Title: Bluegrass Ambassadors
Fandom: Hetalia
Rating: U
Summary: America has brought several unusual pieces of luggage to the latest G-20 meeting. Canada smells strongly of rosin. Germany isn't quite sure what to make of their odd behaviour, but a visit to their hotel rooms later that evening leads to an enjoyable (if unexpected) cultural exchange.
Disclaimer: All original works are copyright of their respective owners; I lay claim only to this particular story.
Notes: Many thanks go to [archiveofourown.org profile] CaracalGirl for editorial suggestions and general encouragement in seeing this fic to its conclusion. All story notes are at the end.


Bluegrass Ambassadors

G-20 meetings, in Germany's experience, were far easier to coordinate than either the G-8 or the larger international meetings. They seldom devolved into the predictable bickering and brawls that made the G-8 sessions so obnoxious, and it was much less difficult to track down individual nations to have a quiet conversation apart from the wider group.

At the moment, he had one particular nation in mind. As the meeting coordinator, he had requested that all participants send him a copy of their planned topics of discussion, so he could prepare some speaking points to keep the meeting on task (or at least make a valiant effort to do so). America, as usual, had been the last to send him an email...but instead of a document file, the email attachment had been a photograph of an orange-and-white tabby cat caught in motion in midair, with the words INVISIBLE BIKE superimposed on the image. Germany could only give America the benefit of the doubt and hope that the image had been sent by mistake -- perhaps invisibike.gif had been next to the correct document in the folder, and America in his haste had accidentally attached the wrong file to the email message before hitting SEND -- but nonetheless he needed America's opening remarks, and the most expedient way to obtain them was to confront America the moment he arrived at the conference hotel. According to the conference coordination timetable (indexed by nation and estimated time of arrival, for ease of reference), America's plane had landed and he would be at at the hotel shortly, so it was only sensible for Germany to wait in the lobby to greet him when he arrived.

He had spent a productive five minutes editing the text of his opening statement for tomorrow's first meeting when he heard the lobby's automatic doors slide open and saw America stroll into the hotel foyer. He closed his folder and stood up, and started to lift a hand in welcome, but stopped short when he saw that America was towing one of the hotel's luggage carts behind him.

Most of the other nations had arrived for the meeting with a garment bag over one shoulder and a briefcase or other small bag in hand, looking much like any other business traveller en route to a conference. America, however, was loaded down with more luggage than would normally be needed for a fortnight. His garment bag was draped over what appeared to be three bulky cases stacked on top of each other. Not even France, who habitually brought multiple changes of shirts and trousers to any conference that lasted longer than forty-eight hours, would normally dream of bringing so much in the way of extra clothes.

In spite of the awkward pile of cases on the cart, America cheerfully waved away no fewer than three hotel employees who tried to help him with his things. Germany decided that it would be easier to intercept him before he went through the process of checking in, so he tucked the folder under his arm and started to walk toward America. Before he had closed half the distance, America turned around and his eyes lit up in recognition -- only to cut right past Germany without so much as a nod of greeting, hauling the luggage cart along as he made a beeline straight for the bank of lifts on the far side of the hotel lobby.

Dumbfounded, Germany turned to follow him, and saw that Canada had just stepped out of one of the lifts. Canada seemed equally surprised to see America and the teetering pile of luggage, but he hurried forward as if intending to offer his assistance with the cart. Germany drifted closer to both of them, and came within earshot just in time to hear America's first words to his brother:

'Did you bring it?'

Canada stopped short, and blinked. 'Well, hello to you, too.'

'Don't be cute,' America said. 'Did you bring it?' Even though he had his back to Germany, the impatient way he was shifting his weight from foot to foot showed how eager he was to dispense with social niceties.

'Yes, I brought it,' Canada sighed, and held out a plastic room key. 'And I requested rooms at the end of the hall so we won't bother anyone.'

'Awesome,' America said, and clapped Canada on the shoulder as he took the key. 'I'll take everything up myself. And if you see Mexico, tell her I brought my extra one for her, too.'

Frowning, Canada looked down at the luggage cart. 'Both of them? You always overpack.' He shook his head. 'Anyway, I still don't see why this can't wait until we get home.'

'Because you're off on that Commonwealth kissing-up-to-England trip next week, and my boss wants me in town that following weekend, so we'd all have to wait until next month and that's dumb.' America leaned closer to his brother, sly and conspiratorial. 'Plus, I know you're itching to break it in. You've got that twitchy-hand thing going on.'

Canada's face flushed, and he immediately stuffed his hands in his pockets and mumbled something that to Germany's ears sounded like a denial.

'Oh, get over yourself,' America said, sounding even more pleased with himself. 'I can smell the rosin from here.'

Still looking embarrassed, Canada cast around to see if anyone was watching them, and his blush deepened when he caught sight of Germany. 'Have you even checked in yet?' he said a little more loudly, as if raising his voice for Germany's benefit. 'Or at least let Germany know that you're here?'

'Details, details,' America said breezily, with a wave of his free hand, but Canada gave him a flat look over the top of his glasses that prompted an equally gusty sigh. 'All right, fine. Where is he?'

Canada pointed over America's shoulder, and America turned around. As soon as he saw Germany standing a few feet away, his usual dazzling smile snapped back into place so suddenly that Germany half-recoiled, startled by its abruptness.

'Hey, Germany, good to see you!' he said brightly, as if the past minute and a half hadn't happened. And before Germany quite knew what was happening, America had descended upon him in a whirlwind of effusive handshakes and loud, cheerful chatter, and any questions that Germany might have had about the peculiar conversation between the North American brothers were soon swept away by the more mundane problems of unexpected cat pictures and unsent conference presentations.

****

Of all the nations, America was usually the hardest to pin down during world meetings. If someone else wasn't demanding his attention, then he was demanding someone else's attention, and either way he was never easy to interrupt. Germany usually hesitated to bother his fellow nations in their hotel rooms after dinner, but it was the only place he was likely to find America on his own and with a minimum of other distractions.

The problem of the mistaken email attachment had been sorted out. America had been appropriately apologetic (once he had stopped laughing) after Germany explained the situation. Yet the whole affair had reminded Germany that America's boss was scheduled to make a state visit to Berlin in a few months' time, and it would behoove him to double-check a few points of the planned itinerary that the protocol officers and other functionaries had been fussing over for the past fortnight. One small thing to cross off his to-do list, and then he could go home for the night and head straight to bed so as to be well-rested for the morning.

When he reached the floor where most of the nations had their rooms, he found himself holding the lift doors open for Australia, England, and Japan, who in spite of the weeknight were on their way out to the nearest beer garden. Germany quickly silenced his inner critic -- the three of them had never once failed to turn up in the morning, no matter how legless they got the night before -- and wished them an enjoyable evening as the lift doors slid shut. As he walked down the corridor, he saw Mexico going into Argentina's room, and heard a burst of agitated-sounding Spanish before the door closed behind her. It was probably nothing that he ought to be concerned about, but all the same he made a mental note to stop by after he had spoken with America, on the off chance that either of them might need his assistance.

America and Canada had adjoining rooms at the farthest end of the corridor, across from the stairwell. Judging by the faint noise that he could hear even from several doors away, at least one of them had to be inside. As he drew closer, the noise grew more distinct. It was some kind of music, something with a violin, though it wasn't any piece of classical music that Germany recognised right away. It seemed rather loud to be a radio or television programme, muffled but still audible through the hotel room's door. The music kept playing even after Germany knocked once, so after a few moments he knocked again, more forcefully this time.

The music cut off abruptly. Through the door, Germany heard voices -- more than one, though they were too muted for him to make out words -- followed by the sound of movement within the room. The deadbolt clicked and the handle turned, and the door to the room opened just wide enough for Canada to peer out.

'Germany? Were you knocking just now?' He opened the door a little wider -- and Germany blinked when he saw that Canada was holding a violin and its bow in the hand that was not holding the door open.

'Who is it?' America's voice came from inside the room.

'It's Germany,' Canada replied, over his shoulder, as he opened the door fully. He gave Germany an apologetic smile. 'Sorry about that. We didn't hear you the first time.'

Looking into the room, Germany could see America sitting on the hotel room's ottoman, looking relaxed and comfortable in jeans and a well-worn T-shirt. On his lap, propped against the side of his knee, was a long-necked banjo.

'Hey, man, what's up?' A flash of silvery-steel glinted on the first three fingers of the hand he raised to wave hello. 'C'mon in. You been out there long?'

A worried look creased Canada's forehead. 'We weren't being too loud, were we?' he asked, as he stepped aside to let Germany enter the room.

'No, not at all,' Germany said, trying to overcome his own distraction at the sight of both of them with instruments in their hands. 'I came to ask America....' He trailed off when he realised that he couldn't actually remember the question he'd had in mind when he knocked on the door, and substituted the one that had taken its place. 'What are you....?'

'Breaking in Canada's new fiddle,' America said, grinning. He looked over at Canada, who had retreated to sit on one of the beds and was bent over his instrument, plucking at the strings. 'Is it loosening up at all?'

'A little.' Canada adjusted one of the tuning pegs, then another. His hair was falling into his eyes, and he huffed an exasperated breath as he plucked the same strings again. 'I should've brought my old stick.'

America snorted. 'The one that's got about two strands left on it? Just get it rehaired already.' Canada muttered something unintelligible in reply, and so he turned his attention back to Germany, with an eye-roll that combined sibling affection and long-suffering patience. 'So, did you need something?'

'I was going to ask you about -- ' Once again, Germany couldn't remember his original question, and decided to stop trying. 'It's not important right now,' he said, shaking his head. 'I didn't know that you played an instrument.'

'An instrument?' America beamed, and nudged Canada's bed with one foot. 'You hear that, Mattie? Banjo totally counts. And he hangs out with Austria, so it's legit.'

'Mm-hm,' Canada replied absently, still engrossed in the adjustments he was making to his own instrument.

Germany briefly imagined the expression on Austria's face if he were to be present for this conversation, and suppressed a small shudder. It was difficult enough to think of Canada's violin as a fiddle without hearing a disdainful tut-tutting in the back of his mind. 'It's just that I've never seen you play...anything before,' he said.

America ran an affectionate hand over the curve of the banjo's frame. 'I don't normally bring her to conferences, but G-20's always a good chance to catch up with the sibs.' His smile faded a little, and his gaze drifted over to the edge of the far bed, where a guitar was resting on a pile of pillows next to its open case. 'Though speaking of, did you see Mexico on your way up here?'

'I saw her entering Argentina's room as I passed. She said nothing to me, but....' He had caught only the briefest glimpse of Mexico's face before Argentina closed the door, but he did recall her raised voice, and from what he had seen her expression had been rather stormy.

Canada's hands fell still, silencing the soft twangs he had been coaxing from his fiddle's strings. 'Looks like she's not coming back, then,' he said quietly.

America scowled. 'I don't get why she got so upset,' he grumbled, setting his banjo aside and getting to his feet. 'Going on about "musicality" and "artistry sacrificed for technique" and all, just 'cause she can't keep up.' He crossed over to the bed and picked up the abandoned guitar, holding it at an awkward angle to keep his fingerpicks from scratching the glossy finish. He gave Germany a plaintive look. 'We were just having a good time, and she goes and calls it a fingering contest.'

Canada gave his brother a sidelong glance, one eyebrow raised. 'A "big-dick fingering contest", I think, were her exact words,' he corrected.

There was silence for a long moment -- and then America let out a noise midway between a giggle and a snort, which quickly devolved into outright snickering. After a beat, Canada began to snicker as well.

Germany looked from one nation to the other, unsure of how to respond. He felt more than a little out of place in this room, watching them banter back and forth without the slightest sense of self-consciousness. There was a closeness between the two of them that he'd never known from Prussia, one that went beyond the instruments in their hands. A familiarity and ease that, if he was honest with himself, he couldn’t help but envy.

'You know she can keep up,' Canada continued, once he'd collected himself enough to get past the double entendre. 'It’s just not her style. I mean, I know I get carried away with the ornamentation, but admit it, you play reels like you’re doing differential equations in your head the whole time.' He sketched a vague figure in the air with the tip of his bow, as if writing something on a chalkboard. 'Too much math.'

America opened his mouth to reply, but Germany quickly cut in before he could get a word out. 'Well then, I hope you will pardon me for intruding,' he said, hoping that he did not sound as flustered as he felt. 'I'll leave you two to your....' He let the thought trail off; he couldn't quite think of it as practice, but it certainly did not appear to have enough purpose or structure to qualify as a rehearsal. 'America, I will bring the relevant documents to you tomorrow at the morning recess -- '

'Hey, where ya goin'?' America said, surprised. 'Stick around for a bit. You wouldn't happen to play guitar, would you?'

His smile was hopeful and encouraging. Germany's gut twisted a little at the sight of it. 'Unfortunately, no, though I -- '

'Ah, finally!' Canada said suddenly, and stood up, fitting the fiddle under his chin. He brought the bow to the strings and launched into a fast scale, rising two octaves in a flurry of fingers and ending on a high, rapid trill that made Germany's breath catch in his throat.

'Nice!' America exclaimed. Germany wanted to echo the sentiment, but the words seemed to cleave to his tongue.

Canada's cheeks flushed pink at the compliment, though his tiny smile held nothing but satisfaction for his instrument and for himself. 'We need more than just banjo and fiddle, though,' he said. 'Something for rhythm, at least.'

There was a pause, heavy and waiting.

'I'll be back.' Germany didn't realise that he'd spoken until the words were already out of his mouth. 'Give me twenty minutes.'

****

Prussia was of the firm opinion that one of the Internet's greatest contributions to civilisation was the opportunity it provided him to thoroughly school strangers from halfway around the world in the finer points of military strategy. Multiplayer video games might be a poor substitute for the grand battlefields of yore, but Prussia felt that he had earned the right to literally be an armchair general these days. A nice quiet evening in front of the television, legs over the back of the couch and head hanging off the edge of the cushion, meant several hours happily spent cackling at the havoc wrought by his centuries of martial expertise combined with sick-nasty über-micro skills.

Even the dogs seemed to be taking it easy for the night, settling in for an after-dinner nap. Aster and Berlitz had made themselves at home at the foot of West's favourite chair, and Blackie was snoring quietly in one of the dog beds in the corner. West was out playing the good little conference host for most of the week, and so far the only interruption to Prussia’s glorious solitude had been a stray phone call from one of the pen-pushers in the Chancellery, whining about how Herr Deutschland wasn't answering his mobile for some reason, and would Herr Preußen be good enough to have him call a certain number as soon as he returned home? The man seemed satisfied enough with Prussia's absent-minded 'Yeah, sure, whatever', and had hung up right before the next wave of enemy air support presented itself to be decimated by Prussia’s artillery corps.

Not half an hour later, Prussia had camped out in a good spot and was preparing a masterfully orchestrated symphony of a tank rush when he heard a car pull up to the house. All three dogs lifted their heads sleepily at the sound of the engine, but they jerked to full attention when the car came to a stop with a loud squeal of brakes. Rapid, heavy footfalls were followed by a key rattling in the lock -- and what sounded like a stifled curse when the rattling went on for longer than the second or two usually needed to turn the bolt -- and the front door flew open.

Immediately, the dogs were on their feet, racing for the front hall to give their master their usual eager greetings, but West gave them no time to say hello. Out of the corner of his eye, Prussia only just saw him hurry past the living room, heading for the stairs with three frenzied dogs hard on his heels and barking up a storm.

Prussia quickly double-checked the positions of his flanking cavalry and light infantry subdivisions -- the enemy lines wouldn’t pincer themselves, after all -- and craned his neck around the edge of the couch. 'Hey, West, did you get that -- '

'Can't talk! No time!' West shouted, already halfway up the stairs.

'What, is the conference on fire?' Prussia shouted back, but with the dogs yapping their heads off it was anyone's guess as to whether West had heard him. If he had, it certainly didn't stop him from making an unholy racket overhead. Judging by where his footsteps had stopped, he was ransacking his own bedroom, throwing half the furniture around and making the light fixtures downstairs rattle as he flung his stuff every which way.

Curiosity piqued, Prussia set his controller aside. He kicked his legs off the back of the couch and swung around into a sitting position as West came clomping back down the stairs, still surrounded by hyperactive dogs. His steps were much slower now, and heavier -- and as he came into view in the doorway, Prussia saw that he was cradling an accordion the size of a small car engine.

It wasn't exactly a secret that West played the squeezebox. He brought it out only occasionally, but Prussia found it kind of cute to see his little brother all dressed up at some local festival or other, taking over a chair and sitting in with the band for a song or two so a thirsty accordionist could grab a beer. He seldom practised when Prussia was around to see or even hear him, which was a damned shame, but West was painfully self-conscious about any number of dumb things and it wasn't much fun to tease him about this one. His whole attitude towards playing made it even more surprising to see the behemoth that West had in his arms. Prussia had only ever seen him perform on a basic model, the sort that anyone might have, but the one that West was carrying looked like someone had cut a piano in half and strapped it onto a radiator. He wasn't quite staggering under the weight of it, but even with a sizeable shoulder-harness to help support its bulk it was clearly awkward as hell to walk with.

Without so much as a word of explanation, West went straight past him and out the door. Prussia got up and followed him, coming into the front hall just in time to watch West make a fumbling attempt to shut the door with one foot. After two failed tries, he gave up and left, leaving the dogs pawing and nosing at the gap. Over their frustrated whines and barks, Prussia heard the car start again, followed by the grinding of an audibly messy gear shift as West floored the accelerator and peeled out of the drive.

Prussia snapped his fingers at the dogs. 'Down! Go lie down!' he ordered, and shooed them away from the door so he could shut and lock it properly. As the dogs slunk back into the living room, Prussia paused with one hand on the door handle, listening as the sound of West's car faded into the night.

'Well, at least he's making friends,' he murmured, shaking his head slowly. 'Nerdy, embarrassing friends.'

****

'I'm afraid I don't know much about bluegrass.'

Canada paused in the process of rosining his bow to glance at Germany, who was perched awkwardly on the edge of the hotel room's desk chair, holding his massive accordion in front of him like a shield.

'It owes a lot to your folk music, actually,' he said, trying to sound reassuring. He tested his bow with the edge of his thumbnail, then drew it across the rosin once more. 'I'm sure you'll do fine -- we're hardly pros ourselves here.'

'Besides,' America added, 'it's improv, most of the time. There are no wrong answers.' He settled his banjo more comfortably on his knee and looked over at Canada. 'So, "Pitkin County Turnaround"?'

Canada made a slight face. 'I haven't had much of a chance to go through that one. Shouldn't we start with something more...traditional?'

America rolled his eyes. 'It's a turnaround, Mattie, not rocket surgery. And the rhythm line's easy to pick up. For, you know.' He inclined his head meaningfully in Germany's direction.

'Just start it and let me know where to come in,' Germany said, a little desperately. He flexed his fingers over the keys and rolled his shoulders to ease some of the tension there, afraid that if they waited any longer he would freeze up entirely and not be able to play a single note.

Canada seemed to pick up on his unease, and without another word of protest he set the rosin aside and brought his fiddle up to playing position. 'I'll take the rhythm until I get the fingering down.'

America giggled quietly. 'You said "fingering" again.'

Canada managed to keep his exasperated expression in place for all of five seconds before it cracked. 'Yeah, it never gets old,' he said, snickering as well.

Their shared mirth lasted for only a moment before America schooled his expression into something closer to seriousness. 'All right, let's do this.'

As the first notes of the banjo set the key, gradually picking up speed to launch into the melody, Germany felt a buzzing at his hip. He'd turned off the ringer on his mobile that morning, to avoid any disruption during the meetings, but he hadn't turned it back on again. And from the number of times it had vibrated already that evening, he had let nearly a dozen calls go straight to his voicemail -- and hadn't checked it once.

On a sudden impulse, he reached down and unclipped the phone from his belt. He didn't look at the screen; instead, he turned off the phone and set it, still in its holder, on the desk behind him.

Both America and Canada saw it, and their eyes flickered from the phone to each other in a silent, knowing glance. But they smiled, and said nothing, and kept playing, letting the chord changes and the light touch of fingers on strings provide all the commentary required.

Germany, meanwhile, slipped his left hand back into the strap on the bass side and adjusted the position of his right hand over the keyboard. With his thumb on the bellows release, he let the accordion fall open naturally, feeling more than hearing the sigh of air rushing into the bellows. It was comfortable, it was familiar...all he had to do was remember to move his hands and arms smoothly and steadily, and the accordion would respond to him as it always did.

Left hand on the bass buttons. Right hand on the keys. The banjo and fiddle were working their way through the chord progression, building up to the song's eponymous turnaround.

When the melody came back to meet him, he would be ready for it.

***

Notes

Several styles of American, Canadian, and Mexican folk music are partly rooted in Germanic musical traditions. The choice of instruments here (banjo for America, fiddle for Canada, and guitar for Mexico) reflects some of the popular trends in their folk music, such as Dixieland jazz and bluegrass, Cape Breton and Acadian fiddling, and norteño and ranchera. Germany's accordion, of course, is often heard in polkas and other European folk styles, but it has made its way into many New World traditions, including Zydeco and Cajun music. (For those who are interested in seeing a particular cross-cultural example, the 2003 film Schultze Gets the Blues tells the story of an elderly German accordionist who becomes enthralled by Zydeco music and travels to the southern United States to learn more about its musical traditions.

Pitkin County Turnaround -- arguably the inspiration for this entire fic -- was written by comedian and banjo player Steve Martin and performed with the Steep Canyon Rangers on their 2009 album The Crow: New Songs for the Five-String Banjo.


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