A/N: So this is the CanNeth one-shot that I wrote for Zaura Fay, the winner of the 100 review contest for my other story, Invincible. All inspiration credit goes straight to her; she provided me with lots of much-needed guidance.
Please Enjoy! (I do not own Hetalia!) :D
"Ugghh, do we really have to go?" America huffed as he lumbered around his bedroom, tossing clothes and toiletries into the suitcase that sat on the foot of the bed in much the manner of a belligerent five-year-old.
Canada, who had been watching the display from his slouched position against the headboard, rolled his eyes and heaved a jaded sigh:
"Well, I think it might be kind of impolite to call the trip off now, Al, seeing as it's the day of and all…" he responded with practiced patience. "Besides, you like Lars and Margaret. They're two of your closest allies, aren't they?"
"Yeah, but this whole flower festival thing sounds like a total snore-fest," the American complained, grating considerably on the Canadian's ever-tolerant nerves. "Never mind the fact that I'm gonna miss the entire Ghost Hunters marathon…"
"Oh, right, like you can even get though five minutes of that show without screaming like a little girl" Canada replied coolly, paying no mind at all to his brother's subsequent glower. He, for one, had been secretly looking forward to this Amsterdam trip for weeks, if only for one particular reason. After what felt like ages, he was finally going to get to hang out with the Netherlands.
Canada's friendship with the Dutchman was one which he valued immensely. The two Nations had bonded during WWII after Canada helped liberate the people of Holland from the clutches of a ruthless Germany, and had throughout the years maintained a close, casual camaraderie with one another. Lately however, Canada had been sensing a strange sort of disconnect, most probably due to their increasingly hectic schedules of late. It was going to be so nice to reconnect with his old friend and get their friendship back to normal…
"…not like I drag you around on random-ass trips during your precious hockey playoffs…"
Canada was forced to push away his internal musings as his brother's babbling infiltrated his mind once more. "Plus-" the American added, pointing at the Canadian with a hairdryer of all things. "…you freakin' know that pointy-haired pothead is gonna try n' get me to smoke with him again. Let it go on the record, Matt, I do not appreciate the peer-pressure." Canada snorted, raising a taunting eyebrow in response:
"Well, that's what you get for being hilarious while stoned, mister 'I-can-totally-feel-my-feelings-right-now'." He let out a surprised yelp when a rolled-up pair of socks suddenly smashed into the headboard, mere centimeters away from his face.
"Put a sock in it, Mattie" America supplied with a triumphant smirk, and the packing was delayed for another twenty minutes, as a not-so-friendly wrestling match between the brothers promptly ensued.
"Quit dragging your feet you hoser! We're late enough all ready!"
"Oh yeah like it's my fault the flight was delayed due to "technical difficulties". You know I bet that's just the excuse they use when the pilots feel like sexin' it up in the cockpit"
"Riiight. And you say I'm the perverted one"
"Well you were pretty much raised by France. Really Matt, it's kind of a no-brainer…"
The brothers more or less amiably made their way through the Amsterdam airport lobby, their suitcases rolling faithfully along behind them. Canada looked around, keeping his eyes peeled for that eccentric, spiked hairdo he knew so well. He was so focused on his search that he almost didn't notice when an overly-excited, blond-haired girl came bounding over to them from the other side of the lobby.
"Alfred! Matthew! It's so good to see you!" Belgium exclaimed brightly, looking quite pretty in a floral patterned summer dress and green hair bow. She wasted no time in pulling them each into ruthless, bone-crunching hugs.
"Heh, it's, um, nice to see you too Maggie…" Canada mumbled over Belgium's shoulder, feeling thoroughly awkward in face of the girl's unabashed enthusiasm. His discomfort was replaced with a surge of nostalgic warmth though when, still trapped in the girl's bordering-on-painful embrace, he spotted a certain tall, brown-haired man trailing lazily behind.
"Hey Lars," Canada greeted when the girl had finally released him, unable to keep the smile from his face as he took in the meticulously demure outfit and casual haughtiness that was so typically Netherlands. His smile fell, though, as the Dutchman matched his greeting with a decidedly atypical (at least in Canada's case) smirk of indifference.
"Hello Matthew," the taller man returned, not quite coldly, but with none of the warm familiarity Canada had been expecting. Frowning, Canada decided to try again:
"Um… how have you been? I feel like it's been so long-"
"-Yes, well, you know how it is," the Netherlands cut in, and Canada blinked at the startlingly standoffish quality of his friend's tone. He bit his lip, struggling to come up with some kind of response as he tried to figure out what was going on with the other nation. Was he tired perhaps, or ticked off at Spain again? It was hard to tell; the Dutchman was avoiding the Canadian's questioning gaze in favor of staring vaguely out at bustling crowd around them. Just as Canada was preparing himself to say something, anything in order to break the uncomfortable silence that was beginning to swell around them, Belgium came to the rescue:
"Well alright then! Let's get this show on the road, shall we? Those tulips aren't going to stay in bloom forever!" the girl exclaimed, shooting a glare toward her disinterested brother. She grabbed a very confused-looking America by the arm and pulled him out into the parking lot with all the fierce determination of an army general leading his men into battle, leaving Canada and the Netherlands to follow, just enough out-of-step to keep Canada aware that yes, something was definitely off with his old friend.
If Canada thought the moment in the lobby had been weird, the car ride to the festival was even worse. Since Belgium was driving and his brother had so predictably called "shotgun", he and the Netherlands were relegated to the backseat for the twenty-minute drive over to the Keukenhof gardens. Canada wouldn't have minded of course, except for the fact that the Dutchman appeared to mind a great deal. The European nation seemed fully intent on interacting with the Canadian as little as possible, keeping his eyes trained firmly out the window as he fielded Canada's tentative attempts at chitchat with a cold crispness that would have seemed normal to almost anyone else, but to the North American was downright bizarre. If the Canadian had been any less, well, Canadian he might have taken offense, but as it was, he merely felt confused and, above all, concerned for his friend's well-being. He maintained the hope that the Dutchman would snap out of his funk once they settled back into one another's company, but as his polite promptings were continuously rebuffed, Canada felt his optimism begin to wear thin.
Eventually the Canadian gave up his efforts all together, resigning himself instead to listening to his brother argue with Belgium about the appropriate condiment for dipping French fries into: ("seriously Mags, mayonnaise is just wrong on so many freaking levels..."). He comforted himself with the idea that if whatever this was was anything more than a mood swing, his friend would surely open up about it eventually – that was just how the Netherlands worked. Even so, this realization wasn't doing much to relieve the silence that was still sitting heavily between them…
When they finally arrived at the gardens, (Belgium cutting America off mid-sentence with a peppy "We're here!" as he vehemently attempted to defend the merits of ketchup), Canada couldn't help but breathe a sigh of relief. As they joined the crowd of people making their way toward the gardens, the North American began to contemplate various ways of getting the Dutchman alone so they could talk without inhibitions. However, it was awfully hard to concentrate when a certain obnoxious sibling refused to shut up for even one gosh-darned minute:
"Man, I am freakin' starving!" the American whined as the group reached the festival grounds. "Hey, there's gonna be food at this thing, right? Preferably of the burger variety?" Canada was more than bit stunned when Belgium, rather than ignoring the American as was generally customary, turned to acknowledge him with a curiously devious grin.
"You know, that is a wonderful question, Alfred!" the girl replied with a rather unwarranted amount of enthusiasm. "Why don't you and I go look for some? I'm sure these two won't mind if we leave them alone for a bit." The Netherlands, who had thus far maintained an unwavering look of apathy, now jerked his head sharply to look at his sister, his sage-green eyes narrowing with distrust:
"Don't you think we really ought to stay together as a group, sis?" he questioned, frowning dangerously.
"Oh, Lars, don't be silly!" Belgium scoffed, combating her brother's glower with a candy-coated smile. "I'm sure Mattie here's just dying to get a tour of the tulips from you, since you're both so partial to them and all…" She threw a pointed glance in Canada's direction, and Canada, knowing a hand-out when he heard one, immediately jumped on board:
"Yeah, that'd actually be really great, Lars" he hastily chimed in. For a split second, the Dutchman's stare shifted from Belgium to him, and Canada couldn't help feeling a twinge of hurt as he registered the guarded reluctance in the other man's eyes.
"See?" the girl chirped victoriously, (to the further dissatisfaction of her brother). "Well, don't let us keep you then! You two go on ahead, we'll catch up later!" she continued, latching once more onto America's arm. The Netherlands responded with a disdainful smirk.
"How very charitable of you," he muttered, as clipped and icy as ever.
"Naturally, brother dear" Belgium replied, and promptly proceeded to usher America away in pursuit of the food stands along the perimeter. Canada waited ruefully as the Netherlands continued to glare after her, his jaw clenched viciously. Finally, the Dutchman turned to face the Canadian, and the North American's heart sank to see that unbearable look of aloofness back on his face with full force.
"I suppose we'd better get started then" was apparently all the Dutchman to say before heading briskly along down the path, not bothering to check if the Canadian was keeping up with him. Canada hurried silently to catch up, trying his best to ignore the sick feeling welling up in his stomach at the thought that perhaps he was reason behind the Dutchman's ill temper after all…
As truly dazzling as the Keukenhof was, Canada found he couldn't quite muster up the spirit to enjoy them. His resolve to not take his companion's frosty demeanor personally was slowly beginning to crumble after witnessing the Dutchman's intense aversion toward the idea of being alone with him. He wracked his brain for any possible explanation as to how their friendship's equilibrium could have been set so badly off-kilter. Had he done something to upset the other man? The nerve he had been building to question the Netherlands outright had now all but evaporated, and Canada found himself reverting back to his feeble stabs at pleasantries in a desperate effort to remind his friend that he still enjoyed the Dutchman's company, even if the feeling was no longer reciprocated.
"The gardens are really amazing this year, Lars..." Canada remarked carefully as they walked past rows and rows of the most vibrantly red tulips he'd ever seen. Any other day such a remark would've earned Canada an appreciative, if not slightly-arrogant grin from the Dutchman, but today the brunette only sniffed, offering the blossoms no more than a passing glance. The Canadian's stomach twisted painfully, but he sucked the queasy feeling up and tried again.
"…The bulbs you sent me bloomed beautifully, by the way. It, um… it was a shame you couldn't make it over to see them…"
The Dutchman paused in his stride, throwing a quick side-glance Canada's way: "Yes, well… Business first, right?" he drawled with a piercingly noncommittal shrug.
"Yeah…" Canada mumbled, feeling the impact of the Dutchman's blatant disregard for his feelings hit home at last. He came to a slow stop and looked listlessly out at the colorful expanses of the garden, no longer able to hide how utterly dejected he was feeling. In his defense, the Dutchman at least had enough tact left in him to look slightly abashed. The taller man stopped as well, looking hard at the now-sullen Canadian, then, sighing deeply, he glanced down at his watch.
"You know, it is almost 4:20," the brunette began with a smirk that was both wry and apologetic. "…I don't suppose you'd care to celebrate the occasion?"
Canada looked up warily, not quite trusting his ears. But when the Canadian saw that familiar spark of warmth finally surfacing in the Dutchman's gaze, a thankful smile broke across his face:
"I thought you'd never ask," he replied, breathing an enormous sigh of relief. The Netherlands offered up a humbled grin in return, and waved for the Canadian to follow him.
They made their way to an impressive beech tree near the edge of the grounds, and Canada noted that the Netherlands seemed to be holding his presence in better esteem, even if he was still quieter than usual. They sat down on the cool, shaded grass, reclining casually against the trunk of the tree. Canada grinned appreciatively as the other man pulled from his jacket pocket the tools of his trade. He watched the Dutchman's deft hands go about their business, measuring out the green leaves and working the rolling paper with practiced ease, twisting up the ends to create a perfect joint.
He passed the final product to the Canadian along with a lighter, who accepted both with a smile, lit up and took a deep drag, letting the smoke sit in his mouth and sinuses before exhaling, relishing the heady vertigo it brought forth. He attempted to pass the joint back to Lars, but the Dutchman made no move to accept, subjecting Canada to another one of those hard, contemplative looks before finally shaking his head:
"I'm… getting over a cold," The Netherlands explained shiftily, once more averting his gaze from the Canadian. Canada in turn raised an incredulous eyebrow.
"Pssh. Like that's ever stopped you before," he scoffed, holding the blunt out stubbornly. The Dutchman turned back to the Canadian, frowning, the warmth extinguished once more from his eyes.
"Well, then I guess I'm not much in the mood," he replied with a frigid half-grin, and Canada knew that was a lie because if there was one thing in this world the Dutchman was never not in the mood for, this was it.
Just like that, the Canadian felt his reserve suddenly snap. He didn't know if it was the THC getting to him or what, but he was not going to put up with this ridiculousness any longer:
"Okay Lars, what the hell is going on here, eh?" he shouted, standing up in anger. "This whole time you've been treating me like I'm just some random stranger off the street! I mean- d-did I do something to you or what?" He rubbed frustrated tears away from his eyes as he let the stress and anxiety that had been building up pour out of him at last. Finally, he turned to face the other man, who was watching him with a strange mix of surprised concern and somber resignation. The Dutchman was silent for a beat, then let out a harsh chuckle:
"No, Matt. You didn't do anything," the brunette sighed, staring out at festival grounds. He tipped his head back against the tree and added quietly, almost to himself: "…that's the whole problem."
Canada blinked, feeling suddenly lost. "Um… run that by me again?" he asked ruefully, lowering himself back down onto the grass.
The European nation lowered his head and offered the Canadian a small, grim smirk, which ended up coming off more like a grimace. He sucked in a deep breath, then looked once more out toward the gardens.
"Tell me something, Matthew…" he began in a soft monotone, staring hard at the dead space in front of him as if in attempts to pick out the individual molecules that composed it. "…Why exactly do you think it is that I've been sending you flowers every single May for the past sixty-and-change years?" He cocked his head, his expression carefully arranged to exude the familiar arrogant nonchalance that so often defined him, but there was a certain desperate quality in the calculatedness of it that made Canada falter in his answer:
"Um… because we're really good friends?" the Canadian guessed. All it took was one look into those sage eyes for Canada to realize just how very wrong he was.
The word slid heavily out of his mouth, saying much more than the Canadian ever meant to. The Dutchman pulled his gaze away, but not before the Canadian registered the burning anguish in his normally tepid stare.
"Exactly" he replied, wrenching his hands into the gelled immaculateness of his hair – the artificial airiness in his tone betrayed by the soft, shuddering breath that preceded it.
"Ohhh… maple…" Canada breathed as the weight of the matter began to take hold. "Lars I- …I'm so sorry, I just never even- …I mean, it never occurred to me…" he struggled to come up with an explanation but it was like drowning in quicksand, or rather his own guilty self-hatred. "…Goddamn it, I'm just as bad as my stupid brother, aren't I?" he finally joked weakly, cheeks burning with shame at his own stupidity.
"Forget about it, Mattie. It doesn't matter…" the Netherlands responded hoarsely, bracing his elbows against his knees as he laid his head against his crossed forearms. Canada's heart ached to see his friend who he cared the world for looking so miserable, so broken. And the worst part was he could see it now, what things might have been like if he'd only realized a bit sooner…
"It does matter though," Canada replied at last, edging closer to the Dutchman, "Listen, Lars… I know I've been an oblivious jerk all these years, b-but that doesn't mean I'm not, you know… interested." the words tumbled from his mouth before he even knew what he was saying, and yet somehow, they felt right.
The Dutchman responded with a cynical snort: "I think that's exactly what it means, Matt," he muttered from between his knees, his voice coming back muffled and choked.
"N-no," Canada amended, finding courage in the rush of affection that suddenly coursed through him for the other man. "What I mean to say is… well, I don't think I'm quite where you're at yet, but if you gave me another chance, I… I think I could be..." The small eruption of butterflies that fluttered around in his stomach was all Canada needed to reassure himself that the words he was speaking were true. The Dutchman, however, was not quite convinced.
"Oh?" he countered bitterly, lifting his head up to appraise Canada from the window made by his bent arms. "And just how do expect to get to "where I'm at" if you haven't gotten there already after all these years?"
Canada replied with a shy smile: "Well, I could start by doing this…"
He reached out and gently pulled the Netherlands' hands away from his face, replacing them with one of his own. Cupping the edge of the Dutchman's jaw, Canada delicately guided the other man's lips to his own, pressing them together in a pillow-soft kiss. A small, strangled moan escaped from the brunette as he yielded to the touch; kissing back with an almost reverent tenderness, before pulling abruptly away, eyes glistening.
"Matt, I don't think you get it," The Dutchman began shakily, turning away as he struggled to regain his composure. "This is… a very big thing for me. It can't just be a fling or something. I just- …I can't-" he pressed a hand to his eyes as the threatening tears finally spilled down his cheeks. Canada hesitated, having never seen the Netherlands cry before, then reached out and took the Dutchman's other hand, stroking the top of it with his thumb soothingly.
"Hey… remember WWII? You trusted me then, didn't you?"
The Dutchman stared at the Candian's hand resting on top of his own through fallen strands of hair, a world of emotions crashing and colliding behind his wet eyes. "Of course I did," he whispered at last, his voice husky with the force of restraint.
"Well…" Canada murmured, reaching out with his other hand to brush the hair out of the Netherlands' eyes. "Trust me now, all right? It's going to be okay…" He leaned forward, replacing his fingers with a delicate kiss right on the Dutchman's scar, and found he couldn't stop there. Slowly, lovingly, he moved his way across the other man's face, savoring the smooth, cool skin beneath his lips as he kissed the edge of eyebrow, the corner of an eye, a temple, a cheekbone, the patch of skin just beneath an earlobe, down the jaw line and back to the lips until at last the Dutchman gave in and sank trembling into the Canadian's arms.
Canada watched the sun set from the backseat window of the car, breathing out a quiet sigh of contentment as he felt the steady rise and fall of the Netherlands' chest warm against his cheek. He nuzzled his head deeper into the Dutchman's shoulder, shivering with tingles as the arm he was leaning against wrapped around him a bit tighter. He looked up into the sleeping face of his friend, and was overcome with the conviction that yes, he could most definitely fall in love with this man. He was well on his way already.
Just as the Canadian was beginning to feel the heaviness of sleep take hold of him, a sharp rapping sounded on the window, and Canada opened his eyes to find who other but his insufferable American brother grinning back at him through the glass.
"There you are!" America exclaimed as he whipped open the car door. Canada threw him an annoyed glare, as he felt the European nation startle awake beside him.
"...Jeez, we've been looking all over for you guys! Guess what! We ran into Greece and he had this adorable little kitty and I got to pet him and… hold up a sec-" he cut himself off, eyebrows furrowing suspiciously as he took in the scene before him. "What the hell, dude? What, did you guys clambake so hard you started cuddling? I freaking told you, weed is waAHH!-" He was pushed out of the way as Belgium popped her head in to investigate:
"Oh, thank God!" the girl exclaimed, a self-satisfied grin curling around her lips. "Honestly, Lars, the fits of emo were getting a bit out of hand-" she was rudely interrupted as things finally seemed to click in the American's head.
"Awww, Mattie! For real? Pointy hair?" he whined before rounding in on Belgium. "And you knew about this? Jesus woman, you coulda warned me if this whole thing was just a goddanged love-brigade!"
Belgium replied with a smirk dry enough to revel her brother's: "Alfred dear, you're a peach, but there was no way in hell…" She paused as a thought struck her, then turned sharply back to the pair in the car, meticulously examining their expressions:
"…Wait, you two didn't do anything in here, did you? You know Lars, this car does happen to be a rental…"
"Relax, darling sister" The Netherlands replied, cocking his head mischievously toward his sister: "Matthew's still got some Netherlands left to explore" And sweet loving maple, how had Canada never realized how freaking hot that Dutch accent actually was?
"Not for long though," he couldn't help but add with flirtatious lip-bite, reveling in the delighted smile it enticed from the Dutchman, (as well as the exaggerated squirm from his brother):
"Euugghhuaagh! Seriously Matt, Do. Not. Want…"
Canada and the Netherlands shared a laugh as the two leftover siblings hastily agreed to share a cab ride back and, left alone once more, proceeded to settle comfortably back into one another. Canada smiled at the cheesy thought that entered his head:
Maybe, just maybe, going Dutch wasn't so bad after all.
A/N: If you don't know already, the history behind the CanadaXNetherlands relationship is really too cute for words. The Netherlands really does send Canada tulip bulbs every year as a thank-you to the country for harboring the Dutch Royal Family during WWII. Look up Canada-Netherlands relations on wikipedia for the full story ;)
Also, the Keukenhof gardens are widely considered to be the most beautiful in the world. Apparently you're not supposed to sit on the grass, but I figured Lars would make an exception :D
Thank you so much for reading! (Also, for the record, I am completely in love with the Netherlands now.)