Lithuania lay a hand against Russia's forehead and frowned.

"Your fever has definitely gone up. Are you sure you don't want me to call a doctor?"

He wasn't sure why he asked, really. Russia always refused to see a doctor, no matter how sick he was. It might have been out of pride or stubbornness, or his deep-rooted need for privacy and secrecy, but at the end his reasons didn't really matter.

Sure enough, the larger country shook his head. The fever had made his violet eyes seem even brighter than normal.

"There is no need for that. I'll be fine as long as my Lithuania is taking such good care of me."

Lithuania bent to pick up a spare blanket up off the floor to hide the color that suddenly spread across his face. 'My Lithuania.' It was just empty words, but those words still had a strange effect on the smaller country.

"A-are you cold? We have plenty of blankets, if you need another."

Whatever Russia was going to answer was interrupted by a violent coughing fit that shook his entire body. Lithuania was by his side in an instant, pulling him up to a sitting position and wrapping an arm securely around the other man's shoulders until the fit passed.

"Easy, easy," he murmured soothingly as Russia gasped and choked. "Just take a deep breath. There, you'll be fine. You'll be just fine."

The worse of it soon passed and Russia was breathing a little easier, but the rattling sound he made with every breath was concerning. And the fits were getting worse and more frequent...was it just a bad case of the flu? There wasn't much he could do, even if was something serious.

It wasn't that he afraid that Russia would die from this. It took something much bigger to kill a nation. They recovered from injuries that killed humans, survived diseases that made men drop like flies. It was as though their bodies wouldn't allow them to die from something so small and personal. The things that could kill them would shake the world and impact millions of lives. A plague could kill a nation, and if half the country was sick with whatever Russia had then maybe the country's life would be at risk. But this? Russia would survive it just like he survived everything else, Lithuania had no doubt of that.

But he hated to see Russia in pain. It didn't matter that he would eventually recover, with or without Lithuania's help, or that he had hurt Lithuania so many times over the years; there was still the aching, twisting pain of empathy in his chest when Russia was suffering. And there was something else too, some kind of twisted satisfaction he got from knowing that Russia was entirely dependent upon him for even the tiniest thing. He needed Lithuania, even if it was only temporary, and Lithuania was strangely glad to look after him during those times.

Lithuania grabbed a few extra pillows and blankets out of the closet and with some difficultly, got Russia to sit up long enough to get them behind his back. Hopefully that would make it easier for him to breath.

There were still a pillow and a few blankets left over, and after a moment of hesitation, Lithuania started building himself a makeshift bed on the floor.

"I thought it would be best if I stayed here," he explained, when he noticed Russia watching him. "If you get worse in the night, I'll be here to take care of you."

"M...My Lithuania is so...thoughtful," the larger country muttered weakly, leaning his head back against the pillows and closing his eyes.

Lithuania left the nest of blankets he had been building on the floor and crept over to Russia's side. Had he fallen asleep already? He absently brushed a few damp pieces of hair back from the other country's forehead. The overly bright purple eyes flicked open again, and Lithuania jerked his hand back as though he had been burned.

"You d-don't have to make such a worried face," Russia wheezed, smiling sadly. "I'm not con-contagious. You won't get sick me. I was c-careless, da?"

"What do you mean?" Lithuania asked. "Do you know what's wrong with you? Please tell me!"

But the larger man had already drifted off to sleep.

Lithuania sighed and crawled into his own crude bed. He stared at the ceiling for a long time, listening to Russia's labored breathing. It was the sixth day of this mysterious illness, and who knew when it would end?

Something had been strange about him, ever since he returned from his trip to Sverdlovsk. He had been pale and distracted, pacing around his office like a caged animal. Lithuania asked him if his trip had been pleasant and for a second Russia had looked like he was about to burst into tears. Days later he came down with sudden fever and at Lithuania's insistence, had been in bed ever since. Had something happened there? Russia was unbalanced, but surely he wouldn't have been so upset over a trivial thing. Was the stress from whatever had happened making his sickness worse? Had he gotten sick during his trip? Russia refused to offer a single word of explanation, no matter how often Lithuania asked. And what had he meant earlier, that he wasn't contagious, that he had been careless? Was that just feverish rambling?

There were no answers to his questions, so Lithuania curled up under the blankets and slept.

He woke up at dawn to the sound of a dry, hacking cough. Lithuania sat bolt upright in bed, blinking at the dim light of the room. Russia was leaning forward, clutching at his chest while his body jerked violently with every cough.

"I cuh...can't b-breath..." he gasped, and the raw fear in his voice made Lithuania feel sick. He grabbed Russia's shoulder and gave him a little shake, trying to get his attention.

"Listen to me! Just...just calm down, try to take a deep breath, slowly...don't panic, that'll make it worse!" Maybe his voice had reached Russia because he relaxed a little under Lithuania's hand and struggled to take a breath. He broke into another bout of coughing, but managed to take a shuddering breath once it stopped.

"Are you...are you better now?" Lithuania asked. He felt weak with relief that Russia was breathing again, but the other country was staring at his hands now with a kind of muted horror. "Russia? What's wrong? Where does it hurt?"

"Th-they're dead," Russia whispered hoarsely. "They died, and it's because of me."

He grabbed Lithuania's sleeve and stared up at him with a sudden wild panic in his eyes.

"It's my fault, isn't it? They died and it's my fault. Do you think they hate me?"

"No," Lithuania whispered, wondering what was haunting the man. The ghosts from the past never seemed to give him any peace. "No, I'm sure they forgive you."

He reached over to rub Russia's back and found his shirt was drenched with sweat.

"We can't let you stay in those wet clothes, not when you're already sick" he said softly. Russia was slumped forward, staring at his hands again and gave no sign that he had heard Lithuania. "I'm going to go get you something dry to wear, all right? Stay here, I'll be right back."

Russia still didn't respond as Lithuania left the room. He didn't bother looking through the closet; the constant rising and falling of the fever had made Russia sweat through his clothes fairly often over the past few days, and had already gone through practically every clean thing he had on hand.

Lithuania found a stack of clean clothes piled up in the laundry room and was on his way back to Russia's room when he heard shouting from outside. He might have just ignored it, but the voice he could faintly hear sounded furious. Signing in annoyance (as if he needed anything else to worry about) he left the clothes on a table in the hallway and went to investigate. The shouting voice got louder as he approached the front door. He could hear Latvia's quavering voice too, and the other voice, he recognized that accent...

"For the hundredth fucking time, tell me where Russia is! He's going to answer for this shit or I swear to God-"

"Y-you can't see him, h-h-he's-"

"I don't care what excuse you've got! I'm not leaving until I get a decent answer and if Russia tries to tell me this is all just from contaminated meat one more time, I'm going to kick his goddamn teeth in."

Lithuania opened the front door to see Latvia cowering in front of America, who looked more angry than Lithuania could ever remember seeing him. They both stopped and turned as Lithuania stepped outside into the chilly spring air.

America's face softened momentarily at the sight of his old house mate, but hardened again in an instant.

"Liet, let me in. I need to see Russia right now, okay? It's important."

"I'm sorry, he's not well at the moment," Lithuania said, looking back and forth between the two in confusion. Latvia shook his head at Lithuania's questioning look and ducked back inside the house without another word.

"Yeah, that's real convenient," America snapped, taking a step towards Lithuania. "Don't try to hide him from me. You're my buddy and all, but this is serious. I'll break the door down if I have to."

"I'm not lying, America. He's been in bed with a fever for days. You probably wouldn't even be able to talk to him, he's delirious." The last part wasn't really true, but it seemed to convince America, who stepped back and rubbed his temples in annoyance.

"Well, that's perfect. Just fucking perfect."

"I'm sorry that you came out here for nothing," Lithuania said, hoping to calm down the irate nation.

"Has something happened?"

America's eyes widened in honest surprise. "Are you kidding me? Haven't you heard what's been happening at Sverdlovsk? I was sure you would know already, since you live with Russia and all."

Lithuania frowned. Sverdlovsk, Russia had just come back from Sverdlovsk...

"I'll tell you what's happening," America said darkly. "A bunch of people are sick out there. And do you know what they're sick with?" He didn't wait for Lithuania's response before spitting out, "Anthrax, that's what's out there. A hundred people are dead now from anthrax and that stupid sonuvabitch is trying to tell me they all got it from eating some bad meat."

Anthrax. Lithuania's stomach gave a strange little jolt at that word.

"Why...why couldn't it be meat?" Lithuania asked when his voice returned to him. "It's happened before, meat accidentally gets tainted and-"

"Not like this!" America snapped, and then stopped himself, struggling to get his temper under control. "It's the wrong kind of anthrax. If they all got it from eating bad meat, they'd be sick with something like a really bad stomach bug, right? But these people are sick with the different kind, the one that looks like the flu, with breathing problems and stuff."

Lithuania felt a jolt in his stomach again. Russia had gone to Sverdlovsk and seemed to have the flu...

"You don't get sick like that from eating meat, it doesn't work that way," America continued. "All the guys who died had inhalation anthrax, and you only get that from breathing in spores. So how'd all that shit get into the air at Sverdlovsk, huh? He's lying about this whole fucking thing, and why would he lie if he wasn't trying to cover up something awful? That fucker's making weapons out of anthrax, I know it! I don't know if there was an accident at a factory where they were making the stuff or if he's crazy enough to test his weapons against his own people, but no way could an outbreak this bad have happened if he wasn't manufacturing anthrax spores!"

He wouldn't do that. Lithuania wanted to say those word, wanted to believe they were true, but now there was a horrible nagging doubt. Russia wasn't above building nuclear weapons and other terrible things; why would he hesitate to build biological weapons? And the mysterious illness right after returning from Sverdlovsk, how Russia had seemed so upset but refused to explain a fit with America's story all too well. He swallowed hard and tried to push the idea out of his mind. There was nothing he could do, whether the story was true or not.

"L-like I said, he's really not well today," he said weakly, unable to look America in the eye any longer. The other country sighed heavily and clapped Lithuania hard on the shoulder.

"You don't have to look all guilty, it's not your fault if he's too sick to know his ass from his elbow. Just tell him I was here, alright? Tell him I'm not letting this thing go."

"I-I will. I promise, but I...I can't stay and chat right now. He really is sick, and there's no one else to take care of him..."

"Yeah yeah, I understand," America muttered gruffly. "You get back to work if you've got to. But take care, alright?" He held his hand out and Lithuania shook it, enjoying the comforting warmth of America's hand for that brief second of contact. The world seemed even colder when that warmth was gone, and he shivered as he went back inside and finished bringing the fresh laundry to Russia's room.

"What did that capitalist pig tell you?"

Russia was sitting up in bed, suddenly looking more alert than he had in days. His tone was deceptively sweet, and Lithuania felt a chill down his spine. How did he know America had been here? Had he been listening to them?

"N-nothing. America just wanted to talk to you, that's all."

"Liar. Did he want to talk about Sverdlovsk? I thought he might. I heard he was raising a fuss about that. The fool's always poking his nose were it doesn't belong."

"He....he just wanted to ask you about what happened there. About how the people there got sick."

"Oh? What does he think happened? Go on, tell me. And don't lie to me, I always know when you lie."

Lithuania had spent the last week hoping that Russia would recover quickly, but now he found himself praying for a sudden relapse. "It's....h-he thinks it....he thinks you're lying. He thinks it wasn't meat that made the people sick. He says....that you're making weapons. That the anthrax was a weapon and somehow civilians were exposed to it."

"And you believe it too." His mouth curled into a smile. "My Lithuania is very smart."

"It''s true, then? Those people, they died because you-"

"It was an accident!" The smile had vanished off Russia's face and suddenly he looked like a frightened child. "I only meant to make us strong, to make weapons to protect everyone! I didn't mean for any of my people to get sick! Do they think I like it when they suffer?! And now I have it too. I wasn't careful enough at Sverdlovsk and now I suffer along with them, like one of them, but what difference does that ever make to anyone?"

He swung his legs over the side of the bed and stood unsteadily, taking a few staggering steps toward Lithuania, who suddenly found himself unable to move.

"They're afraid of me. I try and try to make us stronger and they still fear me and hate me, no matter what I do." He smiled again, all teeth and no humor. "I make a good villain, don't I? It's so easy to hate Russia. So easy to blame him for everything. He's a monster, da?"

He grabbed Lithuania shoulders in his own trembling hands.

"You're afraid of me too, aren't you? Well? Well? Aren't you?!"

A sane person would have run away. A sane person would not have suddenly leaned forward and kissed Russia firmly on the mouth, but Lithuania hadn't felt truly sane in years. The larger country froze in shock, and Lithuania wondered which of them was more surprised. It wasn't soft or sweet or pleasant. The illness made Russia's mouth taste terrible, but Lithuania didn't break away. He had moved without thinking, and doubted he could have explained why he was kissing the man who had made his life so difficult over the years. Maybe it was because he needed to calm Russia down, and this was the fastest way. Maybe it was the easiest way to say, "I'm not afraid of you, I'm not. Would I kiss you if I was afraid? You don't frighten me." It was a lie, but a sweet one, one he hoped Russia could believe.

The kiss ended rather abruptly when Russia's knees buckled. He dropped to the floor, dragging Lithuania down with him. He still gripping the smaller country's shoulders and his eyes were large.

"Why?" he whispered, and there was something soft in his voice, something hopeful. "Why did you..."

Lithuania shook his head and pulled away from Russia's hands. He didn't have an answer to that question, or to any of the horrible questions that were echoing inside of his head now. He pushed them all away and climbed to his feet, holding a hand out to Russia.

"Can you stand?" he asked. "You still need to rest. You aren't well."

Historical Notes:

On March 30, 1979, an accident at a biological arms production facility in Sverdlovsk that caused large amounts of anthrax spores to be released into the air. Soon after, workers at a ceramic-making plant across from the facility became sick. Victims from other parts of the town began to pop up as well. An anti-Soviet magazine in East Germany reported that over a thousand had died from the incident while the Soviet Union officially reported that 96 had gotten sick and only 66 had died. Other sources say that over a hundred died but it's impossible at this point to be certain, thanks to extensive cover up. Many residents were given antibiotics after the first victims appeared to try to prevent more people from getting sick, but it was too late to save the ones who were already ill. The Soviet Union was working extensively to develop a strain of anthrax that would be most effective as a weapon, and the one they had at Sverdlovsk (called Anthrax 836) was by far the most powerful. As horrible as it sounds, they really dodged a bullet. If the wind had been blowing in the opposite direction that day, the spores would have blown straight into the city and the death toll would easily have gotten into the tens of thousands. The incident at Sverdlovsk is often known as a 'biological Chernobyl.'

In order to hide the fact that biological weapons were being produced, the Soviet Union claimed that the outbreak had been caused by contaminated meat. Fliers were printed to advise people to avoid buying meat from 'unofficial' food vendors, stray dogs that could have been around the so-called contaminated meat were killed and so forth. Doctors also showed up with fake evidence that the people had died from gastrointestinal anthrax, but they couldn't completely hide the fact that inhalation anthrax accounted for at least some of the deaths (and how to explain that one?) It's difficult to tell exactly all that went on during the months after the accident, because the KGB did a frighteningly good job at covering it all up. Boris Yeltsin was the Communist Party chairman of Sverdlovsk at the time, and he was most likely the one who ordered the cleanup. In 1993, he dropped some vague details during an interview about how the 'military developments were the reason' for the incident. When he was asked why he didn't say anything about it sooner, he said, "No one asked me."

Naturally, when word of this started leaking out, an international debate began of whether or not the Soviet Union had violates the 1972 Biological Weapons Convention and was producing biological weapons. Some American scientists went to investigate and found evidence that people had died from inhalation anthrax, but it wasn't enough to really call the Soviet Union out on it. Plus, many scientists doubted that anyone would be so stupid as to build a biological weapons facility so close to a major city. Who would take such a horrible risk?

Years later, a group of Soviet scientists came to America to reveal the 'truth' about what happened. They showed up with lots of very convincing evidence that all the victims had gastrointestinal anthrax and that it was all the fault of bad meat. They claimed that they hadn't come forward to explain what happened earlier because the government was embarrassed of how poor their public health system was (and it was pretty bad, but that's another story entirely.) This trip was very effective and convinced a lot of people of their story.

Anthrax is a spore forming bacteria that exists in nature, so outbreaks from time to time throughout history are not uncommon. Anthrax is not a contagious disease, but it can spread from person to person if they are carrying the spores on their bodies. Depending on how the person comes into contact with the anthrax, the symptoms will be very different. The three types are cutaneous anthrax, gastrointestinal anthrax and inhalation anthrax. The first is the most common and it caused by anthrax bacteria enters the body through a cut or abrasion. An ulcer forms on the skin, and without treatment the mortality rate is about 20% (but it's practically 0% with modern treatment.) The second is contracted by eating something contaminated with anthrax spores. The symptoms include abdominal pain, severe diarrhea and vomiting blood. The mortality rate is between 25% and 60%. The last and most serious is contracted by inhaling anthrax spores. The symptoms look like a cold or the flu at first, with a fever and cough, but soon turns more serious. After a few days the fever spikes and the victim has great difficultly breathing. After that they usually go into shock. The mortality rate can be as high as 90%.

My primary source was Biohazard by Ken Alibek. The author was the head of Biopreparat, the Soviet Union's major biological warfare agency, so he's a pretty reliable source, especially when so much of the information was hidden and warped. It's a good read too, Alibek had one very interesting life.

Actually I haven't been feeling too well lately, but reviews will help me recover~