A/N: Every time China sees something horrible coming, suddenly no one wants to listen.
"You spend too much time worrying, China. What could possibly happen?"
"Why does anyone ever ask that stupid question?"
"There is no need to snap."
"Did you live through the fall of the Tang? Mark my words, the Song have very little time left."
"You are getting weak in the head. You should speak to a monk."
We are safe, nothing can threaten us, we will never have any troubles.
How many have said that before? We live over their bones. I can feel the end coming long before anyone, and yet they never want to listen.
He'd never liked Mongolia. Even then, before the other—what the hell was he now, anyway—nation had basically beaten the living hell out of him toward the end of the Song period with the help of that traitorous general, he'd never liked him. Even while he had been tethered to the palace's inner wings and more-or-less kept as a pet for nearly a century, he had heard whispers of the other's growing power.
China had known, distantly, of other regions falling – before or after him, he couldn't tell. But he remembered feeling it when the West had begun to decline, when all those little desert countries had suddenly become impossible to find, even at the edges of his senses.
Even as he was slowly falling apart, feeling bits and pieces of his self slide away into nothingness, or maybe Mongolia or Japan or some other opportunistic nation, he heard a dozen little voices screaming and then – more suddenly than he could even believe – there was nothing. No irritating little complaints at the edges of his consciousness for silk or tea or anything.
China had thought he was going to die.
Those bordering nations had always quarreled with him and with their much closer rivals, and to find them gone—no, he forbade himself from thinking of it.
In the later days, he felt his people begin to howl with hunger and fear as Mongolia's rule scraped their scarce coffers until there was less than nothing left. All the while he died a thousand deaths—no, far, far more than could even be thought to exist—as his people starved. For nearly forty years, he felt hunger that was not his own, despair and hatred only partially inspired by his own treatment and why, why, why—and then it stopped.
Then it was just China and the Ming, off to face an uncertain future.
"Japan, Korea, when I tell you to, run."
"What do you mean, 'no?'"
"No. I will not run."
"Did I ask your opinion? Either run under your own power or someone else's."
"Was that a threat?"
"No, he is. Run back to your islands, Japan. They will never reach you there. Korea, fight with everything you have and never give in."
"Aniki, can you—?"
"Too late. Far, far too late for me. It was too late decades ago. There is nothing to be done to change it now."
"Aniki…this isn't the end. You'll be fine; it'll just be a while, right?"
"Just make sure you pray for me, Korea, Japan. Now, run."
I lost my chance when the Song failed. Now my only use is as a barrier. Stay safe.
"Your planned invasion failed. What was it this time? Samurai, rockslides?"
"Shut up. Just shut up, you ancient, worthless wreck."
"A miracle of the wind, then? Broken masts? The fact that no one know show to swim?"
"Keep talking and I'll send you out there with the next fleet. I imagine you'll swim better with rocks tied to your ankles."
"You would, you would. But there won't be another fleet, will there? And your master knows that he cannot afford to let me die. You know it, too."
"Shut up. I am not allowed to kill you, but I can make you wish you were dead."
"I have wanted to die for nearly a hundred years before you came. Please, try your best. It will never matter."
"Is that so? My master can hardly fault me for doing as you asked, then."
You will never break me.
We will see, China.
"You don't look well."
"I suppose not…this is your fault, you realize. Everything is."
"What, the crop failing this year? That was your own weather that did it. It's not my fault if your peasants can't figure out how to store food."
"Not just this year. You don't even understand…stupid…"
"It's not my problem if your people are dying. Mine are fine."
You will never understand, Mongolia. No one ever has. Everyone thinks that it is as simple as 'yours' and 'mine.' Now it is 'our' and you do not comprehend your own end.
Relics are not called relics for nothing, China. You will be the one to die, not me.
"You are falling."
"Be quiet. I am not falling, I am in control."
"They all said that, right before the end. They were falling, and now you are, too. It was only eight decades."
"Compared to what? China, when I fall, you'll fall with me. That's how it is."
"No, it is not. When the Han fell, I did not. I remained, because the people refused to let go of that vision of unity. I will continue for centuries after you are dead in the dust."
"No, you're going down with me if it's the last thing I do. Your economy is destroyed. You won't last without me to hold down the masses."
Everyone falls eventually.
Except for me.
Mongolia wouldn't be the last. In time, the Qing, the Manchu, they came and put the failing Ming out of their misery. Like all foreign powers, however, they would fall. And it would leave only China to pick up the pieces.
Sometimes he cried when the dynasties fell, but he had stopped when the Ming had tried to seek solace with the Western church. There was no hope for them, there never had been, but they refused to see it. China wondered if desperation could eventually make even him fall to such betrayals of honor and loyalty.
"Cut your hair or be executed for treason."
"You would prefer to have your head shaved?"
"I am trying to make this a reasonable situation. You are not helping at all."
"It might be because I have never bowed even to any of my own emperors. I never kowtowed to Mongolia's Khans, and I do not plan to start with you."
"Such foolish pride…this will make you a traitor."
"I am aware. I am also unconcerned."
I will never give in.
You should have, China. You should have.
"She is making a mistake."
"Do not mention any of it to her. The Dowager Empress has her reasons."
"I hope so. I cannot imagine that she thought much about them, however. They have already proved once that we could not fight them."
"It is treason to question the Empress."
"And it is treason to act toward the destruction of the dynasty, particularly by killing the Emperor. What do you think she did? I doubt I can stand yet another invasion."
"Ah, you mean…"
"Yes, that. I am incapable of even standing…you would think she would realize how close it all is to coming apart. I already lost two of my younger siblings…"
"My apologies. I did not know…"
"It is forgotten. Get some rest."
I think…I think I might really die this time…
"Your dynasty ends with you. I am certain you have seen the end coming."
"Of course. I am surprised, though, that you took this long. Were you ill?"
"A little. This will be like clearing the pus from an infected wound, to make sure it heals properly."
"You always did have a strange way with words. Where are your rebel forces?"
"Outside. Most of your guards have turned."
"Undoubtedly; I never could trust you, could I?"
"You could never trust anyone. But, for the last few moments of your life, you may trust me. I promise that I will allow you to die painlessly, with your honor intact."
"Merciless, the same man I remember. You were a valuable asset years ago…what changed?"
"The world changed, Empress. I was left behind – we both were. But now you have no more chances to move forward. I still do, but I cannot until you depart for the afterlife."
"It is a pity you think that way. I could have helped us rise again…"
"It's too late for anything now. I can feel Death coming."
"Farewell, Dowager Empress Cixi."
The end of one reign…what will happen now?
I think…I think I will miss this…
With the fall of the Qing, he was free of emperors and gods…but now bound by his people. He heard people speak of new storms and sometimes of deaths far away, but he couldn't think of them for long. New currents, powerful ones, were stirring within his borders and far outside them…the world would soon change again, after the first great conflict that left him humiliated.
Japan, Japan. The runaway had become strong, but China wondered if he even knew how it would end. He had seen it all before – power, expansion, and then exhaustion and disintegration from stretching just too far…China had lost two dynasties that way. Qin, Sui…even that blasted Mongol reign had only lasted eighty years. All of them had pushed too hard. And yet, China also wondered if he would survive this last collapse.
Will this be my turn? Prussia was destroyed, Champa was killed by Annam…whatever happens now, it will be their decision now.
Korea, I hope you are safe.
"America, what are you doing?"
"Oh, hi China. I was going to ask you the same thing. Aren't you supposed to be at your house fighting Japan?"
"America, do you remember what England said once about 'Never sink to their level?'"
"Don't sink to my level either."
"Try to avoid involving civilians in any aspect of the conflict. The Kuomintang do not understand this, though the Communists seem to. It is hypocritical of me, but this decision you are making is a mistake."
"Look, China, I can't really say anything about this. It's not my decision."
"…I suppose that is acceptable. I did not have a hand in Qing policies during the last century, either. And yet who did England and many other Western powers decide to drug…?"
"I get it, I get it! But really, China, the military's overruling everyone this time. I'm busy just trying to help with the Flying Tigers and everything that's going on in Europe…man, this isn't actually helping my argument, is it?"
"No, but I think I may be the only person in my remaining territory who thinks this way. Most of us would rather never have to see a Japanese person again."
"Just…come and help me when you finish with Germany, or when you defeat Japan's forces in the Philippines. I can last a while longer."
"China, are you sure? It could take years."
"I have a high population and Japan does not. He will run out of men before I do."
"Geez, do you have any idea how heartless that sounded?"
"Since the beginning of my life, America, there were such things as 'acceptable losses.'"
I don't know what will happen, but if I die, I will drown Japan first.
It will probably kill me.
But only because I know, deep down, I can't do it.
"We have captured a unit of Japanese soldiers, Captain Wang."
"Just now. We caught them creeping through the forest half a kilometer behind – it was a brilliant move to split our squad into smaller sub-groups, by the way."
"I wouldn't have even suggested it if we didn't get bombed every other night. About the prisoners, where are they?"
"You two know each other?"
"You might say that. You're dismissed."
"Now that he's gone, would you explain why you're here?"
"That would be a betrayal of my people."
"I thought so. I agree."
"…Set my squadron free. They are all merely foot soldiers. They know nothing."
"…No. I think I'll let you go instead."
"I know you better than you think. You expect me to execute them, and I may, but for as long as you live, it would make a better punishment to let you go free to agonize over their fate."
"For attacking me. For attacking your younger siblings. And for following as much as I expected you to."
"If you mean my ability to track you, I will be sure to dog your heels until I kill you."
"No, that wasn't it."
"I will still kill you if you harm them, China."
"And I would kill you if you touched any of my people. But I know my limits. You do not."
"No, I don't think I will. Japan, you had your chance. Your foolishness will earn you only a violent defeat. Take that as my prediction for you. Private Li?"
"Knock out every last one of the prisoners and leave them here, bound. We have no time to spend hauling bodies and no spare ammunition to waste on them. The leader expects us in a few days' time."
"It would be more practical to just—"
"I know. But sometimes honor goes before reason, and family before war. I'm going to be demoted for this, but follow orders, Private."
This is stupid, it's insane, it's going to get everyone killed and—
But, damn it all, I can't do it.
"Yeah. Amazing, isn't it? We've all been in this for six whole years already…"
"Hm? Oh, right, you were fighting even before, huh?"
"I think I still am. The Kuomintang and the Communists are going back to fighting now."
"Oh. Who do you think will win?"
"The Communists. The Kuomintang were getting at least some of their support from Germany, even if it tapered off, and now only the Red Army is reinforced at all."
"Don't expect much from me for the next few years, America. Civil wars last a long time here."
"I'm sure you'll be okay. I mean, didn't you tell me once that you can't die?"
"Did I? I guess that's true – I really can't die. But if you think things will stay the same in the coming years, you would be wrong. Russia has many secrets, as all of us do, but only he can make us pay for them."
"After Hiroshima and Nagasaki, I'd like to think he'll back off."
"Neither will he. You two are more alike than you would like to admit."
"What? I'm nothing like him! Did you even see the camps he has? It's like Auschwitz all over again!"
"…I wonder if you can even see it."
"Sometimes, I wish I could go back to when everything was simple. After the Axis surrendered, I thought we could just stop fighting, but I guess it's not going to work out that way. Maybe it was harder to live then, but at least your only enemies were the ones you met on the street every day."
"China, what are you talking about?"
"Just ignore me. I'm just feeling nostalgic."
"Um, okay then. Good luck with everything."
Four, five, six thousand years of life and for what? To fight again?
Is it any wonder I want to go back?
"How long does he have?"
"I'm not sure. This heart attack was much worse than the last two..."
"I thought so. This one will kill him, won't it?"
"Could I speak to him alone?"
"Of course, Captain Wang."
"...I won't say I'll miss you, Chairman, because I think our people will be cursing your name for years to come. You should have thought it out more before trying what you did with rice planting. I told you it wouldn't work."
"...All in the name of progress..."
"I suppose you thought so. Goodbye, Chairman. I will be at your funeral, at least."
What did you expect?
I never wanted this to happen.
"Thanks, Taiwan. You didn't have to come."
"It's not a problem. I just figure it's alright if we can get along for just today. We'll go back to arguing over those pandas tomorrow."
"I really didn't mean anything by it."
"Yeah, I didn't think you did. I mean, since when have you and the Party agreed on anything?"
"Never. I could never wrap my head around court politics either."
"Same old China. Head stuck in the past again?"
"You could say that. It's just…everything's different now. It seems like yesterday when I was telling everyone the Qing was over…"
"Well, you keep up pretty well for an old man."
"Thanks, I guess. How's everything going with Japan?"
"Better than I thought. I know no one's really happy with him since then, but you know how I thought about the entire thing."
"'At least he could make the trains run on time'?"
"Right. You've got to admit he did help a lot more than you did."
"Don't look so depressed. I've had enough of that to last a lifetime with the Koreas and Hong Kong."
"How are they, anyway?"
"Well, you know how it goes. The Koreas haven't been on speaking terms since way back then, and the only thing they seem to agree on is that Japan hasn't apologized enough. I sort of agree there…Hong Kong's okay, at least. Still the same as ever, but at least the Triad problems are down."
"I'm happy for them. I can't ever seem to get away from work long enough to check on any of them."
"Don't worry. It's true we're not at our best after America's problems started coming overseas, but we'll survive."
"That's always the mantra, isn't it? 'We'll survive.'"
"I know it's cliché, but it works. You'd only have to think back a few years to know that."
"Yeah. It's what we've been doing together for nearly two thousand years. I have a hard time believing in anything when things get rough, though. I must be jaded."
"Everyone is, not just you. It's part of the fun, not knowing what's happening next."
"I suppose so…"
"Oh, stop being so gloomy. This is my only day off this week, so I'm going shopping. You're coming too."
"That's not a good idea. I haven't exactly kept up with the current trends, whatever they may be."
"Oh, really? Well, then it's my turn to educate you. This'll be fun!"
"Oh hell no—!"
"Come on, big brother!"
I still want to hold onto the past...but maybe the future won't be so bad.
A/N: Okay, the scenes refer to –
1 The breakup of the Song dynasty into the Southern Song and the Jin. It was not pretty.
2 The fact that the Mongol Khanates, despite their power, could only control mainland China. They threatened Annam (modern-day Vietnam) into submission, as well as Korea, but failed to fully conquer either.
3 The Mongols failed to conquer Japan the second time around because of a storm that blew up while they were still on their ships and wrecked most of the fleet. Japan called it a kamikaze, or divine wind.
4 Throughout Mongol rule, China experienced mass famine as a result of Mongol 'tax farming' policies, which forced farmers off their land. Some 40% of the population died.
5 Mongol rule as the Yuan dynasty, the third-shortest-lived of all the dynasties, ended in 1368.
6 Part of the Manchu's policy was to impress their superiority on their subjects. This is where the queue hairstyle was first introduced. The punishment for not wearing one was death.
7 This refers to the Dowager Empress Cixi's hand in encouraging the Boxer Rebellion.
8 Dowager Empress Cixi died in 1908. The Qing dynasty collapsed in 1911.
9 China is referring to the United States' Japanese interment camps.
10 This occurs during the Long March, where Mao and many of his followers retreated to their mountain headquarters, harried all the way by Japanese fighter planes. 6,000 out of a total of 100,000 Red Army members made it to the final destination.
11 After the Japanese surrender, the Kuomintang and Red Army resumed the Chinese Civil War.
12 Mao died of a heart attack. China refers to the Great Leap Forward (which was an economical disaster that starved some 20 million people. Yes, it was Mao's fault).
13 In December 2008, Taiwan finally accepted a pair of pandas named Tuan Tuan and Yuan Yuan after several months of arguments over the intentions of the PRC.