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Love in Linen

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It started on a visit to Hungary's house. After having tea out in the garden, laughing in the warm spring breeze, they had somehow hit upon the topic of embroidery, and they moved inside to look at Hungary's collection of embroidery patterns. Liechtenstein nodded along as Hungary opened book after book, jumping from one region of her country to another, from colorful floral Kalosca embroidery to ornate redwork. It was all very pretty, and it reminded Liechtenstein that it had been a while since she had sat down to make anything like this; lately she was so busy with business, and when she wasn't, she was visiting her brother or her friends.

She started leafing through one of the books, an old one with hand-painted designs in watercolors. There was a pretty one with hearts – that would look nice on her tea-table – and one with cute little birds, but the one that stopped her was a floral one not much different from the many other floral designs in the book. Except this one came with a wavy square border surrounding the central circle of flowers, and the way it was framed on the page made it look just like a handkerchief.

Goodness. When was the last time she had made a handkerchief? It was the perfect project to pick up her needle with again: small, pretty, practical.

"Can I make a copy of this one?" she asked.

"Sure! That one's cute. What are you going to make with it? A decoration for a side-table? It would look great with a flowerpot in the middle."

"It would," Liechtenstein echoed, fingers tracing the edge of the design. She already had another idea: something about the design made her think that it would suit Switzerland, perhaps the bold reds like his flag and the green that reminded her of his uniform.

With a trace of the designs in hand, she returned home and pulled out the stash she hadn't touched in a while. She cut a square of linen for the ground cloth, to make it hard-wearing. Then she lined up her embroidery floss and picked through her favorite shades of red cotton, added some lighter pinks for smaller and cuter flowers, and found a beautiful shade of green that matched the other threads well and also closely matched their uniforms.

Transferring the pattern to the linen was the hardest part; she hadn't done this for a while and had rather lost the knack for it. She used to freehand these things, didn't she? Or laboriously poke holes in the pattern, scatter pounce over it, peel the paper away, and then carefully connect the dots before the pounce could blow away.

It ended up being much easier to simply tape her pattern to the window, tape the handkerchief over that, and trace everything with a pen.

She usually worked on the handkerchief in small bursts: at the end of her lunch break, while waiting for a meeting to begin, while the water heated for tea. First the lines of the design emerged, bright spots of color against the pale background, and then she started to slowly fill them in with long stitches. It might have been a while, but she still remembered how to do this, and she made sure every long stitch was perfectly in-place so it would look nice for her brother.

When it was nearly done, she was so eager to see it finished that she worked through the evening, hours bent over in a chair until her neck and back were stiff, until finally the last little dot was filled in and it was ready to give away.

Switzerland would disapprove of wasting paper in wrapping it, so she simply gave it a wash to make sure the colors didn't run, ironed it until it was absolutely smooth, and folded it neatly. She smiled as she slipped it into her pocket; she was sure he would like it. Humming to herself, she gave one last glance to the mirror, smoothed down a stray hair, and left to go visit him.

Her brother was in something of a grumpy mood today, but she was glad to see his expression soften at the edges when she came in and he directed to her to the table in the garden. As he ducked back in to get their drinks (coffee, today, not tea), she pulled the handkerchief out and hid it in her lap among the folds of her skirt.

When he had reappeared and sat back down, and the coffee was gently steaming in front of them, she cut off his rant about whatever was annoying him today before it could even begin. "Brother, I have something for you. Close your eyes."

He did so. She leaned over the table, careful of the cups, and held it out in front of him, accidentally bopped it against his nose. He blinked his eyes open at that and took the handkerchief with a bemused expression. "What's this?" he asked as he unfolded it. "This is for me?"

"Yep!"

He gazed at the cloth for several seconds, then looked up at her. "Wouldn't this suit you better than me?"

She bit her lip. Did he not like it? "But I made it for you!" she protested. "I couldn't use it while thinking that it's actually yours."

"...oh. You made it?" He lifted the handkerchief closer to his eyes. "The stitching is so nice, I couldn't tell."

"Yes, I used some materials that I've been wanting to find something to do with, and it's all linen and cotton, so you can use it for different things. It isn't just decorative."

"Alright," he said, setting the handkerchief down so he could run a finger over the edge stitches. "Thanks."

She beamed at him.

Liechtenstein was pleased to see, for a long time afterward, that he didn't just stick it in his pocket that day and forget about it. When they spent a day cleaning his attic, he brought it out to gingerly pick up items covered in disgusting amounts of dust. When they went hiking together, it became a pretty washcloth. At one meeting, he whipped it out when America accidentally spilled his coffee and prevented a bunch of scattered papers from becoming ruined.

The thing that made her the happiest, perhaps, was that it was always clean, not stained, despite everything it touched, and the linen never had a single wrinkle.