Latvia's teeth chattered as he trembled, his arms wrapped around his chest and his eyes brimming with tears. He had been forgotten as Russia's rage centered on Estonia. Estonia, who was half-blind without his glasses; whose glasses had been broken the day before; who couldn't have seen the vase full of sunflowers before it fell.
Latvia watched with wide eyes as Estonia cowered, arms curled protectively around his head, as Russia brought his water pipe down to meet Estonia's chest with a sickening thwack.
Normally, Lithuania would have stepped in by now, finding some way to distract Russia. Estonia would have been left alone, and Latvia would not feel quite so guilty and horribly useless. But Lithuania was gone: he had left them for the safety of America. So Latvia was alone, watching as Estonia's blood spattered the ground.
How did Lithuania do it? Latvia wondered as he did his best to melt into the wall, his body shaking uncontrollably. How had he found the courage to defend them when all it did was turn Russia's anger towards him?
Estonia was screaming. Wordless cries of agony.
Latvia shook harder as he covered his ears. Estonia was the one who held him close when Lithuania was locked away in the basement, the one who would wipe away his tears and bandage his wounds when Russia turned on him. He was always protecting Latvia, just as Lithuania had always looked out for the both of them, and now he was being beaten to death in front of Latvia' eyes.
Suddenly, almost without thinking, Latvia straightened. He was always so useless, so scared that all he could do was be protected. Hadn't he always wished there was something he could do for Estonia in return for everything the spectacled boy had done for him?
Estonia's screams were quieter now, but no less pained.
"Don't hurt him!" For a moment, his trembling stopped, his arm outstretched to catch the sleeve of Russia's coat. "Please, Mr. Russia, he didn't mean it!"
Then Russia's eyes dark, cold, filled with rage, turned on him, and it was all Latvia could do to keep from fainting on the spot. "P-please, M-M-Mr. R-Russia. . ." He was trembling again, vibrating like a leaf caught in a hurricane. "P-please!" Tears ran down his face, blurring his vision; and his legs were giving out, as he fell to his knees.
Russia gave no answer, still staring at Latvia without a glimmer of emotion. The tiny nation was hunched over his knees, sobbing as he shook and still begging Russia to be done; to stop hurting Estonia.
"Do you want to leave me too, little Latvii?" Russia asked in a cold, dangerous voice.
Latvia' throat caught, choking on his sobs. He shook his head frantically. "N-n-no!"
Suddenly Russia's pipe was in his face, still wet with Estonia's blood, and Latvia nearly stopped breathing. It was his turn. As he curled over his knees, tensing for the blow, the thought crossed his mind – at least Estonia wasn't being hurt anymore.
"You are a good boy, Latvii." Latvia peeked up through his fingers to see Russia standing over him with a strange look on his face. "Clean up this mess."
And then Latvia was left alone with his brother's broken body, wondering what the hell had just happened even as he rushed forward to kneel at Estonia's side. It stung his heart to watch Estonia cringing away from him, blind and broken and still trying to draw enough breath to apologize.
"I'm here, Igaunijā," Latvia whispered in his own language. "I'm sorry. I'm so sorry." Maybe next time he wouldn't be so lucky, but; as Estonia calmed at his touch, holding Latvia's tiny hand with his own bloodied fingers as he mouthed "Läti?" - a gleam of wonderment in his eyes; Latvia wondered if this was how Lithuania felt all the time. Terrified and guilty and yet so full of love and relief that if Russia had returned at that very moment, Latvia would have done anything to keep him from hurting Estonia again.
In that moment, Latvia made a silent promise: Never again would he let his fear hold him back, not when his brother was hurting. He would protect Estonia as Estonia protected him.