EDIT: So, I'm probably gonna be going over the story and editing/completely rewriting chapters. If you see an alert about a new chapter but don't see any, that's why. Thanks for indulging me.
Hetalia and Avatar belong to Himaruya and Bryke respectively. Additional info at the end of the chapter. Oh sweet Pele this took way too long to finish =_=
Israel placed her hands on her head, glanced down to check her bulletproof vest, and walked forward.
"I just want to talk."
The cornered Taliban terrorists raised their guns. Israel stopped moving and repeated herself, this time in Arabic. One of the men began to lower his gun until he realized his companions were still on alert. An older woman had pressed herself against the wall to the left.
Li was partially blocked from view by the Talibans surrounding her and the leader of the group. Israel caught a glimpse of the leader's long beard and his robe, but that was it. He was an older man, judging from the gray and white in his beard. His hand raised, and he spoke. "Let her through." Israel stepped forward again. The terrorists lowered their guns and stepped aside. She saw who she was dealing with.
For a moment, she froze. Osama bin Laden himself sat on the floor, his back pressed against a pile of cushions, with a knife at his throat. Li looked like hell – her hair was oily and matted, there was a burn on her leg where she'd taken a bullet during the attack weeks earlier, and she was generally filthy. Israel was tempted to rush over, pull Li away from bin Laden, and kill the man himself. Tempted only, though.
"Good day," Osama spoke. His voice made Israel's skin crawl. "Who might you be?" Li looked at Israel with wide eyes.
"You may call me…Hadassah," Israel supplied.
"Hadassah…" Osama verbally caressed the world. Israel wanted to throw up. "A lovely name. Israeli, is it not?" Since opening her mouth would likely make her throw up, Israel nodded instead. "How very interesting. What is an Israeli woman doing in Pakistan with American military forces?"
"I'm a diplomat," Israel lied. Well, it wasn't a total lie. She functioned as a diplomat quite often during her work. "We knew there was a hostage here, so I was called in with my team. If you'll lower your weapons and surrender, we can guarantee you won't be treated badly."
"Hmph. Surrender to the Americans?" Osama sneered. "I would rather die here, Hadassah." Israel twitched at his use of her human name. She should have thought up something completely different. "My counter-offer is this: allow us safe passage out of here, and I will release the hostage when we are away."
"Hey. I'm right here," Li spoke up. Israel noted how her voice wavered. "And I have a knife on you. Maybe you should listen to Is—Hadassah."
Osama's lips curled upwards. "You may have a knife at my throat, but my son has a gun pointed at your head. The advantage lies with me."
"Li, let me do the talking," Israel urged. "If she puts down the knife, will you have your son lower his gun?"
"Only if she lowers the knife," Osama ceded. His eyes flickered to his son briefly, meeting the young man's questioning glance. Then he fixed his attention on Li.
For a moment, Li looked like she might Osama's throat. Her hand tightened on the knife hilt. But then her eyes met Osama's. Li's eyes widened a fraction, and she relaxed her grip on the knife. Israel knew the effect men like Osama could have on the unsuspecting. He was powerful, an alpha male who got his way no matter what. Li, from what Israel knew, was a scared young woman who didn't understand half of anything she saw. The balance of power there was obvious.
Li's knife hand fell away, the knife slipping from her grip to thud on the floor. She pushed herself away from Osama. Her eyes slid to Osama's son, who lowered his gun, true to his father's instructions.
"Okay. We're all good here." Israel's eyes flickered from Li to Osama. Li looked so vulnerable, so scared, now. "Now let's talk about our options."
"Let us go, and we will give you the hostage," Osama replied.
"Not gonna happen." Israel gritted her teeth. "Put down your weapons and surrender. We won't harm any of you, and medical treatment will be made available for those who need it. Please. I don't want this turning into a shoot-out."
"And I will not surrender," Osama insisted. His eyes glinted in a manner Israel didn't like. "So you are left with little choice but to allow me to go free."
"You think we can let you go free? You?" Israel raised her voice so everyone outside could hear her. "You're Osama bin Laden!"
"DUDE!" America yelled outside. Other voices started to mutter, and there was a distinct, "Shut up, idiot!" that Israel thought was from Pakistan. Osama's eyes narrowed.
"Can it be…you didn't know I was here?" he asked. Israel declined answering. "You didn't, did you? If you had, you'd have brought a larger force."
"Our forces are large enough," Israel insisted. "We could take you without a problem."
"But we still have a hostage." Osama gestured to Li. "And if things come to violence, she might be harmed. So we find ourselves at an impasse."
Israel cast another look at Li. "How did she burn her leg?" Israel asked.
Osama frowned. "I honestly cannot say."
"Um, I did that myself," Li volunteered. All eyes turned to her. "The bullet wound reopened, and I didn't want to lose too much blood, so…"
"Where did you get a fire?" Israel shot a suspicious glance at Osama.
"Two of his men were going to kill me…one of them had a lighter," Li volunteered. "I took it from him."
"Ah." Israel blinked. So Li had burned those men with a lighter she stole from one of them. That was one mystery solved. "And where are these men?"
"I…I sort of set them on fire." Li looked off to one side. She hesitated, then added, "It was while I took the lighter away from the guy. He set his sleeve on fire by accident, and fell on the other man, which set him on fire and…yeah."
"Okay. Nice to know." Israel turned her attention back to Osama, her eyes flickering to Li one last time. Was it just her imagination, or was Li lying about something? No, not important right now. She could think it over later. At the moment, diffusing the situation and getting Li out safely while getting Osama out in chains was most important.
Israel suppressed a shiver as she met Osama's eyes. He was regarding her with amusement, completely at ease, sure he had the upper hand. Osama knew, she realized. Osama knew she was Israel. He'd wanted a Nation, and after making a mistake and getting Li, he finally had one.
Damn. She was probably the worst person to have come in. It should have been Saudi Arabia…but no, she had to insist that she was qualified and could do this, that she could be impartial. Israel had too much investment in the outcome of this negotiation to be impartial. Taliban operations hadn't affected her people as much as they had Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, and Pakistan, but they had contributed to the hardships she faced. And Israel had spoken with Li, so she felt a small responsibility for the girl that the others didn't.
No time to bemoan her choices now. Israel relaxed as many muscles as she could and stared Osama down. "Lay down your weapons and surrender. That's my only offer."
"We cannot accept such terms," Osama shrugged.
"Fine." Then Israel did the hardest thing she could…she turned around and walked out of the room.
Li stared after Israel's retreating back, her heart sinking. What was Israel doing? Why would she leave? Was this Osama person really so valuable that Israel would sacrifice Li for a chance to capture him?
"Fool," Osama snorted as Israel disappeared around the door. "What does she think to accomplish? We have the hostage, not them." Li glanced sideways at him, then returned her gaze to the door. Israel would come back, right? She wasn't leaving Li to be killed…right?
"Should we kill her?" A guard gestured to Li.
"No. If we do, we will lose our bargaining chip," Osama replied. His lips twitched up. "But let us give them something to think about." That didn't sound good. Li eased herself around to keep an eye on Osama. "Rasul, cut off her hand."
Spirits. One of the men by Osama grinned and pulled a knife from his belt. He advanced towards Li, who had at least three guns pointed at her, brandishing the knife. Li's mind blanked.
Fortunately for Li, when her mind wasn't working, her body knew enough to take over.
As the man – Rasul, presumably, though Li wasn't really thinking about that at the moment – reached down towards Li, Li reached up towards him. She caught his wrist, and his subsequent surprise made it simple to pull him down. Her elbow caught him in the gut. Rasul blanched at the impact and lost his grasp on the knife. It fell to the ground, where it was quickly retrieved by Li.
Now armed, Li swung her weapon at Rasul's head. Her intent was to stab him in the ear or neck, which was always painful and usually resulted in the crippling or exsanguination of the subject, but he shifted and she got the temple instead. Also outside her plans was the fact that she had picked the knife up wrong, and what she thought was blade turned out to be hilt. Despite her mistakes, the overall result was what she had intended: Rasul fell unconscious. Well, she had wanted him dead, not unconscious, but he would serve the same purpose either way.
The momentum of the strike to Rasul's temple helped Li roll over so he didn't land on top of her. Instead, she landed atop him, and kept rolling towards the closest man with a gun. Her move had bought a second of stunned silence from the others in the room, but that hadn't lasted long. Bullets zinged around her. She collided with the legs of the nearest guard and knocked him off balance. A kick of her good leg – part of her knew that her burned leg would feel terrible when this was over, and she was keeping its usage minimal – brought the man down. He fell atop Li, who had rolled onto her side so he wouldn't knock the wind out of her.
A bullet hit the man Li had just knocked down, and he grunted. Li grabbed him and partially pushed his body off of her, rearranging him to make a better meat-shield. The other men didn't seem to care that their friend was being hit and kept firing. Two bullets made it through his body and grazed Li. She ignored the pain. Adrenaline was useful for that.
Outside the room, the commotion had been noted. Two men appeared at the door in camouflage clothing. They took half a second to get the gist of things and started firing. Israel appeared behind them, wearing her olive-green military uniform. She was quickly pulled out of the way by someone still hidden, and replaced by more men in camouflage. Terrorists started to fall left and right, the bullets directed at Li thinning: she stayed curled up underneath her unconscious human shield, thinking of nothing but how nice it would be to get out of this alive.
And…silence. Li raised her head an inch to peer around and liked what she saw. Her captors lay on the ground, groaning or unconscious, after being sprayed with...not bullets? One of the pieces of ammunition rolled near Li, who snatched it up.
"What in Pele's name?" Li whispered.
"Felt balls," one of the camouflage-clad men explained, seeing Li's interest. "They don't kill, but if you get hit in the right spots you'll be unconscious. Hurts like hell, too."
"And…you didn't just attack them before because…?" Li's mind was having a hard time grasping that the danger was gone. She pushed Rasul off of her but stayed low.
"Why waste ammunition when you can get them to surrender?" Any further debate on the point was dismissed as America, Israel, and five others Li recognized from the conference at Tehran burst into the room. America pushed the soldiers aside, their protests and exclamations at his strength unheeded, to dive at Li. Still on hyper-alert from the shootout moments before, Li rolled out of the way. More soldiers started to enter from outside, their attention on the terrorists.
"Oof! Li!" America recovered his bearing. "You're okay!"
"Watch where you jump!" Li shouted. Her adrenaline high wore off and the pain returned, the pain from her bullet grazes and leg especially. She'd had worse before, much worse, but Li was unused to sustained pain. Spirits above, why couldn't there be Healers in this stupid world?
"Are you okay?" Israel knelt beside Li. "Your leg…"
Israel's presence served to remind Li of that Nation's departure, barely a minute before. "You!" Li rounded on her, jarring her leg. "Gah…you! Why did you leave?!"
"We needed to talk strategy." The answer didn't satisfy Li, but she could understand how strategy might warrant some discussion. "And we didn't expect him to be here," Israel added, glancing over to Osama bin Laden. "That threw a wrench into our plans. If he hadn't been here and negotiations had failed, I was supposed to cover you and yell for the SEALs outside to burst in."
"Cover me?" Li frowned. "Wouldn't that be dangerous?"
"We'd be on the ground," Israel told her. "And, uh…" Her eyes flickered to the soldiers, who were examining the unconscious men all over the room. She dropped her voice to a whisper. "Ordinary wounds don't affect Nations for very long," she confided.
"Oh." An interesting fact. Li was further touched that Israel would be willing to take the pain of multiple bullet wounds to protect someone she barely knew. "Thank you, then." Her anger couldn't stand in the face of such a fact: it never had a base in anything, really. She was just distressed at seeing Israel walk away when Li was in danger and needed help. Lashing out came instinctively when the danger was gone and Li was still worked up.
Coming down off the rush of adrenaline and fear, Li realized two things: first, she wanted Ru more than anything, and second, she was about to cry. The first added fuel to the second's fire, to her dismay. This was the first time she had been in fear of her life and not had Ru to comfort her immediately afterwards. Ru's absence was further expounded by Israel's next actions, exactly what Ru would have done had she been there – the Nation leaned forward and hugged Li.
It was too much. Li burst into tears and pressed against Israel, her hands clutching the front of Israel's uniform. "It's okay," Israel murmured. "Let it out." She rubbed Li's back with one hand. Li's response was to bury her face in Israel's shoulder and start crying all the harder. Every bit of fear, desperation, and pain she'd felt in the past two weeks came back to Li and demanded to be let out through the ever-fun medium of tears.
"Uh…is she okay, then?" America ventured. Israel looked him in the eye and raised an eyebrow. Understanding the message, America turned to the other Nations. "Why don't we help take custody of these bad guys?"
"Just hand me some cuffs," another Nation replied. She was the only female in the group beside Israel. "And while you're at it, explain to me how the shootout started?"
"I heard bin Laden tell someone to cut off her hand," a SEAL volunteered. "Guess she didn't take it very well?" He pointed to Li. "Made things pretty simple."
"'Cut off her hand'?" the female Nation echoed. "Okay. Forget cuffs. Where'd I put my combat knife?"
"Lay off, P – Nadira," one of the male Nations groaned. "Bad enough Am - Alfred's SEALs did the mission. Just watch, he's gonna vanish, or worse…Alfred's gonna parade him around in front of the whole world boasting about how he nabbed the greatest terrorist of all time by himself."
"Not by myself!" America protested. "You guys helped a little!"
"Yeah. A 'little.'" The woman – Nadira? – rolled her eyes. "Whatever. I'm going to radio the helicopter, tell it we need transport to a hospital. You boys finish up in here. And Is – Hadassah," she forced the name out, "bring the girl out when she's done crying. The chopper shouldn't take too long."
"Okay," Israel called after Nadira as the latter left the room. Li's sobbing had subsided to sniffles and hiccups, which was probably a good sign. "Hey, Li? Can you stand?"
"N-no," Li forced out. "My leg…"
"Gotcha. Ame - Alfred, little help?" Israel requested. America reached forward and grabbed Li around the waist, then hoisted her up as Israel released her grip. Li's hold on Israel's neck loosened momentarily in surprise, allowing America to sling her over his shoulder, much to Li's consternations. Fortunately her aversion to physical contact had waned in the two months since her arrival.
"Who's coming?" America asked.
"I'll stay behind," one of the male Nations said. He looked to be the oldest, with a thick mustache and the start of a beard. His gaze flickered over to the prone body of Osama bin Laden. "Go ahead – I'll meet you at the hospital later."
"Okay! Let's go!" America charged out the door before seeing if anyone would follow him. Li, slung over his shoulder and thus with a good view of the room they were leaving, saw the Nation that chose to stay walk over to Osama and unsheathe his knife.
Okay. Fire Lily is officially on temporary hiatus (not like it wasn't before, ha) until I can a. get the time to write some more and b. figure Real Life things out. Please note that this is the end of the Middle East arc and such.
Yeah, I'm outta stuff to say. Off to class with me…