For as long as they have been neighbors, Germany has always found Denmark to be a little off.
Ever since they were children, meeting on beaches while Denmark roved the coasts with his brothers, there has always been that certain air of strangeness, often making its self known through brashness and unpredictable behavior. Denmark is loud, obnoxious, and cheerful. He always has been. He can be explosively angry, smothering in his over-protectiveness, and an absolute misery when he is upset or inebriated. (Not to mention clingy. Real clingy.) When sharing a border with someone, regardless of how contested it may be, one gets to know each other very well, and Germany is quite sure he has seen just about every side that there is to Denmark's character. He knows inane tidbits of information, like his favorite food (cabbage salad) and his favorite out-door activities (kite flying and sailing.) He knows that his special talent is folding the perfect paper airplane, streamlined just so that it aims perfectly for Sweden's hair during meetings. He knows that, even though the wars are over and he is a relaxed, peaceful person now, Denmark still beats himself up for things that happened hundreds of years ago. He knows that sometimes he is hilarious. Sometimes he is impulsive. Sometimes he is lonely.
But mostly, Denmark is just a little off.
Which is, of course, to say that he is prone to doing anything and everything that goes against any way that people may perceive him. For every red-faced fight with Sweden, there is an impromptu pillow fort with Sealand. For every complaint about the poor weather, there is a call at three in the morning in the middle of August to go for a drive and find the nearest thunderstorm to go play in. For every corny, dirty joke in the middle of a serious conversation, there is a locked bedroom door and a refusal to talk to anyone.
For every one side, there is an opposite.
Which is why it really, really doesn't surprise him when Denmark emails him with a request to come over and play house.
I feel like staying at home for a few days, he writes. Come over and hang out. I'll make it worth your while. ;)
Germany knows full well the implications of that smiley face, but still, he agrees to a visit on the condition that Denmark makes potato soup and keeps his hands where he can see them. It isn't the first time he's been extended an invitation like this- in fact, Denmark usually asks him over for these unique, one-on-one sleepovers at least a few times a year. He is beyond the point of finding anything Denmark does bizarre, but, inquisitive by nature, he has still asked why he does it.
"My house is too big," was his answer. "Gets boring by myself."
When asked about their particular scenario, he had only shrugged. "I miss having people around to take care of."
A bit off, but hardly unusual.
When Germany arrives in Copenhagen, Denmark isn't there to greet him at the ferry terminal. He never is in situations like these, preferring instead to wait at his house for the tell-tale crunch of gravel in his driveway as the taxi pulls in, something he failed to mention the first time they got together like this. Germany had waited for over an hour, fingers worrying over his overnight bag, half annoyed and half nervous that his friend (and ride) had gone careening off of the road or worse. By the time he finally remembered his cell phone, Denmark was already there, weaving through lamp posts on his bicycle, both hands thrown up above his handlebars by his shoulders in an obvious gesture of what the hell, man?
This time, however, Germany knows better and flags down a car as soon as his feet meet the parking lot.
Denmark's house, despite his claims otherwise, is no smaller or larger than any of the homes the rest of them live in. He is just outside of the city, away from the noise but close enough to be within riding distance of anything he might need, and the two-story structure is hardly an imposing one with it's uncovered carport and modest porch. When Germany finishes fumbling between Euros and Kroner to pay the driver, he steps out to be greeted by rows of trimmed flower boxes. The lawn is a little overgrown, as it always is, but the flowers are perfectly groomed, as they always are, and he takes a moment to admire them as he makes his way to the front door. There have been new additions since the last time he was here.
Denmark throws the door open half-way through the first knock, grinning cheerfully in an oversized sweater that makes Germany feel incredibly over dressed. "Hey, you made it!" He grabs Germany's bag without asking if he needs help or not and shoos him inside. "How was the ride in?"
"Pleasant." Germany shrugs out of his coat and hangs it on the hook by the door, watching Denmark breeze past him in the living room. "Did you know your socks don't match?"
Denmark shoots him a look like it's the most obvious thing in the world. "I was saving my laundry for today." He turns around and wiggles a foot. "And I think red stripes go just fine with rubber ducks." He turns to head for the staircase. "Besides, if you think mismatching socks are bad, you should see my underwear."
"Of course." He moves to follow him upstairs. "I can take my bag."
"Nah, I got it."
"Are you sure?"
"Positive." He smirks over his shoulder. "You always pack light." He opens the door to his bedroom, not the guest room, and lets Germany in first, following close behind him to set his bag at the foot of the bed. "You need a shower or anything?"
"Perhaps later. Do you have a plan for the evening?"
"Not really. Figured I'd get dinner going while I wait for my laundry to go in the drier. After dinner, we can watch a movie or whatever you wanna do."
"Would you like any help preparing dinner?"
"Nope, I've got it covered."
"Nope and nope."
Germany shifts awkwardly, slipping his hands into his pockets. "What would you like me to do, then?"
Denmark shrugs. "Same thing you do every time I twist your arm into coming over. Just keep me company and let me dote on you a little." He wrinkles his nose at Germany's embarrassed expression. "Oh, c'mon, indulge me. I never have anyone to cook for. " He claps him on the shoulder and disappears into the hall again. "Stop bein' so shy and come down to the kitchen with me." He pokes his head back into the room. "An' take your tie off. You're makin' me feel like a slob."
Germany listens to his quick steps retreat back to the first floor and sighs, hooking a finger into the perfect half-Windsor that he spent so much time straightening earlier in afternoon. As he places it in his bag, inside a sealed, plastic baggie, he decides not to mention that he brought three others.
By the time he picks out something less pressed and straight-legged to wear, Denmark is already puttering around the kitchen with his hair pulled back and an apron tied around his waist. Germany enters quietly, if not a bit cautiously, and seats himself on one of the barstools lined up at the granite island in the center of the room, doing his best to avoid the rows of wet vegetables that have been arranged on thin drying racks. Denmark turns away from the running faucet, a half-skinned potato in one hand and a peeler in the other.
"Potato soup," he says, tossing the potato up and catching it. "That's what you wanted, right?"
"Ah, yes, but anything is fine."
Denmark rolls his eyes and goes back to undressing the pile of vegetables in the bowl by the sink. "Don't be so noncommittal. The soup is the whole reason you came over, isn't it?" He turns and grins. "Other than my dazzling personality and charming wit, of course."
Germany allows himself a small smile and folds his arms on the countertop. "Your soup easily outdoes any outstanding character traits." He leans over to accept the glass of water that Denmark hands to him. "Not that they aren't any less impressive."
"You know, I once won a bet in a bar against your brother because of my awesome soup." He starts on a new potato. "He was going around telling everyone that he was the tuber king and when I contested that little title of his, he challenged me to a potato-off." He drops the last, peeled potato into a pot of cold water and hauls it out of the sink. "As I'm sure you can imagine, he was devastated when his waffle thing only got one vote." He turns around and smirks. "His own."
"That must have been the night he came home crying." He tilts his glass and inspects the round ice-cubes. "I believe he had your blood on his hands if I remember correctly."
"Hah! That's right." Denmark grabs a stool and sits down across from him, pulling the rack of vegetables next to a heavy, wooden cutting board. "He was so mad, he broke my nose."
"That was an overreaction. I apologize to your nose on his behalf."
He snorts. "Whatever. I still won, didn't I?" He shakes off his knife and sits up. "Hey, you want corn in this?"
For several minutes, the sound of vegetables being cut is the only noise in the kitchen, just audible over the hissing of boiling water. He watches Denmark's hands as he works, long fingers wrapped around the handle of a heavy knife, the blade popping up and down in quick little chops to dice onions and garlic. Germany is almost disappointed when he stops, spinning back to the counter behind him to retrieve the potatoes.
"Lotsa potatoes," he grins, carefully letting them tumble out of the pot onto the board.
Germany nods. "Some of them still have skins."
"Only the red ones," he picks up the knife again. "The skin on 'em taste better than the actual potato if y'ask me."
Again, he resumes his cutting. He cubes each of them, not really paying that close of attention, but still, somehow, managing to get each piece almost dead even.
"You're very good at this."
Denmark smiles. "I've been making this soup for a looong time. I used to make this for Norway and Sweden all the time." He lifts the cutting board above the pot and slides the back of his knife down it, scraping everything clean. "Back when they were kids."
Germany can't help but notice the way the corners of his mouth falter around his grin. "Not anymore?"
He shakes his head. "Nah. They get really defensive about stuff like that." He grabs the bowl of corn and empties it into the pot as well. "They aren't exactly nostalgic kind of people."
"No." He looks up and wiggles his eyebrows. "At least not when it comes to me."
"Is that why you invite me?"
He wants to kick himself in the face when he sees how fake Denmark's smile turns.
"My apologies. That was inappropriate."
Denmark shakes his head and laughs. "Oh, lighten up, will you? We're friends; you're allowed to ask stupid questions." He wipes his hands on his apron and goes to the fridge, bending down for a glass bottle of cream. "I used to make this with sheep's milk back in the day," he says when he straightens up, nudging the door closed with his hip. "It's way better with cream though. Norway and Sweden don't know what they're missing."
Germany nods lamely. He's never quite been one for making stimulating conversation and he is hardly graceful when it comes to repairing an embarrassingly awkward situation. He settles for watching Denmark measure out cream and water, both of them tight lipped and obviously uncomfortable.
"Just so you know," Denmark says finally. "The answer to your question is no."
He grabs the pot and lifts it to the stove, turning his back to Germany and stirring the soup with a long, wooden spoon. "I invite you over because I like you. Not because they don't like my melancholy soup." He glances over his shoulder. "And even if you didn't like it, I would still invite you over because I like your company."
Germany's stomach squirms uncomfortably. "Ah. Thank you. I enjoy yours as well."
Denmark grins and flicks a kernel of corn at him. "What did I tell you about lightening up? The happiest guy in the world is being all mushy for you. The least you could do is smile a little."
After another minute of convincing, he does.
While the soup boils and the meat cooks, they move to the living room to sit on the couch for Denmark to fold his laundry. Three basketfuls of brightly colored sweaters, t-shirts, pants, and unmentionables come out of the drier, still warm to the touch when he dumps the first load out onto the center cushion and begins folding.
"I like doing laundry," he muses, turning a sweater with a reindeer pattern right-side out. "It's kinda zen."
Germany absently fingers the edge of the page in a book he isn't really reading and watches him work. "Are you sure you don't want any help?"
Denmark shoots him a look. "I told you, man, I like doing these kinds of chores. If you really want something to do, I guess you could mow my lawn or something."
"I wouldn't mind." He sits up and sets his book down on the coffee table. "Where do you keep your lawn mower?"
Denmark gapes at him. "Are you serious?"
"I like being helpful."
He sets a stack of jeans back into the basket and laughs, shaking his head. "If you say so." He digs a hand into his pocket and tosses Germany a ring full of keys. "Mower's in the shed. The key with the blue head opens it up."
Germany nods and makes a beeline for the backdoor, glad to be up and moving again. Regardless if he is a guest or not, he doesn't like being stationary for too long, less still when someone else is working around him. Idle hands don't sit well with him. They make him uneasy.
The air outside is fresh when he steps onto the back porch and already, he can smell the phantom aroma of freshly cut grass. The lawn is tall, brushing up against his shins as he makes his way to the shed, but it's nothing a little elbow grease and a good mower won't take care of. He's certainly seen worse. (Poland's yard is a tale for the ages.) He makes a mental note of the patches that look to be in the least manageable shape and the spots where Denmark has obviously allowed wild flowers to make themselves at home, setting an invisible path to follow from the shed, which he finds at the corner of the yard. A heavy, rusted lock keeps the two doors together. He finds the appropriate key and, after a moment of wrestling, manages to wrench the ornery thing open.
And promptly leaps backwards when a cascade of yard equipment comes bursting out.
He stares into the shed, horrified. He's never seen a work area in such disarray before. The floor is completely buried in all manner of hoses, gardening shears, tools, bits of lumber, and soggy, cardboard boxes full of things so tangled together, he can't even begin to make heads or tails of them. He stares into the dirt encrusted abyss. Behind a work bench covered in an old, dusty sheet, he can just make out the dark outline of the lawn mower.
All the way in the very, very back.
He takes a step away to look around the mess, into to the window of the house where he can see Denmark through the curtains, still folding his clothes. He turns around and grins, giving Germany a little salute, and Germany begins to wonder if this was his plan all along. No matter. It's just a little clutter. He'll just need to clear the way. Rolling his sleeves up to his elbows, he takes the first step in, carefully avoiding the overturned rake and watering can, tentatively moving on. He wrinkles his nose. The whole structure smells like mildew. He ducks to avoid cobwebs and slowly, but surely, maneuvers his way through, hacking up dust by the time he finally is able to stand on a pile of boxes and grip the handle of the lawnmower. Wheeling it out isn't an option; he'll have to carry it. But to do that, he'll have to get it out of it's gross little corner first. Bracing himself, he hooks his arms around the long, metal rails, and heaves it backwards.
"You know, none of this would have happened if you woulda just kicked back like I said you should."
Germany grunts and doesn't look up from the basket of socks that he is working his way through. He's hunched over the laundry, face smeared with dirt, while Denmark rubs his now very, very bruised back.
Denmark sighs. "I even made sure that my best chair was all dusted and ready for you to sit in."
His face heats up and shoves two purple, checkered socks together.
"But noooo. Y'just had to mow my lawn." His hands slip down a little lower and he pushes his palms against Germany's spine. "Just had to go out and fall on a rake."
He's suddenly incredibly interested in the loose threads on a wooly, gray pair.
"I'm lucky I didn't throw out my back carrying you inside. You're a big guy, y'know. And a man my age can't be too careful."
He's pretty sure his ears are on fire. "Well, perhaps you should clean your shed out more often."
Denmark laughs and thumps his fist against Germany's shoulder, making him wince. "What for? I know where everything is already!"
"Except for your lawnmower, apparently," he grumbles.
Denmark laughs again and pats his arm, pushing up to get off of the couch. "Oh, cheer up. Dinner is about done." He stacks two of the laundry baskets on top of each other and hauls them up. "I'm gonna go put these away real quick. You wanna go ahead and sit down in the dining room while I get stuff out of the oven?"
Germany sits up. "I can set the tabl-"
"Hey, hey, no!" Denmark sticks a foot out to stop him. "I already accepted your help once today and you broke your ass doing it." He ignores Germany's indignant huff and transfers the baskets to rest against his hip. "Seriously, man, just relax." He grins and offers a hand to help him up. "I've got it covered."
Germany stares at him for a moment before he sighs and allows himself to be pulled to his feet.
While they eat dinner, Germany keeps an ice pack pressed to his shoulder with one hand and struggles to not spill his soup with the other. He declines every offer Denmark extends to spoon feed him, embarrassed enough as it, and they make conversational small talk over a well-seasoned roast and mixed greens picked from Denmark's garden.
"Gardening is pretty much the greatest ever," Denmark tells him through a mouthful of vegetables. "S'a great way to unwind, y'know?"
Germany doesn't really know, but he nods anyway. "I find it a bit curious that your flowers and vegetables are so well maintained, but your lawn is such a mess."
He shrugs. "Mowing the grass is different." He wipes his mouth with a cloth napkin. "It's boring. You just go back and forth over and over again."
"But that's not much different from, say, weeding a garden, is it?" He holds his glass out for Denmark to refill. "That's just pulling things out over and over again."
Denmark waves a dismissive hand. "No, no, see, that's different. I mean, yeah, okay, the weeding part is like that, but you aren't just pulling stuff out to make it look nice. Not that it doesn't look nice, but that's not why you really need to do it." He points to the open window; to the white, wooden boxes full of herbs hanging from the sill. "You gotta weed your gardens because if you don't, the plants'll die. Especially with flowers. Flowers are finicky bitches. I swear, it's like taking care of fussy kids." He leans back in his chair and smiles to himself. "Maybe that's why I like gardening. I dunno."
Germany studies him carefully as he chews his food. "Do you miss having children around to care for?"
"Definitely. I love kids." He exhales loudly and downs the last of his wine, grabbing the bottle and refilling his glass as soon as he's finished. "But, the past is in the past and Sweden would sooner shoot himself in the foot before he'd let me babysit Sealand, so flowers it is." He grins and winks at him. "And inviting over my favorite neighbor, of course."
"Should I be offended that you just compared my visits to babysitting?"
He laughs. "'Course not! Besides, kids are less than fun than you."
Germany stares at him. "You think I'm fun?"
"Really?" He blinks at him. "C'mon, just look at today. We've had mushy, heartfelt talks about how woefully lonely I am, laughed at your constantly failing brother, you showed off your flair for slapstick comedy, and I got all of my chores done." He nods his glass at Germany. "And it's hardly even dark out. Pretty good for a couple of old bags like us, if you ask me."
"Ah, well, thank you."
"I'm not generally considered fun by most people."
Denmark grins. "Well, I guess I'm not most people, am I?"
Germany sighs and shakes his head. "No, I suppose you aren't." He lifts his glass. "You're just a bit off."
Denmark leans over to offer his cup as well. "And so are you, my friend."
They toast to offbeat personalities and fall asleep on the couch before ten.