That stupid American!

It was the one continual thought Ivan had as he rode the train back to his home in Russia. That miserably annoying Alfred really knew how to push his buttons! Fighting had been the only natural conclusion of their 'disagreement' but the school rejected his defense, expelling him for what that capitalist idiot had started.

Ivan crossed his arms and pouted as he eyed his reflection in the compartment window. There was a reddish bruise that still adorned his cheek where Alfred's balled fist had struck him. His lip was still a bit puffy too.

The blonde Russian smiled darkly as he coiled his scarf tightly against his throat. These wounds were nothing compared to the damage he had inflicted on Alfred. Ivan reveled in the memory of seeing the other man's blood spewing from his ignorant lips, marring the once pristine white wall of their classroom. The disharmonic crunching of Alfred's glasses beneath his heavy boot brought him an unparalleled feeling of triumphant satisfaction despite the final outcome.

Ivan unscrewed the lid on his vodka flask and downed another sip. It would not be long before he was back in his family's home, polishing off an entire bottle at his leisure as he relaxed in an armchair beside the fireplace. The Russian sighed. If his father were still alive his expulsion most certainly would have been met with strict punishment. But, being as the man's death now made him the master of the household, his only obligation would be to notify the bank appointed trustee that he was no longer attending school.

The blonde gathered his suitcase as the train pulled into the depot. As he emerged on to the snow-covered platform, he almost wished his sisters were there to welcome him.

Ivan passed the ticket counter and headed inside the station lobby. It was crowded, noisy, and confining but invitingly warm from the concentration of passengers waiting to board. The tall Russian navigated the assembled mass of people and approached an outlying wall that possessed a row of pay telephones.

He dropped in a kopek coin and dialed his home. It would be nice if Kataya could have some fresh borscht ready by the time he arrived. Walking from the station would take a few hours but it would give him the chance to stretch his legs after all the riding he had done in the past few day. It was also safer than trusting his older sister's driving, especially on snow covered roads.

Surprisingly, he found the line was busy- a strange occurrence since their telephone rarely rang anymore these days.

An unfortunate realization crossed his mind. It would be troublesome if Alfred was the one tying up his line, calling to gloat since he wasn't expelled.

Ivan glowered as he sat down on one of the benches and waited before redialing again. This time, no one answered the phone. He hung up and tried another phone, but there was still no reply despite the extended period for which he rang.

The Russian frowned. What was going on here?

Ivan dialed once more, this time hanging up after about the fifth ring. He waited about five minutes and then resolved to try again. By now, an announcement was being made over the loud speaker about the arrival of another train ready to seat passengers heading west. The announcement repeated and many passengers began moving about the station, increasingly the level of noisiness substantially.

Ivan rang the number a final time, blocking his ear to drown out the sound of the train and the people nearby. Finally, this time someone answered.

"Hello," Ivan called loudly into the phone, "Hello? Kataya? Natalia?"

There was indeterminate pause on the other end. "-I'm sorry but we have a bad connection," a male voice finished after a mild apology.

"An operator?" Ivan mumbled as he returned the telephone back to its place on the wall. He hadn't anticipated the line to have been compromised. It was disappointing but calling home was getting him nowhere.

Ivan put on his gloves and took another swig of vodka in anticipation for the cold of night. It was still early evening but the temperature would eventually drop even more. The blonde Russian felt a flush of warmth rush to his face as more of the strong drink surged through his veins.

The silence gave Ivan time to think as he traveled through the city on foot into the countryside, stopping here and there to dust the snow whenever it collected on the hem of his pant legs.

The blonde had always admired the beautiful open field that surrounded his home but never favored the dismal presence of snow, especially when its barren whiteness devoured his property. By now he could make out the faint outline of the Braginski mansion; its towering white form jutting up into the darkness highlighted by the paleness of the moon.

He crossed through the main gate and trekked towards the front door, withdrawing a white key from his long, brown coat. Stiffly, he turned it in the lock and twisted the door handle. It relented and allowed him access to the mansion's interior.

Ivan closed the door behind himself. "I'm home," he announced, his voice echoing in the emptiness of the hall as he switched on the light. None of his dogs came to greet him which was curious since he expected at nighttime they would have free range of the first floor. After all, their intended duty was to safeguards his sisters while he was away.

The blonde walked across the hall towards the playroom and opened the door. Readily, the dogs joined him, obediently lapping at his hands as he patted their heads in turn. After a few moments, Ivan coaxed them back into the playroom and closed the door.

A gentle thump came from down the adjoining hallway and Ivan turned his attention in that direction. The Russian scratched his head uncertainly. He was a bit drunk so perhaps he misheard the sound. Slowly, he approached the dimly lit hallway and walked towards the area where the main telephone was situated. It would probably be a good idea to check the line to see if there were still problems. He brought his flask to rest loudly on the top of the table.

"Where is it?" he grumbled as he felt around for the lamp switch. Eventually, he located his target and managed to illuminate the hallway.

The cord leading to the phone appeared to be alright but he decided to check the line anyway. Curiously, he lifted the telephone from its cradle and pressed it against his ear, listening for a dial tone.

It sounded fine. He clicked the receiver a few time before slamming the phone down, satisfied that it had been returned to working order; at least this was one less thing he had to worry about. Ivan sighed and retrieved his flask, finishing off the contents before clunking it loudly back down. "Ah, you're so empty already," his lilting voice complained, "Best to get a bottle."

The blonde turned and headed back down the hallway. If there were one thing he missed about home the most, it was the pleasure he could take in indulging himself in comfort. Heavy drinking in his dorm was forbidden but it hadn't stopped him from completely enjoying his favorite choice of drink. The tall Russian entered the dining room and passed into the kitchen, intent on grabbing a fresh bottle from his collection.

Ivan stood in front of the row of cabinets that lined the kitchen wall and looked through the glass at their contents.

Something was different.

He cocked his head to the side. Things were not as he remembered them to be. He wasn't exactly certain what it was yet but he knew from the absence of his alcohol in its usual place that someone at the very least was playing a game of spring cleaning-a game he did not like.

It must have been Kataya, he concluded. Who else would dare put instant American cuisine openly in such a place knowing how much he despised such things?

"What is this?" Ivan thought to himself as he tore open one of the cabinets, "Really, 'Jiffy Pop' and 'Bisquick?'" Since when had his household become so ridiculously polluted with capitalist garbage?

His fingers fell hard on the plethora of Sunny D bottles that unwelcomingly occupied his former 'Flavored Vodka' shelf.

It appeared as though he would have to do some spring cleaning of his own. And he'd be sure to add a healthy dose of punishment for the inconvenience.

Ivan carried the black trash can across the room and began filling it with everything that happened to be in that particular cabinet, whether it was empty or not. 'This was HIS vodka cabinet and deserved to remain HIS', he complained in a not so quiet way. It irritated him to no end that such a thing would be waiting for him when he arrived after such a long journey home. When he had finished with his purging task, he slammed the cabinet door and resumed his search.

If Kataya disposed of all his treasured liquor, he would be exceptionally displeased.

"Um, hello?" an unfamiliar voice called from behind him, "W-what are you doing?"

Ivan's eyes shot towards the door and for a moment he stared dumbly at the unknown person who was addressing him.

'Who was this in his house?' Ivan wondered.

He silently appraised the brunette who was standing meekly before him, taking note of the anxious way the other seemed to grasp the kitchen door handle. This unidentified person was shorter than him by a few inches with light brown locks that were shorn at shoulder length. His hair appeared a bit unkempt and wistful with stray strands escaping and littering his forehead. Ivan noted the gentleness of the other's uncertain smile as the stranger continued to wait for his reply.

Ivan's gaze drifted from the brunette's face downward along his slender neckline to the frilly pink bathrobe that covered up a decent portion of his femininely decorated green pajamas. Ivan wasn't clear on what to make of such a sight. It was curious that this young man was dressed in such an unexpectedly girlish way. He was even wearing a subtle touch of makeup. Immediately, Ivan approached him.

"I'm…Toris…And you… I think…you're the man from all her photographs, isn't that right?" he asked, his voice wavering as Ivan continued to stare.

The brunette straightened his posture and pulled his bathrobe closed in a self conscious gesture. He gulped and then stepped closer, gradually offering Ivan his outstretched hand. "You're Natalie's fiancée, aren't you?"

The absurdity of that statement caused Ivan to smile. Now things were finally starting to make sense. He understood what was wrong with his household; something that did not belong was intruding there.

"I'm sorry," Toris apologized, embarrassment flourishing in his soothing voice, "I'm not sure she was expecting you." He turned back towards the door quickly, "I'll wake her. Can I offer you tea while you wait?"

Ivan shook his head. "No, that won't be necessary. I'm looking for something much stronger than tea. Perhaps you have moved it, da?" the Russian replied, his eyes roaming about the room, "Some vodka?"

"Y-yes, yes of course." The brunette scrambled for one of the bottom cabinets beneath the sink. The very cabinet, Ivan noted, where the dog food was kept until very recently.

"I don't need a glass," Ivan stated when he saw Toris reach for one, "Just set the bottle on the table."

The other man did as he was told. The blonde Russian twisted the cap off the bottle and took a long, hard sip. "Now then, Toris?" he began after wiping his mouth, "Won't you tell me what you're doing here?"

The shorter brunette nodded. "Natalia's older sister hired me," he explained, "For housekeeping."

The Russian paused at this news, contemplating what it actually meant. It was not like Kataya to make decisions on her own, especially without his approval. She was already well aware of his feelings regarding outside help. The discussion had been raised soon after their father's death and then again by the trustee from the bank, Eduard von Bock who was eager to introduce his elder sibling into their employ. Such things, Ivan believed, were quite unnecessary in the lingering remnants of the fallen communist age and would undoubtly cause him the grief more commonly associated with the dying aristocracy of the old world.

"And you sleep here?" the blonde inquired, his violet eyes drifting once more to the casual attire the brunette was wearing.

The shorter man gripped the edge of the counter and nodded slowly. "In exchange for my wages," he explained.

"I see." Ivan returned the bottle to the table, "So Kataya has hired you as a servant?"

"Y-yes," he stammered in response to the question, "As a maid, sir."

The Russian cocked an eyebrow. "This is all very interesting," he stated as he leaned on his elbow, "The maid?"

Toris lowered his eyes and shook his head 'yes'.

"Well, then," Ivan stated, "How is it you actually came to know my sisters?"

Toris paused at Ivan's words. He gave the Russian a puzzled, uncertain look before a searching gaze crossed his fair looking features. "Your sisters?" the brunette managed, his throat sounding a bit dry.

Ivan smiled pleasantly. This bit of information seemed to surprise the brunette and the blonde thought in passing that it was amusing how the stranger's green eyes seemed to widen at this fact. "Da, Kataya and Natalia are my sisters."

"But I thought…" Toris began, his voice trembling, "That's not possible." He brushed the stray hair from his forehead, his motions becoming increasingly troubled. "But Natalia? She's in love with you…or a man that looks like you."

"Da. My sister loves me more than a sister should," Ivan stated, his eyes becoming somewhat distant, "And I admit that it is a bit creepy since she is my blood related sister."

Toris nodded, finally understanding why Eduard believed the Braginski family was so strange. Some relief but also confusion seemed to grace his face as the knowledge started to settle in. Ivan took a sip of vodka and then re-asked his previous question.

The brunette blushed, a sense of discomfort cropping up in his body language as he answered it. "M-my brother Eduard introduced us."

A wider smile couldn't help but cross the blonde Russian's face. He should have expected something like this from that mousey financier. Eduard had practically thrown up every suggestion he could to entice Ivan into diverting his family funds into some type of venture. Though the Estonian had attempted to make his efforts subtle, the Russian was well aware of the games the other was playing.

Now that this 'maid' was in his household, Ivan decided it might be amusing to play along. He had to admit that Eduard had caught him off guard with his cunningness. It would be best to understand the situation fully before he acted against it.

Then a possible reason occurred to Ivan as to why a man dressed as a woman would be sent to his house in the first place. Eduard knew a lot about his family, far more than most outsiders and the Russian couldn't help but wonder if his father had told the financier a secret about him before his death. Perhaps the old man had let his suspicions about Ivan's sexual preference slip.

"In the morning, I will speak with your brother and find out exactly what Eduard is meaning by sending you here," the Russian said with a broad smile still plastered upon his lips, "But for now, I'd like you to go upstairs to wake Kataya. I think it's time for a little chat."

To be continued~!

A/N: Reviews would be GREATLY appreciated~~~