Chapter 17: The End

I'll save my spiel/alibi for the end. For now, though, the end.

"You don't mind an early Christmas present, do you?" Norway asked. There was an odd shimmer of intrigue, of anticipation to Norway's cadet blue eyes. He wore his top-quality winter coat and wore a scarf around his neck.

"N-No." Iceland stifled a yawn. What was so important that needed Iceland to wake up at two in the morning? Norway knew Iceland took his sleep very seriously.

"Put on warm clothes and meet me at the front door in five minutes." Norway said in a businesslike tone.

Iceland opened his closet and peeled through winter jackets, spotting his warmest one and pulling it on, zipping it up to his neck. He felt clear of mind that morning, with nothing in his head but resonating calm. Yes, there was something waiting for him, something odd, knowing Norway.

A scarf trailed out from beneath a pile of patient laundry and he plucked it off the floor, tying it around his neck and looping it almost automatically. The last touch was his warm boots. Iceland opened the door to his room and took one last look, just in case, before descending the stairs and meeting up with Norway in the foyer.

Norway's eyebrow cocked downward as he studied Iceland. He undid the scarf from his neck and flung it over Iceland's eye, tying it brusquely at the back of Iceland's head so he could see nothing.

"It'd be better for you not to see it yet." Norway said smoothly as he placed a hand on Iceland's back. He gave Iceland a brotherly shove, indicating Iceland to start walking.

"Norway, come on." Iceland groaned. He stretched his arms out in front of him.

Iceland's foot sank into the snow. Norway had him by the arm now, and he moved quickly. Iceland wanted to 'accidentally' fall just to spite him. So, Iceland changed his gait a little, making his steps smaller and loosening his knees. Eventually, he fell to the ground, taking Norway with him.

There was something satisfying about listening a few swearwords escape Norway as he hit the ground.

"Oh, whoops." Iceland said, trying to maintain an even tone. "I guess I'm a bit clumsy."

"It's fine." Norway said tersely, helping Iceland up.

After a short period of time, Norway halted. There was a pause, and some shifting as Norway undid the scarf from around Iceland's face. The snow and the trees and the sea glowed with the green tones of the aurora borealis swirling over the land.

"Isn't is beautiful?" Norway sighed. "Merry Christmas."

"You too. But wait—let me get this straight—" Iceland sighed. "You dragged me out here at three in the morning to see the Northern Lights, which I've seen like, a million times. To make things worse, you're drunk, and…"

Iceland trailed off when he realized no complaint or accusation of his would penetrate Norway's reverie. The man was completely lost to the bright, swaying ribbons of aurora borealis hanging just above them.

"Don't you wish you could touch them?" Norway tipped his head as far back as his neck allowed. "But we can't."

Iceland hoped his eye roll would serve as his answer. Then he remembered it was dark out and that Norway wasn't quite facing him, meaning that Iceland's gesture went completely unnoticed.

"Don't you think it's strange, Iceland, that we can't feel these lights?" Norway said in a faraway voice.

"No." Iceland answered dryly. "They're lights because they're meant to seen, not heard or touched."

How much had he drunk? Iceland woke at the smell of beer when Norway drew close to wake him a few minutes ago. He walked normally and spoke clearly, but his mental state was—off, to say the least. Iceland watched Norway askance, waiting for his answer, if any, now that ten seconds had passed without a reply.

"We, as nations, are born immortal, condemned to a life of loneliness as we outlive our countrymen. We've been through centuries of war. We've adjusted to history as it unfolded, and continues to unfold. We've stood on the bloody, pulpy battlefield of this earth much longer than anyone ever should. Religions, philosophies, war, and politics rip the world apart time and time again, and nations die out." At this point, Iceland could've sworn he heard a tremor in Norway's voice. "But here I am—here we are—at the mercy of natural phenomena. I've survived dragon bites, storms, war, and tragedies that would kill a normal human, but I still can't wrap my finger around those beautiful lights. We have territory in the form of land, airspace, and satellites, but we can't even graze the sky with our own bare hands. We'll never know an afterlife, and…"

Then Iceland noticed another aurora borealis reflected in Norway's quickly dampening eyes.

"Calm down, Nor," Iceland's suggestion—not quite a consolation—came out like an order. He looked over his shoulder, hoping that Finland or Denmark—or Sweden, anybody—would be hovering nearby, raring to knock some sense into Norway, or chide his drunkenness and steer him back into bed. Alas, Iceland found himself dreadfully alone, entering a state of panic. His mind reeled and his hands sweat in his gloves and his heart beat so fast and so hard that he felt his heartbeat nearly burst the tip of every finger—just because Norway showed some real emotion.

"I'm fine," Norway breathed deeply. He smiled a wavering, watery smile at Iceland. Norway may have been in the middle of an epiphany, but he still noticed that Iceland had crept away from him. Norway thrust his hand out, grabbed Iceland by the sleeve and wrenched him close enough for him to throw his arm around Iceland's neck in a sloppy, Denmark-like gesture.

"Really, Iceland, you cannot allow yourself to get so flustered in the face of emotion." Norway said, reverting to his businesslike tone.

"If someone died or something really bad happened, it would be fine, but, uh—you're crying about the sky, in case you haven't noticed." Iceland suddenly found himself overcome with the fluttery sensation of repressed nervous laughter.

Norway, vexed by Iceland's remark, shot him a look. "This isn't about the sky—and I'm not crying, Iceland."

"Yeah, yeah," Iceland murmured. Maybe not now, but at this rate, Norway would be in a full-fledged Italy-style crying jag within five minutes.

"If you can't handle your stupid brother when he's drunk and weepy," Norway wagged a finger at him. "You are not fit to be a nation. Just wait until tragedy strikes, and you're clutching a screaming mother when her son died, or picking the bodies of your countrymen out of wreckage—or watching another nation, once so great and powerful, die, not knowing whether you will be the next one wiped off the face of the earth." As Norway spoke, his grip around Iceland's neck tightened, and Iceland's hands drifted to Norway's arm—a gentle reminder that Iceland, despite his so-called immortality, still needed oxygen to survive.

"If you live as long as I have, you'll see terrible things, and do worse things. I wish I could tell you my entire history, but you would think me no better than scum when, in fact, you and I are nothing more than scum. You'll be swayed by zeitgeist and blinded by lies. You'll feel utterly alone. Even so, I hope you live much, much longer—I hope you taste joy and tragedy alike, in equal amounts, enough to remind you that you are, whether you like it or not, still human."

"Why are we talking about this on Christmas day?" Iceland tittered. No matter how hard he tried to tune Norway out, to keep his words from piercing through Iceland's determined aloofness, Iceland couldn't keep Norway's words out of his head.

"I won't tell you my old wounds," Norway waved a hand, "But I will say, Iceland, that most recent joy is having you in my life again."

"Not this again," Iceland blinked a few times. The winter air made his eyes prickle.

"If something were to happen to me, I would be happy that you would have the greatest company on the planet—Sweden, Finland, and Denmark—"

"Norway, you're scaring me." Iceland said sharply, throwing Norway's arm off his shoulder. "Are you predicting the future, like you predicted Hanatamago's death?"

He drew a breath and held it, as though he was about to say something, but thought better of it. Iceland wondered what made him reconsider. What thought was so brash and harrowing that Norway couldn't speak so gently, so eloquently?

"To a certain extent, yes." Norway conceded. "All nations will die at some point, either by natural causes or the end of the world. That is the inescapable reality. But if I have a choice, I would like to die first. You'll be in the company of Denmark, Sweden, and Finland—there are no better people on this earth than they."

Iceland, now spellbound, waited intently for Norway to go on.

"Those three are my best friends, but you're my brother. I may not know your secrets and you won't know mine, but we share the same blood. So," Norway smiled. "I would spill mine for you any day, because I—"

Norway's eyebrow twitched and he bit his lip, withholding tears and keeping his composure intact.

"I love you, Iceland." As soon as he spoke the words, Norway's trembling mouth split into a warm smile, and he crushed Iceland in an even warmer embrace. Iceland, dumbfounded but inwardly moved, hugged him back.

"I—well…you too." Iceland stammered, awkwardly patting Norway on the back, signaling his eagerness to break the embrace. His heartfelt words tumbled into Iceland's soul and he felt happy, naturally, but he found himself too mystified to properly return the kindness. Iceland probably wouldn't remember a thing he said except for that one little sentence.

"Say it." Norway ordered. "Say it now. Someday you will want to tell someone that, but you won't be able to, because you're a nation, and they're dead. So say it, Iceland."

"It's not that I don't love you back, Nor, it's just that—" Iceland's never finish his explanation because Norway's grip around his shoulder tightened so harshly and so quickly that Iceland heard a few snaps and clicks from his spine.

"I will not let go until you say it."

"Loveyoutoo." Iceland said breathlessly.

"Like you mean it." Norway hissed.

Iceland figured he would understand when he was older. Norway had centuries of experience behind him—perhaps his words would have been better received by elder nations, but Iceland could only sit and listen and hope to find majesty in nature the Norway did, even though he stood among the same trees as he did a thousand years ago.

"I love you too, Norway." Iceland said hoarsely. Whether with voice withered with lack of breath of emotion he could not discern.

Norway, as he promised, released him.

"You'll understand when you're older," Norway said reassuringly. "And now, without further ado, your Christmas present."

Norway withdrew a rock from his pocket and plunked it Iceland's hand. Iceland, perplexed, the turned the jagged, scratchy rock over and over again in his hands.

"It's a rock." Iceland said.

"An astute observation." Norway said, raising an eyebrow. He expected a thank-you.

"Is it…" Iceland gave the rock a shake and waited for a zap or a fairy or some other weird phenomena that tended to tag along with Norway. "Is it magical, or something?"

Norway shook his head.

"Okay." Iceland sighed. "I mean….well, thanks…I guess."

"This rock is from your land, Iceland." Norway said sternly. "The punishing terrain of your land never ceases to amaze me, and I have lived for a long time." Norway remarked in a dreamy tone so unfitting for one as stoic as him.

"Obviously," Iceland smiled wryly, giggling at the thought of Norway going misty eyed because he couldn't touch the sky.

Even so, Norway had a point. Iceland was in charge of everything he saw and beyond from the craggy overlook from below, from the volcanoes to the rivers—no, hewas everything he stood on. Every faceted mountain and glimmering glacier. He was all of that yet he lived among the citizens of the country, and he felt emotions like they did. At that moment, the duality of his position dawned upon Iceland.

"It is the ultimate honor to be a nation." Norway said with utmost pride.

"Yeah." Iceland agreed. He drew out the word, which turned his tone sarcastic and earned him a look from Norway. "So, uh…anything else? I mean, you literally gave me a rock."

"It will be useful soon." Norway said dryly.

Iceland squeezed the rock in his hand and frowned. He knew Norway was weird, but he didn't know Norway was so incomprehensibly strange after all. He wondered what else time would reveal, though at this rate, it would be four centuries before he scratched the surface of Norway's self.

The two were silent for a few minutes. It was cold outside, even for them, and when Iceland grew tired of the chilly wind, he marched up to his front door and twisted the doorknob— but he was met with a solid knob that would not turn. He whirled around to face Norway. "My door. It's locked."

"And you have the key, is that right?" Norway said calmly.

"Why did you lock my door? I told you, this is Reykjavik!" Iceland said, raising his voice. "And the back door—you locked it too, didn't you?"

"Certainly." Norway said, blinking coyly. "Try the doorbell."

"It's been broken for years." Iceland muttered.

"How impractical." Norway sniffed.

"Then just…call someone." Iceland said frantically. He shivered.

Norway ran his gloved hands over his pockets. Then he frowned, and patted each pocket, jamming his hands into every single one and feeling up and down his body for his cell phone. Nothing.

"Oh my Goooood," Iceland dragged the sentence out in a low groan. He didn't have his phone either. The two were locked out. Perhaps Norway didn't mind sleeping outside beneath the Northern Lights, but Iceland pined for his warm bed. "It's your job to wake someone up, then. Throw snowballs at the windows until they notice." Iceland suggested—commanded.

"Finland will ignore it." Norway muttered.

"And the other two?" Iceland prompted, head throbbing with rapidly growing anger.

"Sweden only wakes at the sound of a human voice and Denmark is practically in a coma at this hour."

"You know their sleep patterns?" Iceland snorted.

"After wandering the North Atlantic with them for so many years, it would be pitiful not to know everything about them." Norway said, brushing his tastefully windswept hair out of his eyes. "But I have an idea. Give me your rock."

Iceland gladly retrieved the rock from his pocket and eagerly thrust it into Norway's hands. Iceland followed Norway until they reached Sweden's window.

"You break it, you buy it." Iceland said. He didn't know why smiled at the prospect of broken windows, but he never bothered wiping the grin off his face.

"Naturally," Norway agreed. With that, he reeled his arm back, and Iceland braced himself for the earsplitting sound of broken glass, only for the rock to thud against the house—two feet away from the targeted window.

Iceland stifle a snicker. "What the hell kind of throw was that? You were like, two feet off, and we're practically under the window."

Norway made a second attempt, only for the rock to land squarely above the window. Iceland's snickering escalated into laughter. The situation itself was not hilarious; if anything, it was downright ridiculous. What had Iceland in stitches was the fact that Norway pillaged civilizations, slew monsters, and braved the seas, yet he couldn't hit a window.

Norway tried to frown at Iceland, but he too ended up chuckling when his third throw still missed.

While they stood there, guffawing, the window opened, and Sweden stood in the window frame, lowering at them as though they were both Denmark.

"'Splain y'rselves." He tone was officious but his voice was groggy, which hardly abated Iceland and Norway's giggles.

"We're—" Norway choked back more laughter. "—locked out."

Sweden opened the front door for them and quickly declared neutrality. "'M not gonna ask." Sweden muttered.

"It's not my fault." Iceland smirked. He pointed to Norway, who tripped on his way into the house. "He's drunk and philosophical, so don't talk to him. As in, he cried about the sky—"

Norway clamped a hand over Iceland's mouth, but the words were out. A look of sympathy and understanding crossed Sweden's face, and his eyes clouded with an awful memory of one of Norway's spiels. He gave each of them a pat on the back that was too stiff to be friendly, warning them instead to not pull a stunt like that ever again.

"He's exhausted, as I'm sure you can tell, Sweden. Don't listen to him."

Sweden shrugged and turned around, but Iceland caught him smiling as he lumbered back upstairs.

The brothers bade each other good night and went their separate ways. Now under his warm covers, Iceland mulled over all the things Norway said. Every word of Norway's and every thought of his own melded together, and suddenly nothing made sense. So Iceland breathed a deep breath and brought another thought to the forefront. Norway's grisly description of what it meant to be a nation made Iceland wonder whether he would be utterly bored with his life someday, yearning for a human lifespan—and he also wondered how Norway and other old nations hadn't been bored to death with the monotony of wars and life and technology. Another consideration that floundered in Iceland's mind, but made his stomach churn.

Then he imagined the reactions from Denmark and Finland when they learned of last night's adventure, and he thought about the fun times they had shared, and what more shenanigans they would dabble in in the upcoming weeks, years—or centuries. And then, Iceland suddenly knew.

And he agreed—maybe this whole living forever thing wouldn't be so bad if he got to be with people like them—former Vikings, but friends forever.

Speaking of scum of the earth—yours truly.

Three years later and wracked with guilt for taking literally forever to update, I write again—not only to finish this story, but also to apologize.

In short, around the time I stopped writing this fic (June 2011), I suddenly found myself crushed with writer's block and at the same time utterly devoted to my original works. In April of 2014, I experienced a Hetalia Renaissance, if you will, and suddenly felt moved to finish this.

Nonetheless, I apologize for the wait.

But I also thank you. Three years pass without a hint of my existence, and I still receive favorites and alerts. I am humbled by your patience and encouragement.

Thank you, and best regards to all of you, wherever you may be now that three years have passed, and wherever you end up.