“The soldier, above all other people, prays for peace, for he must suffer and bear the deepest wounds and scars of war.” – Douglas MacArthur
The first time Sweden sees him after the war, bandaged and pale, his skin almost as white as the sheets of the hospital bed where he lays, the stoic nation can only barely manage to conceal his horror from the nurse who shows him in. This could not be right. This must be the wrong room. That cannot be him.
But it is. Finland. His little wife – not anymore, not since Russia took him away all those years ago, and probably never again – was always so fragile in appearance, but so strong on the inside. Sweden feels a wave of guilt wash over him. If he had stepped in maybe this would not have happened. Ten thousand volunteers were not enough to turn the tide of war, though he sent more than anyone else, and he had known that then as well as he knows it now.
Against his better judgment, Sweden’s legs carry him in swift long strides across the room to the side of the bed where the defeated nation lays. Finland is sleeping. Sweden is glad, for he is certain he would not see in those violet eyes the love he had seen centuries ago, nor even the desperation they had held the last time Sweden saw him. He expects bitterness, hatred, betrayal. Of everyone, should not Sweden have been the one to come to Finland’s aid when it was needed most? For all his professions of love, should not he have done everything in his power to protect the object of his affections? But he had not.
As Sweden stands there, staring down at Finland, so small and vulnerable in that hospital bed, the wounded nation begins to stir. Sweden does not notice at first, too lost in his own guilty thoughts, but when he does a momentary panic sets upon him. He wants to leave, run away before Finland can see him and turn all the bitterness and anger that Sweden knows he deserves in his direction. But he does not move fast enough. Finland wakes up slowly, his eyelids fluttering before blinking open slowly. Those violet irises stare blankly at the ceiling for a long moment, blinking slowly. And then, as though finally noticing another presence in the room, his gaze turns toward Sweden. The taller nation freezes, unable to move or speak under that gaze.
And then Finland glances down at himself, at the bandages that wrap around his shoulder and torso, and doubtlessly further down where they are covered by blankets, at the empty space where his left arm should have been, and Sweden can’t take it anymore. It breaks him, seeing the smaller nation like this. Sweden collapses to his knees, apologies spilling from his lips. He has been doing a lot of apologizing lately – to Denmark on a similar hospital bed, thin, ragged, and bruised, to Norway, barely able to stand for his exhaustion – but none of it makes him feel any better.
The apologies continue flowing, unchecked, from his mouth, a choked jumble of languages that Finland probably cannot even understand at this point, but Sweden cannot stop himself. Not until he feels Finland’s hand come to rest gently atop his bowed head. Then the words die on his tongue and slowly he raises his head.
He is on Finland’s left side, forcing the wounded nation to reach over with his remaining limb. The other one will return sooner or later. That is how their bodies work, as soon as his people recover from their losses Finland will look whole again. But Sweden does not think he will ever be able to get this image out of his mind.
Finland offers him a small smile, weak and tired. Sweden does not think he deserves it, and he says so. But Finland does not agree. Sweden did what was best for his people, everyone did, and he helped as much as he could. And it did help. Perhaps not enough to assure a victory, but it did help. But that knowledge is not enough to comfort Sweden. Not now. Not while he stares at the broken body on the hospital bed.
And when Finland tells him that it will all be okay Sweden wants to believe him. He wants things to go back to the way they were before all this madness, but he is not sure they can. And he knows that every time he sees the scar that will inevitably remain even after Finland is healed it will remind him. But Sweden does not know if he wants to remember.
“Out of suffering have emerged the strongest souls; the most massive characters are seared with scars.” – Kahlil Gibran
It takes a long time. Or perhaps it only feels like a long time. Finland is healing slowly, regaining his strength as his people pull together the fragments of their lives. Sweden visits him frequently, as often as he can, though the world sometimes seems busier now than during the war.
When Finland is strong enough to get out of bed for the first time Sweden discovers the full extent of the smaller nations wounds. The entire left side of Finland’s body, from his arm to his foot is littered with scars. Red and angry, they take the shape of cuts, burns and bullet holes. And though it is bandaged, Sweden can see Finland’s foot is mangled and misshapen. Again he feels the urge to apologize, but this time Sweden keeps his mouth shut.
And still Finland smiles at him as he leans on a crutch and attempts to take his first shaky steps. Sweden insists then on taking Finland home to look after him, not as nations, but as people. Finland is reluctant at first, but eventually agrees. So Sweden takes him home, to Finland’s home.
Sweden knows he will stay as long as Finland needs him, longer if asked. But Finland only laughs when he hears this. He does not believe the words. And Sweden wonders if Finland no longer trusts him. Or if Finland will ever trust him again.
It feels like a long time. Finland gets stronger by the day. But the most obvious of his injuries refuses to heal. Now Finland is beginning to learn how to get along with only one hand. That frightens Sweden. He fears the wound may never heal.
It is sudden when it happens. So sudden neither see it happen. When Finland goes to sleep everything is as it has been. The next morning he wakes with the empty space filled and the only sign it had ever been empty a thin white line of scar tissue. Sweden holds his hand tightly, hugs him close, and he is not aware of what words fall from his lips. He only knows that Finland is whole again. And now, maybe, things can return to the way they were.
“There is something beautiful about all scars of whatever nature. A scar means the hurt is over, the wound is closed and healed, done with.” – Harry Crews