Half a Millennium
China - no, not China, Wang Yao - wakes up on a foreign bed, memories and mind completely scrambled. Blearily, he blinks, trying to get his surroundings into view and conscious. Something is gnawing at the back of his mind, but when he steps off of the mattress and leaves the room to wander about, the rest of the scene reveals itself to him and suddenly - it's not 1895, but 1842.
His people are in their traditional dress, robes and sleeves hanging down in similar manner to their expressions. The victors are clad in neat, crisp suits; buttons and ties and formal-formal-formalities. Half a century, and not a thing has changed, save for the names of the actors in this twisted, horrible play.
His ambassador looks reluctant to sign, but the choice is not in his hands. There are ready-to-draw guns, easily-unsheathed swords, and contempt so thick he feels that he's choking on the very air in the room.
A brief glance around the room shows that there are others of his kind: Arthur, Kiku, Taiwan, along with one other person who simply must be a nation, seeing as how he's tall and bulky with blonde hair and an extremely thick scarf. He doesn't question their presence. This is what being modernized is all about after all and surely -
"Yao-hyung..." Korea murmurs, appearing as unexpectedly as ever, but without any of his characteristic exuberance.
Yao feels a clenching of his stomach; he thinks: 'No, not you too,' but the world has never been kind to immortals.
(There's a reason to why the gods live in the clouds, dragons live in the sea, and the kirin can only be seen by the pure-of-heart.)
"Korea, you've..." and his throat clenches, tears threatening to spill over. He bites his lip; he needs to set the example, he needs to be strong, he needs to be ready to let go (even while wondering all the while - is this really for the greater good?). Korea cries out, hurling himself over China and holding on tight. The elder nation feel his veins getting ready to explode. But he stays quiet, returning the embrace for the first time since Xiang Gang having left, and when he does, Korea holds on tighter.
It's a useless action, but Yao cherishes it regardless.
"I'm not going to see you ever again, Yao-hyung," Korea says sorrowfully, his random curly string of hair flying into Yao's eye, catching a tear before flinging back once more.
A variety of questions and responses could be given, ranging from 'Don't be silly' to 'You don't know that for certain' and 'How did you get in here anyways? Your diplomats haven't been invited' along with 'It's stupid, but I think I'll miss you more'. But he says none of those possibilities, choosing instead to move a hand to gently smooth out hair (as if Korea were a child once more) and blow comfortingly into the messy flounce and flurl of his hair.
"You've...you've been a wonderful brother to me. I am..." Breathe in, deeply, continue (this is goodbye and don't we know it),"I am proud to have helped raise such a wonderful nation," and his front teeth return to viciously biting the bottom lip. Korea responds by loosening his grip, wiping away his own tears and looking down -
Looking down at Yao, with brave-and-sad smile plastered on his face.
(Im Yong Soo has grown up, grown big as well, and sometimes, Yao thinks he's looking in a mirror when he sees his siblings-come-children-come-siblings.)
"Before..." he starts uncertainly, face a little red, "Before you go, can I have something? Soemthing really small, but I've wanted it for forever, da-ze~" And his face is round and beautiful and China knows how much he's going to miss him immediately. There's only one response to give because -
Because this is farewell. This is good-bye.
"Anything-aru." And he forces out the brightest smile, thinking back to that wonderful, incandescent New Year so many years ago. Korea looks bedazzled and bewildered for a moment before he catches movement out of the corner of his eyes, and then he moves - hesitantly, slowly, and awkwardly upon Yao.
Eyes widen, and his mouth opens a little, as Im Yong Soo presses their lips together in an embarrassed kiss.
There is a quiet thudding, and Yao breaks the chaste contact, whirling about to see the dull clapping coming from both sides.
A shake of hands; a lack of smiles.
April 1895: the Treaty of Shimonoseki has been signed.
"Im Yong Soo, Yao-nii," Kiku seemingly apparates before them, hand intertwined with Taiwan. She's still young, still unaware of her quickly-changing future. Yao only wishes he had that naïvety in him. He releases the hold he didn't know he had on Korea. Korea is less eager, but does so all the same.
No smiles, no tears, no displays of emotions at all, when Korea leaves his side to join Japan.
Kiku nods in recognition, but Yao doesn't miss the flash of anger in his eyes. He shoves the thought off to the side for now, leaning down (and ignoring the pain in both his chest and stomach).
These are the terms of the treaty: Kiku will be given the peninsula of Liaodong and most favored nation status, like England, along with Korea and Taiwan. Funny, he thinks, but this is the bitter sort of humor. All of his current 'most favored nations' are the ones he has all the rights to despise entirely.
"Taiwan," he says while dotingly stroking the ever-present-curl away from her face, finding the strength to continue, "You should always know that gege loves you a lot," and he opens his arms a little, and Taiwan, unusually, immediately releases her grip on Kiku's hand to jump forward and hug him tightly. It's far tighter than their normal hugs, but then again, Taiwan is a smart girl (like all his children).
"Gege," she sniffles, scrubbing his cheeks red with her sleeves, "Wo ye ai gege!"
"It's...it's going to be alright," Yao soothes, right as he slowly hands her over to Kiku. His former student's face is impassive, as always, but he takes the still-little girl with as much care and love as he has learned to show. It's a small show, but it lifts Yao's spirits a little, knowing that he is not dooming Taiwan to a life of subservience and agony.
"Promise me you'll take good care of her," he whispers to Kiku. The ambassadors are coming and going and leaving the large room, signifying that the meeting is all but over.
There is a pause, and Yao feels his heart hanging in the air, ready to fall at any given second - the best case scenario hangs from a string. Kiku makes no promises, says no words, and Im Yong Soo simply looks resigned to his fate. Yao prays to God because the three of them - unlike him - they're not immortal and they deserve happiness and - and for once -
A barely-perceptible nod.
It's more than enough
Wordlessly, Kiku cradles Taiwan, motioning for Korea to follow, and the three of them exit the room together.
Yao stands alone; and the damning certainty of the situation pools about at his feet.
It's too much; it's too quick; it's too depressing.
It's only then that he realizes that all four of his children (his students, his siblings, his friends) - they've all left, not only for their separate countries and destinies, but they've all left his life entirely.
He doesn't want to go back home; the panda and palaces don't seem nearly as welcoming anymore.
He doesn't have a choice in the matter though, and his feet take him 'home' nonetheless.
"Доброе утро! Aren't you the adorable little дама?"
Yao wakes this time with a start to a smiling face. One high-pitched scream-slash-yelp (he's immortal, yes, but never before has he seen evil dreams being brought to life) and a terribly forceful shove later and he's a suitable distance (read: three steps) from the stranger.
Only then does he realize that the other is not a ghost or otherworldly specter, but rather, a nation...person. Like him. Like Kiku.
Messy brown-and-blonde hair frames a round, pale face. Sharp cheekbones and soft features make an overall pleasing effect, and now that the eyes are open to reveal orbs of something-like-violet, Yao sees that this person is a Westerner, albeit dressed in simple garbs (unlike Arthur or Francis). It's only in that smile (there is an expression-something about showing teeth) that gives him any indication that this person is not as happy and innocent has he would like Yao to believe.
It's clearly a wonderful way to wake up.
"Wh-who are you?" He understands the English (however heavy the accent), but the last word doesn't sound like a language he's ever heard before.
A laugh, delighted and childish, as the hulking figure claps his hands together in what could only be a thoroughly exuberant manner.
"Who am I? The adorable little дама asks who am I?" The long scarf wrapped loosely about his neck moves up, as if alive, in order to cover the other's giggles, high-pitched and not-at-all-assuring.
"Yes, I do," Yao snaps, not at all liking to having been woken up in such a manner, "And what does 'дама' mean, anyways? You are in China, in case you haven't noticed-aru, you should speak Chinese."
"Ah, ah, ah; the little дама is getting mad, she is, she is!" the man suddenly towers over him (only people from the East can move like that), and Yao sees that he's actually much bigger than he first thought. The face, devilish in glee, is a hair away from Yao's once more, and -
It takes actual effort to continue breathing normally, to not appear weak to this new enemy.
"Wo Ivan," the foreigner says. "I Ivan," Yao hears, and bites the inside of his cheek. Ivan pauses, before adding: "And 'дама' means xiao jie. I am Russia." Yao's left eye twitches at the implication. Another lengthy pause, and an almost-curious expression alights upon his face "Oh, and 'Доброе утро' means good morning!"
Russia. Ah, it explains everything.
He licks his lips (sign of weakness, stop stop stop), ever-so-glad that the - Russia - Ivanhas decided to pull back out of his personal space.
He is reminded of Korea, who left only a month ago; too long, too soon, too young.
"And why... why have you not been at the diplomatic meetings until now?" Yao braces himself for another terrifying giggle. It comes as expected, and for once, he's grateful that they're nations and therefore cannot be heard or seen by their own peoples. Ivan (the monster that he is) would have probably gotten Yao thrown out of his quarters if only due to the -
"You are such a cute little дама, you are, you are!"
Ivan, who is Russia (who is another power that wants and will havecontrol over him) leans down to run a large hand through Yao's hair. He yelps in the most undignified manner possible, as Ivan goes on to make him completely speechless by saying:
"You are rather beautiful, no?"
"No I'm - "
"I want you."
(I want to have all of China.)
Yao stares, bemused.
Ivan's forwardness - as well as the complete change of conversation - is too much for him.
"B-But," he manages to splutter out. 'Get out of here, you crazy man!' and 'I could never want you' are a couple responses he wishes he had the courage to give. Ivan stops halfway then, as if perplexed.
"Ah, but you are right," and then the discomforting petting continues, gentle and almost tender, "After all, Japan and England and France and Germany all have rather large parts of you, yes? There's no way that I can have all of you..." And his face changes again into that of a pout, contemplating and thinking with furrowed eyebrows and eyes that are too crinkled and youthful and western.
Yao thinks of how to get the hell way.
"Unless! I can get them to all give you to me!" And then Ivan smiles at the seemingly-brilliant idea, looking expectantly at Yao. It takes a moment before the older (more sane) nation realizes that Ivan is expecting to be complimented.
Cursing his luck and lineage and whatever-else-he-can-think-of, Yao opens his mouth, hoping that the words sound more sincere than he hears them out:
"What... what a good idea,"
"I know, I know! Isn't it, my little дама? I'm going to start with Japan; he is the weakest, after all! I know France and Germany will join me because they think he's weak as well!" And he grins maniacally. "I'm going to make you all mine, okay? You'll be my little дама alone!" And then he promptly leaves not only Yao's personal space, but the room as well, hopping out the window as if they weren't on the third floor.
A light 'thump' and loud laughter ensues as Yao flops wearily back onto the bed.
He doesn't know what's more terrifying, the fact that Ivan wants all of China or the fact that (with a smile like that), he might actually get it.
It's a good distraction, if nothing else. Westerners fighting is always a good distraction, after all.
The memories he would really not remember; they're still there, still in his mind, waiting, wanting to be released.
He's tired, depressed, exhausted.
He's getting too old for this.
brief history lesson(10) The Treaty of Shimonoseki was what Japan forced China to sign in April 1895 after it was declared the winner of their conflict. The treaty pretty much gave total independence to Korea (so that China wouldn't have any control/contact with it) and relinquished control of Taiwan to Japan. Japan also gained a chunk of China called the Liaodong Peninsula, but we'll go into that in the next couple chapters. The Japanese government treated Taiwan much better than Korea, assumedly because of the past (and then, continued) conflicts between Korea and Japan (which at least once resulted in Japanese defeat).
Russia had its eyes set on China long before the Sino-Japanese War, and the only reason it didn't help out was because it (like the rest of the Western world) simply assumed that China was not as lagged down by opium and corruption and could then, easily take on Japan and win. The Russian government wanted China as both a trading partner (plenty of natural resources) and an ally (so they would have a barrier from the south. So when China lost the Liaodong Peninsula, Russia decided it was time to intervene, fearing that it would lose China to Japan
notations - Ah, sorry for falling off for a bit. I do hope the chapter title makes it through the formatting. Like usual, thank you for your patience and support; I'm really happy to see that no one's screaming at me yet for the (admittedly minor and very aesthetic) changes.