Lithuania stands nervously at the door, waiting for an answer. It's one of those moments that feel like days. He watches the door tensely, knowing that any moment it will swing open and Russia's face – a face that's sharp in his old memories but fuzzy in his recent recollections, as he hasn't been close to it for a long time – will appear.
Finally there's a click as the door unlocks (it's never seemed so loud) and the handle slides down (unbelievably slowly) and the door opens and there's Russia. It's an anticlimactic moment. Russia doesn't seem to tower over Lithuania like he used to; he doesn't look cruel or arrogant or the least bit dangerous. He just looks a bit weary, with his ash-blond bangs falling into his face and slight circles under his violet eyes, wearing that familiar scarf over a worn green sweater. Lithuania knows he's not as strong as he used to be, but here he looks almost weak. That's what Lithuania would prefer, of course, but something about it still makes him sad.
Russia looked almost hopeful when he opened the door, but his face falls as he realizes it's Lithuania. "Great. I promise myself I won't drink tonight, and now you're here."
Lithuania's a little irked at being greeted this way, but he remembers how late it is and bites back a scathing remark (Trying not to drink? How unlike you!) to respond politely, "I'm sorry to bother you at this time of night. But there's something I'd like to talk to you about." He looks up as imploringly as possible, and the white around violet gets a little wider.
"Is it that you want to come back, Lithuania?" Russia raises an eyebrow, trying to look like he's being sarcastic. But he can't hide the hope that flashes in his eyes.
"No, not that. But it's important. I really want to talk to you. I've come all this way –"
"Fine. Come in." Russia's already walking back down the main hallway of his house, expecting Lithuania to follow. Lithuania gratefully comes inside, noting that the temperature in and out of the house is basically the same. It seems Russia doesn't pay much for heating, despite hating the cold so much.
Russia leads him to a small room just off the kitchen. He used to have a multitude of dining rooms, and of them this was the smallest and most casual, used by servants or for lunch breaks when nothing formal was going on. But now Russia's house has shrunk, and it appears he is using it as a normal dining room. Or maybe just a place to drink, because when he opens the cabinet that sits across from the table, Lithuania sees rows and rows of vodka bottles and just a few shot glasses in the front. He remembers very few instances of Russia measuring shots; he more often saw him drinking straight out of the bottle. Maybe it's a sign that he's trying to control himself now.
Lithuania puts his package down surreptitiously by the table, glad that Russia's looking away. He wasn't sure whether it should come out first or later, but he's decided that he should wait. He can tell that Russia's not in a good mood at all. He usually greets people with his creepy affected smile, and never fails to ask Lithuania to become one with him – but now he's quiet and sullen and grim-faced. Something must be up tonight.
"Are you going to sit?" Russia asks roughly as he pulls a bottle out of the cabinet.
"If I may –" Lithuania catches himself a moment before saying "sir". He's been alone with Russia for all of three minutes and he's already reverted back into servant mode. Inwardly, he chides himself for it. He has to be strong.
"Go ahead." Russia says. By the time Lithuania has pulled out a chair -- as quietly as he can, like making noise would trigger a bomb – Russia has poured himself a shot. By the time Lithuania sits down at the round, dark wooden table, he's drunk it. And he has another in his hand when he sits down. He promptly drinks this one too, sets his shot glass down on the table, rests his chin in his hand, and gives a short sigh. His usual smile – so practiced and so false – appears after a second, as he looks at Lithuania, whom he appeared to have forgotten in the presence of vodka.
"You'll have to forgive me, Lithuania," he says, his voice painfully sweet, just like it always used to be. "Sometimes on nights like this, especially nights when I don't drink, I start to remember things . . . that aren't that pleasant. You understand, yes?"
Lithuania nods slightly. He's oddly pleased by the fact that Russia was reminiscing tonight, just like him. The difference, it seems, is that Lithuania got a bit stronger because of his memories, even the painful ones, while Russia only felt worse.
"Now, Lithuania –" Russia continues, "what did you want to talk to me about?"
Lithuania opens his mouth, and it stays that way for a moment, because he nearly forgets what to say. He quickly recalls how he worked it out, just a few days ago: I hate Russia for the things that he's done, but not for who he is. So I must –
"I want you to apologize."
Russia's expression sours and he sweeps the shot glass aside. He starts to lift the bottle instead, but Lithuania's hand darts across the table and catches it before it gets to his lips. Russia keeps pulling on it, shooting him a dark look.
"A drunken apology is worse than none at all," Lithuania says quietly. It's as if he still doesn't trust himself to speak up to Russia. He had such courage, almost twenty years ago, when he told Russia he hated him, said he had to leave. But this requires a different kind of courage, because what he's saying isn't necessary or even fair; it's what he wants, what he thinks is best, and it will require unshakable self-confidence to get through.
When Lithuania doesn't let go, Russia slams the bottle onto the table, almost catching Lithuania's fingers underneath. "Apologize?" he snaps. "I've already apologized. To all of you. And I let you go, didn't I? What more do you want?"
"I want you to apologize to me." Lithuania feels awkward saying it, here alone with Russia, facing that icy gaze that seems to drill holes through his skull. But if he could get Russia to open up to him, then maybe –
"To you? Just you?" Russia laughs, a bit half-heartedly. "You're the one who should apologize. You left me. You hurt me, Lithuania. So many years of service, out like that!" He snaps his fingers. "And now you come back, after – how long has it been, twenty years? – to make a fool of me again!"
Lithuania doesn't understand. "I didn't say –"
"Are you going to act ignorant now?" Russia puts on a tone one might use to explain something to child. "Like you've forgotten all those years you spent pretending you cared? I don't know how you did it. I thought you were my friend." He puts a chilling emphasis on that word, friend. Lithuania can tell what he really means by it. "And then to go and tell me – don't deny it, you remember it as well as I – that it was just the opposite? Making me look weak, and stupid? I deserve the apology. Not you. So say it, or get out of my house. You shouldn't be here otherwise."
"I couldn't have been your friend." Lithuania tries to keep his voice calm. "Do you even remember . . . the things you did? The things you forced me to do? Did you see me before I left you? I was so ragged and worn and thin . . . but I guess the worst damage can't be seen. I'm still trying to heal, on the inside. And I thought if I . . . asked you . . ." He thinks again of how silly his request sounds. Russia is not the type to apologize. But he takes a breath and finishes the sentence: "I thought that if I asked you to apologize, it might . . . help smooth things out, just a little. But if you're just going to yell at me or God forbid, attack me again, I might as well leave."
"You think I'm going to attack you? Now why would I attack you? Do you think it was my . . . my goal to hurt you all along? Well you're crazy. You were special to me, Lithuania." Russia grabs the shot glass again and looks down at it as he pours more vodka. Lithuania doesn't try to stop him this time.
"Special." Lithuania watches dispassionately as Russia downs the next shot, a little more slowly than he did the others. "You mean you liked the sound of my screams the best?"
"Have you been talking to America?" Russia says, scowling. "They say we aren't rivals anymore, and I've tried to forgive and forget, but him? He just goes along like he used to, insulting me behind his back, blaming me for every problem in the known world – everyone does it. They can't find a scapegoat, so they blame Russia! Russia, with his vodka and nukes and communism! I'm sick of it!" He slams his glass onto the table. Everything he's said is old news to Lithuania, not that Russia knows it. Lithuania has talked with America, and is well aware of both of their lingering bad feelings.
"You've fallen into their trap now, haven't you," Russia continues. "Or maybe you fell into it a long time ago. The point is that you betrayed me. Do you really think I enjoyed what I did to you?! I only wanted you to be happy . . . wanted everyone to be happy! And none of you never appreciated it."
"You might have gotten better results if you didn't beat us," Lithuania interjects.
Russia throws his hands up. "I tried not to!" he says, "At the start, I tried! And then nothing worked! I had to do something! How could you be happy if you don't fit in the way I wanted? Why didn't you understand? It was supposed to work, they told me it would work, and everyone would be the same and happy! I didn't want it to turn out the same way as the Tsars!" Russia leans on the table, incining his head so Lithuania can't see his face. "But in the end, it failed, like everything else. Nothing I try ever works. You see just how long this lasts, Lithuania! Another few years and it'll be revolution again! Hundreds of years and my people are still suffering, and it still hurts . . ." He sighs. "I always fail."
It's quiet. Lithuania can't see Russia's expression. He can't be crying -- Lithuania would be able to tell if he was -- but he seems close.
"You were always my favorite," Russia says, and his voice is thick enough to confirm Lithuania's suspicions. "I wanted to protect you most of all, and I tried, but in the end I did the opposite. I'm weak, that's the reason. You're strong. I'm bigger than you, but you've grown and rebuilt so much faster than me. Even if I did apologize, you'd never forgive me. You shouldn't. I don't deserve your forgiveness. You should just leave me, find someone worthy of . . ." His voice cracks and he drops his head onto the table. "Of that smile of yours, Lithuania," he finishes in a whisper.
"You like my smile?" Lithuania asks softly, feeling one creep to his face as his heart is lightened by those barely audible words.
"Your smile is beautiful . . . And your eyes, and your voice, and all the rest of you . . . You understood me, or I thought you did, and you didn't complain and you did your duties . . . no matter what happened, you were the only one who kept coming back, kept being kind to me . . . and you were so generous, you always made me feel . . . right, somehow. But I ruined you! You're hideously scarred because of me. You were pure, like an angel, and I felt dirty and I didn't want you to be better, so I . . . did what I did . . . flayed and cut and destroyed you! I still hate myself for it . . . and I hope that no one ever hurts you, ever again!" He sounds like a child, his voice full of tears. "And I am sorry . . . for you and all the others. See, there's your apology! Now leave me in peace!"
Lithuania sighs, but it's not a depressed sigh or an exasperated sigh or a pitying sigh. It's sort of a release of tension, like his bonds have been loosened and he can finally breathe. He's got what he wanted: not just an apology, but a confession; a confirmation of the motivations he suspected, but wasn't quite sure of; and something unexpectedly sweet to go along with it all. And now he knows he can finally do what he's been waiting to do for so many years. He gets up as silently as possible, walks to Russia's chair and – remembering what he couldn't do at the Moscow Olympics thirty years ago – brings his hand up to rest on Russia's shoulder.
"I owe you a few apologies too," he says as Russia brings his head up slightly. "Like: I'm sorry for lying when I said I hated you. And I'm sorry I couldn't find it in me to do this earlier."
"What . . . ?" Russia's looking up at Lithuania now, eyes wide, slightly confused, but Lithuania just smiles and wraps his arms around Russia's shoulders. It's slightly awkward, because Russia's still seated and Lithuania has to bend over to hug him, but it's not bad. Lithuania pulls him a little closer. He's comfortable to hold, as he always has been; not slim like Poland or muscular like America, but substantial and slightly soft. Lithuania's only gotten a few opportunities to hug Russia in all his history; after all, Russia's intimidating nature doesn't really encourage hugs. But every time he has, Russia has felt good in his arms.
"I never hated you, Russia," Lithuania says. "I mean, I hated everything you did to me, and I still hate it, because I'm still hurting from it. Not just the physical pain, the scars – I have to turn away when Poland tries to hold me. So many things trigger unpleasant memories. But you, the person, I don't hate. I was angry at you when I said that, and . . . I just wanted you out, and knew saying it would affect you strongly . . . it was horrible of me. I'm sorry." He pauses. "But if I hadn't left you then, we wouldn't have been able to go on, would we."
"You were right to leave. I made life so unfair for you. You don't have to be kind to me, really. I don't –"
"Deserve it? Do you really think you've done that badly? Russia, I was out on your streets tonight, and I saw lots of your people. And not a one of them looked unhappy." Lithuania thinks of the person under the bridge when he says this; it's sort of a lie, but even that person had a coat, and didn't look really miserable. So it's pretty much true. "And even though some bad things happened under the old system, they loved you then, too. They were proud of you. They knew you wanted them to prosper. Your people love you, Russia."
"That may be true . . . and I love them, and feel when they're happy, and I'm glad everyone's better than they were. But you . . . countries. You don't like me."
Lithuania takes a breath, pulls out of the embrace. He has to admit that Russia still isn't popular with many nations these days. But he knows no one hates Russia like they did in years past.
"We . . . it's not as if we don't respect you. You – you are rather intimidating, you know. But that doesn't mean we don't like you. We all honestly want to stay in your favor, because we know you're powerful, now that your economy's recovered and your people are sorting themselves out . . ." Lithuania realizes that babbling will get him nowhere, because though Russia might talk about the others, he means one nation, and one nation alone. "I already said, I don't hate you."
Russia sits back, looking at the floorboards. "But you don't love me, either."
"I . . . " Lithuania can't respond to something so direct.
"I've been feeling better these days, but I miss you," Russia says, his voice soft and plaintive, like a child's. "I do."
Lithuania takes a deep breath, intent on finding something to say. "I'm sorry you're lonely. And I'm not just going to come running back to you, but I'd like to do something to help. That's why I'm here, and . . . and I brought something, actually . . . Please, take this." He picks up his bundle and holds it out carefully in Russia's direction.
Russia takes it carefully, and looks up at Lithuania for confirmation before he gently removes the rumpled tissue paper to reveal a bouquet of multicolored sunflowers (gold, red, purple) in a grey plastic vase, with petals slightly twisted and skewed from being wrapped and carried around.
"I'm sorry they're not perfect, and they're not very much, but I knew you liked them and I thought it'd make you happy if I brought some," Lithuania says hurriedly when Russia's face stays expressionless.
"You're blushing, Lithuania," Russia says, his face still unchanging. "Are you that embarrassed about your gift?"
"Well . . . I just hope you like it, that's all. I want you to be happy." Lithuania gives Russia a rather shy smile. Russia looks surprised just for a moment, but then he smiles too, really smiles, and it makes Lithuania's heart leap. The flowers don't matter. It's when I smile at him, he thinks.
"Thank you," Russia says, leaning a bit closer. He pauses. "You're… very kind. Even to people you don't like very much, aren't you."
"How many times do I have to tell you?" Lithuania says, exasperated. "I don't hate you, I don't even dislike you. I can't love you… not now, not after everything. But I have a lot of memories of you, good and bad, and those . . . because of them . . ." He pauses as Russia looks at him expectantly.
"I care about you," he finishes, cheeks flushing. "That's all." Looking at Russia's face, he can feel all those memories rise and blend and come together into one feeling that's not good or bad but poignant and strong, because for good or ill, this nation has shaped so much of his history. They'll always be bound together, if not by feelings, by sympathy and a shared past full of pain. And Russia is looking at Lithuania in the exact same way Lithuania is looking at him, eye contact locked but strangely distant. Both are remembering the many ways they've seen the other's face: laughing, crying, angry, scared, pained, covered with blood . . .
Suddenly, as the memories form their own entity, larger than life, Lithuania starts to imagine that it's 1990 again. It's as if this house he's standing in is still his home, as if Russia's whims still dominate his life and this is his first step toward freedom. It's like he's that close to Russia again and suddenly he's scared, kept from running only by a lingering vestige of sympathy.
Trying to find a way out of the situation, he says quickly, "I ought to go now. It's late, and I shouldn't keep you any longer." He turns, giving what he wants to be a parting smile over his shoulder.
"Don't leave so quickly," Russia calls. There's a little bit of pleading in his voice. "It would be nice if you'd stay."
Lithuania pauses, halfway out of the room. Staying would be nice, he thinks. If he could talk to Russia more . . . be close to him . . . then maybe the pain would be replaced by something else, after all. So what's making him hesitate?
Russia, still holding the sunflowers, is getting up to follow him, and Lithuania sees that familiar, imploring loneliness in his eyes, silently begging Lithuania to stay if only to provide companionship. What is it that Lithuania is afraid of – that suddenly it'll be just like old times again, with him bloody and beaten and trapped in those crushing arms until daybreak? What is the chance of that, when Russia is so sad and quiet and lonely and Lithuania has become so strong? No matter what it feels like, it isn't 1990, or 1940, or 1795 – he is not so far below Russia now. Why be afraid, then? Both of them are on their way to overcoming their pasts. Maybe they'll do better together this time around.
He takes a deep breath and looks at Russia's eyes – the eyes of the Russia of the present and future, not the past. Because those eyes are the ones that are here right now, and much kinder.
". . . Alright," he says, finally. "I'll stay. Just for a little while. Maybe we can find a better vase for those flowers. One that matches your décor."
"Ah . . . thank you." Russia keeps looking at him almost longingly, surely still reminiscing, until Lithuania breaks the moment by coming to Russia's side and gently taking the vase out of his hands.
"I'm sure we can find something. Let's see if I still know my way around this old place." He goes in a direction he thinks will lead him to a closet that stores old dishes and ceramics, beckoning with his hand for Russia to follow. After a moment, he does.
A/N: I feel like that was OOC for some reason. Please tell me if it was . . .
But on another note: IT'S DONE!
No more flashbacks here, so no historical notes, really. The inspiration behind the whole thing – as well as that "Moscow at Night" article – was something I saw online about how Lithuanians (and I suppose the citizens of other former SSRs) wanted some sort of apology from the Russians for all the prejudice and atrocities they committed. I wanted to write a fic in which Russia apologized to Lithuania somehow. Well, this year was the 20th anniversary of Lithuania's independence (on March 11th) so (even though this is a bit late for that date) I suppose this is as fitting a time as ever!
Oh, and sunflowers really do naturally come in red and purple as well as yellow. I found this out last summer. Pretty cool, huh?
For everyone who favorited this, got a story alert, or gave a nice comment: you guys keep me going. Thank you so much for your support! :)