The national beach picnic was a fairly new tradition. Because relationships between nations had improved (and even become romantic, in many cases), Northern Italy had suggested an annual beach picnic to celebrate the relative lack of tension.
Germany, who might have been opposed to the idea on principle, was forced to be supportive since it was Italy's idea. He selected a fairly isolated Italian beach as the location and made sure the date and time didn't conflict with anything important. America was delighted for any excuse to grill up hamburgers and promptly commandeered the food preparations. After fighting (unsuccessfully) for a nude beach, France resigned himself to merely being the best looking in his tiny Speedo, and England pretended to dread the whole affair while secretly enjoying the escape to such a sunny, fair-weather locale.
That didn't prevent him and America from bickering with each other for the entire morning, however.
"Good God, America, what the bloody hell did you pack in this thing? We're only at the beach for a few hours! Judging by all this junk, I'd think you were planning an invasion," Arthur grumbled, as he half-dragged, half-carried a massive cooler out of the back of America's truck.
"I know my beach is very beautiful, but please do not invade! I do not have a flag, so I would have to use my swim trunks," Feliciano fretted worriedly. His tan hands tugged at his rather form-fitting, white swim trunks. Germany appeared seemingly out of nowhere, hastily securing Italy's swim shorts back to his hips.
"No one is invading! Keep your clothing on."
"Ha ha! No worries, little dude! I've got the best beaches back home!" Alfred reassured. As he spoke, he annoyed his boyfriend by casually scooping up the cooler and tossing it onto his already impressive armful of grilling equipment, groceries, lawn chairs, beach towels, music equipment, a small tent, and a volleyball net.
Long past the point of being impressed by Alfred's ridiculous shows of strength, England just grumbled sarcastically, "You forgot the kitchen sink, poppet." Not oblivious at all to the tone and the mocking term of endearment, Alfred just smiled dismissively at his boyfriend over his shoulder.
"No I didn't, pumpkin. It's just unnecessary. I've brought my new water purifier that uses ultra-violet light."
"Alfred, you bought bottled water at the petrol station." To reply, America lowered his voice, but not so much that a few other nations milling about didn't hear him and cringe at his answer.
"If I'm somewhere that doesn't speak English, I'm purifying my damn water."
"You got sick one time in Mexico, and now you've spent god-only-knows how much on yet another useless gadget to purify already purified water…and most everyone in Europe speaks better English than you do."
"Do you two ever stop bickering? You are ruining the atmosphere," Francis interrupted.
"Shut up, frog!" England spat aggressively. Trailing after his scantily clad lover, Canada just shook his head.
"When will the food be ready, America?" Germany asked, as America dumped the massive load of stuff onto the sand. Nearby, other nations were already sunbathing or splashing in the warm, shallow waves. Italy had somehow convinced Japan to begin building a sandcastle with him.
"You can't rush me, man. Crack open a beer and chillax. I've got this. I must first become one with the grill."
"America, are you really going to take all day? I wanted to go for a stroll," England huffed, still glaring at Francis, who was smothering Matthew in playful kisses and caresses.
"So go for a walk. I didn't say you had to help me grill. No offense, but I broughtLola, and she's really only for professionals. Your reputation with food makes her skittish."
"Who is Lola? Is she attractive?" Francis asked, perking up at the mention of a sultry, feminine name (much to Matthew's annoyance).
"Lola is one of his bloody grills. He names them. And fine, I'll go for a walk by myself. After all, I'd hate to interrupt your special bonding time with Lola," Arthur retorted. Alfred ignored his boyfriend's resentment in order to start assembling his outdoor kitchen, which consisted of a huge grill, three coolers, the tent, and the sound system. In the midst of all of this activity, Arthur stormed off in an annoyed pout.
"Alfred, maybe you should go after him. The food can wait…" Matthew suggested quietly. Over the booming of American pop music, Alfred just pretended he couldn't hear him.
"Sorry, Mattie! Can't hear you! Mind getting out of my grill space?"
"Come on, Matthew. Leave your moronic brother to his precious burgers. Let me put some tanning lotion on you, mon cher," Francis persuaded.
In all his energetic activity, America managed to transform the picturesque beach into a miniature amusement park. The volleyball net became an instant smash, and the big coolers full of alcohol got the beach party started. From the back of his huge truck, America had also unloaded a sea kayak, surfboards, an arsenal of kites, and even metal detectors for treasure hunting. Soon everyone was busy playing or surfing, and despite teasing Alfred for over-packing, everyone seemed to enjoy his beach toy collection…with the exception of Arthur, who had truly wandered off somewhere.
Two hours later, the burgers were done and even Francis couldn't find fault with them. Arthur, however, had yet to return.
"He's probably gotten lost and needs me to rescue him. I'll be back later, dudes." America snagged a Budweiser (there were plenty of these left, as Germany had also brought beer and it was by far the favorite) and took off in the direction Arthur had wandered.
The beach curved around, taking him out of the sight of the others fairly quickly. He had almost walked off the three burgers he'd inhaled before he finally found his boyfriend stretched out on the sand, napping in the sun with an arm slung over his eyes. Grinning mischievously, Alfred quietly began to push warm sand on top of his sleeping lover, until he was thoroughly buried. Then, positioning himself behind Arthur's golden hair, Alfred used a stray seagull feather to gently tickle Arthur's nose.
His lover awoke with a sneeze, made more violent by the fact he couldn't block it with his hands.
"Wha?" he asked confusedly, struggling to move his shoulders only to discover he was encased with sand.
"So tell me, Artie, what happens when you catch a pirate off-guard? Don't you get a pot of gold or something?"
"Figures you weren't content with ruining the morning—you'd have to ruin my nap as well."
"Aww, don't be like that, England. I just wanted everyone to have a fun time. Just swimming is boring! It's really a party now. Come back with me and enjoy it!"
"That sounds just grand. I'll just stand up, shall I? Oh wait, I can't. Someone has buried me in three feet of sand," Arthur craned his neck forward to glimpse his body, "…and sculpted my lower half into the body of a female mermaid. Now that's just brill, isn't it?"
"What's brill is that I can kiss you all I want and you can't run away now," America said as a warning. He leaned over, peppering England's sandy cheeks with playful kisses, a smile dancing in his blue eyes.
"Eugh! Get off me!" England grumbled, struggling mightily against his sand restraints.
"Tell me what I want to hear…" America prompted in a sing-song voice.
"Say it…you know resistance is futile!"
Arthur remained stubbornly silent, wiggled uselessly a bit more, and then sighed mightily.
"I need to be rescued," he mumbled, obviously annoyed. Alfred let out a whoop of triumph and hastily dug his boyfriend out.
"Now I'm covered in sand," Arthur complained. Laughing, Alfred scooped him up into his arms and raced into the water, waiting until he was waist deep to dunk his flailing and protesting boyfriend. Still, he gave him enough time to pinch his nose and catch a breath of air. Despite knowing it was coming, when Arthur resurfaced, he did not look amused.
"Now you're not sandy. You can thank me anytime."
Arthur retaliated by pointing dramatically towards deeper water.
"AHHH!" Alfred whipped around so fast after his girly scream that Arthur had no trouble knocking him off balance and dunking him. Alfred came up spitting saltwater and coughing, his eyes clenched painfully closed. Arthur was laughing, already running back to shore.
"Shark! Shark! Run!"
Panicking, the blinded American stumbled through the water, tripping over his own feet, still spitting up sea water as he crawled gasping onto the beach. He wiped ineffectually at his eyes and squinted blearily at the shore.
"Is there really a shark? Where are you, Arthur? Are you okay?" Alfred asked, painfully sincere and totally blinded. England realized what must have happened when he dunked Alfred, and instantly felt a little guilty. America had lost his glasses. He came to America's side, using the hem of his waterproof swim trunks to wipe at his boyfriend's eyes.
"I was just joking. I forgot about your glasses. You don't think if there was really a shark in the water I'd leave you to fend for yourself, do you?" Arthur chided. Now Alfred was the one in the foul temper, and he shoved at England moodily.
"That wasn't a very funny joke! Now I can't see. You made me lose Texas! I loved Texas! Now where am I gonna get barbecue and chili? It's gonna be pissed at me and secede again!"
"Quit being so dramatic. I've got my reading spectacles in the truck. You can muddle through with those until we can get you home and get a new pair."
"I'm not wearing your reading spectacles! First of all, you call them spectacles. My glasses had cowboys, and mission control, and pecan pie. I don't want your stupid spectacles! I'm gonna find Texas!"
"Oh for the love of…don't be ridiculous!" But Alfred had already gone wading back into the water, running his hands along the sand. Rolling his eyes, England re-entered the water and returned to where they had been standing, feeling around with his toes.
"I need goggles. I told you we forgot something!" Alfred complained childishly nearby.
"You packed the whole bloody garage. I'm sure someone has goggles, not that it'll do you any good…do you want me to go get some?"
"No. Just forget it. Texas is gone. I just wanna go back to the truck."
"After you spent so much time hauling everything here, you want to leave now?"
"Well, I can't see, Arthur. I really need Texas. They weren't on my face for decoration!"
Arthur's guilt was increasing by the second. He gently took Alfred's arm to guide him back towards the beach.
"Just how dependent were you on those glasses? You didn't always need them…"
"Yeah, as a kid, I didn't. I'm fairly useless without them now. I sure as hell won't be able to drive us home."
"You don't have a spare pair?" Arthur asked doubtfully.
"I have my old glasses in my luggage for emergencies, but they're at my house in Virginia."
"Alright, well I can drive the truck…I think. It's weird what with it being reversed and all, but…"
"Matthew can drive me." Alfred said this in a short, clipped tone. A little surprised by it, Arthur's grip on Alfred's arm slackened.
"Alfred…it was just a joke. You dunked me just seconds before I dunked you. You can't seriously be cross with me!"
"I wouldn't have lost Texas if you hadn't been out here pouting in the first place. Just get me back to the picnic."
"Fine," Arthur said quietly. He'd gotten what he wanted—walking down the beach with Alfred—but it was far from what he'd imagined. Alfred wouldn't even hold his hand. He kept his fists clenched at his side and remained stubbornly silent.
The relatively short walk back to the rest of the picnic was filled with frosty silence. Arthur was a little surprised to see the results of Alfred's work. Everyone was laughing and playing, eating burgers with gusto that usually only America displayed. It seemed a shame that Alfred had spent so much time packing, hauling, and assembling everything and now couldn't enjoy any of the beach activities he so enjoyed.
"Do you want to try my reading spectacles?" Arthur asked quietly. Alfred just tugged his arm away and carefully proceeded towards the parking lot, ignoring the nations that called out to him. Finally realizing something was wrong, Matthew untangled himself from Francis's side and shot a questioning look at Arthur before trailing after his brother.
Feeling out of place without Alfred by his side (Arthur wasn't exactly Mr. Popular), Arthur stood awkwardly for a few moments before deciding to get some food to occupy his hands, even though he wasn't really hungry.
Once under the tent, he watched Matthew gently guide Alfred towards the tailgate of the truck and sit beside him, listening sympathetically to whatever America was whining about. He was no doubt making him sound like a terrible person, for tricking him about the shark and dunking him in such a mean way.
Truth be told, Arthur felt pretty bad about it.
"Did you try apologizing?" Kiku asked quietly. A little startled, Arthur half-turned to see the soft-spoken nation standing nearby, sipping on a bottle of day-glow bright Japanese soda.
"I didn't do anything to him that he didn't do to me—he's just in a snit because I managed to scare him, and he lost his silly glasses in the water."
"Ah…Alfred does not handle vulnerability very well, when so many are looking to exploit his weaknesses. That would certainly explain his dark mood."
"The guilt trip is unnecessary," Arthur grumbled. Japan just smiled mysteriously and wandered off, suggesting with the simple gesture that he had seen something in the situation that Arthur refused to acknowledge.
Arthur ate half his burger and tossed the rest to some excited gulls before deciding Alfred could sulk with his brother all he wanted. After all, when Arthur had left that morning, Alfred hadn't come for him until several hours later.
Arthur grabbed his towel (adorned with the British flag) and decided to stretch out and watch the volleyball game. He wasn't very entertained by it, however, and noticed instantly when Matthew and Alfred rejoined the party. Alfred was wearing some slender sunglasses and seemed to be managing just fine. Arthur assumed Matthew had wrangled up a pair of prescription sunglasses and all of Alfred's pouting had been over nothing.
The pair of them drew near, Matthew holding their towels. The volleyball went sailing over Arthur's head and rolled into their path, stopping harmlessly a few feet in front of Alfred.
"Toss it back in!" Spain called. Alfred froze tellingly, his head barely moving as he so obviously scanned the ground in front of him. Hastily, Matthew dropped the towels and grabbed the ball, throwing it back into play. They were close enough now that Arthur could hear Alfred's words.
"I told you this was a bad idea! I can't see anything."
Arthur winced on the inside. It was true that Alfred didn't take off his glasses until he was in bed with his head on the pillow. Many nights, he fell asleep with them still on.
"Don't worry so much, Alfred. Once you're sitting on your towel, you won't need to see. You can just sunbathe for a bit. I just don't want to leave so very early—it might look a little rude. We'll go in a bit, though, I promise."
"Fine. Just put me somewhere and go cuddle Francis, or whatever it is you've gotta do."
Matthew did just that. He subtly helped America get seated in a good spot and then took his own towel over to where Francis was still lying out tanning further down the beach. Arthur watched Alfred like a hawk, while pretending he didn't care.
His boy looked miserable. It was nothing short of punishment to put Alfred in the middle of all the fun things he loved and leave him unable to do anything but sunbathe. Alfred and sitting still didn't go together (unless there was a video game or a movie involved). Arthur thought about Japan's suggestion to apologize, and held out for another half hour before he got up in a huff, shook his towel off, and marched over to America's side.
Alfred's frown thinned even further.
"You're being a baby," Arthur said, by way of greeting. He'd meant to say 'I'm sorry,' but the words somehow twisted in his throat.
"I was scared you were in trouble and I couldn't help you. It might have seemed like an obvious joke to you, but it wasn't so obvious to me. I thought you were panicking and knocked me over trying to move."
"Honestly! I wouldn't leave you for a bloody shark!"
"Okay, whatever. Just drop it."
"I meant to say…that is…I'm…sorry...that I frightened you."
Alfred turned his head, perhaps in surprise, but his gaze was about a foot off. Arthur gently touched his chin to guide him.
"I'm over here, love."
"I'm sorry I lost my temper."
"You needn't be. You were right—if I were less moody, the whole incident could have been avoided."
"No! You're cute when you're moody." Alfred said quickly. Arthur processed that statement for a moment and then settled on smiling. He kissed America's lips gently.
"Are you burning, or blushing?" Arthur asked.
"Burning. I forgot my sunscreen," America said sheepishly.
"Wait here. I'll go get some, shall I?"
Arthur returned with the soothing lotion and gently removed Alfred's sunglasses. It was very strange to see the taller nation without his slender glasses. He almost looked naked without them. Arthur squirted some of the white lotion into his palms and tenderly rubbed Alfred's pink cheeks and nose. Quite forgetting where they were, Arthur leaned forward and pressed a soft kiss to Alfred's chapped lips. Alfred smiled against him.
"I love you, England," his boy said sweetly. Arthur finished applying the last of the lotion to the tops of America's ears and returned Alfred's grin.
"I suppose I'm rather fond of you as well," Arthur said cheekily. As Arthur suspected he would, Alfred pounced on him playfully, all warm skin and the aroma of coconut sunblock.
"Not good enough," Alfred declared. Arthur tried to squirm free, but America's arms were solidly wrapped around him, and the weight of the heavy nation was pressing him against the sand.
"Fine! I love you, too…spoilt brat," Arthur replied. Alfred gave him a happy little kiss, and then shifted his weight to the side, curling up against Arthur's side.
"Feel like taking a kip?" Arthur asked, carding his fingers through Alfred's soft hair.
"Mmm, if by 'kip' you mean sleeping into a food coma, then yes."
As the sun set over the waves, England watched his lover doze off against his midsection and smiled serenely. Though it seemed impossible, every great once in awhile, Italy had some really fantastic ideas.
A/N: Because Alfred is cute with his outdoor kitchen and ultra-violet light water purifier, and because Arthur is just cute period. Fluffy love. ^.^