The rain dripped off Lithuania's hair, pooled in the collar of his shirt, ran down his back and his legs, seeking the protection of the already-soaked earth. It fell softly, but its roar was loud enough to smother the sounds of the night. Softly, but it chilled Liet to the bone.
He hadn't bothered to put on a coat before going outside. Just a t-shirt and pants, enough that he wouldn't feel indecent. Now he was soaked through, from his hair to his bare feet. Everything was wet, and his body so numb with cold that he couldn't feel the raindrops anymore. But at least he wasn't in pain. That was why he had come out – so everything could be washed away.
Russia had come to his house this time. He'd expected to be out of danger. But no – tonight had been the same as any other night spent with that man, and the fresh blood melting off of Liet's back in the rain was there to prove it.
When he'd first stepped out, the freezing September rain had been a shock to his system, but it was refreshing once he got used to it – after all, anything was better than lying in that stiflingly warm bed with a haze of blood in the air and Russia's huge body smothering him as he tried to sleep. He liked it better when it was just him, the rain, and next to him, the tiny yellow flowers bobbing and dipping under its barrage.
He was surrounded by them, the scruffy little shrubs that represented him and the land he came from. Pretty, aromatic plants, but dangerous to touch. He sat down softly in the midst of the bushes, letting one branch of blossoms brush across his bloodied back like a comforting hand. The plant could cause pain, but in this darkness, with his shirt to protect him, he was sure it wouldn't do him any harm. And he knew those flowers awfully well.
They had been his favorite plant since he was very young, when he'd first been curious about the strong-smelling herb that turned his skin red wherever it touched him. He'd quickly learned its uses: mainly decoration, but also food and medicine, though those two held more risk. He was glad that he had gained his medicinal knowledge early in life – now he used it to prepare the oil from the plant to help relieve the pain from stomachaches that would have incapacitated him otherwise. He took it whenever he felt sick and weak from all the work forced on him by Russia.
He gazed at the bright yellow flowers around him, their color luminous enough shine through the darkness and rain. It was the color that had drawn him to them at first, even though Poland had laughed at him and told him they were girls' flowers: flowers for maidens who hadn't yet known love. Girls and these flowers were one and the same: light and innocent, playful and free, yet at the same time heavily guarded. And it applied to men, too. Liet knew because he had been like that once.
When he was just a child, he thought the flowers were just like him: tiny but proud beings, enjoying being alive and reaching up into the sky, trying to stretch taller, become more powerful. They had inspired him then, being so small but with such a big presence. Now when he saw them, they had a new atmosphere about them. Yes, they were still innocent and brave, but with a sense of knowing. They were innocent, but they knew what was coming for them. That was why they gave their powers to women who had lost their purity too soon, and wanted to expel the growing life from their bodies. They were still trying to stretch to the heavens, but in their hearts they knew it was for naught – as fall progressed, they would lose their petals, and then they would bear fruit, their innocence gone. Of course, their cycle would begin again the next year. But Liet's would not.
Back then, he hadn't known, hadn't known a thing. He had been a bright child, but had no idea of the abuse the world could offer when he came to live with Russia. He had been through war, but never enough to disrupt his sense of the seasons, his harvests, his spending time with his friends.
"Your skin is so smooth, Lithuania. That won't do. See, mine is covered with scars. How can you expect to stay here if you do not match?"
That was what Russia had said. And then it had started: the whip, the pipe. The instruments of torture. The horrible feeling of being in pain and knowing that someone else is enjoying it. And the soul-scarring things that Russia did on nights when just beating Lithuania wouldn't satisfy him.
If only I'd been like those flowers. If only I had expected this, I could have defended myself. Maybe I could have avoided it, avoided everything. The idea that this pain of body and soul could be lessened was tempting, but if Liet had known what would happen all along, it would have ruined his childhood. Even the flowers he so admired for their foresight were saddened by their knowledge, although he hadn't seen it until he had that knowledge himself. He wished he could go back to his former unenlightened state, but the way he was now, sitting broken in the rain, it was impossible.
He realized that his eyes were closed, and opened them. If he fell asleep here, he would probably be dead of cold and exposure by morning. The flowers were remarkably hardy, compared to him. They could make it through this rainstorm, while he had to go back inside. If he wanted to live, that is. And it was worth it, staying alive, at least for his brothers' sake.
"Lithuania? Are you here?" it was Russia's voice, light and barely audible, from the darkness somewhere beyond the shrubs.
"Yes…" Lithuania answered sluggishly, mostly out of fear of what would happen if he didn't but was discovered. He was surprised at how numb his lips were. They could barely form the words.
The big man materialized in front of Liet, coming out of the dark like a ghost. He had bothered to put on a jacket, and his customary scarf was wrapped around his neck. He bent down, an unusually concerned expression on his face.
"Why did you go?" he asked innocently, eyes looking directly into Liet's.
"I . . . needed some fresh air."
"Fresh air out here? There isn't any, only water. Come on, now. You look awfully cold to me. Your lips are blue. Come back inside where it's warm, da?" Russia extended his hand with a smile that would have looked friendly to anyone who didn't know him.
Lithuania took the hand and stood. There was no other choice for him.
"What are all these little plants?" Russia said, glancing around even as he kept Lithuania's hand grasped firmly in his.
"Rue. My favorite flower," said Lithuania. It was as many words as he could get out at the moment.
"Huh. Well, they're awfully small, compared to sunflowers." The big man bent down, as if to grasp one of the stalks.
"Ah, d-don't touch it!" said Liet. Russia stopped and looked at him questioningly. "Well," he added slowly, "It's sunlight that makes your skin react after you touch the leaves, but . . . best to be safe." The last words were spoken in a rush of exhausted breath.
"That's a funny plant you've chosen as your favorite, Lithuania," said Russia, standing up again and beginning to lead Liet back towards the house.
Lithuania looked down at his feet. They were so numb he couldn't trust them to move without supervision. He stepped as carefully as he could over each little blossom of rue, and winced when he saw that Russia was carelessly tramping over them. He remembered that Russia had his own favorite flower. Why do we choose the things we do as favorites? The question couldn't be asked aloud, but Liet couldn't stop wondering.
Finally he looked up and said, "Russia . . . why do you like sunflowers so much?"
"Oh? Why I like them? Well, they are so big and tall, the one flower I can't just step on and crush – and also, they look warm. Even their name is full of sun." Russia said the last sentence with a wistful smile: "I wish we had more sun in my country."
Liet couldn't smile, but a little of the weight of his depression lifted at Russia's response. We both like things that remind us of what we wish for. That was the answer. Russia wanted to live in a warm place - Liet remembered him saying that before. And Liet wanted to forget all the bad things done to him, and be able to defend himself. That was one place where Rue had him beat – the little plant could sting anyone, no matter how big. But he had no bite whatsoever, not even any bark. He could only follow along with what other people said, and let them use him as they saw fit.
Russia would never live in sunlight. The way the earth tilts, it couldn't happen. And sunflowers would never grow in such a frigid climate.
As the big man pulled Liet into the house where he knew he would shiver for hours despite the warmth, he stole one last glance at the patch of yellow flowers and blue-green leaves in the yard. Is there any hope for my wish? He asked silently.
The flowers, though absorbed with their own struggles, took the time to wave goodbye to him through the rain.