A night in concert

The kitchen was cold. Estonia wrapped his chilled hands around the mug of coffee on the table and stared at the dark liquid inside. Behind him he could hear Lithuania moving around, doing chores as usual. Doing more than his share, as usual. Latvia had fallen ill and Lithuania was picking up the slack…in more ways than just household tasks.

The thought made the younger nation bite his lip, remembering the muffled screams last night, and the night before…, and the night before that. Ever since Latvia had become sick, and Russia had suffered a major loss in one of his many Cold War squabbles with America, Estonia had been forced to play aural witness to what happened in Lithuania's bedroom every night. Ivan – drunk or sober- would go there just after light out, and perform acts of misplaced revenge - or overzealous passion, depending how you looked at it - on the target he favored most, for any form of release, pleasure or pain. It was an unpleasant experience even for someone listening through a wall.

He felt Lithuania move behind him to a sink full of dishes and cold water. He could sense the limp in Lithuania's gait, hear him slightly drag his foot on the ground, and could no longer take it. Getting out of his chair, he walked briskly to the sink where Lithuania was already busy lathering the first dish with a sponge. He stood beside him, a small worn-out towel in hand, and said, "Let me help you with those." Lithuania gave him a warm smile and handed him first rinsed dish to dry.

As they quietly went about their work Estonia wondered if his brother could feel the tension in the air as distinctly as he did. It was like a radio set on mute, you knew there was sound behind the fully shut dial but you couldn't hear it. Finally he started speaking, careful, like he was treading dangerous waters.

"How do you feel?" he asked.

Lithuania lifted the pot he had rinsed just now and gave it a good couple of shakes before handing it to Estonia. "I'm alright," he said, "A little cold of course. There's not enough coal in the hearth. I'll go buy some this afternoon."

Estonia hesitated, then said, "Did you sleep well…last night?"

Lithuania didn't answer, his open mood flittering away to be replaced by a dim guardedness. He handed him a couple more dishes before saying, "Did I wake you up? Sorry, I didn't mean to--,"

Estonia slapped the towel and the dish he was holding onto the counter and said, "Why are you apologizing?"

Lithuania didn't look at him. He kept doing his work while the glum look remained on his face. It irritated Estonia. "He's come to your room every night. He's kept you from sleep for over a week. You can barely walk, barely keep your eyes open all day while you have to do all this extra work…," he gestured with his hand around them as if all of Lithuania's chores were sitting there listening, "and then you apologize to ime/i for keeping me awake at night?"

"I…just thought it was the polite thing to do. Sorr--."

Estonia grabbed his brother's hand and stopped him from rubbing the pot he was holding. "Liet, listen to me. You don't have to feel sorry for anyone but yourself. You don't have to do Raivis' chores everyday, then take his place at night. You don't have to apologize for keeping me awake because he is so rough with you you can't hold back your cries when he's there, or your sobs when he leaves. It's true, it sickens me. I can't bear listening to it. But you have to understand, it's not your fault."

Lithuania let go of the pot. It sank to the bottom of the sink, sending large and small bubbles to the surface. He raised his eyes to his brother, the green irises glistening in the light that came in from the window, like pale jade.

"Then why are you arguing with me?" he asked.

For a moment Estonia was speechless, having lost his train of thought amidst all the anger and concern. Then he said, "I'm saying you should not feel guilty over something that is in no way, shape or form your fault. But you should stand up for yourself when he goes overboard and takes things too far. I know what he does; I'm only a wall away. Why do you always cave in when he threatens one of us? You seriously think he would come after me or Raivis when he is busy plowing you?"

Lithuania didn't say anything but his cheeks turned a deep shade of red. After all this time, after all the bruises he couldn't hide, sounds he couldn't stifle and sessions that happened out in the open where Russia made sure his brothers could see, the slender brunette still blushed and squirmed at the mention of his sexual activities.

"Listen, I know how impossible it is to say 'no' to him. I've been there many times. And I know you're his favorite. But there are ways to avoid it as much as possible. Like sleeping in my room some nights. That way at least you'd be spared if he comes home drunk. You know vodka intoxication always means a b-line to your room. He'll leave you alone if he sees you're not there."

"…and make an immediate dive for Raivis. No thanks, I'll rather be the subject than the listener."

Estonia bit his lip. He wanted to say 'then what about me?' but felt no right. He had no place calling himself a victim when he was only on the receiving end of the noises. But it shook him to the core to hear that his brother preferred to endure the treatment than be an audience to it.

Then something else blossomed in his head, something he didn't want to think about but became more persistent the more he avoided thinking about it.

He remembered something Latvia had once said when they were talking about Russia, something along the lines of how awful it was to be the second pick while Toris was the obvious favorite.

Was he missing something?

"You don't intentionally make yourself bait, do you?" he asked carefully.

Lithuania froze. For a moment he didn't look at his brother but stared at the dirty water in the sink. Then he looked up, eyes stormy. "What do you mean?"

Estonia stared at him. "I mean I can't imagine anyone wanting to go through what you're suffering every night." He leaned forward and observed him more closely. "But I could be wrong, no?"

Lithuania threw the sponge in the sink and stepped back, his blush deepening even more because of his rising anger. "Why are you asking these questions, Ed-chan? Have I bothered you so much that you want revenge? Is that why you won't let it be?"

"It's not about revenge. Stop taking everything the wrong way. I am worried about you. Don't tell me you've acquired some form of Stockholm syndrome."

Lithuania had moved as far back as the corner of the kitchen, pressing himself against the wall. He closed his eyes and said, "Please, Ed-chan. I have a ton of work to do and it has to be done before Russia-san comes back. Would you mind leaving? Please."

"But I just want to--," but then he stopped, his eyes widening at the sight of a trembling Lithuania holding his hands over his ears and cowering against the wall. He felt his resolve crumble. This conversation was obviously derailed. He turned and walked toward the door, squeezing his own eyes shut and grinding his teeth.

"I wished I knew the answer," he said in a gruff voice when he was by the door, and heard Lithuania return to the sink slowly, "at least that way I knew how to help you, what to do to save you."

Instead of answering with a snap Lithuania began working. He replied in a voice as dead as the action of his hands. "What gave you the idea I needed saving?"

On his way out Estonia thought about the many meanings of that statement. He bought a walkman, a set of headphones and a tape of Chopin sonatas that day and listened to classical music while the nightly proceedings happened in the next room. He threw the tape out the next day and went to buy a new one, wondering if his budget could survive Russia's – and perhaps Lithuania's – fondness for torture-love and the band-aid solution he had found for it.