Title: Educating America
Characters/Pairings: America, Romano. Some background pairings in passing.
Ratings/Warnings: PG13 for language, I guess. Rapid tense change. Awkwardness!
Summary: America wants to get to know Romano better. Romano just wants to fix the idiot's tastebuds.
Notes: Again, I'm not sure how this works yet, so if I screw anything up, just let me know.
Chapter 1. It Starts.
It all started because that idiot Feliciano got himself sick. Not seriously or anything, it was just a stupid cold, but it was enough to keep him from going to the world meetings, which meant Romano had to go instead. He tended to skip them whenever he could. After all, Feliciano almost invariably attended, since wherever Germany went you could find North Italy, and the meetings didn't need two Italys. He hated feeling superfluous. Besides, on the rare occasion he did go stupid Spain and his bastard friends tended to be there, and when all three of them were together they spent so much time harassing him and anyone else within touching distance that he could never concentrate on getting any work done.
But here he was, sitting through a tedious (but thankfully Spain-free) meeting 'cause that idiot brother of his wasn't up to the task and someone had to represent their interests. Someone had to Get Shit Done.
Which, ok, he was not going to admit that he was doing a pretty crappy job of, actually. He'd fallen asleep after the first half hour of the meeting, which wasn't his fault, dammit. The meeting had started late, and he'd been up all night taking care of stupid Feliciano (not that he was worried about the moron, it's just that if Feliciano was sick then Romano would have to do all the work for the both of them, and all that coughing and sniffling would have kept him up all night anyway), and really half of the nations could go back and forth ad naseum about absolutely nothing. It was amazing more people didn't sleep through meetings.
He hadn't even woken when America'd slammed his hand on the table and declared the meeting adjourned. Finally blinking awake, groggy and slightly disoriented, he hoped he hadn't missed anything important. Highly unlikely, but he made a mental note to steal the potato-bastard's notes later to make sure. The room was nearly empty now, just a few stragglers here and there, chatting or wrapping up business. Oh well, it wasn't like he'd had any business to take care of during the meeting, himself. In fact, aside from showing up and representing his nation, the only real business he had this time 'round was with that idiot America.
Who was on his way out, Romano noticed, so he'd better get his butt in gear.
"Oi, you! America! Wait up, you stupid bastard!" He called out. The nation in question shot a curious glance over his shoulder in response, stopping obediently as he waited for Romano to catch up.
"Hey there!" he greeted Romano with a smile. "What's up?"
"You keep your 'hey there'," Romano grumbled, "I've got business with you."
"You do?" America's sunny smile didn't falter.
"You think I'd be wasting my time with you otherwise, bastard?" Romano huffed, irritated by the other's incessant good cheer.
"I don't know for sure," America admitted, "I don't know you well enough to guess your motivation. But hey," he continued, cutting across what would've been a scathing retort from Romano,"Can we discuss it over lunch? I sorta missed breakfast, and I'm starving."
"What? I'd rather not spend any more time with you than I-"
"Great!" America interrupted again, slinging an arm around the Italian's shoulders and ushering him out the door. "I know a little diner right down the street, it'll be great!"
Chapter 2. Truck Stop Coffee is Terrible.
It's really far too late for lunch, and the diner turns out to be more of a truck stop, which Romano wasn't too familiar with since they don't really do truck stops in Italy; at least, not to the degree America does (and even if they did, he wouldn't be caught dead in one). The air is greasy, smoky, the lighting is dim and harsh at the same time. It glares off the chrome and red vinyl furnishings, casting everything in a sort of grim relief. America, whose arm is still around his shoulders, drags him past the counter lined with burly, serious-looking men, hunched over plates and huge vats of coffee with the air of men to whom Time is Money and food is Serious Business. Some of them glance up in the midst of their frenzied shoveling to greet America as they pass, with a nod or a "Heya, Al." and he calls back a cheery "Heya fellas!" as he manhandles Romano into a booth. Plopping into the opposite seat and leaning his elbows on the table, he drops his chin into his palm and flashes a grin at Romano (who is is looking at him like he's crazy). America opens his mouth to say something, but is interrupted by the arrival of the biggest hamburger Romano has ever seen, along with a small mountain of fries.
"You're late today, Al." the waitress attending this abomination greets fondly, snapping her chewing gum with a grin."Everythin' ok?"
He beams up at her like a little boy as she sets the plate in front of him.
"Great, thanks! How's things?" he asks, mouth already full. 'Gladys' rolls her eyes, swatting his shoulder.
"Don't talk with your mouth full, kiddo. Who's your pal?" she asks, turning to Romano.
America swallows hastily, "This is my buddy Romano," he replies (they both ignore Romano's snarl of "I'm not your buddy, bastard!"), "We're sort of partners. We had some work to take care of but things ran late, so we're having a business lunch!"
"Only you would think of having a business lunch in this dive." she shakes her head, and smiles at Romano. "Can I get you anything, hon?"
Romano shakes his head. Watching that big blond idiot wolf his meat monstrosity was more than enough to kill what little appetite he might have had. "I'll just have some water, thanks."
"Bring him a chocolate malt, Gladys." America casually overrided once again, licking catsup from his fingers, "and a cherry soda for me, too."
"Alright sweetheart." she pockets her notepad and leaves.
"I don't need anything." Romano frowns, not really sure what a 'malt' is, here. The way things were going, he hopes it's alchoholic.
"If you don't like it, I'll drink it." America shrugs. "But you'll love it, they're awesome here. You sure you're not hungry? You can share my fries if you'd like." he offers. Romano's amazed to see that he's halfway done with his burger. He shakes his head again, both in disbelief and refusal.
"Watching you eat killed my appetite, jerk."
"Haha, alright!" America laughs, mouth full.
"And don't talk with your mouth full, idiot! Cheh!"
"You tell 'im, darlin'." Gladys' voice calls distantly from the kitchens.
While they're wait for their drinks to arrive, America's observing Romano over his burger and fries. He's pretty happy to have him here, 'cause, well...
He'd noticed South Italy fall asleep during the conference. He'd briefly considered waking him up, but Romano had looked so tired when he'd arrived for the meeting, and was resting so peacefully that America didn't have the heart to disturb him (it wasn't like there was anything important going on, anyway. Some of those nations could go on and on forever).
It'd occured to him that he'd never actually seen Romano so...relaxed. Not that he saw him very often, but when he did the other nation was always either yelling at North Italy, or yelling at Spain, or yelling at Germany, or trying to fend off France and Spain and Prussia and yelling at everybody. Now, though, with his head pillowed in his arms and sprawling slightly across both the table and his seat, without his perpetual scowl, he looked...different. Almost...sweet.
America tried to focus back on the meeting, but found himself increasingly drawn in by the novelty of the other's sleeping face. His gaze kept returning to the half-nation, noticing something new each time. The softness of the curve of his lips when not drawn tight into his usual frown, or the fineness of his nose and cheekbones, or the surprising strength and elegance in the arch of his neck. The way the sunlight falling through the conference room windows lit his dark hair and golden skin, lending him a fiery halo.
Then there'd been a loud noise from the other side of the room, someone dropping something. Romano's brows had drawn together in a small frown, and America's own lips turned down in an answering frown to see it. He'd been struck with the strangest urge to reach over and soothe it away, to smooth the furrow with his fingertips.
The strangeness of that thought shook him.
Suddenly realizing what he'd been doing, staring at an innocently sleeping nation for who-knows-how-long, he'd shifted in his seat to face away, hoping that would be enough to distract him from his worrying new fascination. His face burned in embarrassment. He felt like a stalker. Maybe he'd been spending too much time with Russia, lately? Or his creepy sister, whatsername, Bel-Air or whatever. They hadn't actually been spending any time together, per se, but their seats weren't far from his. Maybe the siblings' combined creepiness was so strong it could effect people from a distance. Airborne infection, or something.
Crap, what if he was catching communism? He wasn't sure how it worked. Was this how you became one with Russia? Maybe strange obsessions with other nations was the first sign...
Okay, now he was just being silly. America was way too awesome to be a communist.
Internal crisis resolved, he'd struggled to return his focus to the meeting, and succeeded for a while. But it was desperately boring, and his thoughts turned inexorably back to South Italy. Mentally replaying all of their (very few) past encounters, he realized he knew very little about him, actually.
He decided he'd like to get to know Romano better. But how?
Under normal circumstances, if he wanted to get to know someone, he'd just walk up and start a conversation. Everyone wants to be friends with America, right?Something told him that wasn't the best course of action here, though. First of all, he didn't want to wake the other up, and second, he was fairly sure from what little he knew of him that the high-strung nation would not respond well to that sort of approach.
He could ask around, he supposed, and check his information online, or keep watching him from a distance, but he was trying to be less creepy-stalkerish, not more. He needed to find a way to talk to Romano that wouldn't scare him off or involve stalking of any kind.
After the meeting he'd lingered, still trying to come up with a plan to get to know Romano properly (or possibly just waiting for Romano to wake up). He'd finally given up and decided to head out, realizing that his behaviour was bordering on pathetic, and was therefore pleasantly surprised when Romano'd approached him just as he was about to leave.
Being a country who knew how to take full advantage of good fortune when it presented itself, America had siezed the opportunity accordingly.
Which brought them here. Now, a truck stop is probably not the best place to get to know Romano, he knows, but he's winging it, and he hadn't been kidding about being hungry, and he's been eating here almost every day lately. It's familiar ground for him, and he's hoping that if he's relaxed and comfortable maybe he can find a way to get Romano to open up. So he's watching Romano, hoping for a clue on how to proceed.
The small Italian is shifting slightly in his seat, looking vaguely uncomfortable, like he feels out of place. He's alternately fiddling with his shirtcuff and toying awkwardly with his buttons. America's eyes are drawn to his fingers, slim and deft, as they pluck at cloth and mother-of-pearl. Hazel eyes glance uneasily around the diner from under lowered lashes, brows furrowed and lips curved into his habitual frown. Slender shoulders hunch slightly as he watches, drawing up protectively around his neck. America's own brows furrow in response, wondering what's causing his distress. He wonders if he should ask, or if drawing attention to it would just piss him off, when Romano finally notices him staring.
For his part, Romano's wondering why the hell he let this idiot drag him along. He's a little intimidated by all the huge, burly men in this place, and frustrated and angry with himself for being intimidated. Is everyone in America so huge? It's as bad as Germany. How the hell do these guys get so gigantic? They're more like bears than people. Steroids in the coffee, or something?
It's almost a relief to notice that America, that oblivious idiot, is watching him curiously.
"What are you staring at, bastard!" he snaps, glad to have something to snarl about.
"You." America answers honestly. Romano isn't sure how to respond to that, really.
"W-well stop it, it's creepy." he crosses his arms and stares at the salt and pepper shakers to hide his blush.
"Sorry." he says, insincerely, as he coats a fry in ketchup, "It's just, you're very interesting." (He almost adds 'I'd like to get to know you better." but thinks that might be taken the wrong way.)
"Chigi! B-bastard!" Romano sputters in incoherent embarassment for a moment, ears burning crimson. "You don't j-just... say stuff like that, moron! Didn't that jerk England teach you anything?"
A half-shrug. "Probably, but if I listened to half the stuff England told me I'd never get anything done."
Romano grudgingly concedes the point. England, already reserved by nature, had a tendency to become unbelievably uptight and irascible when it came to this particular former colony. "Whatever, idiot." he mutters, "Let's just get down to business."
Chapter 3. America is Surprisingly Competent.
The work portion goes fairly smoothly, to Romano's relief. It takes a little longer than he'd planned, though not for the reasons he'd have guessed. America takes business alot more seriously than he'd expected, not having worked one-on-one with him on business matters before. Feliciano'd always handled relations with America, since he didn't want the headache he'd assumed he'd have from dealing with another hyper airhead. But no, he actually had a good eye for detail. He's a bit more straightforward than Romano is used to, but asks pertinent questions and makes insightful observations; and listens carefully to Romano's input. Not only does he take work seriously, but to Romano's surprise, he's taking Romano seriously (this may or may not give Romano a warm, fuzzy feeling, which he ignores). His respect for the nation rises a notch. He'd always vaguely assumed America had gained his status out of some sort of combination of dumb luck and muscle, but if he always approached his work this way Romano could understand why he'd become such a power.
Also, no-one has said the word 'hero' in all this time.
He's almost in danger of enjoying himself.
Speaking of which, the malt is every bit as good as America had promised- thick, rich, and chocolaty, but not too sweet, topped with real whipped cream and three fresh, ripe cherries ("From the local farmer's market." America informs him as he steals one, because "It's no fair you got three, she only ever gives me one." Romano smacks his hand with a spoon, 'cause those are his cherries, dammit, and he deserves them for having to deal with this mannerless bastard). He ends up finishing two while they work, and doesn't protest when Gladys brings him another.
He'll probably blame the sugar later, but he barely notices as the conversation turns from commerce and cultural exchanges to more casual matters. They discuss, among other things, the 'appeal' of truck stops ("It's basically the same food and atmosphere inside no matter where or when you are, but you never know who you're going to meet inside." America explains,"It's always different and new at the same time, like stepping into an alternate universe!"), the Leaning Tower of Pisa ("Don't look at me, bastard, that's North Italy's. My architecture is damn gorgeous. Ever heard of St Peter's Square? Reggia di Caserta? Philistine."), and perhaps predicably, the Godfather movies (America loves them, and the Italian doesn't mention that he'd always felt vaguely guilty while watching them, that his troubles had spread to this country as well. He attempts to apologize in an awkward and roundabout way for the existence of said mafia in America, who understands what he's trying to say and assures him with a surprisingly gentle smile, "I never blamed you, Romano, no worries!", which is a weight off Romano's shoulders, though he just scowls and throws a cherry pit at America's head. America just grins and laughs). He's almost finished with his third malt when Gladys comes by to clear up their table.
"You boys need anything else? My shift's done in 5 minutes." she asks, gathering cups and plates. America blinks in surprise. Neither has noticed how much time has passed 'till now.
"Oh, wow, I didn't realize how late it was." he shifts, pulling out his wallet and throwing a card on the table. "Just put everything on that, ok? And I'll have a couple burgers to go."
"Ugh." Romano scoffs, slurping the last of his malt and handing the glass off to the waitress. "Don't tell me you're having burgers for dinner. How can you eat that crap?"
"It's not crap, it's good!" America defends.
"It's a disgrace to the name of food. Don't you ever eat anything else?"
"Of course! I have donuts and coffee for breakfast."
"Sometimes he has hotdogs with his hamburgers." Gladys comments, wiping up the soda rings in front of America. "Or ice cream and pie. He eats here just about every day."
"That's disgusting. How are you still alive?"
America pouts at being ganged up on. "I'm not that bad. And besides, it's delicious."
"Che" scoffs Romano again, while at the same time Gladys scolds, "You're like a big kid, I swear." she leans towards Romano conspiratorily. "I don't think he knows what real food is." she straightens and ruffles America's hair. "You need someone to take care of you, kiddo."
"Hey! I can take care of myself just fine!" Romano seriously doubted that. "And hamburgers are real food." he calls after her retreating back. She just waves over her shoulder and calls back. "Scrapin' by on fast food is not takin' care of yourself, hun."
Romano shakes his head. "That crap you stuff in your face is not 'real food'." He stands, smoothing out the wrinkles in his slacks. "You want to taste real food you should come to my place sometime, the restaraunts in Italy wouldn't be caught dead serving that shit. I'll show you what delicious actually means."
America, who's been sulking like the kid Gladys claimed him to be, blinks at him, taken aback, and breaks into a beaming smile. "Ok, Romano, it's a deal! I'm free next Saturday, ok?"
Now it was Romano's turn to blink. "What?" He replays what he'd said, and curses internally. It'd been rhetorical! He hadn't actually expected the American to accept! "What? No, I-"
"You can't take it back now~" America's grin takes up half his face. The idiot's practically bouncing in his seat. "You wanna teach me what 'real food' is, right?"
Romano frowns, trying to think of a way out of this. Other than a flat-out refusal, nothing comes to mind, and the American looks so excited he feels vaguely guilty about shooting him down. He curses himself for opening his big mouth. "Chigi! Fine. But I'm not paying. In fact, you're paying since I'm doing you a favour."
"Haha! Okay, I can live with that."
"Next Saturday, then!" America stands, running a hand through his hair with a smile. "That's cool for you, right?"
"Great, it's a date!"
"IT'S NOT A DATE!"