Happy New Year everyone!
A special thanks goes out to the lovely Nor, in regards to this fic, because during the writing of it I was conflicted, and unable to decided if I should leave certain parts in or take them out. She suggested I remove some parts, which I did try to do, but then I realised that I would have to re-write other parts, and I couldnt be bothered with that so… I left it as is. But thank you any way! (I actually think she was right…)
ALSO… I was promted to write this pair by an anon comment on tumblr, and at first, I must admit, I was a bit 'wtfh is this?' so the plot is a bit half assed and the characterizations are a bit off. Having never written HongIce before I was amazed how quickly I fell in love with the pairing. Please forgive any oddness, I promise to do better with them next time. There will be a next time.
AND ALSO STILL… as an added bonus, this fic is 99% free of hazelnutty grossness.*
I do not own hetalia. Begin.
"Why must I even go to this?" I asked Nor impatiently as he tied my boots, his flat eyes focused on his fingers working the laces efficiently. "I don't even like America."
"No-one does, Ice. But if I have to go, you have to as well."
"Easy for you! You get to take Den with."
He humphed, and finished with my boots. "Oh yes now that's compensation."
America's birthday party every year was something I had, until this point, been able to avoid like the plague. My age, and suchlike, and his convenient tendency to choose strip clubs and male burlesque houses as hosts, worked together all very conveniently in fact. Norway was reluctant to let me go to such places, and someone had to baby sit Sea, despite his instance that he wanted to go to nudie bars and drink copious amounts of stout liquor.
This year however, with Alfred choosing a slightly more family friendly location, no such fortune was mine any longer, and so I like the others had been dressed and prepared, Finland and Sweden waiting in the sitting room to take me in their car with Sea, because there was no room for me on the back of Den's bicycle.
Scowling I stood, adjusting my dark blue shirt and hating the stupid cuff-links he had fixed me to wear because they clacked against my wrist bones when I moved my arms. My black trousers, the cuffs tucked into my best black boots, itched. To make it even worse, I was wearing a tie. A big, black tie. It was awful…
"Oh hey! He looks great!" Den made himself known, stumbling into my room waving a bike lock and a half drunk bottle of beer. "But we really gotta get going now, it's a hard bike and it's getting a bit windy."
"Why don't we just take a car?"
"'Cause, I've already started drinking." He pointed to the bottle he held.
Nor was not impressed. "It's four in the afternoon."
But obviously, this was not a moot.
I hated birthday parties. I hated public bars. And I especially hated birthday parties in public bars.
And Americas taste in bars was less than excellent.
The place was called k7, and it was of that 'modern' sort that boasted techno and flashing lights and white surfaces. Den had snuck me a mojhito, but I didn't take to it, and so I spent much of my evening so far sitting in the back of the place, alone, hoping the dark blue lighting in the spot might hide me from drunk or curious passers by. I had already had a horribly close shave with a tipsy England, and if it hadn't been for excitable Sealand latching onto his arm and yanking him away to some unknown activity, I think things would have gotten pretty terrible. I missed Mr. Puffin, but after a strict order from my brother, he had to stay at home. I was lonely, without his company…
"Hm?" I jumped, looking up from the twinkling alcohol in my glass. "Hi."
I didn't know the young guy standing in front of my table, and my heart sunk with the understanding that maybe now he would want to sit down and be social, but unable to avoid the politeness that was totally ingrained into me, I greeted him back and kicked my foot under the table.
"I was going to sit down," he told me flatly, "but I didn't see you here. I'm sorry, I guess I will just be going." He bowed his head, his long-ish hair (it was very pretty) falling in front of his face before being smoothly pushed aside, and squaring his shoulders (clad in a similar monkey suit as my own) he made to leave.
And maybe it was loneliness, or maybe it was surprise at his willingness to leave me be, but suddenly I found myself thinking it wouldn't be that bad if he stayed… after all, he certainly didn't look like the type to get lost in the flurry of party and thumping music I could barely hear anything above, and I was sure I could spare a little space in my booth… if he wanted to chat I could just force a few short answers and be done with it.
"Wait." I told him, sitting forward a little in my seat. "No, its okay. You can sit here if you want."
He gave me a tiny, gracious little smile, and sunk into the seat opposite.
And gloriously, wondrously, he did not say a single word.
Smiling to myself, somehow incredibly contented that this stranger seemed to have no talkative inclinations whatsoever, I settled back a little into the chair let myself slide down enough to be comfortable so that I could survey the room a little better, from my cosy corner. Needless to say, the scene was dark and busy. The framed region of the club I could observe beyond my booth was interesting enough though, and it was easy to make generalizations about the entire party. Loud, throbbing music, low bluish light and lots of movement on the dance floor as nations danced and swayed and drunk and screamed in groups and couples. Den and Nor were dancing alone, a little away from everyone else, America trying (and failing) to begin a conga line, and the slight boy, Canada, attracting a little more attention than he probably intended with his drunken strip tease. Distracted, I sipped my nasty drink, and fiddled with my horrible tie. The music lulled, changing to one of the few electronica songs I knew (thanks, Sweden) and I found myself humming flatly along. My stomach was grumbling…
"Hey, are you table fifteen?" a young girl, wearing a k7 t-shirt and long, bleach blonde hair, sparkled over in strappy high heals and rapped her knuckles on my table to catch my attention. She was shouting, to be heard over the music.
"Table fifteen!" she raised a plate of what looked like cheese and bacon wedges at me, and the smell was rather tempting though I didn't particularly care for bar-food. I had eaten a lot, in my time, what with Denmark and suchlike…
My company spoke up, waving a small card I hadn't noticed before in her face and holding his hand out demandingly for his food. "Thank-you."
"You should place your plaque on the table so I can see it." The waitress snapped, passing the plate and snatching the card away again. "Didn't we say so at the bar?"
"Yes, but this wasn't my table. It felt rude to like, just put it here."
The girl rolled her eyes and stalked off, edging around the crazily dancing France and lone conga-ing birthday boy, tripping on the dancefloor when her heel caught on the edge.
"Serves her right." I murmured, astonished by her rudeness, and lifted my drink again to sip.
I avoided looking at the other boy, instead reaching for a serviette on the table and opening it to a large, tissue-y square. From there, I folded the corners neatly into the centre, squinting to line them up in the low light. The smell of his food… God, it was making my mouth water horribly by now. I could almost feel the drool dripping down my chin, and my stomach made its situation obvious with a low, grumbling protest. I cringed, and bowed my head.
"Hey." The stranger addressed me. "Hey you."
"Hm?" I looked up, wide eyed, and tossed my hair off my face. "What?"
"… Did you want some? Like, there's a lot here." Holding a particularly large, cheesy wedge of fluffy potato carelessly , both his elbows on the table and his bangs swept across his forehead, the stranger asked me in a flat and emotionless voice that reminded me a little of Nor. He chewed his lip and tipped his head a little. The silvery blue light looked odd on his high cheekbones and small, button nose. His eyes, the wide almond shape of oriental origin, were dark and blackish in the club, and I wondered only briefly what their actual colour was.
"Well, okay. I guess…" Shy, I shuffled in my seat and glanced anxiously at my much more socially comfortable brother. (Well no, socially comfortable was the wrong word. Socially inclined was better, but one gets the point.) He was barely visible, sitting in his own booth now, with a dozy Sea on his knee, and talking softly to both Sweden and Finland about God only knows what. The thought of getting over there and joining them made me feel a grim sort of defiance. I turned back to this stranger and tried again.
"Sure. Yes. I will thanks."
Still poker faced, he pushed the plate my way and finished his chip.
"Like, help yourself to the bacon bits. I don't like them."
I wasn't particularly bothered for them either, but to be gracious, I took the one with the most bacon on and pulled a stringy cheese ribbon out with it. It was hot, weird tasting, and powdery, but I ate it without problem and reached for another, leaning subconsciously across the table and returning my observation to the dance floor.
It must have been eight o'clock.
By ten pm, and after two more mojhitos delivered in a glittery, Denmark shaped flurry, I was feeling a little light headed and giggly, and frankly the antics of those remaining on the dancefloor were beginning to amuse me to no end. I had forgotten, actually, about the stranger with me and the empty cold plate of wedges long since devoured, and after seeing Nor asleep with Sealand, tucked into a far corner in the shadows, I had loosened my tie and undone my cufflinks. He couldn't very well reprimand me when he was unconscious.
This thought made me smile, I tipped my head back to rest on the back of my seat, and fiddled with the base of my empty cocktail glass. At ease, a little bit sleepy, I relented into letting my eyes fall shut and focusing deeply on the bass scream thud of techno rave. It was weird, I could feel vibrations all up my spine, and the sounds of the partying crowd took on a surreal, deeply meaningful quality…
I was pulled from my trance when a small man, complaining highly over his shoulder in loud Chinese, appeared out of nowhere and hammered his hand firmly on the table. It slapped, and both I and the stranger sitting with me jumped.
I wish I could have made sense of what he said. If I had to guess, and for some reason my brain in its mildly intoxicating state felt the need, I would imagine he was saying something rather Norwayish and irritating, something like
'Why are you sitting here all alone! Get up and dance and don't be antisocial!'
And it took me a few seconds to realise he was not talking to me but my counterpart, who replied in turn, sounding all very much as monotone as before, something along the lines of
'No, go fuck yourself with a cactus why don't you?'
This retort earned a high pitched tirade of talking, punctuated by some table banging and hand waving, and sighing the stranger leaned forward. I know I shouldn't have been staring, but I couldn't help it, and my heart jumped when he caught me, blatant and rudely watching his scolding take place.
And I was more than astonished when I saw the small glitter of light reflected in his eyes roll dramatically, the tiniest of knowing smiles implied by the shadow of his lips.
He clipped something short and curt back, silencing the other, and ran his finger lazily around the cheesy rim of the empty wedge plate. China fell into an offended silence, hissed something, and then stomped off, evidently pissed.
A light hum followed him, and the victor in the small toss scratched his ear, clearly pleased with himself.
"Sorry for that." He told me softly. "My brother can be a bit of a… well… when he's drunk…"
I thought forcibly of Norway, and nodded.
"I know. You think that's bad, you should meet mine."
He cocked a slightly thick eyebrow, but his expression barely changed.
"Your brother would be…?"
"Oh, Norway." I pointed to him, still curled in his booth with Sealand. "He's a hypocrite. If I was sleeping right now, he would have lynched me."
"Hmm…" the stranger looked over his shoulder, the pretty curtain of his hair catching the light handsomely. "Yeah, I know him. I thought you meant the drunk blonde one…"
"No. That's Denmark. I'm Iceland, by the way." I presented my hand across the table. "And you are?"
"Hong Kong." He took my hand and shook it firmly. "So you are like, the Nordics."
"Well, us and Sweden and Fin, yes."
"Hm." He nodded, lacing his fingers and turning his face to glance over the dance floor again. "I know them. Sweden anyway. The tall one…"
"Yeah." Keen to point out my family to this oddly tolerable stranger, Hong Kong, I craned my neck around to find him. "Over there, by the-"
"Bar, yeah, I like, see him." He nodded and sat back, rustling around in his lap and pulling a roll of money from his pocket. "Hey I'm like, going to buy myself a drink. Would you like one?"
A small, sort of cute smile, and I couldn't help smile back.
"Actually, sure. But here, I can pay."
I patted my trouser pockets and found a handful of coins, all of them Norwegian kroner.
"Oh…" dejected, I set them on the table. "Never mind then."
He shook his head kindly, and tucked his hair back behind his ear.
"Don't worry, I can shout."
"It's not that I don't love him," I assured Hong Kong, as we shared the third vanilla milkshake of the evening, "he's my brother, but he and the others… they are just so immature! I don't understand. They are irritating and bossy and I get really pissed off with them. Especially Norway."
He nodded, fiddling contentedly with the straw and swinging one leg under the table.
"I know. China is the same. I think he's a little crazy…"
"I'm pretty sure Denmark is insane."
We laughed, his laugh a slight and gentle giggle, and I spidered my fingers across the table to nip the drink away and sip, he allowed this, resting his chin in his hand and brushing his fingers through his hair.
We were side by side now, on his side of the booth, and actually, I wasn't having too bad a time. He was quite a nice guy, I was almost, almost, glad Nor had dragged me along. And I had never tried vanilla milkshake before. It was nice.
"I don't know any really crazy people…" he mused, "except maybe England."
"Yeah. He 'colonized me'." He pulled a face and pointed to his eyebrows. "and then he had a tantrum when I went back to china." A heavy sigh. I frowned, and peered closer at his brows. They were a little prominent. Ish…
"They aren't that bad."
"You think?" they creased a little in self-conscious concern. "They always bugged me…"
"NORWAY! THERE YOU ARE!" a loud voice arched above everything and everyone, even the hammer of the music, and I winced. Hong Kong too, seemed surprised.
"Denmark. He's rounding everyone up." Regretful, I pulled myself to my feet and ushered him to please move, so I could get out. "I better run before he comes over."
"Oh, um… okay?" he seemed a little dejected, and as he stood I had a brief thought. "I guess I will see you then?"
"Maybe, but hey." Once I was out, I reached for a serviette. "Do you have a pen?"
"Uh, yeah. I think so." He shuffled back into his seat and hunted around his shirt pockets, finding a biro and passing it over.
"Thanks. Here." I scribbled my cell phone number down and passed both pen and serviette over. "Text me or something." I smiled a little, tucking my hair behind my ear in a mimic of his own little habit. "You are… kind of nice."
He seemed surprised, eyes widening just a little, his eyelids fluttering in surprise.
"Oh, okay." He accepted them graciously and I fiddled awkwardly with my shirt cuffs, torn between smiling like a dork and just walking off. It was strange, this suspended feeling of something that needed to be said, but also something that didn't, and the fresh experience of being comfortable around someone who wasn't in my family…
"FOUND YOU!" Denmark was the one who grabbed my writs and yanked me away. "COME ON, NOR IS TIRED AND FINLAND IS DRUNK. TIME TO GO HOME!"
When Denmark was intoxicated, he got shouty.
A final, hollered congratulations to America (sharing a bottle of whisky with England) and the troop of us left, Norway carrying Sealand, Sweden carry Fin. And all I could do on the way out was smile, like a silly little kid with a lollypop.
"Ohhhhh~ Icey-poo! who you texting Icey-poo?"
Denmark wiggled his hands invasively around, nipping at my cell phone and scaring the shit out of me. I think it was perfectly fair that I jerked my phone up in defence and whacked him a good one in his nose, but Norway did not. Stupid Denmark, and his stupid overly sensitive nose.
"Ow…" he complained, dabbing at the trail of blood trickling from his nostril and for some incomprehensible Denmark reason, still smiling. Norway was unimpressed, (not clearly, but I knew him well enough by now to read the butter wouldn't melt expression as easily as I would read a novel,) standing with a communal basket of laundry at the foot of the sofa and awaiting an explanation, his hair falling loose from his barrette, a small pimple bubbling against the flare of his right nostril.
"What did you do that for Ice?" he asked me, and I scowled, getting comfortable in my seat.
"Denmark was being childish and annoying."
"So you punched his nose."
"No! I jumped and knocked his nose. It served him right too."
He chuckled, and I wished I had punched him.
"Icey-poo is texting a sweetheart…"
"I am not!" my face coloured, and I shoved my phone and its half typed text into my pocket. "I'm texting a friend. Shut up Denmark, you are so immature."
"Ohh… did you hear that Norge? I'm immature." He laughed and Norway sighed, pushing his hair back.
"Iceland, apologise. Do you have any laundry to do?"
"No." Not sulking (I didn't sulk) I got up off the sofa and stalked past the kitchen, where I could hear Fin making lunch, and to my own sterile hotel room. I wanted to go home, to my own house, where I hadn't been for almost two weeks, but I still had one more lunch to see to yet, and I couldn't leave until the others did anyway.
Pretty much all I had been doing since I left the club last night was text Hong Kong. And Denmark being stupid Denmark, this had been taken as 'oh, Iceland met a nice girl at the party last night, oh lala…'
What an annoying person.
Sorry, I keyed swiftly, shutting my door and dropping onto the edge of my hard, unpleasant bed where Mr. Puffin was sleeping. Stupid Denmark is stupid…
I set my phone on my bedside, and leaned over to jab my Puffin awake.
"What?" he didn't seem happy about it. "I'm trying to sleep here! Did ya bring me some fish?"
"No, but I can get some later."
"You better." he ruffled his fingers, and lifted his head so I could adjust his little bow tie. "Now whadya want?"
"I was wondering… you don't know anything about the nation called Hong Kong, do you? Lives in China's house, Dark hair…"
"No." he told me carelessly. "Why?"
"Um… no real reason."
My phone buzzed on the sidetable, and smiling a little, I pushed my hair back off my face. I didn't have a problem then, I would just get to know him myself.
HK: How much longer are you here? He asked me. Im here for nother four days…
I thought for a moment, running my finger over my lower lip, and then replied
IC: Four days I think. Den and America have a pub crawl planned for the sixteenth.
I smiled, and shuffled around, pulling my laptop closer and reached for my pillow to lean forward on.
HK: Well, what hotel re you at then?
IC: I think it's called Radisson. I wasn't sure, so I checked the pens sitting on my side table. The Radisson was correct.
HK: Really? That's really close to the mall, isn't it?
IC: I dunno. I haven't left my room for almost twenty four hours. Wbu?
HK: im in the top ten… its very low budget. I have to share a bed with china.
IC: oh, delightful…
I chuckled, and minimised the chat window. My stomach was grumbling, and I was struggling to decide between braving the kitchen and Denmark or staying here, where it was safe and I had sort-of company. A bleep alerted me to a new message coming through, and I sighed, deciding to kitchen, and then come back and see what it said…
No, no I changed my mind. I collapsed back on my bed and clicked open the window again, to see what he had said.
HK: not actually. What are you doing tomorrow?
IC: nothing, why?
HK: want to come shopping with me? I was going to go alone but…
I grinned, laughing lightly and typing back in excitement.
IC: sure. I will meet you outside my hotel? If Den or Nor saw you… they would have a field day.
And pleased with such transpirations, I clapped my laptop shut, stretched luxuriously ('what are you so happy about?', Mr. Puffin demanded) and decided to brave the kitchen and its scary, family related threats.
I struggled to choose an outfit, which made no sense because I really only had three, and even those were slight variations on the same basic shirt, jacket, trousers, boots combo. In the end I settled on dark blue and white, and a black scarf to match my knee-boots (incidentally, the same 'best occasion only' boots I had worn to Americas birthday party) and hat. It wasn't cold outside, in fact I suspected that when I got out there I would be dying of heat, but the scarf just went, so I was going to keep it.
Overall though, sneaking out without anyone noticing me was going to be a lot harder than picking some clothes.
It was ten am, the time we had chosen to meet, and with my stomach filled with unexplained butterflies I tip-toed to the door, cursing my clicking heals on the impersonal polished wood surface, and clicked the door open a tiny crack, to survey the area.
Nothing suspicious, beyond Sealand sitting on the sofa watching cartoons with Swe, and so with a deep breath of Denmark-free relief I decided I was safe to just run, and hope neither noticed.
"I'm going now." I whispered to Mr. Puffin, who was on the windowsill eating the fish I had gotten him for agreeing to come. "If Nor asks where I am…"
"You are at the pool. Whatever kid." He seemed indifferent, and I smiled a little, glad of him for a moment.
"Thanks for the fish."
I picked up my small bag, the little black backpack Sweden and Fin had given me for Christmas, and made a mental note to buy him some special ones when I was out.
And then I left the room.
Let it be known, I had never done such a thing as this before. It was rare, actually, that I even left my house, when I wasn't going to visit my brother or my family, and I had never once left a hotel room, willingly, when in some strange, or foreign land. My knowledge of America was probably about as extensive as America's knowledge of… pretty much anything that wasn't America, and so I wasn't sure what to expect when I went out there. No glaciers and volcanoes, that's for sure…
I was really nervous. So nervous I felt a little sick, but also I was excited. So excited I could barely walk straight. Sweden looked up from the TV when he heard me, and tipped his head to the side.
"Where y' off t' Ice? Y' look flash."
"I'm going to see a friend," I told him quietly. "Where's Den and Nor? Don't tell them, it's a secret."
"They w'nt out, Norway want'd continental breakfast. Wh't time y' be home?"
"I don't know." I relaxed, knowing the others weren't there. "Maybe five?"
"Do y'have lunch?"
"I can buy some."
"Do y' have money?"
"Heaps." I made to open the front door.
"D'y' want me t' make y'-"
"Sve, I'm fine." He was such a dad. "I will see you later."
"Don't talk t' strangers!"
Honestly… he treated me like some kind of clueless teenager sometimes, as opposed to a first world highly functional country. But at least, I thought as I made my way swiftly down the plainly decorated hall of the hotel to the elevator and jammed my finger on the lit second floor key, he was better than Norway…
Hong Kong was waiting for me when I got to the car park, looking frustratingly cool in a fashion shirt, the sleeves rolled, and plain black jeans. He was wearing sunglasses too, and texting (or if he was anything like me playing angry birds so that he looked like he was texting) while he waited, standing with all his weight on his left leg in the shade of a decorative palm tree. The tree was planted in the fancy car park slash bus bay of my roadside hotel. Or maybe it should have been highway sized hotel. The streets were huge. And totally deserted. A dry dustiness was everywhere, the sun winking cruelly from above, and instantly I regretted wearing that scarf.
He noticed it to.
"Hello." He greeted me when I wandered up, my arms crossed shyly across my chest. "What's with the…"
"I don't own any summery clothes, this was the best I had." I glanced up at the sky nervously, and felt the searing sunshine sizzle its cruel way through maybe two layers of unfairly pale skin. "Oh wow, this is horrible."
He shrugged, lowering his phone. The little hello kitty dangly on it tinkled when he did so. "At least it's not humid."
I didn't know what that word meant, so I nodded and fumbled uselessly with my scarf. I could feel I was going to faint soon, under this heat.
"So the mall is two blocks down. We should walk now before it gets hotter." He glanced down the street, and through the tint of his sunglasses I couldn't read his eyes but I just knew they would have been the same, slightly apathetic and ´distanced, yet good natured in tone as they had been two nights before, at the party. "And seriously, take off that scarf."
"I'm trying I'm trying!" I told him, a little more snappily than intended, fiddling with the knot (why the fuck had I knotted it?) and failing, thanks to my shaking hands. My nervousness had increased tenfold, and I felt like an utter idiot here in a scarf in unholy degree heat. It was one thing, after all, to get to know someone over the internet and cell phone, but it was another thing entirely to be standing awkwardly with him in a car park, killing yourself slowly with a wrathful scarf.
"Here." He reached for the scarf and without bothering to untie it pulled it up over my head. It pushed my nose up a little, and got caught around the circumference of my skull, and so I flailed around a bit while he wiggled it off, totally dis-arranging my hair in the process. Finally, it popped free, and blushing madly I snatched my scarf back and tried to salvage at least a little dignity. I hoped.
"That was frustratingly distasteful." I told him shortly. "I'm sorry you had to see it."
A wry smile almost, almost turned his lips (one had to sense his emotions, in the day light, than see them what with the lack of betraying shadows and dramatic light) and he shook his head.
"It's okay. You can buy like, some summery clothes when we go shopping."
"Yeah," I concurred as I unbuttoned and removed my navy jacket. "I guess."
A large truck slash car inbreed (I think they call them hummers) chundered down the road and kicked a large dust cloud behind it. Why, I don't know. It wasn't like we were in a desert or anything, there were hotels either side of this and flats lined across the opposite road, it was a fairly suburban part of the commercial city and yet… it was very dusty and dry. The air smelled faintly of petroleum, and there was a thick, sickening smog always hanging like a grey curtain along the horizon.
America, or at least this particular part of it, was not really a very nice place.
"Ready to go?" he asked me, jamming his hands in his back pockets. I nodded, lips pressed together, and we headed off toward the car park exit. As soon as I stepped out from under the shade of the palm tree, I whined. I was going to melt before we arrived, I knew it.
It wasn't as an awkward walk as one may think, though when we rarely spoke it was to comment on things like 'how are you wearing jeans in this heat and not dying?' and 'your nose is sun burning already'. I think, by this point, we had established that we didn't really have anything to prove by making talk, beyond the pointless 'whatcha doing?' 'oh nothing much' sort of talks we had been having since the party it was clear that he would tell me what he wanted to tell me when he wanted, and I could be expected to be the same. It was good, comfortable to me. I didn't feel any pressure, didn't feel any need to panic or back away… and having someone, even if they were dead silent, walking beside me calmly was comforting. It eased a pale loneliness I hadn't even noted I had before.
Two blocks down, the scenery hadn't changed much, except now there was a large warehouse-esque building crouching on the horizon and shimmering between bars of smog. I breathed a sigh of relief and dashed my hand over my forehead to wipe sweat away.
"So." He spoke suddenly, obviously noting the action. "I take it its not very hot, in Iceland?"
"Are you kidding?" I wasn't sure weather to laugh or frown, his expression gave no inclination that he was joking, nor that he was serious. "We have Normal temperatures. Nothing like this."
"What about… Hong Kong?"
"Actually, it can get like, a little hotter than this. The heat is all wet though. Not so dusty."
"What about smog and stuff?"
"Yeah, of course. Like, I have one of the highest populations in the world."
"About six persons per square metre. But it's not gross or anything, like, a lot of over populated places tend to be a bit scummy…"
I nodded, inclined to not believe this at first, his stature being as slight and slim as it was, but the longer I looked… the more I could sense it. Just like I could sense the warmth on his skin and see the moisturised softness that 'wet heat' sort of implied. He wasn't sweating at all, but his skin was satiny looking. Not like the dryer, weathered skin on the back of my hands. I scratched the fingers on my left self consciously and looked away.
"That's a lot."
The mall was giant. I have villages smaller than that in my country, and I must admit it was a little intimidating. It was empty too, hardly anyone there shopping or eating or even just loitering around, but blessedly it was air conditioned. I sighed in relief as soon as we stepped through the automatic doors, and my company glanced at me knowingly.
"It's kinda small." He told me. "But it's nice enough." He gazed around critically, studying the spotless tile floor and the wide open, fluorescent shop fronts. None of the stores sold anything that looked appealing, and so walking in, it took about ten minutes of looking around for him to locate an electronics store and wave me forward.
"I want to look in here." His hand snuck into his pocket, and came out with a jaw-dropping wad of American cash. "Could you put this in your bag? It's uncomfortable in my pants."
"Uh…" staring at the money like I had never seen such a thing before, "sure." I took the cash, and slid my backpack off my shoulder to do so. "Why so rich?"
"Rich?" he removed his glasses and looked back at me, over his shoulder. "I'm not that rich. I just like shopping."
Turns out that that was an understatement.
By one pm (by then, the mall had crowded up a bit and I had been lost six or seven times) we were ambling around beneath a veritable mountain of consumables in plastic bags. Headphones, books, clothes, jewellery, shoes, homewares… you name it, Hong Kong had forked over a fistful of cash for it and so with three bags in each hand and packages under the shoulder we looked like right mental patients, and it was clear he was in no way about to slow down. The experience was intense, the purposeful walk he had, making a beeline for whatever sparkly shop front caught his eye next, was a direct challenge to my fitness levels. Meanwhile I was scampering around behind him like a pink faced minion, shrinking beneath the weight of six new t-shirts and a hi-fi stereo. He spoke constantly, not to anyone in particular, commenting on the things he might want to buy but, criticizing them, assessing them, and then throwing them carelessly into the purchases pile with everything else. He didn't even look at the price tags. And I have to admit, by what seemed like the ninetieth store we had went into (a DVD shop) I was beginning to get a little frustrated. We hadn't even glanced at what I wanted to look at yet, and here he was walking around like the material king of everything and spending what may have been his entire nation's annual budget. He was acting like he hadn't invited me here as a friend so much as a cart horse, and for some reason that made me somewhat upset. His expression betrayed no emotion when I finally caught up to him, remaining as bored as always and passing me yet another potential purchase.
"This movie is a remake of one of my brothers. It's probably terrible." He tucked his bangs back and his bags rustled, as he lifted his arms. "Here, take it up to the counter for me."
"Um, no." I dropped his bags on the ground and frowned, not wanting to sound grumpy and failing to succeed. "I'm not your bitch you know."
He blinked at me, large golden brown eyes registering little, but when he spoke it was with a soft, hurt sincerity.
"What? What's wrong? You seem upset."
"Well, that's kind of because I am." I huffed and pushed my hair back, cheeks flushed with both the embarrassment of confronting him and the humiliation of having to carry all his things around like some kind of flunkey. "You can't just invite me shopping, and then not pay attention to me. It's pretty rude."
"… I know that."
"So why are you?"
It didn't make sense, really, why I was so offended by it. Maybe it was because I was so new at this, and so used to being with the same familiar four people all the time, that I had never learned how to not act like a total spoiled brat in front of strangers/friends. He wasn't my family, after all, and I suppose maybe I really had no right to say such things.
This thought occurred to me, and almost instantly I regretted saying what I had.
"…" his brow creased only the tiniest increment, but he said nothing.
"… I'm sorry." I found myself apologising, unable to meet his eyes. "I… never mind." I bent down to pick up the dropped bags, and hoped nothing inside them had been broken. "Sorry, sorry, ignore me, I forget you aren't Nor."
"It's okay." He stopped me from picking up the bags, pushing his arms out to grab them himself and causing his own lot to slide to the ground. "I'm sorry too, I'm just really nervous and..."
Both of us bent over the spilled bags of goods, anxious and embarrassed, I wondered briefly if maybe he was feeling the same sort of excited awkwardness as I over the whole situation, the stress and tension that wasn't really noticeable so much as a kind of subconscious state of mind. But when I glanced to his face and saw that his eyes were fixed drillingly on my face I realised that actually, his anxiety was much much different.
"I've never invited anyone shopping with me before." He confided in monotone. "I don't know how to act. I've been kind of avoiding you, but I can stop now, if you want."
I was surprised, to say the least.
"Where do you want to eat?" carrying his share of the shopping, Hong Kong walked beside me sedately as we wandered through the pet-store, me hunting for a suitable fish or something for my puffin. There was nothing really, beyond gold fish, and I didn't think he would appreciate the shiny bullet like creatures as much as the enthusiastic home decorator.
"Um, I dunno. Where's good?"
"I don't know, I don't live here." We left the pet store, having gotten nothing, and meandered through the odd shopper to the escalator. The stores were beginning to close now (it was gone five, I should text Sweden and tell him I would be late), but the mall foodcourt which we had passed by a good few times was supposed to remain open until eight.
"But I like pretty much anything. Does pizza sound okay?"
"Pizza?" I cocked an eyebrow. "You have that in Hong Kong?"
"Of course!" a lot of his emotion was conveyed through his voice. "I have everything. Pizza, tacos, Chinese, sushi, English, French… even African delicacies. Food is like, my thing."
"You have another thing beyond shopping?" I asked, and he shrugged.
He had relaxed a lot, since our little conflict in the DVD store.
Maybe, what had first drawn me to him before hadn't been our similarities at all. Things like an annoying family were hardly enough of something to build a friendship on, but up until that moment I suppose it had been good enough for me. Maybe I looked at things to simplistically, that was something Den had always told me. He said 'in your world, it's either snowing, or its not.' And maybe he was right. I didn't make a big deal out of much, I didn't like to complicate things. I liked solitude, and I either had friends, or I didn't. It wasn't a complicated thing.
Before that party, I didn't.
At what point exactly he and I actually became friends was hard to pinpoint. It could very well have been the moment he sat down in my booth, but what was evident during the first part of our little tour was that he obviously did not feel quite as assured in that sense as I. did I just have a bad case of ego, and assume that he was my friend already, while he struggled to impress without coming in too strong? I still knew hardly anything about Hong Kong, and frankly what I did know was a little confusing, but I could already tell that his perspective in life and existence as a person (not a nation, because that was irrelevant right now) was drastically more complex.
Maybe I could learn a lot, from this distant, rather blank young man.
"Well… have you ever tried Icelandic food?" I turned to him, curious, and he shook his head.
"I didn't realise you had a specialty food."
"I don't really. It's mostly fish and lamb and potatoes."
"Hmm…" we walked in silence for a moment before… "Have you ever tried Chinese?"
"No," I admitted, a little ashamed about it. "I don't really like spicy stuff…"
"It's not really spicy." He assured me as we drew closer to the escalator, finding our balance on the top stair and me having to place a hand on his shoulder, because thanks to the bags I couldn't reach the handrail. I didn't really like touching other people (that anti-social thing again) but I tolerated it because it was only one hand, and I knew if I didn't I was going to fall arse over kite all the way down to floor one. "It's more like… sweet? Do you want to try?"
"Um, yeah." A little smile tugged the edges of my mouth. "I guess."
And so we made our slow, bag-pile way to the panda-express next to McDonalds, and he ordered something crazy sounding off the menu in his slow, pleasant voice.
"Number nineteen," the man said, exchanging a waiter's card with a large black 19 on it for another bundle of Hong Kong's cash. "display the card where we can see it."
Honk Kong nodded, and we dragged our stuff over to yet another booth, next to a subway and tandori express. There were a lot of people in the foodcourt, chatting and eating and being loud. And most of them were of blimpic proportions. He set the waiters card on the middle of the table (I was reminded of the card from the bar the other night, and had to resist the urge to smile some more) and sat down with a sigh.
"My feet hurt," he stated, and I nodded in empathy.
"My feet always hurt. My back and shoulders too. And my hips."
"What? Why? You're only young."
"I'm not that young," I told him, not wanting to be perceived as a child. "And its because of my geography. Lots of seismic activity and things. Earthquakes, volcanoes… all that painful stuff."
"And what, you like, are used to that?"
I shrugged. "Yeah, I suppose so. It doesn't even bother me any more."
In fact, I would feel rather uncomfortable without it.
"Oh…" Hong Kong studied me for a long while, seemingly intrigued by my hair and face, before asking. "Why is your hair white?"
"White?" I frowned. "It's not white… it's blonde."
"No… it's white. It looks really strange right now, like with your sunburn."
"Oh!" embarrassed, my hands flew up to cover my face and the apparent redness, suddenly I could feel the heat and discomfort stinging in my cheeks. "Gosh, that's gross. I'm sorry you had to see me like this."
He blinked, and ignoring my last statement, carried on.
"Is it because of all the snow?"
"I…" I didn't know. "Maybe? I just am how I am I guess. Why are you so interested?"
He shrugged, and looked away.
"I don't know, I'm trying to make conversation. You are difficult to talk to, I think."
"Not really?" I didn't know how to respond to that, and he shrugged again.
"It's not like talking to my brother, who knows me so well. It's like, talking to someone totally different. It's kind of exciting, but also scary." He met my eyes. "I can't tell what you are thinking."
"Would you like me to tell you?"
"No, no. half the fun is figuring it out for myself. But please be patient, sometimes I may struggle."
"You seem quite confident to me."
"You don't need to try to hard."
"I enjoy it." He rested his chin in his hand and tipped his head to the side. "I enjoy you. But this is so new to me, and I worry." He was very honest.
"This is new to me as well." I told him. And he nodded.
"Are you not uncomfortable or nervous at all?"
"Well, not really. Just because I don't like to be social, doesn't mean I'm shy."
"I always thought you were shy."
"You had never talked to me before."
Conversing with Hong Kong was strange like that. It was fast, dynamic, and direct. He was fast, dynamic and direct.
"I'm still figuring out how I should behave around you."
"Behave like Normal."
"I don't know if you would like Normal."
"It's got to be better than Denmark."
This broke the tension, and actually earned the tiniest of smiles from him. A strand of perfectly straight hair fell from its position across his brow, and dangled in his face.
"Do you not like the guy, or…"
"Oh, its not that I don't like him," I screwed up my nose and leaned across the table towards him, "he's an okay guy, and he's like my brother, but…"
"You think he's insane?"
Chinese food was surprisingly good.
That being said, there were a lot of dishes that also, I didn't like. He didn't seem bothered though, finishing both his share and bits if my own, while I devoured more chow mein noodles than my body probably had need for. Sweet was actually the right word for it, honey soy everything, sweet and sour everything else, and a sizeable amount of borderline suspicious meats he assured me were chicken.
I don't want to spout racism or anything, but I distinctly remember being ten, and having a drunken Denmark slur that in China's house, they eat cat. I kept a subtle eye out, for whiskers in my rice.
"What?" he noticed me investigate a chunk of beef(?) and reached across the table to nip a sauce covered pork ball onto his own plate with his chopsticks. "It's not going to like, start meowing."
I almost dropped my fork in surprise and embarrassment.
"Was I being that obvious?" I asked, and he shrugged.
"Europeans are always a little cautious of my brothers food. There's been a bit of discrepancy over it in the past. It's like, a little different to potatoes right?"
He nodded. "The west is such a fussy place…"
"You cant talk." I remembered something I heard once, England chatting to Finland I think, "Aren't you where 'east meets west'?"
"Yes… but that means I have the right to think highly and poorly of both. Where as you guys…"
"Well, you think highly of yourself don't you?" I felt my brow creep up in amusement, secretly finding his mild ego a bit endearing in a backwards kind of way. He actually almost smiled again, and stabbed a piece of cauliflower with his chopsticks.
"Well, yeah. But that's a secret; if my brother found out he would probably have a hissy."
"Uh huh…" I set down my fork and reached for the box of wontons. The oily gold pastry was delicious, although I was indifferent toward the sweet, squishy meat in the middle. "Well, what do you think about me then, seeing as you have such an air of superiority."
"I don't know yet, do I? I always though Iceland was another name for Greenland, which was another name for Denmark… Kidding! He added hurriedly, when he saw my face. "I was kidding."
"You had better have been! God I was going to throw whatever this is at your face."
"I know what it is!" almost laughing with relief, and breaking off some of the crispy fatty batter. "God…"
He regarded me for a moment, almost looking satisfied, and nodded
"Do you want me to eat the meat?"
"Mhmm." I finished picking off the good bits and passed the rest over. "You read my mind."
The rest of the meal passed in a tide of relatively comfortable chat. It wasn't until the clock had gone six, and the food court began to empty, that the frantic buzzing of my phone in my pocket demanded my attention, and sighing, I pulled it out to answer.
"Ice, its me."
"y' had better c'me back."
"I will see you Thursday then, I suppose."
"Yeah, I suppose."
Hong Kong and I loitered awkwardly outside the hotel, him looking like some kind of glorified hat rack covered in bags, when time came to part. I hoped that what he said was true about us leaving the country at the same time , because it meant we could see each other at least once more, but I couldn't be sure. His flight time and mine may be altogether different, and I was too nervous to ask.
"You should visit me at mine sometime." He told me, trying to adjust one of his carrier bags and tossing his bangs off his face. "What do you think?"
My stomach jumped at the idea. "Yes! That would be lovely."
I immediately regretted my enthusiastic outburst, but he made no gesture as to show he minded.
"Cool. So I can send you a message or something…?"
"Um, sure." I smiled a little, and crossed my arms sheepishly over my chest. "And maybe, you would like to come to my place? Have you ever been snowboarding?"
"Oh, then you are in for a treat." I actually couldn't help the bright genuine smile that I gave then, and I wasn't sure I wanted to. I hadn't felt that genuinely pleased about something for a long time, and it was a strange, exhilarating feeling, to grin. "I know this great ski-lodge. I don't go often but its one of my favourite things. Tell you what, the next world meeting is in April and I don't usually go because I don't like large crowds but if you come we can meet up and you can-"
"There you are. You are in big trouble, mister."
I froze at the sound of Norway's voice, smile disappearing, rock of humiliation falling into my stomach.
"That bird of yours is in trouble too, for lying. Where were you? Den and I have been worried sick."
"Nor! Go away! You're embarrassing me!" I spun around and shoved his hand off my shoulder. "I was out with a friend. Why do you always have to watch over everything I do all the time? I'm not a kid you know!"
His flat, disapproving stare wasn't helping, and self conscious I smoothed my hair, and glared at him. "Do you mind while I say goodbye?"
"You can say goodbye with me here." He folded his arms and I could have slapped him, but rather than indulge I turned back to Hong Kong and dragged him a little way away, out of hearing range.
"See what I mean?" I hissed, still red in the face. "He's so… ugh! Now I'm totally embarrassed, and I just…" having lost my train of thought I raked my fingers through my hair and glanced over my shoulder. He was still there, and my stomach wiggled unpleasantly. "And now I'm in trouble. I'm sorry." I apologised again, and Hong Kong tipped his head to the side.
"It's okay." He assured me calmly. "Really, its fine. Snowboarding sounds amazing. I would love to go with you sometime."
My smile returned shyly, and without even realising I edged a little closer.
"Great. I look forward to it."
He managed an attractive smile in return.
"You are so embarrassing!" I told him, storming up the stairs a good flight ahead of him and practically throwing myself at the hotel room door. "You know that right? Always babying me and being generally annoying…"
"At least I can tie my shoes…"
"Don't bring that up!" I snapped, spinning back in the doorway and pointing at him and his stupid, irritating, non-emotion face. "We aren't talking about that right now, okay?"
"Who was that even?" Norway asked, not intimidated by my pointing and pushing me gently backwards into the room where no doubt Denmark would be waiting. "A human?"
"Oh as if."
"what what what?" Denmark's frustrating chirp joined the vocal conundrum, and I heard him throw what may have been an empty beer can our way, to catch our attention.
"Ice was with a girl." Nor announced carelessly. "Apparently, a nation."
"He's a boy!" unable to believe what I was hearing, I made a fierce had waving gesture his way, shaking my head to express my shock. "Hong Kong, okay? I was at the mall with Hong Kong, and I fail to see how it was any of your business, considering I'm an adult and a nation and- actually, forget this, I don't have to justify myself to you."
Fuming, I stalked past, almost knocking a cookie bearing Finland as he wandered out of the kitchen to check out the ruckus into the wall, and making a beeline straight for my door. Denmark called something after me, but I ignored him, incredibly, indescribably pissed. I couldn't say why if someone asked me, but I was, and that was all that mattered.
I slammed my door in my wake, and slumped against it.
Stupid Norway, stupid Denmark.
I could hear his voice from the sitting room, even through my door.
"Aww… little Ice is growing up."
And my stupid brother, just hummed in response.
We were all at the airport come Wednesday, with our cases and passes and ready to go, and I was having mixed feelings about maybe seeing Hong Kong again, before I went home. He had sent me a message midday yesterday telling me his flight, and it was a little after mine and the others, so I wasn't exactly sure whether I would meet him in the departure lounge or not. While I wanted to, I also kind of didn't, considering all six of us made one large, embarrassing party, and Denmark had been telling Sealand that I had gotten a boyfriend, and maybe he would get to meet him just before our plane left.
"I'm so proud of you Ice." He told me, his big black coated arm slung around my shoulders and crushing me to his side. "Just make sure to be the boss in the relationship. It's much more fun, just ask your brother."
Norway hit him, but made no change in his expression.
I had since cooled off, about the whole anger thing, and now I was rather embarrassed about the incident, and hoped no-one would ever bring it up again. Why was it that what ever I did, I got myself in an awkward predicament? Was I really just that badly unfortunate, or did I subconsciously like being self-conscious? Whatever it was, it had left me unable to even so much as open my mouth for 24 hours, even to talk to Mr. Puffin (who was currently, much to his vocal disgust, in a pet carrier held steadily in Sweden's right hand) or answer Finland's calm, kind questions about how my shopping trip was, and what Hong Kong was like. I didn't want to do or say anything. Just go home and sit around.
I was uncomfortable as is, in an airport surrounded by strangers. Thank God we would be flying first class, I honestly don't think I could tolerate travelling with everyone else, crammed in like sardines in a tin of Sweden's favourite fish snack.
I hitched my carry on pack up my shoulder and tried to calm down the panicked flutter of my heart. My palms were sticky, and I couldn't stop looking around just in case. If I saw him, I didn't know what I was supposed to do. Would I want to catch his attention, or would I want to lead them away, far away, before he could see us or they could see him? It was hard to tell…
Well, I had to figure it out fast when out of the corner of my eye, I saw a flash of bright red, and my heart both sunk and lifted, and I knew…
"Oh look Ice. It's that Hong Kong boy."
And oh God it was, sitting with his family wearing a huge red sweater with floppy sleeves, jeans, red chucks, and playing some kind of hand held console. His giant headphones were obviously an impediment to his hearing, because China was busy chattering excitedly in his ear and attempting to wrestle the game from his hands.
"What? Where? Oh yeah, it is too. Hey, lets go over there and buy neck pillows for the flight." Red all over the face, I pointed desperately to the departure lounge chemist, glancing over my shoulder and hoping, praying like anything that he hadn't seen me.
He was much to busy arguing with china to have seen. Although I knew that wouldn't last for long, because regretfully, miserably, horrifyingly, Denmark had heard Norway's comment.
"Oh what? Really? Where? Hey Sealand, Sealand come see this."
"Oh no you don't even dare!"
Bit it was too late. He was already on his way over.
"Oh god no…" I buried my bright red face in my hands, and turned away, not wanting to see the horror that was about to unfold. I could hear my dear relations in their progress across the airport, Denmark's loud calls of 'HEY CHIN-CHIN!' turning heads of both humans and nations alike. Finland looked piteous, regarding me with a sympathetic crease in his brow, and Sweden was too busy fretting over Mr. Puffin, who had bitten him through the wires of his carry cage.
"You should go over," Fin advised, "before he says something really stupid."
"Everything he says is stupid." Norway, just not giving a fuck, dropped into one of the chairs by the gate we should leave from, and pulled a magazine out of his carry on luggage. "Just make sure he doesn't start any fights."
I could have happily started a fight right then. But I refrained, and pulling myself together, hurried over, jumping nimbly over the ankles of passengers waiting, all of them too distracted by stupid Denmark to pay attention to where they left their feet.
"Hey!" I called, catching up just as they made the conversation circle belonging to the squabbling Asian nations. "You come back here right-"
"Hey Chin-Chin! How's shit?"
China's eyes snapped to furious slits, and he released a startled looking Hong Kong's wrist, in favour of glaring at Den and Sealand, hanging on his pant leg importantly.
"What do you want?" he snapped, clearly agitated. "Haven't you had enough being loud and obnoxious over the last week?"
"I am not loud and obnoxious." Bruised, he brought his hand to his chest and frowned. "Ouch, that cut me deep Chin-Chin."
"Don't call me that!"
He shrugged, over it, and regarded the small huddle of unidentifiable people that accompanied. There were about five, and Hong Kong was looking at me like I had grown a fourth leg.
I'm so sorry. I mouthed at him fiercely. I just… I don't even…
"So which one of you lot is the illustrious Hong Kong?"
Every eye in the Asian group turned to him, and he looked around for a moment in wide eyed astonishment, before bowing his head and resuming his video game.
"Den, is that Iceland's boyfriend?"
"No!" I think we both said at the exact same time.
I hadn't really seen Hong Kong worked into an emotive state before, I had figured he was a little like Nor in the sense on really couldn't tell what was on his mind, based on his face, but it was obvious right then that his thoughts and mine were exactly the same. Strict, humiliated Denial, and also maybe a little bit of fear, which was grounded based on the way china was looking at him.
"What?" I assume he demanded in clipped foreign tongue. "something something something ICELAND?"
"No!" he banged his hand on his knee to emphasize his objection, and I cringed, covering my mouth with my hand. This was a stupid idea, this thought that maybe there was someone in the world I would be capable of having a Normal friendship with. I was dumb to have let him sit at my booth, dumb to have given him my number, and dumb to have gone to the mall with him. What had I been thinking? I should have predicted this from day one. Seriously. I was the stupidest thing ever. For sure.
China was absolutely pissed. Den seemed surprised by his reaction, standing wide eyed and dumb-looking, trying to follow the rapid exchange of furious words. The group of other Asians were huddled around tittering, and sending me curious glances. Sealand had gotten bored, and gone back to Sweden and Finland. I was, for all intensive purposes, alone in my humiliation. Alone in my humiliation, being totally ashamed of myself, and wishing more than anything I could just disappear. Most of all though, I regretted the inconvenience to him. It looked to me like he was not going to hear the end of this for ages. And nor was I.
"Hey hey hey." Denmark waved his hands between the two squabbling siblings to break them up. "Guys, pay attention. Please. Thank you. Gosh." He rolled his eyes, looking quite hard done for, and placed his hands on his hips. "Now if you don't mind, Chin-Chin it looks like you and I will be walking our respective 'daughters' down the old aisle soon, huh?" a teasing wink, to imply he was joking, but I sincerely doubt China thought it was funny. Hong Kong whined and bent forth at the waist, his hair falling forward and obscuring his face. I whined in empathy. God. Oh God…. If you exist you will kill me now…
"Denmark… shut up please."
"What? Why?" he laughed and shrugged, as if it didn't matter. "I'm just kidding."
"It's not funny."
"No! It's really not!" I glared at him and silently willed him to fade into insignificance or something. "Now if you don't mind, can you just go away and let me-"
"No!" China didn't like that idea. "You aren't to come near me, or him, or any of us. Go, both of you."
"Um, excuse me!" Hong Kong's turn to speak up. "he's my friend, not yours!"
More angry Chinese words, which were met by a cruel retort, and Denmark scoffed.
"alright, fine." He did that thing he did, where he acted all defensive and 'I don't even care but actually I do' because someone had told him to piss off, and held up his hands. "Whatever, you lot sort it out. I'm going to get a drink."
Of course he was.
Hong Kong was really taking a telling off now, and I was just there, flaggering around mot sure what to do. Should I stay, should I go…? Denmark had just stalked off, but I felt like an absolute jerk leaving after that without saying goodbye. I didn't want to see Hong Kong like this either. It was strange, seeing his handsome, oriental features flushed with frustration, and hearing his smooth flat voice spike in argument. And after a few hesitant motions, reaching forward then moving back, I just gave up. Biting my lip and feeling my stomach sink, I spun around on my high healed boot and walked away. Just walked right away.
I felt like the biggest asshole who ever lived.
It was lonely being home again, in my big empty house, with pale instrumental music spilling from my stereo in an attempt to fill the silence. Mr. Puffin was glad of it, perching happily on his windowsill and eating however much fish he wanted, and I supposed I was glad for him, as I made myself a mug of hot chocolate, but I couldn't really feel it all the way down, like I should have. I had been feeling shit since I got back from America, and had been ignoring Norway's calls for almost three days. I was waiting fro Hong Kong to call me, but I didn't think he would. I didn't blame him…
It was strange, how I didn't even notice how far sharing some food and a day out had brought us together. Maybe it was because he was the perfect sort of tolerable guy, that I didn't resent my time spent with him. Maybe it was because I had been so desperately lonely, without even noticing, and the time I had spent with him was a lot less so. It was almost… comforting. I missed him a lot. I wasn't afraid to admit it to myself. I missed him a lot, and I hated myself (and Denmark) for what had happened at the airport.
"What do you think?" I asked Mr. Puffin, setting the kettle back on the stove top and, after grabbing a jar of Nutella* and a spoon from the pantry, sitting at the table. "Will he call?"
"Who, Norway? Yes, he always calls."
"Not Norway! Hong Kong."
"Oh…" he dragged another fish along the windowsill with his beak and tossed it into his mouth. "Well, I don't know do I? Are you screwing him, by the way?"
"No!" I cupped my hands around my mug of hot cocoa and focused on the warmth leaking through the ceramic. "How is it your business if I am, anyway?"
He ruffled his wings.
"Everything is my business."
"Yeah yeah…" grumbling, I unscrewed the jar of hazelnut spread and gouged a lump out with the spoon. It dissolved easily in the warm cocoa, pulling ribbons of dark sweetness across the surface. My eyes wandered around my kitchen, taking in the cosy whitewashed walls pregnant with the warmth of a million winter fires in the hearth, the flowers, white creeping blossoms that spilled from the pots on my windowsill over my counter and climbed the frame of my window. Black and white photos, mostly of Norway and I, were taped on the walls in decoration. Dusty fairy lights hung from the naked candelabra on my ceiling in place of light bulbs, and my laptop, always plugged in and running, rested atop the humble pile of paperwork I had to get done for my boss by Wednesday. I shuffled in my seat, thinking that I would have liked to get a photo of Hong Kong to stick on my wall. All the other photos were family members… but then I dismissed the idea. Because that was just weird.
I jumped almost straight out of my chair when my computer rung, the loud boopbeepboop of skype calling my attention. Of course, my heart leapt and I bounced onto it, hoping desperately that it was him…
It was Norway. Scowling, I slammed my computer shut, picked up my hazelnut hot chocolate, and stalked through to the siting room to watch TV.
It was another three days before I heard from him again, and to be honest, I had almost given up hope.
I was lounging on my sofa when it happened, my cell phone vibrating on the edge of the coffee table and almost clattering to the ground. The ringtone wasn't abba, aqua, or Gorgoroth, so I knew it wasn't a family member, and nor was it the baby elephant walk so I knew it wasn't my boss. I was both screamingly ecstatic and hair rippingly terrified when I saw the initials HK show up on my caller ID, and pressed answer without even checking of he was using collect.
"Hello? Iceland speaking."
"Hey, Ice… its me."
"Um, yeah. It showed up on my call ID."
An awkward pause.
"Well if you knew it was me, why did you introduce yourself like that?"
Well I didn't know that. I didn't know why I did a lot of things. It was just some stupid habit I had picked up somewhere. I told him this and he hummed. And then he took a deep breath.
"So I was just ringing to apologise for my dumb brother. I wanted to say goodbye properly but…"
"No, no, no." unable to let him finish, I sat forward on the edge of the sofa seat. "I wanted to apologise for mine! He's an idiot."
"What? Then… why didn't you call?"
Well I didn't know the answer to that either!
Actually, hearing him say it, I couldn't believe it hadn't occurred to me earlier. It was weird. Maybe I just wasn't born with that killer friendship instinct everyone had, the invisible rule book based on common sense, but I genuinely, not even once, hadn't wondered if maybe he was waiting for me to ring. After all, it had kind of been my fault…
"I-I don't know." feeling my face heating up, ashamed of my idiocy and unable to organise my brain, I ran my fingers anxiously over my lips and struggled to get the fucking pterodactyls in my stomach to fly in formation. "I just… I don't know. I didn't think about it."
I had a strange, momentary mental image of him sitting on the edge of the sofa exactly like me, and it didn't help nor hurt my current situation. After a while, he sighed.
"It's okay," he told me, "it took me almost a week to ring, so I cant complain."
"Mmm." I smiled a little, and immediately twitched my mouth into a straight line. "Well I'm sorry I freaked out on you and left without saying goodbye."
"I'm sorry I didn't come over when I first saw you guys, rather than pretending I didn't and letting the whole event spiral out of hand."
"Wait," I frowned, settling myself more comfortably in the corner of the sofa and folding my legs beneath me. "You saw me before?"
"Yeah, I saw you guys come in. and I couldn't decide if I should go over or…"
I wasn't sure how to take that. Should I be glad he did or he didn't? There was something oddly unfulfilling about the way we had parted, both on the shopping trip and from the airport, but I wasn't sure exactly what…
And then he laughed.
Hong Kong had a strange laugh, was my first thought. It started with what sounded like a curl of his lip that he struggled to straighten out, and budded into a fat low chuckle that cracked here and there with bright mirth. It was light, cute, and even though I was still occupied being awkward, I let a little giggle rise in my own chest. Somehow, it cleansed the anxiety right off the situation. It cleared the air, and expressed what couldn't be said out loud with wonderful eloquence. And we spent about two minutes sitting and laughing over the phone, sharing something I had never experienced before. After a while, the giggles lulled into a pleasant, cosy silence, and I sighed contentedly, relieved.
"So," I asked, rubbing the back of my neck, "What have you been doing?"
Maybe it was just me, but I thought I could hear the elusive smile in his voice when he answered. I made a mental note to see that smile, some day.
"Oh, not much. I came home, regretted spending all my money…"
I grinned. Maybe I was just hearing what I wanted to hear…
"Yeah, you did spend a lot of money…"
"Well hey. Are you on skype right now?"
"Webcam me? I want to show you something cute."
"Is it that jumper you were wearing at the airport? 'Cause that was pretty cute." I couldn't help but tease him. He hesitated for a moment, and I could sense the mood over the phone even, and I hoped that I had made him blush.
"No, its not my sweater. It's something else."
"Okay." I leaned forward, incredibly happy for some reason, and grabbed my computer off the coffee table to boot it. "Okay hang on, I'm setting up now. Be on in two minutes."
"'kay. Bye then."
"Iceland! Look at me! Are you paying attention to a single word I'm saying?"
"Huh?" I was pulled from my daydream, half asleep where I sat on account of my recent all nighters on skype. "Oh yeah, cow report etcetera etcetera…"
My boss clearly wasn't impressed.
"Iceland, what has gotten into you lately? All you've been doing is lying there with a dazed expression nodding like a puppet. Where is my alert, serious little nation today? Hmm? Where'd he go to?"
I frowned, shaking my hair so it rumpled and my mind reset, and tried again.
"Right, sorry. I haven't been getting much sleep lately." I managed a weak smile, and my boss looked simply astounded. Like he had never seen a man grin before.
"Did you… did you just… my god Iceland, are you feeling okay? Is there an economic crisis going on that I don't know about?"
"What?" I frowned. "No, if-"
"Oh dear… and would you believe I told the union you would be attending the world meeting this month in France? Okay, well if you are sick then its okay. Go home, tuck in, and-"
"Sir sir sir!" I silenced him, sitting up and waving my hands fiercely. "Hey, calm down, its okay. I'm not sick at all, I'm fine!"
"Are you? Cause you are acting very oddly…" he narrowed his eyes, studying me suspiciously. "You are normally so… hard working and serious. Have you been distracted lately?"
"No, not really, I've just been… tired. And…"
And something else, too.
Maybe that something was distraction. I wouldn't know, I had never really let myself get distracted before, too buy being studious and serious and superior. And I think it all came from the new experience called friendship. It's astonishing, actually, how many hours a day a person with a friend stops and thinks, about things they want to mention when they get a chance to chat, and experiences they want to share. It's amazing too, how much more they notice in detail. Things that jump out, that one wants to memorize and then talk about later. How much more one wants to learn and know, not just about the world around them, but the world around everyone else too. It was crazy. Having a friend was hard work. I don't have a clue how anyone else keeps more than one. It was exhausting.
I clicked my tongue and glanced around his office. It was a very boring office.
"Say, sir, do you know anything about Hong Kong?"
Well I think it's fair to say that of all the things he was expecting, that was the last.
"Um…" a hard thinking face flickered over his features. "You mean China."
"No no," I corrected him. "Not China. Hong Kong. Where east meets west?"
He wiggled his hand in a gesture of 'yeah… nah' I sighed; only half sure I wanted to share. In the end, I decided I didn't, and shrugged.
"Hmm." He didn't seem satisfied by that, but let it go.
"Never mind then," he told me. "Nevermind. I will just call the union and say you aren't disposed to go to the world meeting and-"
"No!" I was quite insistent about this. Hong Kong and I had been making plans to meet at the world meeting since he found out about it a week ago. "No I'm fine! I want to go."
He wasn't convinced, but that didn't matter, I felt I could give him one of my small smiles and be done with it.
"Hey, Ice," Finland leant over Sweden's lap to offer me his bag of liquorice, "Did you want some?"
"Oh? Yes. Thank you." I pulled the headphones out of my ears and reached to stick my hand in. The small of my back twinged, but I ignored it, knowing that it was just some minor geothermics and that they would pass. He smiled brightly, in that way that he does, and watched my hand kindly, as if he was watching after his own son. It made me a little uneasy, and I couldn't shake the feeling that he was waiting for a prime opportunity to ask me something embarrassing and a little (unintentionally) condescending. Well, he had good timing. A flight from København to Paris was essentially perfect. There was no way to escape it but the toilet, and no way was I going down there because I had a nasty feeling that doing so would result in me tripping over the cloddish feet of the public, and landing in the lap of some stranger.
Sure enough, once I had the small morsel of liquorice in my mouth, he cleared his throat.
"So… is it true?"
I could have kissed Sweden, when he reprimanded his partner lovingly but strictly, and Finland patted his shoulder.
"It's okay," he assured him, "I'm just asking… but Ice." Bright lilac eyes fixed on mine. "Is it? Excuse my asking such a personal thing, but…"
"No, its not true. Denmark is a liar."
"Oh." his face fell, and clearly disappointed he flopped back on Sweden's shoulder. "Darn. I was hoping to find some people Sve and I could double date with."
"Date with Den and Nor." I told him, a little harshly, turning away to face the smooth inside curve of the plane, and the pathetic buttonhole window, so as to hide my blush. "I'm sure they would go with you."
"He meant t' say foursome."
"Shut up Sve!" Finland seemed more than embarrassed, and the sound of a small hand smacking a big shoulder was met with a low chuckle. I hoped it was just a joke, but to be honest, I wasn't sure. I sunk into my seat and had almost untangled my earbuds enough to put them back on, when Fin regained his ability to speak, and with a self conscious throat clearing, he lent forward and tugged on my sleeve.
"Ice I haven't finished chatting yet…"
I put my music in, and blocked him out for the remainder of the flight.
At least we had a better hotel, this time, if unnecessarily flouncy. Denmark was quite excited about it, but then again, Denmark was an excitable fellow, and even Norway seemed impressed.
"Competitive man, France." He said to no-one in particular when we made it into the foyer of the hotel he had booked. "I wonder if this place comes with free chocolate."
"I dunno… I'm dying for some liquori- oh! Thank you Sve." Fin smiled brightly when seemingly out of no-where Sweden produced a roll of lakrisal. Passing the bigger man his suitcase, he unwrapped the 'candy', and Sweden did not seem phased. He simply took the case, alone with Sealands and his own, and followed Denmark with confidence to the head desk in the centre of the foyer. Sealand was getting very excited about the glint and glimmer and the thick red carpet on the floor. I sighed, scouting the room for a seat or something, and spotting one by the door made my discreet on the way over. Mr. Puffin's carrier, the bane of his existence, was making some interesting noises. I took them to mean he was getting hungry, and sighing I lifted the cage up to peek inside.
"Stop shuffling around in there, I will feed you when I can."
"You better kid. I'm exhausted."
"Me too, the world doesn't revolve around you you know."
"I want to meet this ride of yours."
"He is not my- shut up!" I sat down in the chair by the door, and placed his cage on the table in front, much to the disgusted glares from some of the hotel patrons. "He's my friend."
"Friend who you fu-hey!"
I turned his cage away from me, and scowling, slumped back in the chair.
"Oh you little-"
"Shut up or I won't feed you!"
He fell silent, and I huffed, scanning for any other nations or people I recognised, besides my family. Frowning, I fished around in my pocket. Hong Kong should have been here right now. He said he would meet me.
IC: where are you?
I sent the message and observed, leaning forward in my seat with my elbows on my knees when Denmark and Sweden approached the other two (the wives, I thought dryly) and passed them keys. Smiling sweetly, Finland hooked his arm through Sweden's, and after a few brief words with Nor they rounded up Sealand, and headed for the lift. I saw Denmark looking around like he had lost something (probably me) and sighed, wondering if I should wave him over. That wasn't necessary though. Norway pointed me out and I raised a hand.
I'm not going over, you come here.
"Hey Ice! Come here a sec!"
"… no." I hissed, shaking my head hard. "You come here." I pointed to him, then pointed to the spot by where I was sitting. My phone buzzed, the ringtone I had chosen for him a few days ago being quite obnoxious about it, and I keyed in my code to check.
HK: I'm here, I can see you right now.
Well, naturally that scared me. I looked up and searched around, not seeing anything out of the ordinary besides Denmark dragging Norway over, and before I could reply he was on me, shoving a key in my hand and almost knocking Mr. Puffin off the table. The bird swore, and Norway shushed him.
"Here's your room key. Nor and I are going out so knock yours-"
"Wait." I forgot for a moment about the ominous text, to surprised by Denmark's words. "Did you say my room?"
"Yah, Finland donated Seas room to your cause. God knows why."
"Thank him later," Norway added, smoothing his hair. "and behave. Don't you charge anything to room service."
"I… won't?" I was pretty stunned. I had never had my own hotel room before. Usually I shared with Den and Nor, or the six of us got a large flat-like affair like we had in America, with several rooms. It was, as a rule, Sweden and Finland, Denmark Norway and me, and Sweden being the pushover dad always ended up getting Sea his own suite, and the kid had a habit of running up a nightmare room service tab. Finland always made a point of disapproving.
Yes, I thought, feeling suddenly rather important. Today I might actually take Nors advice and thank him after all.
Smiling, taking the key, I waved my brother and 'brother' off, excited to go upstairs and indulge in having my own wonderful, personal space. But first…
IC: thats creepy as hell! Where are you!
And Mr. Puffin made a loud noise of approval. He was obviously glad, he didnnt have to sleep in the same room as Den and his snoring.
"I'm up here."
I almost jumped out of my skin when something, a red serviette folded into a complex flower shape, fluttered into my lap.
"You!" I dropped my head back, craning to see that on the balcony above me, the first floor up, he was watching, his bangs falling forward and shadowing his face, one arm dangling loosely over the rail and splaying fingers at me, in a wave. "Oh that was utterly uncalled for."
"What? I thought I was like, being polite. Avoiding your relations and such."
I rolled my eyes, standing up and smoothing my hair, where the flower had brushed it.
"That's him." I told my bird. "Be nice."
*… I lied
I do not fear pinchings. (or punchings, allowing for a rather humerous mis-type.) What do you think I am, a three year old girl?