A/N: Poland is perhaps the most awesome and under-appreciated character in Hetalia. He's also one of my favourites, so I had to write something for him ^_^
Obviously not mine. I'm not even sure why we need to write these disclaimers...
The antiseptic cream stung almost as much as the wounds themselves. Lithuania rubbed it in anyway, wincing every time he touched them, gritting his teeth and forcing himself to keep going. The last thing he needed was an infection. Stupid Latvia! No, he told himself quickly, it wasn't Latvia's fault. He didn't make himself shake, Russia did that; it was technically Russia's fault that those dishes had ended up smashed on the floor. Just like it was Lithuania's fault that he'd stepped up and told Russia that he had bumped into the smaller nation, that Latvia wasn't to blame. My fault, he thought, squeezing more of the cream onto his fingertips. All my fault, and I'd do it over again.
This wasn't the first time, of course. There had been the time Estonia had let the borscht burn, and that morning when Latvia had woken Russia up too early by accident. Lithuania had made his share of mistakes as well - not cleaning the floors well enough, forgetting to close the window when it started snowing, staring at Belarus for too long. It all added up, he thought, his fingertips skating over half-healed scabs and faded scars, remnants from past mishaps. There wasn't a lot of room for error in the USSR.
A knock rang out through the room.
Lithuania looked up in surprise, his head snapping towards the door. But the noise wasn't coming from the door. He slowly turned to look at the window, his confusion mounting by the second, as another round of knocking started up. By the time he'd pulled himself to his feet and crossed the room, the knocking was coming as hard and fast as a jackhammer. He pulled back the curtains and felt his jaw drop.
Poland was grinning at him from the other side of the glass.
For a moment he just stared, too shocked to do anything much, until Poland got bored and started knocking again. Jumping back into action, Lithuania unlocked the window and yanked it open, standing back to avoid the blast of cold wind. Poland hauled himself over the windowsill and tumbled down onto the carpet.
"What the hell are you doing here?" He was being rude but he didn't care; his entire body was numb from shock (which, considering the combination of injuries and antiseptic, was probably a good thing).
"Nice to see you too," said Poland, straightening up and dusting the frost off his clothes before turning to pout at Lithuania. "I, like, come all the way up here to see you - which was not easy, by the way, someone needs to tell Russia's guards to lighten up - and that's all you can say to me? Not even, like, a 'hello' or something?"
"Hello," croaked Lithuania. He was still regaining the mental functions required to form proper sentences. Having your best friend climb in through your window in the middle of the night is surprising at the best of times, but when you live in a secure compound guarded by trigger-happy Russians with machine guns that he is expressly forbidden from entering? Lithuania's brain was having a little bit of trouble coping with that.
"Hi," said Poland. He was still a little sulky as he took the rucksack he'd been carrying off his back and placed it carefully on the bed, but then all his usual excitability returned in a flash as he turned back to Lithuania with a smile so wide he was surprised it fit on his face. "Omigod, you will not believe what I found the other day!"
"Wait," Lithuania held his hands up, stopping Poland's story in its tracks. "Wait, let me just clear a few things up. You are here... why?"
"Because I wanted to see you, duh!" he said, folding his arms. "I don't go climbing in through just anyone's window in the middle of the night, you know."
Well, that's good. "I know that, but why here? Why now? Do you have any idea what they'll do to you if they find you?" Visions of Poland dying a hundred different and equally painful deaths swam through his mind. He gulped and went to yank the window back open. "You've got to leave. Now."
"Like, no way. Not after I climbed all the way up here. Not before I show you what I found."
Lithuania sighed and sank back down onto his bed, rubbing his temples. If there was one thing he knew about his best friend, it was that his plans were as easy to reroute as freight trains and twice as painful if you got in the way. "Fine. What did you find, Poland?"
"You are not going to believe this," he said, unzipping the rucksack and taking out a parcel wrapped in black paper. "I was just, like, walking along, totally minding my own business, and I walked past this dumpster, right? And there it was. It called to me, Liet! I had to fish it out and clean it up. But seriously, even when it was covered in crap it still looked totally fabulous." He unwrapped the paper as he spoke, careful not to rip it, and lifted out the contents. "See? Isn't it, like, the most incredible thing you've ever seen in your entire life?"
Poland was holding the woven gold straps of a knee-length dress, letting the skirt hang down so Lithuania could see it. It was, he had to admit, pretty beautiful. It had a low-cut neckline and a high waist, with a deep red bodice embroidered with golden thread. The skirt was made up of flaps of fabric cut to look like feathers, reflecting the light in shades of red, orange and gold. Actually, it was absolutely gorgeous, and he told him so.
Poland's face lit up as he held the straps up to his shoulders, admiring himself in Lithuania's mirror. "I know, right? You want to try it on?"
"No thanks," he said, watching from his bed with a vague sense of bemusement still hanging over him.
"Okay!" He was delighted at this, of course - every dress Lithuania refused to wear was one more for him. "I guess I'll just have to do it!"
And he started unbuttoning his shirt right there in the middle of the bedroom. He never did have a sense of shame, did he? Lithuania couldn't help but be amazed at the absurdity of the situation; here he was, a prisoner of communist Russia, covered in bruises and barely scraping by, and now his best friend had somehow broken into his prison and was trying on dresses right in front of him. Only Poland. But he wasn't doing so well either, was he? The shirt and trousers he threw into a heap on the ground were faded and patched, and he had quite a few more ribs showing than usual. But the real shock came as he turned to pick the dress back up, displaying a full view of the scars that patterned his back in a macabre design that put Lithuania's to shame.
"Poland!" He pointed a finger at his friend's back, his mouth opening in shock. "You... how... what happened?"
"Hm?" Poland turned around, still clutching the dress as though it was his firstborn child. "Oh, these? You know, just partitions, invasions, the usual." And then the dress was over his head and the map of lines, scabs and faded gashes was gone. He adjusted it in front of the mirror, making sure the skirt fell straight and the waistline sat in the right place, then spun around to show Lithuania. "How do I look?"
Considering he was a man in a dress, he looked pretty damn good. The cinched-in waist and puffy skirt hid the fact that he had no hourglass figure to speak of and the red and gold colour suited him quite well. "Good," admitted Lithuania.
He sighed. "You look beautiful, Poland."
That was what he'd been waiting for. "Tell me something I don't know!" He flicked his hair back and did a twirl, showing off every angle. "You know, I really think keyhole necklines are my thing. I mean, they're like, interesting, but not..."
Lithuania stopped listening. Something was bothering him. Poland could chatter on all he liked about keyhole necklines and tiered skirts and how he wished he had a nice pair of heels to go with it, but that didn't change the fact that he had almost more scars than skin on his back, now hidden from the world by layers of red chiffon and golden embroidery. Sometime, somewhere, he had been through hell. You didn't get scars like that and walk away smiling, yet here he was, strutting up and down like this bedroom was his own personal catwalk. How could he be so casual? So cheerful? So insanely, irrationally fine?
"-so red's totally going to be in this spring and then I can-"
Poland paused mid-stride, turning slowly to face him. "Pardon?"
"I said shut up! Stop talking about fashion! You are illegally inside the USSR, you are suffering just as badly as I am and something's happened to you to give you scars like that, and all you can think about is a dress? Have you even considered where I got these from?" He gestured to the cuts and bruises still covering his body. "Latvia dropped some dishes. You don't do that here. What do you think they'll do to you if they catch you trespassing? And you! You've been through more than most other countries put together! You've done nothing but get beaten up and partitioned and dissolved for your entire life! How are you not just, I don't know, crying in a corner or something?" Lithuania could feel tears prickling the backs of his eyes. He raised them to the heavens, hoping the moisture would drain away. "How are you so happy?"
Poland watched him shout with a surprised, then worried, then pitying expression. Once he was sure Lithuania was finished, he folded his arms and considered the question as though it had been asked politely over tea. "Um... I don't know, really. I guess I just, like, decided to be."
"But you can't just decide to be happy!" It felt strangely good to shout. He was so used to creeping around the house as quietly as possible, desperate not to draw attention to himself. He'd suffered so much for so long and never been allowed to do more than whisper to the other Baltics, and now he finally had an opportunity to let out all the pain that had been simmering deep down inside him by hurling it all at Poland. It was wrong, he knew that, but it felt good. "It doesn't work like that!"
"You know," said Poland, inspecting his nails now, "if I'd let things like this get me down, I'd have died a long time ago."
That stopped his tirade in its tracks. Lithuania's mouth opened and closed, trying and failing to find an answer to that, then, to his horror, a tear slid down his cheek. He wiped it away quickly, hoping Poland hadn't noticed, angry with himself for getting into this state. In an attempt to hide the dampness on his face, he turned away to stare out of the window and, with a jolt, saw the first few rays of sunlight on the horizon. Cold tendrils of horror licked at his chest. "You've got to go. The sun's coming up; the guards'll start their morning patrol soon. If you don't get out now they'll catch you. Go!"
"Omigod, like, calm down, Liet," he said, wandering over to the window to see for himself. "Stop being such a killjoy."
"This isn't a joke! If they find you, they will kill you!"
"They can take a number." Nevertheless, he bent down and started collecting up his discarded uniform. "Open the window for me, would you?"
Lithuania uncrossed his legs, stood up and unbolted the window, feeling the cold air stream into his bedroom yet again. So much for central heating. "Be careful, okay? Don't get yourself even more hurt because of me."
"Don't worry," drawled Poland, gathering his skirts and climbing up onto the windowsill. "I'll be totally fine. Oh, and Liet?" He turned back to look at his best friend with uncharacteristic sympathy. "About the crying. If you smile hard enough, it stops the tears."
And then he was gone, jumping back down off the windowsill to climb the brickwork or shimmy down a pipe or whatever he'd done to get up here. Lithuania had no idea, but then even centuries of living with the guy had given him very little real understanding of Poland. All he knew was that for a moment there, when he crouched on the windowsill with the sunrise behind him, the light had hit him in just the right way, reflecting off the red and gold feathers in a way that made them dance and shimmer like flames.
For a moment there, Poland had been a phoenix.