Norway lay in the dewy grass; hands behind his head, bouncing his leg contentedly near a pile of dwindling embers. He made a mental note to douse them before it got too much darker. One of the cardinal rules of camping was to leave an impact no heavier than a footprint so that more trees could grow and animals could come to play. Until the time came to move though, the sky put on a light show just for him. The firmament featured striated colors of pink, yellow, red, and fringes of remaining blue as the sun bowed back behind the trees, behind the mountains, casting them in an eerie black. Soon, he'd join them in the shadows too.
With his timetable growing short, Norway breathed a sigh of gratification and rolled to his feet. He picked up two canteens and a bucket situated near the fire pit and ambled to the crystal creek. Solely for the joy of it, he stepped into the shallows and let the clear water flow over his hands. This tiny tributary was one of his long-standing favorites, one that flowed from one of his highest mountains, through his favorite campsite, and ultimately into his fjords. He had a few moments of daylight left and relished them in the water, turning over a few stones to locate something, anything that might be alive- a salamander, crawfish, minnow, or mussel. He wasn't picky. After a quick scan, he found nothing but silt so he completed his errand and left, not in the least disappointed.
He returned to the campsite, upended the bucket over the smoldering embers, and gave the ashes a stir. When he looked back at the sky, the sun had all but bid him goodnight and the pinpricks of stars had just begun to shine on a backdrop of velvet black. In the forest, a hawk owl hooted to his nocturnal friends and let them know it was time to wake up. Concurrently, Norway caught the flicker of a flashlight from the tent at the other end of the clearing.
"Denmark!" He called. "You're missing out by sitting in there!" Norway whiled away some time identifying the planets and constellations he did know and making up what he didn't. When it became apparent Denmark had no intention of joining him of his own accord, Norway paid him a visit in the tent. Twilight finally overtook the clearing when Norway unzipped the flap of his portable sleeping quarters and flipped on his own flashlight. He set down the two canteens near the entrance and shined his light over a tangle of sleeping bags against the back wall. With a fond chuckle, Norway gripped the flashlight between his teeth and peeled back three layers of covers to extricate Denmark.
He had rolled himself into a tight ball like a threatened millipede, wrapping his head in his arms. When Norway broke apart his cocoon, Denmark gave his friend this look and yanked the blankets back over his head. Norway emphatically rolled his eyes, set the flashlight down pointed at Denmark, and repeated the process.
"Norway, please." Denmark said in that pleading tone that made Norway twitch deep in his core. "I came here only because I thought it would make you happy. Now I just want to go home."
"I know." Norway said empathetically as he groped for the proper words. "I know this took a lot for you to do. Don't think I don't appreciate it." The owl called again and Denmark let loose a gasp and cloistered himself away for a third time.
Norway laid his hand on top of the pile and applied small amounts of pressure until he located his quivering friend. He briefly considered unraveling Denmark from the blanket tangle by force, but opted for a different approach. Norway grabbed the entire bundle and buried his own surprise when Denmark squirmed away from him.
"I'm sorry. I really am." Denmark finally sat up and shook the sleeping bags away from his face to look Norway square in the eye. "I know you and Sweden have so much fun when you come here and I want to spend the time with you guys. Sitting outside alone can't be much fun for you."
Norway huffed a few times partly due to the misnomers Denmark held about spending time alone and partly due to the absurdity that he brought his best friend to his favorite place in the world only to hike, fish, and go about all manners of business solo. True, he had longed to take Denmark camping for years upon years and all things told, things were going better than he anticipated. He mulled over a few statements that would soothe Denmark's insecurities, but opted instead to seize his window of opportunity. "Well, it would be much more fun if you came out to see the stars with me. You won't believe what you can see away from the cities."
Denmark hunched over himself and pulled the covers tighter over his slight form, blinking unbelievingly. "You mean… go out there… now? At night?"
"Yeah." Norway said, not missing a beat. He inched his way to the tent's entrance and waited as Denmark, unbidden, shed the covers and picked up the flashlight. "Leave it. Light pollution obscures your view." Denmark looked at him, nonplussed, so Norway waited him out, raising his eyebrow.
"Only for you." Denmark dropped it on the discarded sleeping bags, shut his eyes tightly, and grabbed two handfuls of Norway's sweater. He was pleased that Denmark shuffled slowly after him. In the blackness Norway was loath to move quickly himself. The only appropriate way to judge distance with such limited vision was to note where the trees hid the stars. Norway stopped to wiggle his toes around and rock on his heels for a few beats, savoring the way the wild soil crunched under him. Then, Denmark released his grip and danced away from… what? Norway would never learn. He didn't waste time worrying about it, either.
Instead, he planted himself cross-legged in the center of the clearing and listened as Denmark cried for him not far away, but still farther than Denmark cared for. "Come here." He said, turning his attention upward. The opaque slash of the Milky Way soared over his head. The beauty of a world at peace.
"Where are you?" Denmark continued. "I can't see."
"Follow my voice." Norway knew with unwavering confidence just where Denmark's fear threshold lay. He also knew it was nowhere near its limit. Denmark took a few erratic breaths and Norway felt two hands swathe his forearm. He gently pulled Denmark off of him, finger by finger, repeated as many times as necessary and then with an equal amount of care nudged Denmark around until his friend sat nestled in front of him, his back pressed against Norway's chest.
A little collateral to keep him calm never hurt though. Norway lazily wrapped an arm around Denmark's shoulders and hummed a tune he made up as he went along, tapping out the syncopated rhythm against Denmark with four fingers. After a few minutes, Denmark's tiny little cries of fear ceased.
"See that?" Norway pointed directly upward at the band of stars, more for his own benefit than Denmark's. "It's the Milky Way. See the way the swirly light patterns are all irregular? It's not just stars. It's asteroids and stellar dust and… Sweden would know more, but isn't it pretty?"
"Stunning." Denmark deadpanned. He looked this way and that, every direction except up.
Norway gestured vaguely at the world above again, closing one eye and connecting the dots. The longer he continued, the more stars crowded the sky. It was nothing of worthy of an appearance in an astronomy calendar- no shooting stars, half of it all behind drifting clouds, and even the moon hid behind the trees. Norway didn't care. The only thing interrupting him was a periodic breeze and the company was good, albeit uncooperative and stiff. He pondered briefly if another pair existed, orbiting one of those stars, staring at their sun, wondering what he wondered. The heavens at peace.
"You might agree if you… I don't know… looked at it." Norway said.
Denmark tilted his head upward and back, more at Norway than the stars. "Your head's in the way."
Norway made a good faith effort to return the gaze, but seeing in the dark just wasn't his forte. He still sensed the trepidation spread all over Denmark and his hunch was confirmed when Denmark made a half-hearted attempted to squirm from his grasp. This confused Norway for a number of reasons. His best friend was the very definition of an affection sponge. He had no idea where Denmark would want to go. He'd proven earlier that being farther than two steps from Norway just didn't jibe.
With no other recourse, Norway wrapped his other arm around Denmark's waist and held still until the other country settled back into him with a deep shudder. "Hm." Denmark finally said, making the leap to tear is attention away from his vigil of the forest. "The stars are kinda nice. Makes you wonder if aliens aren't looking at us the same way."
Norway smiled unabashedly and rested his chin on top of Denmark's head. No matter the number of times it happened, he always remained surprised and delighted at how often their thoughts ebbed and flowed on the same wavelength. "It makes you feel so small."
The notion of it all, the beauty of nature, the vastness of creation, this fleeting nothing called life made him want to dig his hands into the earth for fear of falling off. Instead, he held onto Denmark, pleased his friend found some of the same peace he did in the woods. He insinuated to say as much, but a harsh rustling interrupted him. All at once, the shadow of a fox darted across their path, Denmark jumped backwards without warning, which clipped Norway's teeth shut on his tongue. He threw both hands behind him to avoid being completely bowled over. Then again, there was also this thing called wishful thinking.
Norway sucked in some cool air to soothe his burning mouth while Denmark clung to him, shaking violently. "I wanna go back to the tent." He said emphatically. "I wanna go back to the tent." As if it needed repeating. There was that fear threshold.
"No problem." Norway said, coaxing Denmark off of him, and leading him back to the tent where the flashlight still conveniently shone.
"I'm sorry." Denmark said when they were as close to civilization as they'd get that night. He curled back up in the corner and grabbed the flashlight, keeping it trailed on Norway as he spread out a futon so they'd have something nominally soft to sleep on.
"Stop worrying. I'm having fun." He said honestly, pushing past Denmark to separate the tangle of sleeping bags and roll them out on the mattress. Norway unlaced his boots, crawled into his portable bed, and patted the space next to him.
The other country ran a hand roughly through his hair. "I keep telling myself you've done plenty for me when you haven't felt like it, but I guess that's what friends do."
Norway nodded in agreement. Both knew the other was a load-bearing wall in each other's emotional support structure and very much the most important part of the other's life. Denmark flicked off the light and wormed his way into his own sleeping bag, scooting as close to Norway as the ample fabric between them would allow. Something rumbled outside the tent and Denmark shot back up almost as quick as he lay down.
"Here." Norway eased him back down, unzipped their sleeping bags, and then zipped them both together. He held his arms open and allowed Denmark to snuggle into him. His best friend said nothing, but was obviously grateful.
"And you said we're leaving first thing tomorrow, right?" Denmark swallowed hard.
"Sure." Norway teased. "Right after I take you bird watching and let you sample wild berries and Iceland said he's been dying to try white water raf-"
"Norway." Denmark warned.
"Then how about we leave right after breakfast and the first round tomorrow night is my treat? Besides, we have to save some stuff for next time we do this."
"Who said there will be a next time?" Denmark huffed indignantly. Norway didn't reply, didn't need to. He continued as he always did, giving Denmark a few pats with each fresh wave of shakes. The other country eventually took the hint. "Norway, only for you would I do this again."
Denmark gave Norway one final nuzzle and thenceforward made a good faith effort to get some sleep. Norway didn't close his eyes immediately, immensely enjoying the world at peace.
A/n: So I've committed a slight breach of protocol by posting this while knee- deep in the middle of writing another story, but this piece was like a Trojan virus on my mind. The only solution was to expunge it before it ended up somewhere it didn't belong. I was gently reminded that no one would mind getting it sooner rather than later and it ended up being a pretty fun detour from my regular stuff. My favorite thing about this is the inherent irony of its inspiration: I haven't seen a star in months. Ha.