I'm finally updating this after more than six months ahahahaha

I'm really sorry. It really took me a while to think of more ideas. And I was focusing on other fics so yeahhh

/kicked and rolled down a hill

at any rate, to all those kind souls who'd actually read this and was looking forward to this update, I'm both sorry and thankful. Thank you so much for reading this fic of mine that looks pretty much halfassed.

I'm so sorry again for the late update. I can't promise that the next one would be quick either, so I'm sorry for that too.

ah wellll. Hetalia isn't mine. Feel free to point out my mistakes.

Thank you so much in advance for reading!


Alfred regretted following the fox.

Not only did he lose his appetite; he nearly lost the previous night's dinner altogether. He watched in increasing disgust as the family of foxes enthusiastically tore apart the carcass of a wild rabbit. The smell of blood filled the air, and it was all Alfred could do not to double over and wretch his entire stomach out.

Okay, he decided. No meat for now.

Alfred pulled the collar of his ragged shirt over his nose. It reeked of sweat and dust and dirt, but at least it was still better than the smell of blood. Alfred scanned his surroundings. Other than the fact that he had to witness some untidy gore, he was glad that he'd tailed the animal when he saw it. Alfred's guts had been right. There was a river nearby. The boy couldn't see it, but he could hear the gentle gurgles of the water flow from where he stood. The mere thought of the river made him uncontrollably thirsty.

Stop, he told himself firmly. One by one. Step by step.

Carefully without making a sound, Alfred slipped out of his hiding spot behind a tree. The foxes were too busy ravening their meal to pay him any notice. Alfred turned away, forcing himself not to look at the bloody remains of the rabbit. He was about to set off again when something caught his eye.

Right there to his left, growing in several big clusters in a bush, were some kind of berries. Alfred caught his breath, but he did not allow himself to get his hopes up just yet. The berries might be poisonous. He moved, bending down and plucking a berry out of its cluster. He turned it round and round between his fingers, warily inspecting the fruit. He took a small sniff at it before peeling the dark blue layer off, revealing a surprisingly green content. So far so good. Alfred took a cautious bite, hoping with all his might that the berry was what he thought it was.

Blueberries had never tasted so good in his life. Before he knew it, Alfred was plucking off more and more, shoving them into his mouth half a dozen at a time. He was hungry - too hungry. Somewhere at the back of his mind, he remembered something he'd heard in class when he was in school. A small voice echoed in his ears, urgently telling him that stuffing himself right after being starved was not good for his health. Alfred couldn't remember what would happen exactly, but he knew he had to stop.

He had to stop.

Alfred bit down on his fingers, forcing himself to stop. The metallic taste of blood filled his mouth, and that successfully jarred him back to his senses. He abruptly stood very still, listening to his own heavy breathing as he stared at the crimson liquid trickling down his thumb. He closed his eyes and took in several shaky deep breaths, trying to calm his raging heartbeat. He had to keep his calm. He can't lose control because of his hunger. Deep breaths.

Alfred deemed himself safe to go after his fifth exhale. He stood still just for a while longer, letting his mind clear up. Then he started thinking.

Alfred patted himself down as he struggled to come up with a way to perhaps store the fruits. No, he had no pockets. There wasn't enough decent cloth on him that would make a good pouch. Almost every part of his clothes was peppered with holes the size of a penny. Alfred straightened, and glanced around. Was there anything he could use instead of cloth? Maybe he could just put a mark on the nearest tree and come back later or something.

Alfred's gaze focused on a plant a little further ahead. He wasn't sure what kind of plant it was; Alfred had never seen anything like it before. It resembled some kind of fern? Do ferns even grow on the ground? He didn't know and wasn't bothering to know as long as it had use to him. He took several steps forward, reaching out to inspect the large, luscious leaves. Carefully, he pulled one off, folding and unfolding it to see if it would be suitable enough to be used to wrap food. The leaf seemed flexible enough, and it didn't look like it'd be easily torn. Perfect. Alfred made his way back to the blueberry bush.

Then came the next problem. Alfred had no idea how to magically transform the leaf into a pouch of sorts.

Think, he told himself, scrunching his eyes close and knitting his eyebrows. You're in a forest. Everything you need is practically here. Be creative.

Alfred thought and thought. He opened his eyes, and stared at the leaf in his hands. It was long; around fifty centimeters in length. An idea slowly started to form in his head. But could he do it? He'd never tried it before.

He shook his head. It wasn't the time to be indecisive. He had to try everything, if that's what it means to survive. Alfred sat down on the base of the tree, spreading the leaf before him. He lifted a finger, and summoned a ball of light the size of a marble. He was thankful to all gods that it was daytime and he had plenty of light at his disposal. He habitually chewed his lip and concentrated a little harder, willing the ball to morph into something flatter and sharper; something resembling the blade of a box knife. Then carefully, he lowered his finger onto the leaf, dragging it sideways to cut a narrow strip about an inch in width.

He repeated what he did for several times more, until he realized that there was an easier way to do it. He piled the strips of leafs under a good-sized rock he'd found (everything was seriously convenient in a forest) before moving to fold the remaining portion vertically in half twice. Then, with the folded part facing away from him, Alfred resumed cutting the leaf strips, dragging his light-blade towards himself instead of sideways.

It was way easier. No pun intended.

Alfred studied his handiwork when he was done. He struggled a little as he did the math. If he were to.. no- he needed more. He needed to cut more.

So he'd once more approached the plant, apologized to it (for some reason) as he retrieved another leaf, and went to work again.

And in the end, Alfred got himself a pile of approximately twenty leaf strips. He leaned back against the tree, exhaling slowly through his mouth. Now that his adrenaline had toned down, Alfred realized just how utterly exhausted he is. His body ached in about fifty different places, and his brain was shutting down. He tilted his head skywards. Night had yet to come, for the day was still bright. But Alfred couldn't endure it any longer. His willpower to keep his eyes open was fading at a rapid rate.

There shouldn't be any harm in taking a short rest, he thought, slowly letting his eyelids fall shut.

In barely two seconds, he was asleep.

xXx

Arthur had no idea he'd knocked himself out until he woke up.

He sat up, wincing as the blood abruptly rushed to his head. Arthur stayed still and waited for the jabbing pain in his temples to recede before processing the situation he was in.

The sun had set and night had taken over. Arthur could hear the millions of nocturnal life forms beginning to get restless. Owls perched on branches and surveyed everything with their blank stares, waiting for the chance to attack on a prey to come. Sounds of crickets, frogs, and the lot filled the place, making the already eerie forest even more unnerving.

The whole forest at night was like an invisible orchestra playing a tuneless symphony, Arthur realized.

"It seems that you're awake." Arthur turned as Antonio trudged over towards him, orange flames dancing in the latter's olive green eyes. Wait - flames? He turned the other way, belated realizing that a bonfire had been set up not far from where he just slept. Despite everything, Arthur thanked the non-existent gods for not letting him burn himself to death when he slept.

"When did I even fall asleep?" Arthur asked, watching the tanned Spaniard plop himself down right next to him.

"Hmm.. I don't know," Antonio shrugged before letting his habitual smile make its way to his face. "You were already dead to the world when I woke up around three hours ago. Ludwig said you were just too exhausted and told me not to wake you."

"So he'd been keeping watch all alone while I had my beauty rest, huh?" Arthur raked his hand roughly through his tangled hair, feeling furious at himself for abandoning his responsibility like that.

"Yeah, but don't worry about it," Antonio beamed, patting him on the back. "Ludwig's having his turn to rest now and I'm on duty. You can help me instead."

Arthur casted his gaze around, noting that most of them were already awake. Around ten of his companions sat around the fire in a loose ring, all staring blankly into the flames. The others were all around; some pacing aimlessly, some just sitting there gazing up into the star-filled sky above. They looked well rested, though Arthur could still see the anxiety in their eyes.

"Want something to eat?" Arthur turned back to the brunette, raising his eyebrows at the red fruit that the latter had magically produced.

"While you were in dreamland, Vash and some others did some exploring," Antonio explained, biting down into the second apple he'd pulled out of nowhere. He held out the uneaten one closer to Arthur. "Take it. I doubt you're not hungry."

Arthur didn't need to answer. As soon as the Spaniard said it, his stomach let out a loud, very undignified growl. Arthur blushed as Antonio chuckled, accepting the fruit offered to him. He bit out a piece and chewed thoughtfully.

"So you guys found anything?"he asked between chews, glancing sideways at the tanned boy.

"Other than trees and some strange animals? Nothing much," Antonio admitted, lowering his half eaten fruit. "None of us could figure out where we are, exactly. The forest seems to go on forever."

"Are there any tracks? Trails?" Anything that hinted Alfred's presence? Arthur didn't voice out the last part.

Antonio understood, nonetheless. He shook his head grimly. "Sorry. We did everything we could to find Al, but the sun was beginning to set and we had to come back."

"We'll find him tomorrow," Arthur said, his tone deciding and final. Part of him was already on the verge of going crazy with worry. Is Alfred okay? Is he still hanging on? Staying safe? The night was dark. Clouds covered the moon, blocking even the slightest sliver of moonlight from being casted upon the earth.

Is Alfred still alive?

He had to be. Arthur shook his head to push the thought away. Of course Alfred was alive. The git wouldn't die even if he was killed! He'll do whatever it meant to survive, Arthur knew it. Alfred wouldn't give up; not during their escape, and not now when he was separated from the rest of them. He just needed to hang on a little longer. They'll find him; Arthur will make sure he finds him.

"Hey, Antonio?" he spoke up after a while of silence, surprising the said boy.

"Y-Yep?"

Arthur took the last bite out of his apple. "Do we have any more? I'm starving."

xXx

Alfred woke up to the rising sun.

He lifted his arms above his head and stretched, listening to the not-exactly assuring cricks and cracks of his stiff bones. He yawned, letting his arms fall back to his sides. For a moment, his mind was blank. Where was he and what had he been doing? Alfred looked around, trying hard to make the gears of his brain start turning again. There was a blueberry bush nearby. There were a bunch of strips of leaves by his side. He was wearing rags that were coming apart. Oh. Alfred remembered now. He was stuck in the forest. Alone.

No, not alone. His friends were looking for him, he was sure of it.

Alfred turned eastward, watching the bright orb peek out from the skyline. Rising sun? He was sure the sun was still high up in the sky when he fell asleep. Had he slept that long?

Belated anxiety coursed through his body. He'd been knocked out for nearly half a day. He'd been under a tree, defenseless and open to any predatory attacks. Animals might've attacked him for all he knew. Alfred quickly did a self checkup. Was he still whole? Were all his limbs still attached? Was he bleeding somewhere?

Yes, yes, and no. Except for about a gazillion bug bites all over, Alfred looked just like how he left himself before going to sleep.

That was good. Alfred let out the breath he didn't realize he was holding. He stood up on his legs, stretching the stiffness out of them. That was good. Luck was on his side for once. He walked several steps to the right and bent down, plucking off some berries and popping them into his mouth.

He then returned back to his spot, and got to work.

Alfred was initially doubtful about his plan. He'd never weaved a basket before. Sure, they'd taught it once during Arts and Crafts - but basket weaving was for girls! Of course he didn't listen to what the teacher said! How was he to know that he would need the skill? Ever?

Well, it's not too late to learn, Alfred thought to himself, running the tip of his tongue over his dry, cracked lips as he reached over to fetch his leave-strips. He moved to align ten strips vertically on the flat ground before him. As soon as he positioned the last strip, a soft breeze blew, and Alfred nearly lost half his hard work. No, that won't do. He swiftly gathered the strips and slipped them under the rock weight he was using before the wind blew again. He then got on his legs again, and began looking for any more decent rocks in the area.

He found some soon enough, and brought them back to his spot. He placed a rock at the top tip of each leaf strip, pinning them in place so that the wind would not take them. Then arming himself with another leaf strip, Alfred started weaving.

He wasn't sure how it went, exactly, but he had the rough idea. Over and under, he vaguely remembered hearing his teacher mention. That was the key. Over and under. Over and under.

Alfred's fingers moved robotically as he worked. It wasn't as hard as he'd thought. Eventually, Alfred trusted his hands enough to let his mind wander off. What was he going to do after finishing his makeshift basket thing? He'll head to the river, then what? Was he going to just sit there and wait until the others find him? Should he go and search for them too? But what if he ends up wandering even further away from them? Wasn't staying put the best way?

Doubts - lots of it, taunted his mind. Should he do this? Should he do that? Alfred abruptly stopped weaving. What.. should he do? Anything could happen. There wasn't any guarantees. He might be taking a step towards safety, but he might also be walking towards his own death. What should he do?

Alfred took in a deep breath. Then another. And another. It was not the time to be panicking. Whatever will be, will be, he decided. He willed his hands to start moving again. He'll be alright.

He'll be alright, whatever happens.

Alfred ran the back of his wrist over his forehead, slipping the very last strip into place after what-seemed-to-be a long while. He held up his handiwork, a satisfied smile gracing his features. It wasn't coming apart. That was good news.

The bad news? It was practically a flat sheet.

So basically he was back to square one.

Alfred brought his hard work closer to his eyes. No, not square one. There was something different. What he made was somehow sturdier than the original leaf, and a little bent at the edges. Alfred somehow made himself something that resembled a plate - which, was still better than how he'd started. He got on his legs, and headed back towards the blueberry bush, reaching out to pluck off a whole cluster of the fruit. He placed them on his weaved plate thing. It still wasn't coming apart.

Yep, definitely better, Alfred decided as he proceeded to pluck a little more, just in case. He might not be so lucky the next time. He had to be prepared.

After deeming himself ready to go, Alfred glanced around one last time, and bracing himself for what's to come, he started his way towards the sounds of the flowing river.

xXx

"We'll form three groups," Arthur said, casting his gaze at his comrades. "Each group will take a specific direction: one to our east, one to our west. The rest will stay here and keep a lookout in case Alfred somehow stumbles here. If any of the scouts finds him, come back here to the camp, and send the rest of us some kind of signal." He nodded at Antonio, and the latter nodded back. Arthur turned back to the others. "I'll lead the group that's going back to the direction where we'd come from. We have until sunset. Return here no matter what happens. Any questions?"

Arthur's emerald green eyes met with dozens of pairs of others, all as grim as one another. He couldn't help smiling wanly.

"In that case, let's move out," he said when he did not receive an answer. "Good luck, everyone!"

Arthur stood and waited for the members of the other two scouting groups to disappear behind the mass of trees before turning towards his own. "Let's go."

"Vehh be careful, Artie!" Feli latched himself on Arthur's arm before the boy could walk off. "It's dangerous to go back that way."

"We'll be fine," Arthur assured, though it felt like he was trying to assure himself too. He gently peeled himself away from the Italian's grasp. "You just stay here and try to rest."

Feli's condition was definitely deteriorating with every minute passed. The bags under his eyes were increasingly prominent, and his skin was as pale as paper. He tried to sound energetic, but Arthur could hear just how exhausted he was from his voice. Feli's Gift was - without a doubt - useful, but the price it came with was too heavy.

Feli spotted the clotted cut on Arthur's arm. "Ah, let me heal that for you!"

Arthur realized everything too late. "No, Feli wait-"

But the cut on his arm had closed up, and his skin was as good as new. Arthur glared at Feli, silently yelling at the boy for being an idiot. He shouldn't be using his Gift unless necessary! Arthur watched in increasing worry as the Italian boy turned several impossible shades paler.

"There you go!" Feli said, attempting to sound cheery in order to hide his exhaustion. It was all Arthur could do not to wince at just how forced his tone sounded.

"Thanks, Feli," he said after a pause. He tried for a smile before turning around. "I'll be going then."

He locked eyes with his comrades, waved them to get going, and started towards the seemingly endless forest.

xXx

Alfred found the river.

And he still wasn't sure what to do with it. Alfred had let desperation control his thoughts earlier, but now that he was standing in front of the real thing, he was starting to feel reluctant. This was a river in a forest in the middle of nowhere. Alfred had heard of the bajillion kinds of microorganisms in rivers that could give you a lifetime of diarrhea if you weren't careful. He had no purifier or anything to help him, and Alfred wasn't exactly looking forward to a future that's filled with trips to the toilet.

Alfred sat down at the edge of the flowing current, setting down his collection of berries before crossing his arms in thought. Maybe he should find another water source? He wasn't really willing to risk his stomach health at the moment, but what else could he do? He was alone in the forest, goddamnit! Being a fusspot wouldn't help! Alfred exhaled loudly in frustration. The water he needed was right in front of him, and he couldn't drink it.

Alfred slapped himself in the face, hard. It was a choice between living in the future with a bad case of diarrhea that could probably be cured with a little medical stuff or dying right there on the spot from dehydration. Alfred got himself on his arms and knees, and leaned over, watching as the current distorted his reflection on the surface of the water. Alfred removed his glasses and took in a deep breath, steeling his nerves. You only live once, right?

Alfred curled his fingers into the dirt, and lowered his face towards the water, pausing right when his mouth touched the surface. Pushing back the still lingering paranoia, he forced himself to take a sip.

All his worries about germs vaporized on the spot. Despite being able to eat some berries before, Alfred's thirst returned full blast. It was all he could do to force himself to stop after several big gulps lest his ends up throwing up all that's left of his food intake for the last 24 hours. Alfred jerked himself upright, sitting still and trying to feel if he'd be having the uncontrollable urge to take a dump anytime soon.

Fortunately, he didn't. Alfred sighed in relief after several minutes had passed without him feeling anything. He'll be okay. He cupped his hands and scooped up some water, splashing his arms and face to wash away a layer of the months' worth of dirt caked on his skin. He picked up his specs and put them on again, blinking as his eyesight came back to focus. Alfred realized he was grinning. He felt refreshed and ready to take on whatever challenges that might be thrown his way. Finding the river really boosted his confidence, for some reason.

He casted his gaze all around. What should he do next? He wondered for the umpteenth time in two days. His gaze followed the direction of the river flow. If his geography wasn't as bad as he thought, Alfred guessed he'd end up at a beach or lake of some sorts if he followed the flow. Or worst; he might end up finding another river. He turned the other way. River sources are usually located in higher ground, Alfred remembered hearing that somewhere. He needed to go somewhere where he could have a better view of the forest, he knew that.

He was sure Arthur and the others knew that too. Alfred considered this. If they could think alike, if his instincts about finding higher ground was basically common sense; then his friends would, without a doubt be looking for a river too in their search for him. They'll end up facing the same river sooner or later.

But that doesn't mean they might find him. They could've stumbled just a little ahead of him, missing him by just a kilometer or so. They might be so darned close to him, yet there was a chance they might not see him completely.

Alfred shook his head. He had to have faith in his friends. Arthur was way too smart to ask anyone to do the searching alone, much less doing so himself. They would have formed a party of at least four people to look for him. Years in prison had made the Gifted children careful. Alfred was certain that if his comrades were to reach the river, they would search the whole stretch of it just to make sure before moving on to someplace else.

Alfred studied his surroundings once more. The riverbank was nothing but open space. Camping out in the open in a forest filled with bloodthirsty foxes (Alfred now wondered why he'd ever considered them as cute before) didn't seem to be the best idea. Alfred stared at the thick growth of trees in the area. They didn't look too tall. Maybe he should try climbing one?

The loud growl of his stomach destroyed all his intentions to start an attempt. Alfred stared at the river, remembering that he'd not only searched for one to use as a landmark, but also as an alternate food source. He figured that he'd be sick of berries real soon.

Alfred decided that it was time for him to learn how to fish.