It took a few hundred years for Liechtenstein to truly get to interact with almost every nation in Europe, whether it be through casual conversation at a party or actual political talk at meetings. Part of it was her fault. Of course she knew that she needed to actually go out and interact with nations at least in casual conversation at meetings but (and she wasn't completely blaming her brother for this—she was merely referencing a theory for her hesitation to talk) every time she started a new conversation, most of the time, she would feel the stern gaze of Switzerland on the backs of her and the poor nation she was speaking with. Of course she had to rely on her big brother for military protection because of her lack of an army but truthfully, she was both grateful and annoyed for his overprotection.
The other part was not her fault. At least, again, not completely. For such a small country, it was no wonder that everyone seemed to ignore her and forgot about her. She always noticed little details about other countries and they seemed surprised every single time when they finally got around to interacting with her and she brought up the details she noticed about them.
"Oh my dear!"a singsong voice called out. An arm wrapped around her shoulder and a face peered into hers. "Come over and have something to drink," the voice drawled.
Liechtenstein glanced up. "Miss Hungary, I'll be right over. But you seem fairly red. Are you sure you should be drinking this much still?" She gestured at the glass of beer being held unsteadily in Hungary's right hand, sloshing its contents all over the front of her white evening dress.
The woman grinned, a crazy twinkle in her eyes and smile. Liechtenstein shrank slightly under her gaze.
"I drank all of them under the table," Hungary declared, "I had to win a bet against those stupid boys you know. And keep up my winning streak." She nudged someone who had stumbled to her side. "Hey dummy! What am I at now? Seven streak?"
Prussia glanced at her blearily, a face of regret and too much alcohol showing in his eyes, and held up two fingers. "Eight streak. Eight years you've won the drinking competition. And there were more countries this year too. How…?" he mumbled before slumping onto the beige settee in front of the fireplace."
Hungary raised her head and laughed heartily with her arm still wrapped around Liechtenstein. "Even better than I thought! You should learn from me, my dear Liech-y."
"But I think…" Liechtenstein's voice trailed off as Hungary let go of her and sauntered off to another group of nations to brag about her win streak, sloshing her cup of beer all over the carpet in the process. "Nevermind." She sighed.
There were 30 minutes until midnight and the noise still hadn't died down. Some of the so-called important nations like Britain and France were continuing to drink at the dining table, toasting every five minutes to the new year and wishing each other both curses and blessings.
Others were sitting on the ground in a circle telling stories, or rather conspiracy theories about the new year and whether an apocalypse would happen soon. Of course, those actually sitting around were younger nations like Sealand who hadn't lived to see a few centuries of history.
Overall, the party's atmosphere had been a horrific pain to Liechtenstein and her head ever since she stepped through the doors. Loud music had been playing the whole night, brawls started up every few minutes, there was too much yelling and everyone had too much to drink for their own good. The collapse of the Berlin Wall this year meant that it was the first time in a long time that the nations from eastern and western Europe got together to celebrate the new year. And celebrate they did, perhaps a bit too much.
"Liechtenstein!" Someone grabbed her arm and she restrained herself from tearing herself away. Instead, she stayed put. "Yes?" she asked.
Ukraine beamed at her. "Now let's toast to a new year, a new century hopefully full of no worries, button-down shirts that fit me and never pop open, good food and harvests in my country, no conflict, a large hammer to kill the cockroaches in my kitchen…" The woman droned on and on. Liechtenstein stared at Ukraine trying to determine on a scale of 1 to 10 how drunk the other nation was. At least a number 9 probably.
"Ukraine, do you know where my brother is?" she interrupted.
The other nation stopped listing her demands of the new year. "Sorry my dear. Haven't seen him. Haven't seen mine either." She held her head and stopped before calmly continuing. "That reminds me, I should check on Lithuania soon. Last I checked, sister was sharpening her knives for him. But first," She waved her hand dismissively, "Have any wishes before we drink?"
"Um..I… how about world peace?" Liechtenstein suggested meekly. Avoid Belarus tonight, she mentally checked off.
"Hmm, let me help you there. How about more money?"
"I'm doing fine, financially," the smaller girl replied.
"Not a problem for me."
"What's wrong with my hair?" Liechtenstein subconsciously touched the ends of her short, blonde locks.
"A fuller figure, then?"
Liechtenstein felt her face heating up and she self-consciously wrapped her arms around herself. "Is-is my chest too flat?" she whispered at her more curvaceous friend.
"At least buttons don't pop off every now and then for you," she said, winking. "Any last wishes?"
"I think it'd be nice to have a little more recognition-"
"Enough talk! Let's drink already!" Ukraine yelled suddenly before shoving a glass of liquid into Liechtenstein's hands and downing her own cup. In shock, Liechtenstein downed her drink as well, almost to the bottom of the cup when the awful burning in her throat set in and she started coughing.
Ukraine lifted her glass and stared at it, puzzled. "I thought this was champagne. I must've grabbed the wrong bottle." She giggled.
"Ukraine," Cough, cough, "Is this…?"
The older girl bent down and patted her back. "Only my country's finest vodka. Don't worry. You'll get used to it." She stood up. "I see Switzerland by the stairs with Germany and Austria. Ah, and Lithuania is at the children's table being yelled at by Sealand. It's nice to see him still alive."
"Thank you Ukraine, but I'll be leaving now with my brother. It's been quite a night." Liechtenstein started towards Switzerland but Ukraine grabbed her hand.
"Aww, we haven't even seen the new year come in yet. At least wait until 12. Loosen up a little, dear." Ukraine let go of her hand.
"I'll consider it. Thank you," Liechtenstein said in her usual reserved but polite tone. But she felt her voice strain under the mounting headache and she just wanted to go home and rest off. Being forced to take part in the drinking at these parties was the worst and she could already feel the effects of the alcohol she had earlier with some of the other nations taking over.
She made her way to her brother and as she got closer, she could start hearing the end of the argument that was taking place among the three nations.
"Gott im Himmel, you are an arse. If I had it, I would play my piano right now to show you just how much I mean that," Austria said indignantly while jostling Switzerland's arm enough that the other man got beer all over himself.
Switzerland swore at the dark haired man and pulled out his handkerchief to soak up the liquid spreading across his shirt. Germany, who would have probably been giving a warning glance at Austria at the moment instead leaned back against the wall and sighed.
"Brother? Maybe we should go home now," Liechtenstein said while giving a polite nod to both Germany and Austria. She pulled at her brother's shirt to get him up.
Switzerland sat still before drinking what was left from his glass before holding up his hand to motion her away. "Leave us. Go watch the new year's celebrations on t.v."
"B-but," she stuttered out, "I thought you wanted to leave early."
"I have 'business' to talk with these fools here." He glared at Austria who was now grooming his hair and Germany who was falling asleep and letting his head droop slowly onto Austria's shoulder.
"I don't think it's good to talk business when everyone's too drunk to do so…" Liechtenstein's voice died down as her brother gave her that look that he often used when he was busy with other nations. That let-the-important-nations-to-talk-with-big-brother-Switzerland-since-you-don't-know-any-better look.
"Yes brother. Find me so we can go home when you're done," she said. She walked away from the trio and decided to find sanctuary on the balcony, away from all the ruckus going on inside. She sat on a chair and leaned against the balcony railing. The glowing lights of London lit up the city against the snowy sky and the River Thames and distant chatter from the streets as people awaited the new year echoed in her ears and she was suddenly feeling incredibly drowsy. The snow fell silently around and on her and though it was getting colder, at least it felt better than being in the stuffy sitting room inside.
The sound of a flutter of wings startled her and she opened her eyes to be greeted by the sight of a puffin that was perched on the railing.
She was pretty sure that puffins weren't native to England, at least not to London. She reached out to pet the bird and to her surprise, it didn't fly away.
"Hello there," she whispered, "Are you lost? Do you have an owner?"
The bird stared at her and she noticed that it had a red bowtie around its neck. So it did have an owner after all. She continued stroking its glossy black feathers. It seemed familiar, this bird.
"Will you keep me some quiet company? I'll help you find your owner but for now, I just want to sit here away from the noise." She lay her head on her left arm which was resting on the railing.
"I almost want to say this is silly, me talking to a bird when I could be talking to any of the many nations inside. Am I so small that no one can be bothered to listen to me?" She posed this rhetorical question at the puffin who just looked at her and started preening its feathers. "Even brother brushes me off sometimes." She buried her head in her arm. "It must be nice to be a bird, free to go anywhere anytime. Birds don't have to listen to anyone if they please." Liechtenstein sighed. "I don't think I'm even making sense anymore."
Urgent footsteps thumped behind her. She spun around to see a boy with short, cream-coloured hair and violet eyes wearing a white blouse with a long brown blazer with matching pants and white boats. Little wisps of breath coming out of his mouth met the cold air.
"Mr. Puffin! I told you to stay put. You can't just go around flying everywhere," he scolded.
"Mr. Puffin?" Liechtenstein asked.
The boy turned to her as if just seeing her. "That's his name." His face became a little red but immediately, any indication of embarrassment left his face and his face became a mask of disinterest.
She smiled politely. "No, it fits him well."
Silence filled the air and she found herself unable to adhere to it. "Are you Iceland?" she said.
"Yeah." He held out his arm to let Mr. Puffin perch onto it and adjusted the bow in the bird. Mr. Puffin hopped onto it and pecked at his hand.
"I'm Liechtenstein," she said, after a few more beats of silence.
He stared blankly at her. "Liechtenstein. Next to Germany?"
"Close. Between Austria and Switzerland. In the Alps." It wasn't unusual for other nations, especially those she didn't interact with often or at all, to forget or even be unaware of her existence. Still, a shard of disappointment always stabbed at her when this happened.
"Oh," he said before suddenly jolting his arm. "Ow, what's wrong with you? That hurt you know!" he exclaimed at Mr. Puffin who looked not the least bit guilty for pecking his hand a little too enthusiastically. In an apologetic tone, he said, "I'm really sorry. Geography's not my strong suit, especially about mainland Europe."
"No worries. You aren't the first person or nation to be unsure of who I am. Plus you're so far from the mainland so of course you probably won't remember all the nations. I can barely remember everyone myself sometimes. So don't worry at all." She was rambling now. All the alcohol was making her head swim and her thoughts started to feel a little murky.
He folded his arms on the balcony railing and looked out, his eyes mirroring the bright lights coming from the city and Tower Bridge. Mr. Puffin was back on the railing preening his feathers.
"If anything, I should take more effort to remember everyone," he said. He put his chin into his palm. "Being forgotten all the time isn't fair."
Liechtenstein smiled even though the pounding in her head grew stronger. A little bit of nausea was settling in her throat as well. "I think many countries would appreciate your effort." She needed to take her mind off her headache so she continued talking. "What is it like? Living where you live I mean?"
"Huh?" Iceland looked startled.
"I don't mean to pry or anything," she said, "you don't have to say anything about yourself if you want," she finished quietly.
"O-oh I see." He scratched his head. "I guess, uh, contrary to my name, it's not that cold up there. It's not like there are sheets of ice covering every inch of my land. Don't get me wrong though, it's not like there isn't any snow or ice either," he said hastily. "There are volcanoes and mountains—I have beaches too. But I heard beaches usually have golden sand. Well, my beaches have black sand instead. Err… in the winter, the sun doesn't show at all and in the summer, the sun never sets…"
"You can see the aurora borealis in the winter, right?" she said.
"Right. To be honest, you can see the auroras in other countries as well as experience the midnight sun and polar night. It's not particularly unique to me and for most people, they would rather go to Norway to see these things since, well, it's harder to get to where I live and farther. It's okay though. I enjoy the peace and quiet."
Liechtenstein rested her head on the railing and gazed carefully at him. For a second just now, there seemed to be a flicker of, what was it? Regret? Sadness? Some sort of somber expression on his face. But it was gone and replaced by his usual neutral face.
"If you don't mind me entering your peaceful bubble, I would like to visit. I've never seen the northern lights before and I'd like to. But more than that, I'd like to see the beaches. It's something I don't get to see often, nevertheless black sand ones. I don't get to see the sea much either."
"It's not like the view from my place is anything special. It's not worth the hassle of getting there," he said, brushing off the snow that started accumulating on him.
"But that where you're wrong. It might not be special to you since you've been there since the start and you're surrounded by water but to me, completely landlocked in the middle of Europe, far from the arctic circle, it's something spectacular."
It may have been her imagination but a rare smile seemed to form on his face before he turned away from her. "If you say so. I won't stop you," he mumbled.
Silence and snowflakes filled the cool air again and although it was reaching freezing temperatures, Liechtenstein felt warm inside. That glass of vodka was starting to set in but the nausea stayed.
"Say, if you're landlocked and surrounded by countries all the time… tiring after awhile being around them?" Iceland said.
She blinked a few times, trying to gather her surroundings again and think on what he said. She was dozing off again!
"Sorry, what were you saying?" she asked, sheepishly.
He turned to face her again. "Are you close with the countries around you?"
"Well, Austria comes to visit me sometimes. But I'm mostly just close to brother, I mean Switzerland, since he takes care of most of my things. Sometimes he's a bit overbearing and doesn't listen well but—" She paused. "He's genuinely very kind and caring even if he doesn't look like it. You have brothers too, don't you?"
He nodded. "They're annoying, loud, and nosy and they always try to drag me to things—I only came to this party because of them. I was planning to watch the New Years television program at my home—but—" He sighed. "I don't hate them. I don't dislike them at all." He looked away.
Liechtenstein was about to say more when suddenly the Big Ben chimed midnight and fireworks shot into the sky as the people in the streets cheered. She gazed up, marvelling at the vibrant display of lights. Slowly, the echoes of the fireworks popping and the people chattering faded from her ears. Her eyelids drooped.
"... ss her?"
"Why… do th… don't...even!"
"... years… tradi… mi..."
"But she's sleeping!"
She woke up with a start. Why were there two voices just now? The Big Ben was still chiming, it's bongs counting to 12. Beside her, Mr. Puffin sat on the railing with a mischievous look in his eye while Iceland's face was completely red.
"Happy New Years," she said. "Are you alright?"
"I-uh I," he stuttered out.
"Oh c'mon already. She's awake now so just kiss her or somethin'. I don't want you to be cursed with loneliness if you break this tradition. You're moody enough already," a rough voice squawked.
She looked down at the bird on the railing. "Mr. Puffin talks?"
"I bit too much at that," the boy said, his voice strained. "Just ignore him—"
He never got to finish his sentence as Liechtenstein stepped towards him and stood tiptoed to plant a quick kiss on his mouth. His lips were soft and the short ends of his hair tickled her face. Her fingertips brushed his cheeks, now burning at her touch. She stepped back and opened her eyes before wrapping her hands over her mouth in shock at what she'd done. He stared back at her, wide-eyed.
"Oh no, I'm terribly sorry! I didn't ask if you were okay with me doing that. I-I don't know what came over me just now." She felt her own face burn and to her horror, she felt something else burn at the back of her throat.
"No, no, please don't apologize. It's alright, I didn't mind—Mr. Puffin was egging you on," he stepped towards her but she held up a hand to stop him from proceeding.
"Are you alright?" He frowned.
Liechtenstein was about to reply when she felt the queasiness she'd been feeling all evening come up and out of her mouth into the potted plant to her left. She continued vomiting until she felt there was nothing left and slid onto the ground, breathing hard. She glanced at the puffin holding her hair back and at Iceland, who was awkwardly patting her back. Suddenly, she felt a second wave of vomit come up and she was back at the plant, coughing her insides out.
"Are ya that disgusting, boy? Did'ya forgot to brush your teeth today!"
"I brushed them! And before you ask, the last time I took a shower was this morning!" Iceland said, indignantly.
"Don't tell you me you ate rotten shark! Or was it the liquorice?" screeched Mr. Puffin.
"I don't eat hákarl every day! You should know!"
"But pickled herring is just as bad!"
Liechtenstein turned around to face two. Iceland's face had become red again and as soon as he saw her, he backed away.
"No, please, it's not your fault. I've had too many drinks shoved at me tonight and the vodka Ukraine gave me must've been the tipping point," she said, getting up. Her vision swam and she used the railing to steady herself.
"I'm glad." His face filled with relief. "Are you okay right now? Do you...do you need me to help you back inside?" His voice filled with uncertainty.
The fireworks behind her were becoming too loud for her comfort. She pushed off from the railing to walk towards the doors leading inside. Her legs wobbled slightly and Iceland moved to help her but she held her hand out to stop him. "I'll be fine, thank you."
"I think I'll be leaving soon. It was good talking to you, Iceland." She held out her hand and he shook it.
"It was nice meeting you too Liechtenstein."
"I'm sorry for, you know…" She glanced down, feeling her face warm again.
"If anyone should be sorry, it should be this guy over here," he said, glaring at the puffin now perched on his shoulder.
"His voice is very different from what I would've imagined. But still, he's very cute," she said, smiling a bit. "I hope we can become good friends both casually and politically in the future, though I know I have very little control over the latter."
He didn't reply so she looked him up and down and was about to leave when she noticed something. "Where's the ribbon you always tie around your collar?"
He raised his eyebrows. "Hmm? My ribbon? It fell off earlier I think."
"Then if you don't mind..." Liechtenstein reached up and pulled her green ribbon from her hair and pulled it off. She stepped closer to Iceland and reached up and wrapped her ribbon around his white collar before tying it in a bow. "There. It's not white but at least you look festive now."
He held up the end of the ribbon around his neck and was quiet for a few moments. "But why?" Confusion and embarrassment were mixed into his face.
"It's cold outside. Goodbye, it was nice meeting you and I hope to see you again soon. Have good new years." She waved and turned to leave.
Silence followed for a few beats but just as she was about to head into the crowd of bustling noisiness again, she heard him call out, "You're welcome to visit anytime!" followed by Mr. Puffin squawking, "Festive indeed! But did'ya hear? She called me cute!"
Liechtenstein grinned to herself as she headed back to the stairs where her big brother sat.
Because the last image she had of Iceland in her head was him standing on the balcony, white breaths puffing out from his mouth into the cold snowy air while he, oblivious to the fireworks going off behind, looked down and held her green ribbon while smiling widely. A rare smile indeed.
She knew she would wake up the next day in horror over her brashness caused by her alcohol-induced mindstate but for now, she bathed in her happiness.
So she went into the new year with a silly grin. And another wave of vomit.
She rushed to the bathroom.