There is a light that shines beyond all things on earth, beyond the highest, the very highest heavens. This is the light that shines in your heart.
There are times when Norway wonders if he is truly doing the right thing.
He convinces himself that it shouldn't matter. That one explosion shouldn't have to completely change their lives. That one ill-conceived plan executed by the hands of strangers shouldn't make a difference in the way they go about their days, even if it did bring an entire building down in a spectacular display of fire and smoke. That a single moment in time needn't unravel thousands of years of camaraderie.
He convinces himself that one head injury shouldn't have to ruin their relationship.
In the months since watching firefighters drag Denmark out of the blazing rubble in a heap of blood and ash, Norway has tried to justify each of his decisions to himself in as many ways as he can possibly think of. He tries to tell himself that his actions are simply out of compassion, or perhaps out of pity. Out of a skewed sense of responsibility, even. Survivor guilt.
But at the end of it all, he cannot deny that it is out of plain selfishness.
Because despite the situation, Norway can't let him go. They've been together for too long to even fathom ever leaving him and it makes him physically ill to think of Denmark being with someone else. Even if only platonically, it makes Norway's heart twist to imagine.
At the end of a two month coma, when the doctor had told them Denmark's brain would never recover, Norway had been the first to volunteer to care for him.
He had assured himself that the doctor was wrong and that it would only take putting the Dane back in a familiar environment to speed along his recovery. Like flipping a switch. Because Denmark couldn't just be lost to the world. He was far too much of a headstrong idiot to be changed by something as trivial as a building exploding.
But when it took him half an hour just to coax him out of the car and then another hour trying to refamiliarize him with the house they had shared for over a hundred years, Norway had run head first into the unforgiving gravity of the situation. The harsh realization that Denmark was gone.
He had locked himself in his room that night; up until dawn mourning his own loss while trying his hardest to ignore Denmark's frightened cries from downstairs, lost in the darkness of a house that he had built himself while Norway fooled himself into the belief that it might do him some good. That perhaps a little self-sufficiency might bring back at least a sliver of the man he knew so well.
His resolve had cracked with the first rays of the morning sun and he had raced down to the living room and thrown his arms around Denmark's shaking frame, apology after apology tumbling from his lips as the larger man clung to him, stiff and cold from spending the night standing helplessly in the center of the room calling Norway's name. Norway had stroked his hair and kissed his face and showed him again where the bedroom was. When Denmark refused to let go of his hand, he had simply pulled him into bed with him and the Dane offered no resistance. Without question and with all past grievances forgiven, he slept beside Norway that night. And again the next night. And the night after that.
And so life would continue.
Rehabilitation would continue.
Justification would continue.
Denmark barely speaks anymore. It's too difficult. But when he does, it is only ever to Norway and still, somehow, contains the same exuberance and excitement as he ever did. It's less restrained now and never comes without the slow, stuttering lilt to his voice, but there are times when Norway can ignore it. When he can see past the large scar on his forehead or the way his head constantly nods and how his smile is too big for his face, and still catch a glimpse of the old Denmark.
Those are the days that are the worst, he thinks. The days where he can trick himself into believing that nothing has changed.
Not everything was different. There were things that stayed the same. Small remnants of Denmark's old personality that he's managed to, thankfully, cling to. It's a relief to Norway every time he laughs at an old, inside joke or when he comes downstairs and finds the Dane sitting cross-legged on the couch with his nose buried in a thick book of fairytales. It had taken months for him to learn to read again, but as soon as he was able, he had taken to H.C. Andersen like he had never forgotten him at all and spent each day reading the stories over and over again, occasionally asking Norway to read to him while he laid his head in the Norwegian's lap, closing his eyes and listening intently.
His favorite is still The Ugly Duckling.
But the familiar is greatly outweighed by the heavy shadow of change. From the way Denmark speaks and moves and behaves to the way Norway has to regard him; everything has been altered. He can no longer treat Denmark in the same flippant manner as he once did. He has to catch himself every time Denmark frustrates him or does something wrong and has to force his patience to expand to accommodate the trials of simply existing. He can't elbow Denmark in the ribs when he is annoying. He can't whack him on the back of the head when he makes a mess. He can't yell at him whenever he manages to stress him out.
There had been one instance where Norway had lost it. Frustration that had been building for weeks had come to a head as he had tried to re-teach Denmark how to fold laundry, a simple, quick task that he should have been able to grasp immediately but was somehow unable to. Norway had sat beside him and watched him struggle. One minute had turned into five which turned into ten and he hadn't even made it through three tee-shirts. Such a simple thing. Tuck in the sleeves. Turn it over. Fold it once. Repeat. But Denmark simply couldn't do it. And as Norway had watched him clumsily try again and again to complete the chore, an unexpected anger had risen in him, bubbling and festering until he had finally shoved his chair back and violently thrown the wrinkled clothes off of the table and onto the floor.
He had grabbed Denmark by the shoulders and physically shaken him, screaming and demanding to know why he couldn't just do what he asked, completely furious at the Dane's inept hands and lack of comprehension, curses and angry beratement rushing out of him before he could stop it. Denmark's face had crumpled and Norway released him and had stormed to the bedroom, slamming the door and forcing himself to fall into a frustrated sleep.
Hours later, he had woken to a tiny, nearly silent tapping on the door. He had warily answered and found Denmark standing in the hall, his gaze focused firmly on the floor as he held out the laundry basket in lightly trembling hands, presenting Norway with a pile of folded clothes. It was an awkward and messy job, some shirts inside out and jean legs rolled up, but it was done. Still refusing to look up, Denmark had apologized. Stuttering and blinking rapidly with every struggled word, Denmark had apologized to him.
Norway had collapsed to his knees and buried his face in his hands, shame finally breaking through his earlier anger. Denmark looked alarmed but had set the basket away and crouched down to gently hug Norway as he choked through his own apologies, begging for Denmark to forgive him.
And he did. Without any hesitation. Just as he always had.
Norway taught him to use hangers the next day.
Things were different. Things were the same. And as the months continue and Denmark still makes no recovery, Norway begins to wonder.
It is on New Years Eve when they get caught in a rainstorm and Denmark gets sick for the first time since returning home. It's a simple cold, nothing major, but it terrifies him. He clings to Norway as he lies in bed, fevered, while Norway reads to him softly and rubs his aching shoulders, whispering reassurances to him. But even the Dane's beloved fairytales do nothing to soothe him. His body hurts and he's too hot and he doesn't understand why.
Norway runs him a bath and leads him to the bathroom, instructing him to take off his night clothes, which he reluctantly does and steps into the warm water. He surprises Norway by quietly asking if he'll bathe with him. Norway pauses but agrees and follows suit a moment later and slips in behind him. It's nothing new. He's helped Denmark into the bath many times.
None of it is new. Not the way Denmark watches the swirling bubbles. Not the way Norway wrings out a bath puff and begins to lightly massage his back. Not the way Denmark leans against him, sighing happily. Not the way Norway wraps an arm around his waist to pull him closer.
It is all the same as it ever was. And with Denmark's eyes closed and mouth just barely turned up, Norway can pretend again that nothing has changed. That there was never any explosion or head injury and that they are simply two lovers sharing a bath instead of a man nursing a child back to health after spending too much time in poor weather. He can pretend that when they go to bed, he will fall asleep to Denmark's smooth voice in his ear, wishing him sweet dreams rather than the thick, stuttering "good night" that he's become accustomed to. He can pretend that in the morning, he'll awaken to Denmark's arms around him and not the other way around. He can pretend that they'll both return to work in the next few weeks instead of having to call someone to keep an eye on Denmark while he is away.
It's three minutes into the first of January when Norway kisses him.
It isn't chaste. Not like it has been lately. Not a peck on the forehead or cheek and without any ruffling of hair or patting of shoulders. He doesn't kiss him like a child. He kisses him like the man he has been with for centuries. Carefully turns him around in the water and gently presses their lips together, wrapping his arms around Denmark's wet neck and drawing him as close as he can manage, keening lowly in the back of his throat at the comforting, familiar feeling when Denmark hesitantly returns the gesture, settling his large, clumsy hands on Norway's hips and closing his eyes to lean forward when Norway winds his hands in the Dane's hair. Just as he used to do. Like nothing had changed.
He can pretend, pretend, pretend.
He goes to bed guilty that night and in the morning, will pretend again. Like it never happened at all and will never happen again.
But it does.
He can't help himself. When he is asleep or engrossed in his books, Denmark still looks the same. The same face (though marred), the same hair (though flat), the same body (though jittery and twitchy). The same Denmark. He still looks every bit the part and every time Norway looks at him, it makes his heart clench with a cold loneliness and there are days where he simply has to touch Denmark to cure his own aches. Sometimes he just holds his hands while they lay together. Sometimes he touches his cheek and tilts his head to leave tiny kisses along his chin, an action that makes Denmark laugh happily. Sometimes he sits in his lap and kisses him deeply. And soon, the bad days blur together with his throbbing heart and he needs to touch Denmark more and more often to keep himself together.
Because he still loves him.
He tells Denmark this on Valentines Day. He cups his cheek as they lie in bed together. He kisses him softly and quietly murmurs in his ear, "Denmark, I love you."
He watches as something in Denmark's eyes brightens. He smiles widely, throwing his arms around Norway and nuzzling into his chest. He stays like that for a moment and then, without needing to be asked, he tilts his head up to beam at Norway and with speech as clear as day, tells him that he loves him too.
That breaks the last of Norway's resolve.
He teaches Denmark how to consummate love that night. He rolls him onto his back and nibbles at his ear and asks him to say it again and again; traces his fingers down his chest and hips and every inch of warm, exposed skin that he can find, still so familiar under his hands as he works the Dane into arousal and tells him to never let anyone else do this to him. He handles him gently. Prepares him more thoroughly than he has ever done for anyone before. He fully expects it to end at any moment, but even as he carefully presses into him, Denmark never tells him to stop.
And for the first time in over a year, Norway feels whole again.
Ultimately, Sweden is the one to finally acknowledge the elephant in the room.
He sits next to Norway on the couch, watching Denmark and Sealand play checkers on the floor, and asks him if he thinks Denmark knows what love is. Norway is quick to defend him and informs Berwald that yes, of course he does, and glares at the deadpan Swede when he challenges his answer. He motions to the twitchy Dane and rephrases his question. He asks Norway if he believes Denmark knows the different between love and love.
When Norway can't answer him, he tells him to stop what he's doing. Tells him that he is only confusing Denmark and probably, in the long run, hurting him. Norway grits his teeth and hears Sweden out, his eyes locked with the checkerboard as Sealand moves his piece.
He can't deny that Sweden is making sense.
He can't deny that he is being selfish.
He can't deny that he is desperately clinging to the last threads of their old life.
He can't deny that he is still in love with Denmark.
He sees Sweden to the door as soon as the game ends.
In the days following, Austria assumes the role of a part time caregiver when Norway has to return to work.
He brings a heavy leather case and a roll of brushes and informs Norway that he plans on teaching Denmark how to paint to help him occupy his time; something to keep his hands busy and to improve his focus. He says it's a no-fail activity as he begins to lay pages of thick paper out over the table. A task with so many outcomes that it is impossible to do any wrong.
He shows Denmark how to hold the brush properly and how to mix his colors and lets him practice on the sheets of porous paper before unwrapping a canvas and telling him to do whatever he would like with it, a notion that makes Denmark grin excitedly.
By the time Norway returns home from work, Denmark has filled the entire cloth with color and is still working on it, staring intently at the surface of the canvas, biting the tip of his tongue in concentration. When Norway lays a hand on his shoulder and asks him what it is that he has painted, Denmark smiles at him and tells him that he's drawn Norway.
Norway studies the canvas, his eyes trailing the long, soft swirls of yellow and pink and white paint as they blend together in the center of the frame, neatly entwining into a perfect circle filled with a shade of sky blue that he has never seen before, delicately bordered with the barest hint of gentle purple. He regards it curiously and tells Denmark it looks nothing like him. Denmark just continues to smile and informs him it's not supposed to.
It's not how he looks. It's how he makes him feel.
Norway vows to tell Sweden to mind his own business next time he's around.
There are times when Norway wonders if he is truly doing the right thing.
Every time he touches Denmark, he wonders. With every kiss, caress, or word of endearment, he feels a pang of guilt and with every intimate moment, he can always hear Sweden's disapproving voice in the back of his mind, telling him what he is doing is wrong, wrong, wrong. Wrong because Denmark can't truly consent. Wrong because Denmark doesn't know what he's doing.
Wrong because Denmark is an innocent.
And Norway can't refute it. Every argument has a strong point and he can't ignore the disapproving stares and unwanted advice that he is constantly offered, nor can he ignore the way the others soon begins to talk behind his back, spreading rumors that he is taking advantage someone too slow to realize what's happening. He can't ignore it, but he doesn't take it home with him.
Because he needs Denmark just as much as Denmark needs him.
He listens to each and every person who tells him that Denmark doesn't know what love is. He listens to them carefully and patiently and at the end of it all, thanks them for their profound advice but politely informs them that it's a situation that they couldn't possibly comprehend and easily changes the subject. Tells them about Denmark's progress or newest painting or something else that is safe to discuss.
He doesn't tell them of the truly important things.
He doesn't tell them about the way Denmark smiles at him when he crawls into bed with him every night and cuddles against his chest, murmuring softly as Norway strokes his hair until he eventually falls asleep.
He doesn't tell them about the way Denmark will sometimes sit down in front of him and gently take one of Norway's hands into his own and just run his fingertip across his knuckles, humming to himself as he flexes Norway's fingers and examines how the creases in his palm deepen and shrink as he opens and closes his fist.
He doesn't tell them the way Denmark shines when Norway sits in his lap and kisses his nose or how he is perfectly content to spend hours doing absolutely nothing as long as he is holding Norway's hand.
He doesn't tell them about soft paintings of pink and yellow.
Because even knowing, they couldn't even begin to understand. Not without seeing it the way Norway does; not without feeling the way Norway does. He listens to their judgments. He heeds their advice. He justifies his every action to himself and spends hours each day simply wondering. But it doesn't matter. Because at the end of his worst days, Denmark still instantly forgives him and still smiles at him with the same unbiased, clear affection that he has never known from another person. He doesn't need the acceptance of his friends. He doesn't need the validation of his colleagues. He doesn't need them to tell him what is right or wrong or morally correct because none of it makes a difference to him. He still has Denmark and although their lives may have changed, there is still one thing that, no matter what, will always remain constant.
He has never known a love this pure.
And no amount of wondering will ever change that.