Alfred turned a bit to the side, inspecting himself in front of his mirror. Not his nicest outfit of this sort, but that one was being cleaned at the moment. It needed a pretty thorough cleaning after that kick-ass fair down in Texas, so there was nothing to be done. Besides, it wasn't that bad, and was probably awesome enough for an event like this.
So, with a quick pull at the bandana around his neck, a fiddling with the buttons on his bright red plaid button down shirt, a tug at his pants that were nice and tight while still being manly, an adjustment of his rather large belt buckle, a quick check to make sure there wasn't any dirt on his shiny boats, and a tilt of his large hat, he was ready to go.
If anyone knew how to do cowboy, it was America. Cause really, American and Cowboy were practically interchangeable.
"Hey, you aboot done up there? I let myself in ten minutes ago you know," Matt yelled up the stairs. Alfred couldn't help grinning to himself a bit before heading out the door of his room. His brother must have been really excited, seeing as usually he doesn't complain until they're at least half an hour late.
"Yeah, yeah, I'm coming. Don't get your stirrups in a bunch. Just had to pull this old thing out and make sure it was clean." The desire to speed down the hallway overtook him in his excitement to show off his duds. Sure, they weren't his shiny red boots or his matching vest and holster, but he wasn't still pretty freakin' awesome looking right now. Matt would have to be impressed, cause really, no one does cowboy like he did, Alfred, America, the United States of America; the land of the cowboys!
His freshly polished boots came to a slow but decisive halt, and almost seemed to be losing their sheen by the second.
Was that… Matt?
Alfred could almost feel his jaw hit the ground as he took in his dear brother. He was… well, he looked like he was pulled right out of the good ol' heart of one of his own cowboy states. Hell, it could have rivaled his best cowboy outfit. The tall boots -- holy shit were those real spurs? – and the right jeans – mother of god look at those chaps – and the plaid shirt that matched the bright bandana and the huge belt buckle that looked like a steer's skull and well hell.
Since when could anyone pull off such an outfit that wasn't, well, American.
"Well, come on, tell me, I look pretty good, eh?" Matt asked, hooking his thumbs into his pockets. It was just… well it was just so wrong. How could someone be a cowboy (or even dressed as one) and say something in such an un-American way.
Matt's big goofy grin faded a bit as Alfred continued to just stare blankly. "Hey, Alfred, you ok?"
Alfred blinked. "Uh, yeah, peachy. Totally fine. Awesomely fine in fact." He pulled off his hat for a moment, running his free hand through his hair. "And yeah, wow, um, you look great Matt. Jeez, if I had known you'd go all out, I would have tried even harder to get my usual outfit ready. Cause, uh, you know, this thing is kind of like my laid-back, suburbanite-trying-to-be-western fair outfit," he explained, laughing awkwardly. Matt nodded knowingly.
"Don't worry about it, I know how it is. It's hell to get some of those stains out of good leather. And besides," Matt quickly added, noting the look of dejection on his brother's face, "you look great! I kind of went overboard myself, so compared to the people there, you'll be looking, uh, awesome!"
Alfred still felt outdone, but nonetheless smiled and waltzed over to the Canadian, clapping him on the back. "Right, so it's perfect! I'll be my awesome self, but it's your fair anyway, so it only would be fair for you to look more awesome than me. You know, for the week!"
The wince on Matt's face slipped out, but he sighed in relief to see his brother didn't notice. He knew he meant well.
"Yes, now come on, we have to head out or we'll be late!"
"Right! Heigh ho Mattie, to the…" Alfred trailed off. Matt sighed.
"Stampede. It's the Calgary Stampede."
"Right! To the Stampede!"
America had tried his best to convince himself that it was only his brother. Maybe after all these years of hanging out with his awesome brother, he had picked up a taste for cowboy stuff. Yeah, that had to be it. It was his influence. Clearly all the Canadians at the fair wouldn't know the first thing about being cowboys.
But this desperate hope was crushed before they were even on the fair grounds. Cars were parked miles away and everyone was walking to bus stops, all with cowboy hats and flannel shirts and boots and, well, the whole shoot and shebang.
When the hell had Canadians figured out how to pull off something that was, well, American?
…Cowboy was American, wasn't it?
Alfred almost laughed at himself. He was being ridiculous. They clearly just got the right cues from watching his awesome TV. Obviously.
Holy shit, how many people are here? Alfred wondered to himself. He had assumed that when it was advertised as the biggest rodeo in the world that it was an exaggeration. No one went to a little hole-in-the-wall restaurant with a sign that said "Best sloppy joes in the world!" and believed it was actually true. But as he looked out at the huge fair grounds and all the people crammed in, and knowing that it was only the second day of the fair, a Thursday even, well, he could almost believe it.
And holy hell, look at all the flags! Everywhere, there were Canadian flags. He supposed it only made sense, but to see a hotdog stand with a Canadian flag on it in what looked like one of his own fairs back in the good ol' US of A, well, it was disconcerting.
Then he saw it.
"Is that… is that what I think it is?" Alfred was stopped in his tracks, his hands stilled at his side as if to catch himself if the shock of it became too much. His heart was racing in his chest and he could feel his face start to heat up. Had this been a normal situation, he was pretty sure he'd be a little turned on, but here he was just confused beyond belief.
There, right there, was a sign. Next to a food booth. Offering Twinkies, Oreos, nutter butters, PB&J sandwiches, and cheesecake, all fried.
He'd have been drooling all over himself had he not been suffering from disbelief.
Matt walked up next to him, tilting his hat up, and turned to look at his brother. "Well, if you think its fried food, then yes. Why? You have those at your fairs too, don't you?"
Alfred managed to open his mouth for long enough to get the words out of his mouth. "Uh, yeah, of course. I just, um, I dunno, I thought…" He stopped and shrugged. "Never mind." Matt tilted his head to the side.
"Alright, if you say so." Matthew looked at the price board. "You want one? They're really good."
Alfred eyed the fried delicacies wantonly, but the Canadian flag hanging from the window kept taunting him. Alfred's lip was pushed out into a pout and he spun on his heel, stomping away.
"A-Al? What the hell?"
"I don't want any!"
"Then why – Hey, wait up! Alfred, why don't you just tell me what's wrong, eh?"
The argument went on for the next ten minutes until Matthew finally just gave up and bought himself a pickle from the pickle stand.
Finally Alfred felt his ego grow back to its normally inflated status with a smirk on his face. "Now, really Mattie, I know that you want to impress everyone, but did you have to steal some of my stuff? I would have just lent them to you, you know."
The other nation looked at him oddly. "What are you talking aboot?"
Alfred laughed, spreading out his arms to indicate the exhibits before them. "All of this of course! I mean, ok, the Mounties I'll believe, but seriously, the tanks? The army issue helicopter? The missile launcher? All the army, military, navy, and air forces booths? You're not fooling anyone Mattie."
His Canadian brother's brows furrowed and then one was lifted a bit in question. With a sigh and a shrug Alfred replied, "Do I really have to spell it out? Look, everyone knows you don't have any military stuff, but if it matters to you that much, you can just ask to borrow my stuff instead of sneaking it behind my back."
"Alfred, this isn't your stuff."
"Really? Who'd you borrow it from?" Alfred asked innocently. If he had been any denser, he would have missed how Matthew's stare grew darker.
"I didn't borrow it from anyone. This is all mine." He visibly prickled when Alfred looked like he was about to laugh at the statement like it had been a joke. "I'm serious, Al! I know you like to tease me about being a pacifist since I don't jump into all your stupid wars, but I do have a military of my own. How many times do I have to tell you that?"
Finally the look of amusement left the American's face, and he looked back at the machines. So those were… Matt's? He looked at them harder, then looked at the hardworking, military men and women, Canadian men and women, and… whoa.
"So those are… yours?"
Matthew rolled his eyes. "Yes, Al, they're mine."
"You… actually have a military?"
"For the love of… yes, I have a military!"
Alfred only nodded and, with his hands shoved into his vest pockets, he walked by the stalls, trying his best to take it all in.
Even with all everyone else in the crowd was talking loudly and with such enthusiasm, all Alfred could do was sit there, his mind reeling. It was all just so very, well, just like home.
All sorts of things he had thought were unique to him and his people weren't. He hated to admit it, but as he watched the rodeo get underway, with all the chuck wagons racing and mud flying and hearts racing, he knew that these Canadians had the Cowboy spirit he had thought was all his. Maybe he wasn't as, well, awesome in a way that no one else was as he had thought.
And yet, at the same time, everything was so… Canadian. All these years he had considered his brother an extension of himself, but here, he found that it was truly a different country. They all stood and sang their song. They had their own celebrities. They had their own air force talking about their own foreign affairs with other countries. They had their own city rivalries over their own sports. Canada was, really, his own nation, separate from his own.
This was all he could think about, even during the big show. It was a pretty awesome show though, he had to admit. But even all the dancers and acrobats and motorcycle tricks couldn't get his mind off the odd thoughts bouncing around his mind.
To be honest, the only time he could get his mind off of it was when the comedian made jokes about America. They were fine, if unfounded as far as Alfred was concerned, but it was when a joke was made about the Twin Towers that he felt the knife dig into his heart.
The scar started to sting, but Alfred did his best to ignore the pain.
And finally the show came to the big ending, with fireworks and flags and everything in red or white and a big overture of Oh, Canada. It was patriotic in ways that made Alfred feel vaguely uncomfortable where he sat. With every utterance of how Canada was the best country in the world, Alfred felt his gut twist into a tighter knot.
Was this how he had made other nations feel?
As everyone got up to leave, laughing and talking and heading for home or wherever they were headed, the solemn nation sat in his seat, unsure of how to feel. Matthew had quickly excused himself to go and talk to the people who put on the show, and wasn't back for another twenty minutes or so. When he did return he called out to Alfred, causing him to glance up.
Matthew was glowing. His smile was wide and pure, his eyes were twinkling, and his whole body seemed to be unable to hold still.
Alfred really wanted to be happy for him. He really did.
"Al, you're still here, eh? Come on, it's getting dark. Have to rest up for tomorrow. They're having bull-riding!"
"Yeah, right," Alfred replied softly, glancing at his hands, unable to look at his brother for a moment. He didn't look up when Matthew sat down in the chair next to him.
"Al?" he whispered softly, and in an instant Alfred felt desperately guilty. Here he was ruining his brother's big fair just because he was… well, he wasn't sure what he was, but it was causing him to ruin everything. He forced out a casual laugh and pulled his lips up into what was supposed to be a smile.
"Come on Mattie, don't get like that! I'm fine!"
"Don't lie to me," Matthew pressed, turning in the chair so that he was facing toward his brother. When Alfred didn't respond the Canadian sighed and looked at him apologetically. "Was it the joke about, well, you know? I know it still hurts you…"
"No, it has nothing to do with that," Alfred lied, shaking his head. "Really, it's fine."
"But Al--!" Matthew started, but found himself silenced with soft lips pressed to his own. When he pulled away, Alfred still hadn't been able to rid himself of the sad smile.
"Mattie, for today, stop worrying about me, ok? No, for the whole week. This is all about you, remember? I don't…" He paused, taking a deep breath. "I don't want to ruin this for you."
The Canadian sighed. "You really aren't going to tell me, are you?"
"Not unless you want me to kiss you again." Matthew laughed a bit, sighed, and leaned forward to pull the other nation into a tight embrace.
"Thanks, Al. But I'm going to make you tell me after the Stampede, alright?"
"You and what army?" Alfred laughed, before grinning and punching his brother in the shoulder. "Oh, right. Yours."
"Took you long enough to catch on."
"Yeah," Alfred replied, feeling his spirits drop again. "Yeah, I guess I really didn't understand anything."
Before Matthew could inquire though someone walked by and pulled him away, talking to him about the fair. By the time he had managed to politely end the conversation Alfred was already on his way out the doors. He knew that his brother would come racing after him, worrying endlessly about him, so he had to get away soon so that he could bottle this all up.
Someday he would have to yet again think about everything that had come up that day. For now though he would smile and pretend nothing was wrong.
With that in mind, when Matthew caught up he announced they were going to go to the saloon and get some whiskey, like a couple of cowboys should, and dragged his brother off to have a good time.
-The Calgary Stampede is the largest rodeo in the world. It is held in Calgary, in the province of Alberta in Canada. In fact, as it turns out the province of Alberta is (I hear) like the equivalent of the South (Re: Texas) to the US. There's a lot of cattle and such, thus cowboys.
-...which brings me to the next point, no, cowboys aren't just an American thing. We just took it the furthest so far as media goes. xD
-Almost all things mentioned of the fair are things I personally experienced when my family and I went this last year. So the fried food, pickle stand, big show, so on and so forth, did happen at least that day.