purse). ;D
Inspiration for Tino's flaming cake (I could make so many 'flaming' jokes right now, but I'm too tired, so you are spared) comes from here: http: / dessertsforbreakfast. blogspot. com/ 2010/ 02/finnish-february -runeberg-cake-aka .html
When I tripped across this blog, I knew I had to include them somehow. They make me hungry. P:
And, wait, how did I manage to sneak in Estonia/Iceland, the most bizarre pairing ever? Sometimes, I confuse myself.
Last, last, LAST — I promise! — I don't know about other countries (or even other areas in the States), but here around Seattle, Bikini Barista shops are everywhere (case in point, http: / www. cbsnews. com/ 2300-504083 _ 162-5990739 .html? tag=page; previous). I just couldn't pass up the opportunity to throw them into this AU, give 'em a twist, and get Sweden's shirt off. XD
Thanks for reading all the way to the end! Leave me a review, or wander off and read the newly renovated chapter ten!