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[APH] Family Secrets 3/4

They were able to learn enough to discover that Norway had gone back to his own home, but they were unable to trace him any further. All attempts to contacts him went unanswered. They only other thing they were able to learn was that he had contacted his boss and requested a leave of absence unless some emergency came up.

That had been in mid-July.

At the world meeting at the beginning of August, the other Nordics gave an explanation for Norway's absence, but did not give any details of what had occurred. A few nations were annoyed that someone had skipped a meeting, but no one really pressed the issue.

When September's meeting came, and he still wasn't there, more nations expressed opinions. Apparently the few that actually expected to get anything accomplished during the meetings claimed that it set a bad precedent to allow someone to miss two meetings in a row. It might be understandable if he was sick or had some kind of national crisis going on, but missing two meetings for no apparent reason was just not allowed. The other Nordics continued to make excuses for him, while trying to hide their growing worry. To their relief the subject was soon changed when America revealed his latest "heroic" plan and the meeting dissolved into the usual chaos.

By October's meeting, no one commented. The meeting just went on as usual, and, also as usual, nothing was accomplished, because all the nations were too busy either arguing or trying to ignore the chaos.

The other Nordics were all very worried by this point, since none of them had heard anything from Norway in over two months. Their only hope was that he would be at the Nordic Council later that month, or at least contact them if he couldn't make it.

They weren't really surprised though, when he didn't show up for that either, or even send them a message. They may not have surprised, but they were even more worried than they had been, and they actively began to search for him. But they had waited too long and whatever trail there might once have been had long since gone cold. By the end of November, they were forced to give up and admit (at least to themselves) that unless Norway came back on his own, they might never see him again. They did their best to ignore the possibility that he might be dead and they should be looking for his replacement.

As much as they tried to ignore that possibility though, it was never far from their thoughts. All they could do was cling to the increasingly slim hope that they would see him again.

Soon it was Christmas Eve. Although all of their countries had the tradition of having family get-togethers on Christmas Eve, the Nordics always had their big celebration on Christmas Day, due to how busy Finland was on Christmas Eve. Denmark, Norway, and Iceland often did something on Christmas Eve, but Denmark and Iceland had decided not to bother that year. Neither one was really in the mood to celebrate anything when they hadn't found Norway. They were too aware that a member of their family was missing, and might never return.

To be honest, none of them were really in the holiday mood that year. They were all too worried about Norway.

Sweden and Finland did go ahead with their usual holiday traditions, mostly for Sealand's sake. Finland had convinced the others to go ahead with their usual Christmas Day gathering, saying that it was important that what was left of their family be together for the holiday.

That night, when he did his rounds, Finland hurried through them the way he had back in the 1800s. Back then, it had been so that he could spend a few hours with Sweden before having to return to Russia's house. This year it was for a different reason . . . something that he had been considering since the end of November, but had not spoken of to the others, for fear of raising their hopes in vain. Part of his ability this night was the ability to find anyone, and he hoped to find Norway and convince him to come home.

It turned out that he had been in a place the whole family knew about, but none of them had thought to look. All of the Nordics had cabins in the northern parts of their land that they used every few years when it was their turn with General Winter. (There was an agree that once a decade a Northern nation would let the General have his way with them for one night, so that the world would be spared his full wrath. The nations included in this agreement were the Nordics, Russia, and Canada.) Since this was not even a year that the pact would be enforced, no one had thought that Norway might have gone to that cabin. It was basically understood that the cabins were too dangerous to use at any other time, just in case the General got tempted.

The door was unlocked, a fact which Finland found almost more worrying than the fact that Norway would come to this cabin. It was almost as if he was inviting some kind of trouble. It was very dark inside the cabin, and at first it seemed empty. In fact, if Finland had not been to the cabin before, and known where to look, he would probably have just left. He stood for a moment, debating between checking out the living room, or going upstairs to check the cabin's single bedroom. His moment of indecision was ended when he heard a sound from the living room.

By this time, Finland's eyes were adjusting to the dark, and when he entered the cabin's living room, he was able to see Norway, who was sitting on the floor, with his back against the wall. His knees were drawn up to his chest, and his arms were wrapped around them. He was clearly startled and frightened to have heard someone else in the cabin. The dark kept Finland from being able to make out any other details about Norway's condition.

"Norja," Finland said quietly, taking a couple of steps into the room. He was being careful not to frighten Norway anymore than he already was.

Norway gave no sign of having heard Finland, and seemed to have not even recognized him yet. He was only aware that someone else was in the place where he had been alone for five months.

Finland did not move any closer to Norway, and tried to seem even more unthreatening than usual. Which was pretty difficult, since, unless he had a rifle, he never seemed very threatening. "Haldor?" He used Norway's human name, this time.

That seemed to get through to Norway, as he looked directly at Finland for the first time since the other had entered the room. Recognition dawned in his eyes, and some of the fear melted away, but he still seemed wary. "Tino, what are you doing here? How did you . . .?" His question trailed off, as he realized the answer on his own. "Oh."

"I was looking for you. We've all been so worried about you since you disappeared."

"You shouldn't have bothered," Norway said. He looked away again, seemingly retreating into himself.

"You're part of our family, Norja. We couldn't just forget about you."

Norway gave no sign that had heard Finland.

Finland took a few more steps into the room, hoping to draw Norway's attention to him. He just hoped that he could get through to the other before it was too late and he could no longer be reached. "We all care about you, Norja, and we want you to come home."

"I don't want your pity."

"It's not pity . . . we really do care about you. Tanska and Sve are-"

"Probably just waiting for the chance to take control of me again, now that they know how weak I really am."

Apparently this was going to be even more difficult than he had thought, but Finland was relieved that Norway was at least responding to him now. "They're both sorry for the way they treated you before, and for not knowing that Scandia was doing to you. Tanska is still trying to find a way to declare war on your father."

There was no response. Ordinarily, Norway would have said something about how Denmark was an idiot, but now he was silent. He didn't seem to be losing focus yet, at least.

"And what about Islanti?" Finland continued. "He finds out that he's your son, but you didn't even take the time to talk to him before leaving." That came out a little more accusatory than he had meant it to."

"Island hates me now," Norway whispered. "He wished we weren't related even before he knew the truth. They all thought I was a freak before, and now they know how true that is."

Finland crossed the remaining distance, and knelt down in front of Norway. "Norja . . . Haldor, you are not a freak. What happened to you . . . it can happen to any magical nation." For a moment he debated what else to say, as the proof of that was really England's secret to reveal, but then, England should have realized that there was at least one magical nation that wasn't in on this knowledge. And then, he realized that not only had England known; he should have known as well. "England has several kids, including Peter, actually. He never wanted to acknowledge Peter, though, which is why Sve and I adopted him. We've known about this since we helped him cover up the fact that he had had a child the first time it happened. France and Spain were also in on it, and they had a child together as well, a long time ago, but I don't know which of them actually had her. France was the father of England's kids, though. And England did mention at the time that there was another magical nation that had also had a kid, but that the nation didn't exist anymore. Which is why we never realized he was referring to you, because Sve and I knew you were still alive."

Norway looked at Finland again, but he seemed to be losing focus again, and it was unclear how much of that he had followed.

Even in the darkness of the cabin, Finland was close enough now to make out some of Norway's condition. He had clearly lost weight, and he had been thin enough before. Any other details were still hidden by the lack of light, but between the weight loss and the inability to focus, Finland was worried that something might be seriously wrong with Norway. He realized now that he could not leave the other man in this cabin, or the family's worst fears might in fact come true. He could only hope that there was still time. "I'm worried about you, Norja. Hiding out here like this isn't good for you." This cabin wasn't a safe place to stay for any length of time, and Finland was worried about the effect kaamos3 might be having on Norway's already vulnerable emotional state. "Please, let us help you."

"I can't. The price for their help is too high." The last time Norway had let Denmark and Sweden help him, it had taken him 519 years to regain his freedom. He would not go back into the cage, however well-meaning it may have been.

"What if they promise not to interfere in anything involving your people?" Finland would find a way to make Denmark and Sweden promise that, if that was what it took to save Norway. "Can you let us help you if your independence is not affected."

"I . . . I can't trust them. They're too much like father. They just take what they want. Danmark never saw me as anything other than a possession, and Sverige was just trying to replace you. And he stopped caring as soon as he thought he could get you back."

Finland knew he should be relieved that Norway was at least talking to him, but he was worried about exactly what was being said. He tried the last way he could think of to get through to the other, and get him to accept him. "Do you trust me."

For a few moments it seemed like Norway wasn't going to reply, but eventually, he whispered, "Yes." The reply was almost too quiet to hear, but it was a reply.

"Then please come back with me."

This time the reply was even longer in coming, but eventually he agreed.

The journey back took more time than it usually would have, but eventually, they were back in the other dimension, in a location a few kilometers from their homes. It was a location that in the parallels between their dimension and the real world would correspond to the North Pole. There were a few buildings there, one of which had been set up for use as living quarters, if necessary. It was usually empty, but Finland had used it frequently while in Russia's house. It was once they were in this building, that Finland was first able to really see the condition that Norway was in.

Norway was even paler than usual, and there were dark circles under his eyes, that showed he hadn't been sleeping. He was far too thin. And despite his usual resistance to the cold, he was shivering, and it wasn't that cold now that they were inside. He seemed almost unaware of his surroundings, and it was clear that he was in a really bad condition.

Finland realized then that he would need help getting Norway back to the house. He knew that there was no way the other nation would be able to walk that far, as he hadn't even been able to walk the short distance into the building on his own. Well, he was capable of walking on his own, but his movements were stiff and awkward, and he was limping slightly.

Finland helped Norway over to a chair, and got him settled. Then, he went and found a blanket, which he wrapped about the other. "I'm going to call Sve, and ask him to come and help get you back to our house. Is that alright?"

When no answer was given, of either consent or refusal, Finland was even more worried. It seemed like Norway's condition was getting worse than it had been back in the cabin, and getting help was absolutely imperative now. Finland called Sweden, and filled him on the situation, and he immediately agreed to help.

It was about half an hour later that Sweden arrived, probably making the fastest time ever getting there from the house. Finland had enough experience at reading Sweden's moods to see just how relieved the other man was that Norway had been found, but there was also worry at seeing just how bad off he was.

Finland had been trying to keep Norway focused on some conversation or something, anything to keep him from drifting away again, but he had very little luck. However, Sweden's entrance did get a reaction from Norway, just not a positive one. Of the three brothers, Sweden was the one that looked the most like Scandia, and that fact, coupled with the fact that he could be somewhat scary anyway, was too much for the traumatized man. Norway had immediately curled into himself as much as his limited movement would allow. He was clearly frightened.

Sweden crossed the room and knelt down in front the chair that Norway was sitting in. There was a look of tenderness in his eyes that was usually only seen by Finland and Sealand. It made him look less intimidating than he usually did. "Norge," he said, trying to speak as clearly as possible. "I won't h'rt you." He didn't like seeing his little brother frightened of him like that.

Norway looked up at Sweden, and although he did not relax any, recognition gradually dawned in his eyes. He seemed to be trying to relax, but could not completely let go off his fear.

"W'll you l't m' h'lp you?" Sweden asked. He did not want to make Norway anymore uncomfortable than he already was, but he could see just how urgent it was that they get him to safety as soon as possible.

"No." The reply was barely a whisper. The look of recognition was fading from his eyes, once again being replaced with fear. In the confused state that Norway was in, he kept thinking that it was Scandia kneeling in front of him. "No." He whispered again. He tried to get as far away as he could, which, since he lacked the strength to get up from the chair, meant that he just ended up huddled against the back of the chair.

Sweden seemed to at least partially understand the reason for this. He tried to keep his expression as gentle as possible, which was no easy feat for him. "Norge, f'ther 'sn't here. You're s'fe. N'one 's going t' h'rt you."

Norway managed to focus on his actual surroundings again, and his time, he did relax, just a little. "Søta bror4." The whispered words lacked the irony they usually would have held, instead they were a recognition, a sign that he did in fact know that it was one of his brothers, and not his father, that was in front of him.

"We're g'ing t' t'ke you h'me now, 'kay?" Sweden stood up and gently lifted Norway into his arms, making sure that the blanket stayed wrapped around the smaller man. He tried not to dwell on just how light the other felt in his arms.



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