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Palpable Hit

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The first time Russia hits him, it's with the flat of his hand, a slap for insolence. It still knocks Lithuania back and jars his teeth together.

"I don't like your language," Russia says, mild as ever.

"Fuck you," Lithuania repeats, in Polish this time.

"I don't like his language either," Russia says, and slaps him again.

It really hurts. Lithuania's sure he's bitten his tongue. He takes a deep breath.

"Fuck you," he says in Russian.

"Better," Russia says. "Work in the stables till you can mind your mouth."

Lithuania staggers off. The horses are better company by far.

 

* * *

 

Lithuania speaks French. It's fashionable, and God forbid Poland ever missed out on a fashion. Today he's using it frequently, dancing in the streets of Vilnius, yelling, Vive l'Empereur! Vive Napoléon! Some of his people mutter that France's man is just a short fellow in a flashy coat, but over four centuries Lithuania's learned not to underestimate short men who love nice clothes.

When it all goes wrong, and Russia's standing over him, still blackened by the fires of Moscow, Lithuania grins cheekily.

"Think they'll still speak French at court?" he asks.

Russia's expression is almost worth what happens next.

 

* * *

 

It's not that Lithuania likes being hit, it's just he can't quite resist the expression Russia wears for the split second before the blow, the little moment of time when he thinks He really did say that, and the smile almost slips.

That has changed.

"I'm sorry," Russia says, "I didn't catch that." His hand rests on Latvia's head, large fingers stroking Latvia's hair.

Please, Estonia mouths behind Russia's back. Shut up.

"I didn't say anything," Lithuania says, and Russia lets Latvia scurry away to hide behind Estonia.

"What a lovely little brother you have," Russia smiles.

Lithuania stays silent.

 

* * *

 

"It's not my fault," Russia whispers. "It's not my fault."

Lithuania comes closer, the documents in his hand forgotten. Outside, Russia's people are rioting, demanding food and jobs. No one is doing well, and he feels a momentary sympathy for his overlord.

Russia wipes his eyes and smiles like a brave child. "We don't want children who can't play nicely, do we, Lithuania?" he says. He picks up a rifle. "Reload when I pass this to you."

"Russia," Lithuania says in horror.

Russia breaks the window-pane and starts shooting.

They are not his people, but Lithuania feels every impact.

 

* * *

 

Russia has changed. Something has broken in him, Lithuania thinks. He no longer answers insolence with a slap or threats. Now he hits out before a single word is said, a single glance intercepted. He uses whatever comes to hand; he slams Lithuania across the temple with a bottle of vodka, then beats him with a map pointer when the bottle drops and breaks. It takes days before Lithuania can see properly again, and the welts and bruises on his back heal agonisingly slowly.

The threatened war can't come soon enough, he thinks. It's about time someone else got beaten.

 

* * *

 

Russia denounces Lithuania as a counter-revolutionary, and beats him till he can barely stand. Lithuania spits a mouthful of blood, red onto the bourgeois Persian carpet and relishes the look of loss that briefly crosses Russia's face. Then he turns and walks out the door and doesn't stop walking till he reaches Vilnius.

I'm independent, he thinks, stopping as it hits him. I can do whatever I want. He goes home and washes, sits around for a while, unsure what happens next, then runs out, heading for Warsaw.

"What took you?" Poland says, rolling his eyes.

Lithuania can't stop smiling.

 

* * *

 

It's good, being with Poland again, but it's hard too. Lithuania has to walk like he's not in pain, not flinch when Poland links his arm and cuddles tight against him.

"You're totally tense," Poland says, squeezing Lithuania's shoulders. "Want a back-rub?"

"I'm fine," Lithuania says, managing not to gasp. "Could I use your bath?"

"Sure. Use up the bath salts."

Lithuania sinks into the hot water. He hears a noise once, but the door is closed when he looks. It's a relief not to have to protect Poland's sensibilities, just for a little while. He wouldn't understand the scars.

 

* * *

 

Lithuania is almost bankrupt. He weighs up his options and decides to emigrate. America doesn't seem like he's a bad person.

"It's, like, a long way," Poland says. "If I cut back on stuff I can totally help you out."

"I need to support myself," Lithuania says. "Thank you. You're a good friend."

"Whatev," Poland says, embarrassed.

They haven't gone to bed. They haven't done anything but kiss. Lithuania doesn't know how to deal with such a reticent, oddly reluctant Poland. He doesn't know if revealing the scars would make things worse.

He doesn't know how this got so complicated.

 

* * *

 

America is loud and brash, with all the optimism of the very young. He doesn't seem to know how to handle having staff, and half the time tries to do Lithuania's work for him. Lithuania likes him - when he says something rude it's youthful silliness, not honed with the malice of centuries.

America's cough at first seems negligible, but then the fever starts. Overnight, he's delirious but still working, making worse and worse decisions. It's clear he can't afford household staff any more and Lithuania reluctantly goes home.

By the time he reaches Europe, all his old neighbours are sick.

 

* * *

 

When Russia seizes Lithuania again he has gone, as Poland warned, totally batshit, dude. He uses whips to motivate his underlings to work. Lithuania tells him just once that The beatings will continue until morale improves is meant to be a joke. Russia smiles sweetly and raises the whip.

Lithuania comes round in his own bed with Estonia watching him, grimly drinking himself into a stupor.

"Why do I have such idiotic brothers?" Estonia asks God, or maybe just the mould-stain on the ceiling. He passes the bottle over.

"This too shall pass," Lithuania wheezes, and drains the bottle.

 

* * *

 

Afterwards, Lithuania tries not to remember the war, though it revisits him in dreams. Russia becomes stranger and stranger, and Lithuania watches his brothers retreat into silent terror. Latvia cannot be trusted with liquids or sharp objects any more, his hands tremble so. Estonia perfects the art of disappearing at the right moment, turning up again after the violence, all calm polite smiles and the slight whiff of vodka.

Lithuania never gets to vanish. He has too much work.

He has become adept at stealing all the letter openers on days he knows Russia won't like what the reports say.

 

* * *

 

After the war, Poland's views on the Allies' perfidy and the putative sexual preferences of Russia echo through the house till finally Russia wakes up, sobers up and decides to shut him up.

Lithuania stands, chastened and astonished, as Poland staggers up again, grabs some broken furniture as a weapon again, and breaks for freedom again. When he's finally dumped limply in the kitchens, Russia looks more exhausted than he expected.

"He's more of a man than you," he says, sweetly vicious.

"Thinks he's insulting us both," Poland slurs, when Russia's gone. "Let's kick his ass."

Lithuania decides he's right.

 

* * *

 

Russia has pronounced opinions, like Nations don't breed, therefore carnal behaviour isn't rational and Under communism, perversions don't exist.

"Pssst, Comrade," Poland says, pulling Lithuania into a closet. "I need to show you something under communism, and by communism I totally mean my underwear."

A few minutes of frantic kissing, hands inside each other's clothes isn't much, but it's warm and good, not greyly horrible like everything else. You still love me, Lithuania thinks. He holds Poland close, breathing in the scent of his hair.

"We're in the rye fields," he whispers. "We're free."

They both pretend they're not crying.

 

* * *

 

The Cold War's not much more fun than the hot one, but there is a certain satisfaction in seeing Russia realise that he has taken a bunch of troublemakers into his house.

Lithuania's never liked Prussia, but seeing him be obnoxious enough to set a vein throbbing in Russia's forehead is beautiful. Russia's eyelid twitches every time he comes across Poland in Hungary or Romania's clothes, and his smile drops away at Hungary's apparent never-ending supply of Austrian chocolate.

Russia slaps them all. They wait, politely silent, till he storms off.

The house rings with every language except Russian.

 

* * *

 

"Oh, hey, elections," Poland says, holding up a newspaper that until moments ago was in Russian. "Looks like my guy totally won. In honour of my new boss I, like, declare myself independent, yadda yadda." He grins at Lithuania. "Coming, Liet?"

Russia grips Lithuania's arm so tight it feels like it will break. "We must go to the office now," he says, ignoring Poland as if he no longer exists. "We have a lot of work."

Lithuania looks back as he's dragged away. Poland smiles ruefully, blows him a kiss.

Soon, he mouths.

Lithuania nods firmly. He's had enough.

Soon.

 

* * *

 

"Let's go for a walk," Lithuania says.

"W-w-where?" Latvia whispers.

"The seaside? I'll buy you icecream."

Latvia shivers, looking between Lithuania and the laundry he's meant to be doing. Fresh air and icecream win.

"Estonia?"

Estonia slowly sets his book aside. He takes Latvia's hand, grimly determined. They're at the door when Russia shows up.

"I won't let you go!" he says, and grabs Lithuania's arm, bracing one foot against the doorframe for leverage.

Estonia, outside, pulls as hard as he can, and Latvia frantically grabs on too. Lithuania tumbles out, landing on them in a heap.

Russia doesn't follow.

 

* * *

 

"I'm independent," Lithuania says, watching his brothers eat icecream. They stare at him, as if they've only just realised none of them are going back. "I can't say it for you," he says.

"I'm f-f-free?" Latvia says. The first real smile in a century spreads across his face. "I'm free!"

"Free!" Estonia yells, and pulls a half-bottle of Russian vodka from his jacket, flinging it far out into the Baltic Sea.

"I spent the last of my money on the icecream," Lithuania says. "If we want a celebratory toast -"

Laughing, they all run into the sea to retrieve the bottle.

 

* * *

 

"It's me again."

Lithuania always forgets how strong Poland really is, he thinks, finding himself dragged inside. Then he stops thinking, because Poland's hugging him, Poland's tongue is in his mouth. It's so much better than a stolen five minutes in the broom cupboard hoping Russia would stay away and Poland wouldn't wonder why the bulb was always missing.

He hisses as Poland squeezes his bruised arm. Poland rolls up his sleeve, puts his own fingers over the marks left by Russia's, pale against the dark. He kisses the bruises gently, slowly. Lithuania's shivers have nothing to do with cold.

 

* * *

 

He doesn't want to take off his clothes, but Poland eases him out, as if unwrapping a longed-for present. He kisses each bruise, traces each scar with the tip of his tongue. He's not surprised, Lithuania thinks, he's not disgusted.

"That one," he whispers as Poland works his way down one shoulder blade, "I said he couldn't love his sisters much if he caused famines in their territories."

"And this?" Poland murmurs, spending time on the marks on Lithuania's ribs.

"They're old," Lithuania gasps. "He didn't like me being pro-Napoleon." I'm being kissed better he thinks, surprised.

It's working.

 

* * *

 

Carefree sex is utterly familiar and something to be discovered all over again. Afterwards Poland snuggles in close, cocooning them in blankets.

"That was nice," he says, smug and satisfied.

"You knew about the scars," Lithuania says.

"I caught sight of them in 1918," Poland says. He traces a finger over one, light and tickling. "I was, like, stupidly embarrassed, Liet."

"So was I," Lithuania sighs.

"I'm sorry."

Poland presses his mouth to one again, and soon they are too happily busy for embarrassment.

In the morning when Lithuania looks in the mirror, all the marks have begun to fade.