Norway breathes softly. His breath is barely detectable, airy and fleeting just like his voice, easily drowned out by the humming of spring, crackled mutterings on the radio, or the howls of wolves he still sometimes hears at night. He likes staying completely silent until the opportunity for a witty comment or sarcastic jab becomes available to him, and he raises his voice before retreating back inside his own mind. He steps lightly, his footsteps only heard when he chooses to be heard, altogether quiet and still like a statue.
The only way Finland can tell that he isn't dead as he sits across the table from him is the darting of his eyes as he scans the mountains from the kitchen table, resting his chin on his rough palms. His fingers wrap around his mouth, hiding his lips and ever-apathetic expression, elbow resting on the tablecloth. His other hand lays flat on the table, occasionally twitching with electric impulses. He begins to tap his fingers and his eyes narrow as if he is stalking something invisible, eyes hard and fast on something amongst the trees. He waits.
Finland doesn't mind the surreal quiet. He folds his arms into his lap and twiddles his thumbs—not from being bored, but from anxiousness. He reminds himself that there is nothing to be anxious about, however—Norway is, in all practical senses—selectively mute, and he won't tell a soul. He thinks, sighs, and leans back in his chair. Maybe won't tell a soul, rather. You never know with Norway.
Picking at the worn, loose fibers of hair hanging off of his old red sweater, Finland watches Norway jump with alarm, head turning and muscles tensing, as the microwave timer sounds. Finland watches his pupils dilate back to normal, momentarily wide with alarm, but the blankness is back in an instant and the nation rises and shuffles off to the microwave.
Norway doesn't ask what kind of tea Finland would like, because he knows what he likes, along with the exact ratio of sugar, what color mug he wants, and the cubic volume of the drop of milk that he splashes into it. Finland is always tempted to say "No, I don't want that kind, Halle," just to see how Norway will react. It would probably surprise him, and he'd stand there for a moment before nodding, changing tasks and changing teas.
The surprise would never show on his face, though. Probably.
Norway sets the mug before him, sits down in his own seat, and stares out the window again. He bites his tongue in annoyance before speaking. "Huldra outside," he points, at the place he was staring at, "A wanderer. Doesn't belong here."
Finland only nods, wiping away strands of hair out of his face and sips at his tea. He knows not to question what Norway claims to have seen. When they were teenagers, Denmark and Sweden both made fun of Norway relentlessly for his second sight, and one day Norway nearly tore off both of their arms off in rage. He said he would've followed through, but each of them having a single broken arm was good enough.
"If you see a beautiful woman on your way out, spin around in circles three times and crow like a rooster. My trolls will save you."
Finland nods again, taking in air to speak, but decides that he shouldn't. He gazes out into the fog of morning and the drizzling rain, licking the sugar off of his pale lips. Norway stirs his tea with a metal spoon and wishes it were strong coffee.
"What is it that you want to tell me?" Norway asks. He's hard to understand because he slurs his words together when he's not speaking precisely and formally. Small talk doesn't interest him, and the way that he drawls proves it. He has better things to do. Like going back to sleep, or tending his garden, or taking a walk. He's still in his pajamas since he doesn't have anywhere to be today. He's not a morning person. Finland is—clean, shaven, dressed up in clothes that agree with the laws of fashion. Not a strand of hair is left untouched. He'll go to bed early, and he'll wake up early. Norway will do the opposite.
"I wanted to ask you a question," Finland says, folding his hands on the table, fingers interlocking. His purple eyes bore into Norway's, the corners of his mouth turned downwards to show his seriousness. "I wanted to ask you if you're bothered by Henrik."
"Is that even a question?" Norway snaps sharply, reaching over to grab a cookie out of the pile that sits in the center of the table, dipping it in his tea and eating it.
"No. I mean," he glances at the ceiling, and then back at Norway," Are you ever bothered that he loves you more than you do him?"
Norway pauses, caught off guard by the question, but he smiles, and for once shows his teeth. "You mean," he says with poison, "you're unsure over your relationship with Berwald. That was a bad way of masking it, Tino."
"Quit it. I want an answer to my question, not your analysis of what my words mean."
"Getting defensive, are we?"
"You're avoiding the question."
"You're just mad that I know. Remember, things that happen amongst the Nordics are easy to be passed around among us."
"The same goes for you and Henrik," Finland says, pointing an accusing finger, "I know a lot more than you think I do, so don't act like you're the special exception to the rule. Because you aren't."
"I never said I was."
"You implied it."
"Bullshit," Finland says, kicking Norway under the table, "Cut it out and listen to me. I'm not going to let yourself weasel your way out of this just because you're too afraid to face your own problems. And don't you even dare think about changing the subject, I'm only going to pin you down again."
Finland can feel frustration gather in his blood. He's not angry, but his patience is ebbing away. But he can't explode and get mad, because then Norway will have won. He has to do this civilly, calmly, and slowly break down every single brick that Norway has built around himself. He wonders how Denmark can put up with him, but then he wonders how Sweden deals with him, and he feels his heart sink. But he keeps his eyes firm like that of a killer, letting Norway know that if he tries to escape again, he's going to get verbally attacked—even physically attacked if it comes to it. He's fought with Norway once before. Finland isn't afraid. He's never been afraid of fighting. He was never a Viking, but vigor still courses through his blood.
Norway puts both of his hands up in defeat. He's too lazy—or too threatened—to continue the game. He knows Finland won't use the knowledge against him. He won't tell a soul. Unlike himself, you always know with Finland. He smirks.
"Well, shit, Tino. What do you want me to say?"
"Just be truthful, for once in your life, Halvard."
Halvard, instead of Halle.
Those words leave Norway stunned and silenced.
"How do you reason," Norway says, after finding his tongue, "That Henrik loves me more than I do him?"
"Are you actually admitting you love him, then?"
Grumbling, Norway takes another sip of his tea and bites down on another spiced cookie. "If you claim to know as much as you do, then you already know that answer." He stops, and chews slowly, running pale fingers through his unbrushed hair. "Nevertheless, you are not me and you cannot possibly know my thoughts and my feelings. What if hypothetically, it's the opposite; I love him more than he does me?"
"I could love him just as much, but maybe I have my own way of loving. Henrik is outgoing with his affection, whereas I am not. But expression of emotion and the actual feeling are two different things. The point is, Berwald is reserved, but he's deeply in love with you. He expresses it one way, and you express it another," he finishes off his tea. "So I think you're comparing apples to oranges." Pause. "Rather, dragons to dryer lint."
Finland thinks about this and his eyes trail away from Norway, the fog becoming denser and visibility dropping suddenly. He bites the inside of his lip while Norway slinks off to make another cup of tea. Or at least he thinks so—Finland never turns around, and while his war-instincts tell him to never turn a back on someone potentially dangerous, he ignores Norway's fumbling and shrugs off tension. He cracks his neck, and Norway comes back not with tea, but with alcohol.
"If I'm going to talk to you about such mushy things as love," he says dryly, wiping the dust away off the bottle of liquor he brings with him, "I need to at least be slightly intoxicated."
"You can get completely drunk when we're done talking," Finland glares, grabbing the bottle and the shot glass, "Hell, I'll even join you. But I'm in charge of your booze intake until you answer me."
"Fine. You really are such a mother-figure, as your 'son' says. Give me a shot."
As Finland pours, he grumbles, "Don't call me that." He wants to add on, "You have no right to even joke about that, you bitch," but he knows Norway will use that as a way to escape out of talking. Ever-avoidant of his own emotional issues, Norway is not even trusting in his own self, as logical and stable as he appears. He'll stoop to any level to get out of things he dislikes talking about. Norway motions to grab the little glass, but Finland blocks his hand and shakes his head.
"I'm going to ask this out front," Norway says, "Do you love Berwald?"
"And you're unsure of your relationship because you think he loves you more?"
"He's been more loyal than I'll ever be."
"Have you talked to him about this?"
"Then why the hell are you talking to me? You should be talking to him."
"Because what I want to know is how you handle the very same thoughts. You're even more unfaithful and cruel than I am. How do you keep a clear conscious? Doesn't it bother you?"
"Remember," Finland glares, "Truthfully."
Norway gnaws on his cheek and flicks one of the cookie crumbs off the patterned tablecloth, landing on the floor for one of his magical friends to eat. "Truthfully, I suppose it does bother me," he breathes, eyes closing, "But to be fair, I think I have a better poker face than you do and I'm much better at lying—even to myself—so I don't even acknowledge the idea of love that often. Call me a terrible person, but that's exactly what I am, and I'm aware of it."
Rolling his eyes, Norway stands up with fury and walks over to the window, facing his own reflection. He glares and sneers at himself, bearing teeth as he clenches them together, and then relaxes. "It bothers me to the point that sometimes I can't sleep at night. Too many thoughts buzz through my head. I feel bad, I feel sorry, but I don't feel inclined to so anything. I can kick Henrik around, I can treat him like shit, and he'll still come crawling back to me. I do love him, don't get me wrong, but I have my own issues for hiding it, suppressing it."
"That's what I've been waiting to hear out of your mouth for years, Halle," Finland smiles, clapping his hands together.
Halle, instead of Halvard.
"I think the reason why I hide mine is the same reason you hide yours."
"And what would that be?"
"Pride," Norway swallows, "And iron-headed stubbornness. And perhaps a hint of regret, of guilt, but that's overshadowed by our independent, 'I-don't-need-to-depend-on-anyone', personalities. We fear the consequences of our words, and that's why we don't have the courage to tell the people we care about our doubts. We may care less, but we still care, even if it's just a little. And we fear rejection. Because deep down, just like everyone, we're insecure. If we don't have someone to care for us, what do we have? Nothing."
"You know I'm right, though. That's what you wanted to hear. Now what?"
"What do you think I should do?"
"Are you seriously asking me relationship advice?" he laughs, sitting back down at the table, "You're either crazy or I must be drunk!"
"You're sober," Finland states, "And I'm seriously asking you."
"I think he knows, Berwald. I lived with him too. You're not the only one who knows him well. I don't think he'll do anything rash in response if you tell him. He'll listen. If you don't tell him—well—if he already knows anyway, nothing changes. It's not him, Tino, it's you."
"It's your choice to tell him or not. You're the one that is going to face the consequences either way. It's you who is bothered by it. You, you, you," Norway reaches across the table and jabs a finger into Finland's chest, accentuating the point. "No matter what, it's not me who is deciding this. You are. And you know yourself better than I know you."
"I'll sleep on it," he replies, batting away Norway's hand. "Thanks."
And Finland watches as Norway grumbles, mutters something about how he doesn't liked to be thanked, and takes the filled shot.
Together, they drink the day away and spend the night curled up on the hardwood floors, passed out, until morning.
The sun is a rude awakening when Finland opens one heavy eyelid, crusted over with perhaps the remains of tears (he doesn't remember crying, but he doesn't rule it out). He shifts, regretting sleeping on the floor, and bumps into Norway, who has an arm around Finland's waist and the other awkwardly spread, as if he was trying to reach for something in his sleep. The bottle, empty, is pressed against Finland's chest as if he was cradling a child while he dreamed.
No, he didn't dream.
He shuts his eye and moans. He has a splitting headache and his body aches, but he doesn't let that deter him as he sits up and carefully moves Norway's fingers off of him.
But Norway breathes deeply as the slight movement rouses him to wakefulness. He runs a hand across his cheek, slightly smirking, and sits up with the same slanted expression he's always had. He inches closer to Finland and drapes his arms over the smaller man's shoulders lazily.
"I think you should go," he whispers, tracing circles with his index finger into Finland's chest.
"Remember: circle three times and crow like a rooster," Norway says with a straight face from the porch step, sending Finland off with a wave. "But," he adds, "I think you'll be fine."
Finland nods, waves back, and leaves without another word.
My Finland and I had a very interesting discussion while driving about Finland and Sweden's relationship, and the way she saw it was something that I found to be rather unique and was taken by the idea. It's not all fluff. And I really liked the concept of Finland's doubting, and so I knew was going to write something about it even before I stepped out of the car. Those thoughts turned into this.