The most important thing I have to say is that: I'm sorry. More details in the A/N
Warning: This chapter has not gone through a beta. (I simply have no energy to search for a new one again. If it gets too obvious no one is beta reading this, please say so. I'm trying to be careful but...)
18. The Encouraging Chapter
...in which pressure is lifted
As the sun started to rise and illuminate the forest with natural light, the will-o'-wisps faded out of existence one by one. When that started happening, everyone – humans and nations alike, in the forest or indoors – heaved a collective sigh of relief. Be their opinion of each other whatever it was, both sides were equally happy to see the third party of their conflict disappear for now.
Please let that be the last time we see them, please let that be the last time we see them... Latvia prayed in his head as a mantra to hopefully ward the remaining few wisps close by into keeping their distance from him. Leaning his back to the tree trunk behind him, Latvia sighed and then took a deep breath. Ever since America had left him there to go scouting the forest by himself, Latvia had managed to stay away from the wisps. Their journey through the yard to get this far had been absolutely hellish to his nerves, but America had been surprisingly good at leading a spy operation and following the instructions they knew regarding the foolish fire. Except of course the one that said not to venture out in the first place while the wisps were around.
Latvia had tried to convince America to wait until the dawn before venturing further out, but it hadn't worked for too long. So in conclusion, right now America was nowhere to be seen. He had left them to the forest to wait for him to come back from his rounds and was still on his way. Italy hadn't needed convincing to stay so he was still sitting beside Latvia on the moss, trying to fight against sleepiness as their wait was getting longer and longer. Italy's instructions had been to go deliver news about Norway's injury and delay to the front line if the forest seemed save enough, but to him it definitely did not.
Quite a long twilight... Latvia thought while scanning the dimly lit sky above. The sun wasn't visible yet, but the sky was starting to get properly bright. I guess were pretty far up north? Or however geography works here... I guess.
"Latvia, Italy? What are you doing here?"
Latvia jumped, shrieking a little in surprise and instinctively reached for his gun, before his brain registered the speaker was a person he knew. Italy jerked up from his half sleep as well and rolled down to the moss to apologise and show he'd surrender.
Switzerland walked the last ten metres between them, frowning at Italy as he got close. "Stop that. What if I really was an enemy? We can't have anyone surrendering here. Not even you, Italy." He turned to Latvia. "And show some more attention to your surroundings if you decide to camp out in the forest, you two. I wasn't even sneaking."
"Ah, sorry. I just, well..." Latvia scratched his hair and stood up. He changed the subject. "Why are you here, Switzerland?"
"Bringing a few injured in," Switzerland replied and looked over his shoulder towards the front lines. "Things happened. The back-up group is bringing Turkey and Denmark in. They'll be here soon, I'm scouting ahead. But your turn to tell me what are you two sitting outside for?"
"T... there's someone here," Latvia explained frantically, not sure how to put the situation into words. "The Home was attacked and–"
"What?" Switzerland's frown deepened and he looked between Latvia and Italy, a little angry. "And so you two came here to sit and space out while the hut needs protecting?"
His angry tone made Italy flinch. "I'm sorry!" he yelped immediately, afraid of being yelled at. "But– America told us to wait here!"
"America went– went to scout around a-and... he told us to wait until he got back," Latvia explained as well, pointing to the direction America had disappeared to earlier and then glanced at Italy who was now sitting on his knees on the moss. "Italy was supposed to... to go report this to China but we thought it wouldn't be safe for him to go out there alone and–"
"So you two decided to wait until he no longer has the cover of darkness to sneak about?" Switzerland confirmed, growing more irritated by the minute. "And America is out there alone?" He pointed to general direction of 'somewhere in the forest' all around them. "I'm liking this less and less. There was no one worth mentioning between here and the lines so get your ass moving, Italy," Switzerland growled and squinted at Italy, pointing towards the front lines now. Then he suddenly shook his head. "Or you know what, I'll go do it. I need to go back anyway. It's starting to brighten up so I can finally go back into shooting stuff. You two can help get the two injured Home instead. Sweden, Belgium and Netherlands will bring you a bit more fire power to protect this place. What's the situation I need to report?"
Latvia bit his lip and averted his eyes a little when Switzerland looked between them expectantly. "Switzerland, you see... it's not good news."
Switzerland's irritated and impatient expression turned a bit more serious and he nodded. "I didn't expect that, considering the hut was attacked. Spill it. What happened?"
"Norway was shot," Italy replied, standing up. The shift in Switzerland's expression upon hearing this made him shake a little. "He was out doing the spell with Hong Kong when someone sniped him from the forest! We barely got them inside, but–"
"Norway can't complete the spell in time!" Latvia finished. He was about to continue to explain things better but shut up when Switzerland grabbed both him and Italy by the collar and yanked them closer to himself.
"And you did NOT come to tell us that?!" Switzerland was genuinely angry now. "Do you have any idea how much that changes everything? EVERYTHING!" He let go of them, shoving them a bit back and turned away. "Dammit..."
Latvia shrank back a little, suddenly hating himself for not being any stronger. "...I'm sorry."
Switzerland shook his head. "We need to focus on what to do next and we need everyone's help to get around. You two included so get yourselves together." He turned back to look at them. "We need the most updated report of this info we can get. I'll take the info to China after we've gone back Home to check things. We need to know exactly how much more time Norway needs. We're at our last legs in the front line. The last night was bad..." He scowled at the memory. "I'll tell you on the way. Come with me to get the others," he said to Italy and then turned to look at Latvia. "We need to get that one adventuring dumbass back here, Latvia. You know in which direction he went, right?"
Latvia nodded and took a better hold of his gun, determined to make up for his mistakes. "Yeah. I'll go find America."
.*** *** ***
Norway grunted, forcing his eyes open again. As much his body needed it by now, being too aware of their situations and his own duties, made his mind unable to rest enough to let him sleep. The floor under him felt cold even with the blanket in between.
The sound he made brought Liechtenstein's attention to him and she immediately knelt down beside him. "You're awake again already? How are you–"
"How long... has it been now?" Norway interrupted, cringing at the stinging wound at his side.
"Just little over an hour," Liechtenstein assured, setting her hand on Norway's shoulder before Norway could even think about getting up. "You should rest a little more." Norway barely opened his mouth to reply before she continued. "Yes you can, mister."
Norway sighed, closing his eyes for a moment again before looking back at the stern pout Liechtenstein was giving him. She really looks like Switzerland when she does that, he thought before giving in. "I feel terrible. Thanks for askin'."
Liechtenstein looked at him, a little surprised for a second for the lack of a counter argument, but smiled then.
"Leave everything to us for a while, Norway," Austria said, managing to put up a reassuring face. "We will fare a little longer even if you nap."
While reluctantly agreeing to lay down, it was soon apparent that Norway couldn't sleep no matter how many combined glares Liechtenstein and Seychelles sent at him. They couldn't exactly blame him: his stress levels were probably as high if not higher than theirs right now. The sun was starting to rise, but they still hadn't heard anything from the people they had sent out, nor had their enemy made any moves. Waiting wasn't new to them, but right now it was nerve wrecking.
Soon Hong Kong and Norway were quietly talking about the papers that needed rearranging after Hong Kong had dropped them to the ground. This gave Norway something relatively easy to direct his mind to while he could still lay down and their quiet chatting relaxed the atmosphere where no one else could think of anything to say.
A while later, Iceland, who was peeking out of the front door to get a better view of the yard now that the wisps were almost gone, knocked the door frame a couple of times to get everyone's attention. "We're getting visitors. I suggest getting some meds ready."
Their enemy awakened when someone once again stepped on the clearing, but unfortunately for them, the nations had expected an interference. After Belgium had baited the enemy to shoot, it only took a moment for Switzerland to aim his own sniping rifle towards a right spot and return the fire. Some close calls later, the back-up group managed to reach the safety of the hut.
Even though Italy had told them about the situation beforehand, seeing blood stains in the bandages around their magician was a cringing sight. Since the beginning, protecting Norway had been the one task that had never changed, a one that Germany had pointed out even before many other things had been set. Many had gotten hurt during the few days they had been here and plans and situations had changed, but knowing there was way to get back to their own dimension had kept everyone's hopes up. Suddenly returning to the front lines seemed more difficult and at the same time more urgent than ever.
Sweden walked straight to Norway's side after he got inside, limping his injured foot along the floor a little and knelt down. "Ya 'kay?"
Norway stared past Sweden and didn't reply. He didn't react still when Sealand also knelt down beside him asking the same question. After a few seconds of waiting some kind of reply, Sweden followed Norway's gaze, glancing over his shoulder towards the others who had come in and grunted a little sigh.
"Come," he said and put his hand around Norway's shoulders to lift him up from the floor. "I'll help ya up..."
"Wait, you'll what?" Seychelles was alerted and turned her attention to them from Turkey, who had just come in last before Switzerland. "No, you're not helping him up– what are you– Sweden?"
Sweden helped Norway stand up and supported him as they walked the couple of steps to the others. Seychelles stopped protesting, not finding it in her heart to stop them after seeing the look in Norway's eyes. Sweden helped Norway to kneel down beside Denmark on the floor where the Dane had been set down. After Norway's gaze lingered a moment on Denmark's unconscious face, all his attention turned to the roughly bandaged stub that remained of the left hand.
"...What?" Norway managed to say before going quiet again.
Sweden took a few seconds to form a proper reply and explain shortly about the enemy magician who had snuck between the front and the rear guard. Norway didn't comment, nor did he listen to the comments anyone else made.
"The hand. We brought it back too," Netherlands said, setting the long object wrapped in clothes down to the floor beside Denmark. "You know. Thinking that maybe..." He scratched his neck. "We'd be able to fix it. After we get back."
Norway slumped down, leaning to the floor and clenched his fingers against the wooden floor boards, not listening how Belgium was telling her brother to have some tact. When they had started, he had been focused only at his task. Slowly, with every injury seen and every report heard, the pressure had started piling up. He had shut himself off from the others. Gotten mad at China. Made decisions that had cost them Estonia's life. Tried to coldly keep working despite everything else going on. And ultimately taken risks that had ended with him unable to go on. Every extra minute felt like a new weight on his shoulders. Every injury was like another betrayed expectation.
"Hey. Cheer up a little," Turkey said a bit hoarsely, snapping Norway out of his thoughts by nudging him with his foot, while walking past. Turkey grunted a bit, irritated and held the bloody bandages covering the nape of his neck. "You can't get us home like that. We're still counting on you on that, you know. Granted it sucks it'll take a little longer. Man oh man... I was really looking forward to just crashing onto something soft by midday today and just freaking sleep!" He staggered a little, accepting Seychelles' help as she came to him again, after he had once slipped away from her grasp while she had been distracted by Norway.
"Sit down please. I will start treating that wound now," Seychelles said and Turkey nodded.
"Do we still have some blood to share? I have to admit, I'm feeling kinda wobbly," Turkey replied and sighed.
"The fact that you've lost this much blood and have a hole in your neck but still you're walking around fine and only 'feeling wobbly' describes your constitution pretty well," Belgium commented and went to get the blood donation bags Seychelles pointed out to her. Luckily in their case, blood types didn't matter.
"Yeah, well it's really getting in the way still," Turkey said and sat down on a bench. "Can we make this quick, missy?" he asked Seychelles when she started setting equipment down beside him. "I have a battle to return to."
"You're planning on going back?" Seychelles confirmed in disbelief and glanced between the wound and Turkey's face.
"Of course I am."
"I am returning immediately," Switzerland announced. "Sorry but I'm leaving this front to you. China needs to know." He looked down at Norway who was still sitting in the floor silently watching as Liechtenstein started treating Denmark. "Norway. How long?"
.*** *** ***
America laid low in the underbrush, explaining to himself that he wasn't hiding or anything: he was waiting for the right moment. It was too bright now to sneak around successfully, when you took into account that he had already been noticed. To his credit, he had been able to lose his pursuers and make what you would call a tactical retreat. The problem was that the assailants were still looking for him and that they were all too aware that he was out of bullets. Or more precisely, he no longer had his gun. It had been the price he had paid to win a wrestling match with two soldiers amidst his (tactical) retreat.
America had encountered the humans lurking by the edge of the forest around the clearing, seven of them exactly, and confronted them head on as it was heroic to do. Part of it was that he had pretty much stumbled straight in front of them but that was beside the point. He would save his comrades from peril and come home after a successful mission. That's what mattered. He had admitted to himself that maybe adding getting help from Latvia and Italy wouldn't have been such a bad admission to the plan: they were there to help him after all, and he had said he'd just go scouting. But when he had successfully found the people responsible for this situation, he had deemed he could take them on. He was also surprised the two hadn't heard any shooting and come see the situation themselves. One would think they would've come to see the ruckus. He hadn't actually been quiet.
What he had not taken into account was that there had been more than the seven humans he had seen at first. More of them had spread along the forest's edge around their Home hut. Apparently, their plan had been to wait for the will-o'-wisps to disappear before assaulting their headquarters. To his credit, America had pretty successfully halted or at least delayed that plan, disturbing the human's preparations and their chain of command. In the resulting fight, however, he had found himself at disadvantage and barely managed to make his (tactical) retreat.
All America had left was a few bullets in his hand gun, the existence of which the humans luckily didn't seem to know. But that was about as far as his luck extended.
He's head snapped up when he realised how close the humans suddenly sounded and how they seemed to have curved more south than he had expected.
That means... he shifted, edging towards his intended dash and eyed a better cover nearby. In this part of the forest many old, hastily build structures laid forgotten among the trees. During their prime they had probably served as some form of temporary commanding stations, but right now America needed to use the remaining few ruins as a shelter. I could make it there. Right? Should I, should I not, should I, should I not– fuck it I should. And so he dashed.
And immediately gunshots rang out.
.*** *** ***
Switzerland ran towards the frontlines, rounding trees, bushes and rocks in zigzags, hoping to become at least a bit harder of a target in the case an enemy had sneaked behind their lines once again and was aiming at him. As long as there was no magic involved, he was confident he could handle it.
The first person he spotted wasn't an enemy or anyone from their line but Belarus, who Switzerland spotted jogging diagonally away from him while carrying what seemed like a pile of wires. She didn't seem notice him or she just didn't care. Switzerland contemplated for a second if he should stop her and ask what she was doing and if he could be of any help. But his legs carried him forward without stopping. Belarus most likely knew what she was doing. Switzerland's top priority now was telling China the news.
The closer he came to the front line, the clearer the sounds of fighting became. But it sounded as if the situation right now wasn't too fierce. Perhaps a new wave of enemies wasn't completely there yet or perhaps that wave had already been taken care of as well. Switzerland was anxious to get back and hastened his steps further, abandoning a few curves from his zigzags for extra speed. China had made plans that would get them seven to eight hours to reach the hut safely and then bail before the enemy would come. But the enemy was already there and the time limit had changed.
"If you cannot do it alone, we'll help you." England hit the end of his gun against the floor with a loud thud, standing up. "I said this in the very beginning: I'm not letting anything, not even one of you, to stand between me and getting home. And you, Norway, are the only one who can do that. That's exactly why you moping on the floor like that is not going to help! Norse spells are unknown to even me so those parts are for you to figure out yourself. But as long as they can move, anyone in here is ready to do as you command as long as you point us to the right direction."
"I agree." Spain appeared to the doorway of the little room where he had been guarding the window. "Nothing says we cannot work as your arms and legs. Where do you need us? What do you need done? Even if you had to see through every part yourself, there has to be parts we can do, right?"
"We're running out of time." Netherlands rolled up his sleeve and checked his gun was ready. "Let's take care of the guys outside. Leave that part to us who can move and make a work list or something. Then we can return to this whole going home plan."
"How long will it take?" Switzerland urged again. "Norway. We'll get you the time. But you have to know how much more you need."
There it was. The current line!
Remaining time to departure: 10 hours, 37 minutes, 53 seconds
"No, no." China shook his head and held it between his hands. "No no no no no no, no. This is bad, this cannot be happening, why? I thought I only had to hang on for five to six hours and now you are telling me it is four more? How will we do this? No. No, we cannot do it. This is it. We are doomed. Goodbye, world."
"Please stop thinking like that, China," Lithuania said and took China's shoulder. "Exactly I times like these we need a firm commander. We can think of something. ...Right?"
China straightened up and shook his head again. "It is not the making plans part I am worried about, it is carrying them out. We do not have enough nations left. And everyone we have is tired. Some are injured. We can barely hold our front like this, let alone make new manoeuvres. We are running out of ammo and grenades and Russia and Belarus cannot win us that much either. I doubt the enemy falls into a same trap twice as perfectly. Our only saving grace here was that the enemy had been relatively inactive after the sabotage mission, but now you are telling me that was because they had attacked Home and taken down Norway? Please tell me this is a bad dream..."
"The back up group and the guys at Home can take care of that assault and Norway promised to get things done," Switzerland said and tapped his fingers to the barrel of his rifle impatiently. "All we have to worry about is to make sure no one else makes it there until the time is right."
"Come on, China, it's just a few stinking hours," Poland called out loudly from the a little further away where he was watching the forest from his guarding spot. "We can conjure up a few of those from our back pockets easy! Besides losing at this point would be, like, totally uncool."
.*** *** ***
"What were you thinking, America?" Latvia asked, shaking in his boots as he crouched past the men he had shot as quickly as he could, trying to reach both his fellow nation and better cover. "Why are you having a battle on your own? Didn't you name me your sidekick? If you were going to battle– hang on, without a gun?! Where is your gun?!"
America stumbled up a bit flabbergasted of what had just happened. "Shouldn't it rather be me who's mad at you?" Although he should be thanking Latvia for possibly saving his life just now. Maybe, just maybe, charging out of cover hadn't been the best strategy after all...
"What?" Latvia straightened up before America's stern gaze, unsure as to why was he being scolded. "Me?"
"Why didn't you come when you heard gunshots?!"
"But... There wasn't any gunshots!"
"Huh? How is that possible?" America frowned and scratched his ear. "I made a lot of noise."
Latvia shifted his weight from leg to leg and kept glancing at the bodies laying nearby. "I... I can believe that... I made some too... I wonder how many more enemies that just attracted... Oh... oh dear..."
"Hurry, this way!" America said and pulled Latvia after him towards the cover he had been aiming for in the first place. "With the two of us, we can take anyone on now! But how is it possible you heard nothing? What were you doing: sleeping?" he asked as they duck under their temporary cover of mossy remains of a low stone wall that looked like it had stood there forgotten for more than a few decades.
"No." Latvia shook his head. "I only started hearing gunshots when I came to find you. Do you think they're pulling some sort of trick?"
"Heck do I know!"
"Please don't talk so loud..."
"Whatever it is, it doesn't matter to us! We know there are people here now and our job is to step them from harassing our Home and friends!" America declared and took Latvia's handgun faster than Latvia could react and cocked up both guns into heroic pose. "Now!"
"Come my faithful sidekick! Justice prevails!"
"Uh..." Latvia sighed. "Coming..."
A/N: So yes, this was again a long wait wasn't it? And after I just said I was going to put effort into finishing this too. The thing is, last spring just after I said that, real life hit me in the face. I was simply too busy to write for about three months. This then caused me to run into another wall of a writer's block: I nearly didn't even open my fanfiction folders before August I think. That was a really absurd change of things for me because usually I can find myself writing for several hours a day. If it was hard to pick this fic up after the previous long block, it was even harder after this one. (It also actually takes a bit more time in general because I have to keep checking things from previous chapters myself because I don't remember stuff.) Things are starting to pick up again, although I still don't write as much as I used to. I'm not entirely sure how long this will take but we're VERY close to the end and my promise to finish this stands.
So again, I'm very sorry for anyone who has waited for this to end already. I can't really ask you to be patient with me, but I'll be glad for any read I get.
Also as an bonus info, this chapter's description in my notes was for the longest time simply: Latvia goes badass. That could have even ended up as the 'in which' for this chapter had I not cut out some parts of the Latvia-America portions (they didn't flow that well so I decided to leave it up to the reader's imagination). This also made the chapter a bit shorter than I originally intended.
Time Turner: Thanks for the review. I hadn't thought about Iceland's magic cababilities, at least not here. I've always thought that he is at least more sensitive to magic than most nations, being around Norway a lot and all and with a lot of elf and troll stories in his mythology as well. I agree though, I believe he could do (or at least could have done) a spell or two if he really tried and gave it effort.
Thank you anyone who still has interest.