Characters/Pairings: A lot of characters, but the main focus is America and Japan.
Genre: Romance + Friendship + Family + Drama
Warnings/Notes: AU - High school.
Summary: A bond broken all because of a stupid fight, and then renewed with a simple "sorry". Now bffs, Alfred enjoys Kiku's company, and the latter realizes that his friendship is much more than he could ever ask for. To Kiku, he was a hero.
Unlike the day before, Kiku was the first one from his tent to wake up. Alfred and Matthew were still heavily asleep next to him. The lithe teen wrapped his arms around himself, for it was cold in the mornings, something he thought was odd considering it was rather hot during the day. It is probably a mountain thing…
Deciding to wash himself up, he took his toothbrush and toothpaste from his bag along with a small towel and some soap to wash his face. With his essentials, he exited the tent and found that Maria was already up, sitting down on one of the folding chairs with a mug of coffee in her hands. She noticed the boy and smiled. "Buenos dias Kiku."
"Good morning Sanchez-san," he replied. "Are you the first one up?"
"Yes, I tend to be every year for some reason," she chuckled. "I just like sitting out here, viewing the beautiful scenery and enjoying the tranquility of the morning. Sometimes I wish I lived here in the mountains, but I know my children wouldn't be too fond of it. They're so used to the city life."
"The forest is beautiful, but it is not for everyone. I am sure that your family is having an enjoyable time though."
"For the most part, yes. The girls and my husband are still asleep."
"Oh he's an early riser sometimes so he went to the restrooms over there." She pointed past the other RVs to the wooden facility in the distance. "I take it you want to freshen up as well right?"
"Y-Yes, I do. I thought I was going to be tired from all the hiking yesterday, but I suppose not," he said as he gave a small chuckle.
Maria smiled in response. "Well for it being your first time, you did pretty well! You should be able to meet up with Manny in the restrooms. I'm going to start on breakfast soon."
"Do you know what we'll be doing today Sanchez-san?"
"We're going on a trail."
"…you mean like the one from yesterday?"
"Oh, no this one is just sightseeing ha ha! There's a beautiful trail near here that attracts a lot of tourists. We're going to go there, and then to the small town to just take a look around."
"That sounds like an eventful day."
"It will be!"
Kiku excused himself and then headed over to the restrooms. He crossed a small wooden bridge where a narrow creek ran under it, the sound of water soothing his ears. He went into the men's section of the facility and saw Manuel yawning and stretching. He was still in his sleeping attire, probably because it was cold. From the mirror he saw Kiku and gave a big smile.
"Buenos dias Kiku! Didn't think you'd get up this early since the hike yesterday seemed to tire you out!"
"Good morning Manuel-san. Uhm, well yes, the hike was rather strenuous but I wake up early naturally, so no matter what kind of physical activity I do, I'll be one of the first people up."
"That's good. Early bird catches the worm like the old saying goes!" He began to apply toothpaste to his own toothbrush as Kiku excused himself to use the toilet. When the latter was finished, he found Manuel scrubbing his teeth vigorously, a determined expression reflected in the mirror. Kiku smiled a bit.
"You are very enthusiastic about cleaning your teeth."
"Ah nah, it's just I don't wanna get any cavities," he said, his words muffled by the toothbrush. He rinsed and then spit into the sink, examining his teeth. "I already have one that got filled, so I don't want another one. I hate going to the dentist."
Kiku chuckled a bit and began to brush his own teeth as Manuel washed his face. As he stared in the mirror and tried not to laugh at Manuel's cries because the water was ice cold, his mind wandered back to yesterday when he learned about the dark past of his classmate. He had the greatest itch to tell Manuel he was sincerely sorry that such an atrocity happened to him, but he felt it might anger the boy so he tried to keep his comments to himself.
"Is there something wrong Kiku?" Manuel asked as he dried his face with a towel. Quickly Kiku rinsed and responded timidly, "Uhm…n-no… My mind was just in deep thought."
"About what, if you don't mind me asking?"
Well it was better to tell the truth than lie, so Kiku took a pause and then said, "…about what you told everyone yesterday…concerning your childhood…"
"Oh, that. Figured it wouldn't get off your mind anytime soon."
"I-I-I'm very sorry for bringing it up but uhm…I know you don't want to hear it…but I'm truly sorry for…for what happened to you…"
"Eh, I don't care anymore in all honesty. I can't do anything about it, but I guess it was better that it happened to me instead of my sisters—"
"No don't say that!"
Manuel went wide-eyed at Kiku's outburst.
"Wh-What I mean to say is…don't…don't have that kind of mentality Manuel-san. It's not…healthy for you."
His expression seemed to soften a bit. "Yeah I know. That's why I try not to think about it so much. But hey, shit happens, and sometimes it's out of our control." He shrugged and folded up his towel.
"Are you ever going to speak with Antonio-san again?"
"I will, eventually."
"Oh, that's good. Family shouldn't stay upset at one anoth—"
"He's not family."
"…well I know you're upset with him because of the past but that doesn't seem like a valid reason to not consider him—"
"No like, I mean he really isn't family by blood."
"You didn't know?"
"…Kiku, Antonio isn't really my cousin."
"…then what is he?"
"The son of a long-time family friend. He's just been around me and my nuclear family so much that people thought he was my cousin or something, so we just went with it. We're actually not related at all."
"…I was not aware of this…"
"Yeah, I figured. Everyone else is, 'cept Lovi and Feli. I figured it wasn't important to tell them. No biggie."
"But then why do they continue to refer to him as your cousin?"
"Because I don't want him to be considered my friend. It's easier if he's considered as a relative…even though that too has its downsides."
"I have my reasons."
"Manuel-san, I apologize for being so straight-forward, but with your behavior towards him, it makes me question, do you perhaps like Antonio-san more than a fr—"
That was a rather quick response. "Oh…well, alright then. I suppose it's only Lovino-san who seems to act that way towards Antonio-san."
"Yeah, seems like it huh? I seriously think he has a thing for him," he chuckled.
"Ah, yes. I'm sorry I asked, it's just you have a lot of the characteristics of a tsundere-type character and usually behavior of that manner towards another person can merit some kind of romantic attachment to—"
"Well let's take a few steps back here. One, I'm not gay, and two, I still don't even know what a tsundere is. You and Alfredo have some weird terminology with all your anime stuff."
Kiku blushed. "Y-Yes Alfred-san seems to be the only one to understand what I'm talking about…"
Manuel smiled. "He's a good match for you!"
"Alfredo. He's a good match for you as a friend! The two of you can relate to each other quite a bit."
"Oh, yes…that's true."
"You'd make a cute couple if you two were on the same team ha ha!"
Kiku blushed heavily and fiddled around with his toothbrush. "No that is…that is not…"
"I'm only messing with you! Don't get so flustered!" Manuel gave a chuckle and ruffled the other's hair. "But seriously, it's great you have a friend like Alfredo. He's a good guy."
"Yes, I know. I am very thankful for his friendship and all that he and his family have done for me. But…but I am also thankful towards you and everyone else for embracing me and including me in activities you do together."
"Aww Kiku. Of course!"
Manuel waited for the Japanese teen to finish his business and then the two of them headed over back to their campsite. Kiku noticed a few other people had started to rise from their slumber, but typical Alfred still lay on the mattress, looking as comfortable as ever. Matthew wasn't around so he assumed he had already left outside.
Kiku put his toothbrush and toothpaste away and then began to change his clothes. He would probably die of embarrassment had Alfred woken up, even though he undressed all the time in front of him after baseball practice. Lately though, Kiku had been more self-conscious around the boy and he wasn't sure why. He felt uncomfortable being around a lot of people, so this was nothing right? Right.
Alfred opened his eyes just after Kiku had finished dressing. He yawned and then sat up, stretching. Noticing the other in the tent, he smiled and greeted, "Mornin' Kiku!"
"Good morning Alfred-san. Did you sleep well?"
"Yeah I sure did! You're pretty warm, y'know that?"
"Uhm…n-no I did not…"
"Aww, blushing so early in the day already? Too cute Kiku. Too cute."
This didn't help drain the color in his face back to normal. It only made it worse.
By eight everyone had already gotten up and eaten breakfast, or were in the process of it. Emily wanted to make most of their day, so she was on a set time schedule. The adults ushered the teens into the cars, but the Jones and Sanchez family had to take their large RV.
As Jose was driving, Kiku sat patiently inside with his camera in his lap. Alfred sat down next to him as he snacked on a Hostess cupcake like the glutton he was. "You excited Kiku?"
"Yes I am. Because I was a bit tired out from yesterday due to the hike, and because I attempted to fish, I didn't really get to take pictures of the scenery aside from the waterfall and photos of our group. Since we are going on a trail that is not hazardous in the least, I'd like to put my camera to good use."
"Sounds cool! There's a lot of pretty stuff where we'll be going. Seriously, you won't wanna leave."
Matthew noticed Manuel was texting somebody on this phone with a smile on his face. Trying not to sound nosy, he attempted to be nonchalant by asking, "So Manuel, what are you gonna do on this hike?"
"Huh? Oh, well I usually just go and look at the trees and stuff, but Lovino and I are gonna have a drawing contest. We need to pick a plant or an animal, so when we leave the site where the trail is, we're gonna have people judge them and see who's the better artist!"
"That sounds like fun."
"Oh it will be alright. I'm gonna win. Artistic talent is in my blood!"
Maria smiled and shook her head, Emily ruffling Manuel's hair.
"I'm sure both you and Lovi will do really well!" Antonio said, trying to strike up conversation with him, but he was ignored. Kiku noticed the immediate frown that appeared on his face when this happened.
I feel bad for Antonio-san, he thought. I don't think it's fair that Manuel-san continues to give him such cold treatment… But I haven't known either of them for very long, so I'm not sure if I'm in a position to say anything… Well, at least he and Lovino-san are getting along.
Kiku was told on the ride that they would be stopping at two places for sight-seeing. The first one wasn't really a trail, but it was a small lake that had islets with a bridge connecting them. In the distance there was a waterfall that didn't even compare in size to the one from the day prior.
"How on earth is it this cold so early in the morning in spring?" Kiku said to himself as he followed the group to the bridge. He honestly wondered how Emily wasn't freezing with those shorts and top.
"Nothing like the smell of fresh morning air from the forest!" she said happily. Looking over the bridge, she saw small fishes swimming aimlessly. Next to her, Peter was scoping out a duck and her ducklings, urging Arthur to take him closer so he can see. Everyone else was scattered about, admiring the clear sky and the tranquility the rising morning sun gave the landscape.
Kiku was going camera happy as he found numerous things to photograph whether they were plants, small animals, or group photos. He stopped though when he saw Alfred standing by his lonesome with his eyes closed, his hands in the pocket of his hoodie sweater. He was smiling and had his head tilted upwards. By this point the teen learned two new facts about his closest friend. One, he loved camping and being surrounded by nature, and two, he looked handsome no matter what the angle.
Discretely lifting the camera to his eyes, Kiku focused in on his friend and was hesitant to snap a photo. It would make a good picture for sure, but the fact that Alfred was the main subject in it caused his stomach to feel strange. Not wanting to miss this perfect opportunity, he took the photo anyway and reviewed it, smiling at his success. He really is quite attractive. Maybe I should take another, perhaps from a different perspective…
As he was going to walk closer, he noticed Mei reached him first, trying to strike up a conversation with the tall blonde. Alfred smiled at her and began to chit chat, the girl giggling whenever he said something funny.
There was another feeling in the core of Kiku's being, and it wasn't an emotion he was used to having, nor was it a positive one. Mei-chan is pretty but…she is not someone I'd want to take a picture of at this moment… I wish she'd move… I'm going to lose my shot.
Getting frustrated because she was standing there too long, he huffed and put his camera away. Yao was about to speak with him, something about a deer, but Kiku ignored him unintentionally and turned in the other direction. "That's strange. He seems a bit upset…"
The Chinese boy looked over at his sister and Alfred, then at Kiku's retreating form. "Hmm…"
"So Kiku, did you get any good pics?" Alfred asked when they returned to the RV. Hesitantly, the other responded.
"Yes I did, but I do not want to show them to you until our trip is over."
"But that's not for another few days!"
"I'd like to develop them all at the same time."
Alfred pouted. "Okay fine…"
Matthew walked to the back of the RV to change out of his sweater. He noticed Antonio was lying on one of the beds and looking rather miserable, hugging a pillow. "…are you okay?" he asked with worry.
"…yes, I'm fine."
"You don't look so good to me."
"…Matt, how would you feel...if somebody you cared about so so much, like Katyusha for example, didn't talk to you at all?"
"Wh-What?" he asked with a bit of surprise. "Ah ha, wh-what made you choose her as an example?"
"You are the closest to her out of all the guys, right?"
"And you care a lot about her, right?"
"W-Well yeah b-but…"
"…so how would you feel if all of a sudden, she just…stopped talking to you? That she didn't even acknowledge your presence…? How would you feel Matt?"
He knew who this was really about, but he decided to humor the Spaniard. "Well, I'd feel really horrible actually. I've known Katyusha for a while and she's really nice so I don't think she'd do something like that, but if she did, I honestly don't know how I'd handle it."
"…Antonio, this is about Manuel isn't it?"
"…why won't he talk to me? Why…why can he make up with Lovi, and act like buddies with him, but he can't do that with me?"
Matthew was one of those people who liked to give hugs to persons that had a pathetic position in life. Antonio was one of them right now.
"I wouldn't know how to answer that," he said honestly. "I really think…you need to sit down with him and just talk."
"I try making casual conversation though, and he doesn't even pay attention to me!"
"I think he's still upset from yesterday. I haven't been in his position so I wouldn't know, but people who were victims of that…well, some recover quickly, and some don't. Manuel is…probably somewhere in between. You just need to give him time."
"But how much time? I'm getting tired of him not talking to me like normal anymore and how he always gives me that cold look. Sometimes I just want to force him to sit down and look me in the eye so I can yell at him!"
"That wouldn't be very progressive though…"
Antonio sighed. "I know… I just wish…he'd like being around me, like before that traumatic experience happened. It's not my fault…so why does he act like it is? I was just as young… He doesn't know how bad I feel about the whole thing, how much I want to make it up to him. I wish he'd just forgive me…" He held the pillow tighter. "He doesn't know how much…how much that I…" He spaced out.
"How much what?"
The Spaniard smiled and shook his head. "It's nothing. Are we almost to the second destination? I think if I walk a little by myself, I'd feel better."
"Uhm, yeah I think so."
"Oh good. I think I just need fresh air."
"Well, alright Antonio. If you say so." The younger Jones twin was honestly worried about his friend, but he was really of no aid in this kind of situation.
Kiku's eyes widened when they got to the second trail. "Oh goodness. These trees are rather large!"
"Yup!" Alfred said, hands on his hips. "If you walk inside, it looks even cooler!" The rest of the friends had already ventured forward, so the American pulled Kiku along.
"What are you gonna take pictures of?" he asked as they walked along the trail, gazing everywhere.
"There is so much vivid detail in these woods," he responded. "so I'm not sure where I'm supposed to start."
"How about there?"
Alfred pointed to a large log with moss growing on it that acted as a bridge over a very small and shallow creek. "Somebody can stand on it and you can take group photos!"
"Oh, well yes I suppose that's a good idea."
"Here, I'll go first. Make sure to catch my good side!"
Kiku nodded with a pink tint on his cheeks as the lovable oaf posed for him. He dragged along his twin to do the same, then forced Manuel to stand in between them, and little by little urged the rest of the teens to balance themselves on the log.
"I swear if I fall, I will kill you," Arthur said, holding on to Peter with one hand, and Francis' shoulder with the other.
"Oh relax. You can just climb back up anyway."
"And if not, I shall carry you in my arms like a lovely blushing bride ~"
"Shut your mouth you wretched amphibian!"
"Gilbert, let go of my waist."
"C'mon I'm trying to balance myself here."
"Yeah but your hand keeps going south!"
"It's not my fault you have a nice ass Liz."
The Hungarian pushed him off and watched him fall on his rump. "Oh fuck!" he said as he strained to get up. "There's no water here to break my fall you bitch!"
"That's what you get for trying to scope a feel you pervert!"
Ludwig pinched his temple and looked stressed as Feliciano attempted to help Gilbert back on his feet. Kiku wasn't sure whether to giggle or to look concerned.
"Okay guys, lunch break!" Emily said as they came to a clearing with less trees bunched up together. There were benches on either side of the T-shaped cement trail, but some preferred to sit on large rocks. There was a rather small waterfall a few feet away where other tourists were posing for pictures, so some left to eat nearby.
Feliciano clung to his older brother's shoulder as he watched him draw a horse one of the rangers brought over. Matthew and Katyusha went over to go and see it, along with Peter and Arthur, the latter forced to go by his mother.
"That's a nice drawing!" he commented.
"Thanks," Lovino responded as he grabbed a black pastel from the tin case. "I tried to pick something challenging. I'm gonna win this contest for sure!"
"Oh but I think you and Manny will have a tie! You're both really good at artistic stuff!"
"We'll see by the time we return to the campsite. I just wish Matt and the others would stop fucking moving so I can draw them properly!"
"Lovi, Kat's boobs aren't that big."
"…look I'm the artist here okay."
Alfred watched in amusement as Lovino tried to shoo away his younger brother so he could concentrate. He bit into his sandwich and then his sight was set on his best friend who was drawing a lovely flower with a butterfly nestled in the center of it. "So glad those two are getting along now," he said to himself. Then he noticed Antonio approaching the other. Alfred looked somewhat concerned and felt even a little bad for his friend.
"Why do you think Toni tries so hard to gain Manny's forgiveness?"
"Manuel has been in Antonio's life since they were children, and from what I know, he's been the friend he's known the longest." Yao stuffed some chips into his mouth. "How do you think he would feel if all of a sudden he just stopped acknowledging his presence?"
"…he'd probably feel like shit."
"Exactly. To not be acknowledged by somebody you deeply care about, don't you think that would seriously affect a person?"
"…yeah. If that ever happened between Matt and me, or Kiku and me…man I don't know what I'd do."
"I believe that's how Antonio feels, which is why he tries so hard to prove to Manuel that he really is right there for him if he ever needs it. But then again, I wouldn't understand how Manuel is feeling since…such a…tragedy…has not happened to me."
Alfred stood quiet and watched as Yao finished his lunch and went to go join his siblings in petting the horse, which by this point was something everyone seemed to be doing. If only Feliks was here, thought the blonde. He looked over in Manuel's direction and saw Antonio standing behind him, watching him draw.
"So…" he began, trying to start conversation. "This is a really nice place huh?"
Manuel focused on outlining the petals on the flower.
"I saw Lovi's drawing. It's pretty good, but I really like yours too! I like how yours has more color variety!"
Still he said nothing as he blended the pink, yellow, and white with his thumb, trying to imitate the coloration of the flower.
"…you know, there's a really cute horse over there." Antonio sat down next to him on the rock between the tin case of pastels. "I know you're fond of animals, so you wanna go and pet it?"
The other began to draw the butterfly in turquoise, going over the body with black pastel. He gave the wings a thick dark outline and then picked up the turquoise again to fill them in. Manuel returned them to their rightful place on the palette when he was done and was about to pick a green for the stem of the flower, when Antonio grabbed his hand, stopping him abruptly. He looked up at him with a bit of shock, the slightest hue of rose across his face.
"…what do you want?" he asked.
"Progress," Antonio responded. "Conversation. A smile. A glance. Anything to know that you know I still exist, and that there's hope for everything to go back to the way it was."
"The way it was? You mean going back to the favorite game with Lovino right? As soon as I forgive you, you'll return to giving your undivided attention to him, because that's how it was before the incident. And even after it, that's still how it was."
"Manny…I don't want this."
"For us not to be on speaking terms."
"It would be weird if we were family, but we're not, so it makes it less awkward."
"No it doesn't, because we still hang around the same people and my mom still hangs around with your mom, and vice versa! And why are you so against us being friends that you made everyone believe we were related? That's what I'd like to know."
"That's none of your damn business okay?"
"I think it is since it concerns me!"
"Antonio, why can't you just leave me alone?!"
He grabbed him by the shoulders. "Because I don't want you to be alone!"
The other looked at him with even more surprise.
"I don't want to ever leave you alone again. Do you even know how horrible I feel about what happened that day? It's been almost a decade Manuel, a goshdarn decade, and I'm still feeling like shit over it." Slowly he let go of him. "I want us to be friends again. I want us to do things together again. I want…I just want us again."
Manuel looked at him with wide eyes as the other stared back intensely with green orbs. "…I don't understand why you can forgive Lovino, but you can't forgive me."
"Do you even know what it's like for you to pretend I don't exist at times? It's like a big chunk of my life was just taken from me."
"…a chunk of your life you've replaced with him."
"Damn it Manuel this isn't about Lovino! It's about YOU. It's always been about you!"
"Antonio if you have something to say to my face then just say it so I can get back to my fucking drawing okay?"
"…I can't, because you…wouldn't understand." At least not yet.
"Then get lost. I need to finish this before we continue on the trail."
The Spanish teen looked defeated but frustrated at the same time. He tried to intimidate the other with his expression, but Manuel's will couldn't be broken so easily. Antonio knew this. He didn't know why he even tried in the first place. Slowly he got up and walked away, thinking about joining the others in petting the horse. Hopefully that would make him feel better.
Manuel shook his head and gave a "hmph" before returning to his little art project. But as he continued sketching out his model, he stopped midway and let his mind wander. A frown appeared on his face as he did so. Was he really being that harsh with Antonio? He didn't mean to make him feel like he didn't exist.
"…maybe I need to try and do my part too. After all, I don't…hate him. I could never hate a person like him…"
Kiku was rather content with the shots he took on the trail, especially the ones with his friends in them. Before heading back to the campsite, Emily suggested they stop by the local village to browse the shops. The guys didn't really care for it, but the girls were very much interested.
"Oh, this is really adorable!" Katyusha said as she picked up a rabbit plush with vintage clothing. The fabric was colored pink with a floral design on it. There was lace here and there, even on the fancy hat, complete with feathers and flowers, an oblong opalescent button adoring the top of the dress. The girl's eyes sparkled. "I'm sure it would look great in my room!" She fished through her bag but couldn't find her wallet. "…I think I forgot my money in the tent…" She looked sadly at the stuffed toy. "Well, perhaps it wasn't meant to be…" Natalia just rolled her eyes when her sister started to tear up. "Pathetic," she said under her breath.
Matthew had been watching from afar. Alfred noticed and said, "You should buy that for her."
"Huh? What are you talking about? Ah ha ha!"
"C'mon Matt don't play dumb with me." He whispered, "I already know you like her. Just admit it."
"Well I can't buy it for her!" he whispered back.
"…because what if Ivan says something?"
"Dude, just say you were doing it out of kindness! He'll believe you anyway."
"Don't worry. I'll be here watching you."
Matthew waited until Katyusha and Natalia left the shop. Then he walked over to the rack where the rabbit plushies were sitting. He picked up the one she had been looking at and took it to the register. He flinched a bit when he saw the price, but it's not like he did this often, so it didn't bother him as much. He asked for it to be giftwrapped. The paper and ribbon was also very pretty. It almost matched the rabbit.
"So I bought it…"
"Now give it to her!"
"B-But…can I just wait?"
"Why do you wanna wait?"
"You gotta stop being shy Matt! She's not gonna bite you, unless you secretly want that 'cause I don't know your kinks so—"
He laughed. "I'm kidding! Just leave it in her tent then as a surprise! Or give it to her when you two are alone!"
"That'll make things even more awkward!"
"You're thinking too hard about it bro, seriously."
The blonde noticed Antonio and Lovino walking into the store, the former cooing over the cute little trinkets on the shelves. The Italian rolled his eyes and said, "Can we please leave now?"
"Oh but I wanna buy something!"
"What could you possibly wanna buy here?"
"Something for you," he said absentmindedly. "Hmm…Lovi what do you like in this store?"
"Eh? Nothing! This place is for chicks!"
"What about this cute sweater?" Antonio lifted up a white sweater that had a bear on it wearing antlers. He was holding up a sign that said, 'Do not feed the bears.' "I'm sure you'll be really warm!"
"Fuck I said I don't want nothing! Why don't you get that for Feli or Manny huh?"
Antonio hesitated in responding. "…well yeah, maybe Feli would like it ah ha."
Raising an eyebrow, Lovino asked, "…you're not gonna get it for Manny? You always buy stuff for him."
"…no, he doesn't need it. He doesn't need anything I give him." Not wanting to continue the conversation further, the Spanish teen hurried to the register to buy it for the younger Italian brother. Lovino looked concerned but said nothing. Shit Manny, when are you gonna forgive this guy? He sighed and occupied himself with browsing aimlessly. Can't you see what a mess you've made of him?
The group returned to the campsite around three in the afternoon. It was Margherita's turn to cook dinner, but seeing as how the youths were bored, she suggested they walk down to the lake to occupy their time. Nobody wanted to get in the water since they were tired, so they merely hung out there.
The sunset made for a great landscape so Kiku busied himself with more photographs, subtly taking pictures of the others enjoying the scenery. He saw Antonio skipping rocks into the lake, Lovino approaching him.
"Oh, hello Lovi." He threw another. It skipped seven times.
"…thanks for the sweater."
"I knew you were gonna get it for me anyway."
He chuckled. "Really?"
"…yeah." There was a pause. "…I think I'll wear it tonight…since it'll get cold…y'know?"
"That makes me really happy," he said with a smile. "Wanna skip some rocks with me?"
Lovino shrugged. "Sure."
The two did this for a long time in silence. Lovino was afraid to ask Antonio what was bothering him, even though he already knew the answer. Still, it didn't hurt to try. "…you know Toni, if there's anything ever bothering you, you can always…talk to me."
"Thanks. But I'm fine, honest!"
There was a pause. Lovino skipped another rock.
"Eight. My rock skipped eight times. I beat you."
Antonio smiled. "So you did." He threw another rock, but this time it didn't skip. It merely fell into the water with a 'plunk', almost if on purpose.
"…Lovi, if you were in Manny's situation, would you have acted like he is now?"
"Well, I don't think so. I mean yeah I'd be pretty pissed but…you didn't know what was going on, and neither did he. Whether you're…y'know, the victim, or the witness, that shit is still scary to experience. And you guys were young so—"
"Then why does he act that way?"
"I don't know."
"Lovino," he began. "…why doesn't he like me…?"
"Well I don't think that it's he doesn't like you. I mean…you're family, so he can't seriously hate you. I think it's more like…he doesn't know how to handle the situation."
"…but what's so different between you and me?"
"Why is it that he can forgive you, but not me?"
"I think you're gonna have to bring that up with him—"
"I did and he never tells me! Lovi, what did you do to make him forgive you?"
"I just said I was truly sorry for what happened to him and gave him food. That's it really. You know how that guy loves to eat."
"…should I try that?"
"I guess? But Toni, seriously, why is it so damn important that Manny forgives you? I know he's your favorite cousin but you have others—"
"No, he's not a cousin."
"Okay look, I know you're frustrated with him but you can't just disown family. That's not how this thing wo—"
"No seriously Lovi, he's really not family."
"What are you talking about?"
"Manny's mother is a long-time friend of my mother. Everyone just thought we were cousins when we were younger because we were as close as family, so we just decided to go along with it."
"…so you're not family at all?"
"Ha ha, no, not in the slightest."
Well now. This changed everything.
"And why wasn't I told about this like, oh I dunno, years ago?"
"Because I didn't think it was important to mention!"
"Why the fuck not?"
Antonio shrugged. "And besides, I thought somebody told you!"
"What are you talking about?"
"Oh, well everyone knows that we're not family, so I thought somebody relayed the information to you!"
"Well they didn't, and now I even feel offended 'cause you didn't tell me jack shit!"
"Ah ha, but why are you so upset?" When Lovino didn't answer him, the Spaniard only smiled and decided to change the subject. "So when are you and Manny gonna have that contest?"
"Uh, I guess before dinner. I haven't talked to him about it yet."
"Where is he?"
"He's over there with Al and Kiku."
There was another moment of awkward silence as the two just stood standing next to each other. "Hey Antonio."
"…okay well I know now that Manny isn't actually your cousin, but if he was, why was he…your favorite? I mean, Alicia and Eva are a lot more pleasant."
He chuckled. "Well there's a lot of reasons actually! I can't name just one. I think what I like best about him though…is that…well, he can always make you laugh and feel good about yourself. Even if something's bothering him, he'll try to find the humor in it. I don't know if he does it to not make other people worry, or because he wants to ignore it, but…he'll put a smile on your face, one way or another, and that by itself is something to be desired, don't you think?"
"Laughter is good for the soul y'know."
Lovino paused and then looked intently at Antonio. The latter blinked. "Is there something wrong Lovi?"
"You care about Toni more than just a friend, don't you?"
"Are you okay? Hello?"
"N-No! It's just…h-he's more annoying when he's sad than when he's happy!"
"Lovi you're starting to worry me! Is anybody in there?"
"Your face says otherwise."
The Italian blinked. "Uh, yeah, I'm…fine."
"…well, alright then." The Spaniard noticed the others departing from the lake to head back to the campground. "Oh, guess we should get going!"
Fuck… "Antonio, w-wait."
"There's something…you need to know…"
"…actually, I forgot."
"Oh…well I'm sure it'll come back to you later."
"In the meantime, let's go eat!"
The Italian stuffed his hands inside his pockets and waited for his friend to become distracted with Gilbert and Francis up ahead. He kicked a rock as he trudged behind the group.
"…so Manny isn't his relative after all, yet Toni still acts the way he does around him…" He saw everyone situated at the wooden tables ready to engorge themselves with dinner. He made an effort to observe Antonio's actions around the Mexican boy during this time.
"Guess shit just got more complicated now huh? Fuck."
"How can it be a tie?!"
"You guys don't gotta get so mad! There are equal amounts of votes for both of your artworks!"
"Alfredo I demand a recount!"
"Don't call me Alfredo!"
"So then neither of us gets a prize?"
"No because it's a TIE."
Lovino and Manuel crossed their arms and huffed. They decided to have the contest after dinner so the prize would be a bigger serving of dessert, but everyone present ended up voting equally for both pieces. Lovino's was liked because he captured more of the scenery, but Manuel's was liked because of the colors.
"You both still get dessert though," Margherita said. "They'll be the same size, but bigger than everyone else's!"
The rest of the evening was spent relaxing from the day's walk and discussion for the rest of the week. Everyone had to take turns with the shower, the girls using the one in the RV and the boys using the one on the premises. Marshmallows were roasted again and after the third ghost story, Arthur was pelted with the fluffy white sweets by Alfred who continuously told him to shut up.
"Alfred-san, there's no need to be so afraid."
"B-But Kiku…you don't know the kinds of things that can happen in the forest!"
"You have Matthew-san and myself occupying your tent."
Somebody tapped him on the shoulder and he shrieked, whacking them in the face with his arm.
"SHIT WHAT THE FUCK?!"
"Oh my God Manny! Seriously tell me when you're behind me!"
"Nice going gringo! Ugh…now my entire head is gonna be throbbing for the rest of the night." He gently touched his nose to make sure it wasn't bleeding.
"Manuel-san! Are you alright?!"
"Yeah…no thanks to gordo over here…"
"Manny why'd you do that?!"
"I was only gonna ask to see the votes for our art! Madre de Dios…"
Alfred gave him a knowing look. He knew what this was really about. "He voted for Lovi's. I can recognize his handwriting despite these slips of paper being anonymous."
"…ah ha, that's not what I was gonna ask about! I just wanna make sure you didn't screw me over!"
"I checked the results three times. It's still a tie."
"Okay okay. Geez…" Silence. "So I'm gonna go to bed okay? Buenas noches."
"Yeah, night Manny."
"Good night Manuel-san."
Alfred and Kiku retreated to their tent. The blonde asked Kiku if he could cuddle up with him as a precaution against ghouls but the latter declined and said he was not a safety blanket, nor was he fond of the idea of spooning. Manuel rubbed his forehead as he walked to his own tent, trying not to glare in the direction of Antonio and Lovino sitting by the fire, talking about who knows what. They were too close for comfort, at least for him. To top it off, the Italian was wearing his new sweater his pseudo-boyfriend bought for him.
"But of course he'd vote for his." He entered the tent and zipped it back up. "He always does things in favor of that guy."
Manuel turned around to curl up under the blankets but then he saw something resting on his pillow. It was a small plush of a deer with an equally small box of cookies from the bakery in the village. Under them was a white card. All that was written there was, "I saw this and thought of you. Hope you like it." The scribbles were obviously recognizable.
Morning came too soon, and so did the end of the week. The remainder of the trip was spent at the lake and another hike with some sightseeing. Alfred slouched and pouted as he watched their campsite fade into the background when the RV took off to the main road.
"I can't believe spring break is over," he said. "That went waaaay too fast."
"All good things must come to an end," Matthew said. "But we only have two more months of school, and then summer break."
"Yeah, that's true. Oh, and then our birthday in July!"
"Your birthday is in July, Alfred-san?"
He nodded. "Matt and me share the same birthday 'cause y'know we're twins and all, but our birthday is also on the fourth! So we celebrate Independence Day and our birthday! Lotsa fireworks and burgers! Mom even said when she gave birth to us, she could hear fireworks outside the hospital!"
Emily laughed. "It's true! I knew that was a sign my boys would make me proud in the future!"
"Well that is rather…interesting."
"So what are you gonna do for your birthday this year?" asked Antonio.
"I was thinking something like a pool party. You Matt?"
"A pool party sounds nice actually."
"Great! Mom can we have a pool party for our birthday?"
"Sweet! And now that you're part of the action Kiku, this'll make our birthday even more awesome because you get to share it with us!"
Kiku smiled. "Thank you. That means a lot."
"And Manny no more embarrassing stories from our childhood okay?"
Manuel gave a Cheshire grin. "Oh but people love those!"
"They don't need to know it though! And none of your pranks either! If you're gonna troll me, can it not be on the day I was born?"
"That's the best part!"
"Sometimes I wanna punch you in the face."
"But you don't because you love me ~"
"Pfft, in your dreams."
"It's okay Manny, I'm here for you!"
"Porque no me amas Manny?!"
"Fuck we're not doing this again okay?!"
Kiku wasn't sure if things were back to normal between the two friends (he couldn't call them cousins anymore) but one thing he was sure of was that he was more than happy to be home after seven days without internet.
"Home sweet home!" Emily chimed. "Feels good to be back!"
"Y-Yes, it does," Kiku replied, trying not to show so much enthusiasm. First thing he was going to do when he unpacked was log onto his email to see if he had any messages.
The Jones busied themselves unloading things from the RV while the Sanchez family returned to their own residence right next door. Kiku offered to help but they told him to rest since it was apparent he wasn't used to being out in the wilderness by his unusual radiation of joy when he surrounded himself with all the electronics in the house.
To pass the time, he sat on his bed and connected his camera to his laptop. The pictures started to download taking up a significant amount of space on his hard drive. "I better delete the ones I have no use for."
As he flipped through them, he noticed that about more than half had one particular element in the shot.
"…did I really take that many photos of Alfred-san?"
It was then he remembered said person wanted to see his collection of pictures from the trip when they were done. A knock came from the doorway. Kiku turned his head so fast that to the bystander it felt like it would have almost snapped right off.
"So can I see those pictures now?"
"Uhm, w-well I am still sorting through them, so perhaps…later."
He pouted again. This seemed to be a common facial feature. "Okay, but I wanna see them later tonight then!"
The Japanese teen felt relieved when he left but searched frantically around his room for his pen drive. "I might just have to put a lot of these photos in a hidden place…" As he moved the files around, he caught sight of a picture with Alfred and Mei in it. He stared at it for a while and felt that bubbling pit of fire start up again. Kiku highlighted the picture and then gently pressed the 'delete' button on his keyboard.
"There is no need for such memories in my photo library."
A/N: Well now, this chapter took longer to write than expected... Next few chapters are gonna focus more on Kiku and Alfred...I think. I have to look at my brainstorm again. Trying to add in more hints to other pairings too but that's harder to do... Anyway, a very important plot point is coming up soon so be sure to stay tuned to the story if you still wanna read it! Thanks for staying with me this far!