It is easy to forget how ancient China is, how many years hide behind his smooth face and innocent smile, behind speech tics tacked on the ends of sentences, behind a love of a cartoon kitty with a crooked grin.

Japan admits he forgets at times as well just how long China has lived. It is easy to, he argues to himself as he watches China giggle over his stuffed kitty, some silly toy that Korea has given him, hugging it to his chest. It is only when he looks into China's eyes that he remembers.

Eyes filled with wisdom, eyes that have seen everything and all, seen empires rise and fall, seen heroes be born and die. Brown eyes that glitter with laughter, but behind those smiles is the wear of years gone by, full of stories of times long past and gone. Exhaustion and joy, hatred and love, fear and confidence all battle in China's old eyes, and Japan wonders sometimes why China hasn't cracked under the strain of all those emotions fighting for control.

Japan wonders why as he sits in the world conference room, tangling his fingers in his hair and watching China talk animately with Spain, wonders that if China is so old and wise, why China can't see what he's about to do. Why China's hasn't figured it out, isn't going to stop him from helping in one of the biggest wars in history.

China may be wise, Japan thinks as he gets to his feet, gathering his notes and papers, but sometimes, years and years of wisdom can fail even the best and oldest of us all.

He leaves the conference room, not looking back once.

----

Germany is angry with his current boss, Japan notices. Germany doesn't believe everything this Fuhrer man does, doesn't want the ideal world that Hitler has in mind, but he is forced to go along with it, because although he is the country personified, he has no power. The same is true for Japan, although he prefers to ignore that fact.

Italy doesn't care. Sometimes, Japan wonders if Italy even knows what is going on, if Italy really understands what a war like this means for all of them. He suspected that Italy does know, but prefers to not think about it. Japan wishes he had that luxury.

Germany is ranting again, his voice raised, hands waving animately as he speaks. Italy pays the blonde nation no mind, choosing instead to doodle on the back of Germany's reports lying on the desk. Japan sits and cleans his kantana with smooth strokes and a soft rag, Germany's anger filled words blurring into a hum in the background.

China uses a sword in battle, Japan remembers, and his hands pause, missing the rhythm they had fallen into before. His lips tighten as his hands begin again, putting more force down on the blade. No, China hasn't used a sword in years, Japan reminds himself. He uses martial arts now, or hits his opponents on the head with a wok.

"Japan! Are you even listening?!" Germany yells, and Japan flinches, his hand slipping and cutting his palm open on the sword's razor-sharp edge. Blood wells up, as warm as water from a hot spring, as red as the sun on his flag. Pain shoots up his arm, and for a second all he can do is grit his teeth and pray it fades.

"Ve, ve, you're hurt, Japan!" Italy cries out, dropping his pen on Germany's desk and hurrying to the Asian's side, taking his bloody hand gently. "Germany, can I have a cloth?" he asks, turning his brown eyes on the blonde nation. Germany pauses in his rant and scowls, but leaves the room for a moment anyway.

"It doesn't hurt," Japan says softly, trying to shove the Italian away with his good hand, but Italy just smiles and shakes his head.

"I don't like seeing anyone get hurt!" the Italian replies cheerfully, bending over Japan's hand to study the crimson liquid rising from the cut. The scent of iron is strong in Japan's nose, and it makes him dizzy.

I don't like seeing you get hurt, aru. Stay out of trouble, please, aru? Just for me?

A sudden stinging in his hand draws his attention. Italy is wiping at the wound gently with a damp washcloth, a roll of bandages lying on the ground next to him. Germany kneels next to the Italian, watching silently as the Italian sets the cloth on the ground and picks up the roll of bandages, winding it around the Asian's hand.

"See!" Italy crows as he rips the bandage in half, tucking the corner into the mass wrapped around Japan's hand. "All better now!"

No, Japan thinks as Italy gets up and returns to his doodling and Germany to his rants, it isn't better at all.

----

Cuts, pain, aches, all over his body. Blood is a common sight, and exhaustion and fear are some things Japan has learned to live with. There is never enough time for sleep now, and never enough time to sit and relax, because sleeping can mean you lose valuable time that you could have fought in, and relaxing runs a risk of being captured.

Exhausted minds wander towards strange subjects, he has found. He finds himself wondering how China is doing, wonders if China is as exhausted and stressed as he is. Wonders if China is able to see the stars, the moon. He still remembers sitting on the porch of China's house, staring at the moon and wondering about the future.

He still remembers his wish to be strong. But being strong is harder without the light of the stars and the moon, glittering with a light that makes him remember the night he finally admitted his goal.

He isn't allowed to see them, isn't allowed to see the sky, a rule he regards with bitterness. He must stay inside Germany's house at night, or he takes the risk of being captured. Germany pulls heavy drapes across the window, in case one of the Allies notices the lights. The night sky no longer shines in Japan's eyes. The night sky is something that can get him killed.

Just like China is now a stranger, someone who can kill him without a second thought.

----

Germany doesn't like that he fights in every battle with his sword, not a gun. Japan mumbled, when asked, something about a mistrust of western weapons, something about how he is at his best with a blade, and he was left alone.

That is not it, Japan thinks as he fingers the sharp edge of the blade. The sunset's light, filtering in through a crack in the curtains, strikes the shiny surface, reflecting back with gold, red, pink, lavender and a thousand other colors Japan can't name.

He fights with a sword because China once did, and because that is how China taught him to fight, so many years ago. He won't pick up a gun because China never uses them.

It's almost funny, Japan thinks to himself, rubbing the dull side of the blade with one finger. Even after all this time, he is still emulating the one person he has always taken his cues from before, even thought they were both on the opposite sides of a bloody war.

A war to end all wars, Germany says sometimes. But sometimes Japan wonders if war is the only thing this war will bring a stop to.

----

His sword flashes as he dances around the battlefield, white coat soaked with blood, crimson smeared across his cheeks. His eyes are wild, full of fear and determination, always darting, looking for his next opponent, next enemy, the next walking corpse.

Bodies lie at his feet, reeking of death and iron. Their eyes, Japan notices as he leaps over a pile of dead soldiers, are empty. Staring at the sky, colors dancing in their irises, but there is no feeling there. No life, no light, nothing but a blank slate no one's every going to write on again.

Japan shivers at the thought of dying, even as he plunges his sword into the chest of a French soldier with such blue eyes and blonde wavy hair that for a second, Japan wonders if he has made a mistake, if he stabbed France himself.

But no, it isn't France. He sees that as the body falls from his blade, blood dripping from the edge of his mouth onto ice-white skin. The mouth is too wide, the eyes too narrow, the build too bulky and he is too short.

Japan is breathing hard as the body hits the ground with a thump, dark brown eyes flickering, trying to find his next opponent.

The air buzzes, and Japan whips around, sword above his head, to counter the blow from a huge sword as China swings it with all his might, aiming for Japan's head.

Japan forgets how to breathe as the force of the blow sends him to his knees, holding onto the hilt of his sword with both hands, trying to push back. He forgets what time passing feels like as China adds a little more weight. He forgets what war means, forgets how to hate, forgets what it feels like to have your heart broken into a billion and one pieces.

China's hair is flying around his face, as wild as a fire. His eyes are bright with anger, his cheeks flushed from the fighting. His clothing is ripped, and blood seeps out from various wounds to drip to the already crimson-soaked ground.

But Japan hardly sees that.

Tears sparkle on China's pale pink cheeks, tears as bright as the stars and as breakable as spun glass. He is crying, Japan realizes numbly. He can't think of the last time he ever saw China cry.

"Please," China whispers, face leaning in towards Japan, tears falling from his face to the younger's. "Please don't make me be the one who destroys you."

Japan smiles bitterly, pushing upwards as China's blade threatens to overpower his and slice him clean in two. "I don't want you to be the one who destroys me,"he replies, and throws himself back into the fray, China's thin body always dancing just out of reach.

----

His head is wrapped in bandages, and blood pounds in his temples, a hammering that makes his stomach clench. He feels sick, so dizzy and tired and sick, and every step he takes makes his head spin. The world sways in and out of focus, of view, and colors blur together until all he can is moving blobs, ink blots on a blue canvas.

His sword feels too heavy for him to carry, and his body leans to the left as he walks. Blood drips into his eyes, stinging, but he can't feel it over the roar of pain that is his entire body.

He can't even cry out when his body crashes into a tree, more scratches joining the ones already littering his arms. His uniform hangs off him in tatters, his hair is soaked to the tips in blood.

Japan chuckles, weakly, as he slides down the tree, forehead pressed to the bark. The wood digs into his soft skin, tearing in new gashes, new cuts and wounds, but he hardly notices.

God, Japan thinks, face pressed into the bark of a tree, miles from his home, his heart breaking and body bleeding. He is so pathetic.

----

Weeks later, the worst of the wounds of his body are healed, but he is about to cut a new one into his already worn-out heart.

"China," Japan says evenly, pressing his sword against the base of the older nation's throat. China doesn't flinch, not even as the sword digs in a little bit harder and a thin gash appears, trickling red down into the crimson shirt China is wearing. His brown eyes are serious, calm, sad, and Japan feels a flash of fury course through him when he sees pity in those ancient eyes.

"I was expecting this eventually, aru," China says clearly, raising his head the slightest bit. The sword traces against the white skin of his throat, making the thin line a fraction longer. Japan flinches, although he tries to stop himself, at the sight of the blood on his mentor's shirt.

China smiles, a smile tinged with concern. Even now, he cannot help but worry about Japan.

"You are being occupied," Japan declares, dropping his sword. China raises his head even higher, flicking his long ponytail over his shoulder, eyes flashing in the midday sun. He is proud, disdainful, and exhausted. He is angry, furious, and concerned. He is full of hatred, full of bloodlust, and sick of it all.

"I know, aru," China says, "I know."

----

China is silent as he walks the hallways of his home, footsteps so soft Japan usually misses them. His fingers make no mark in the dust covering every available surface. Nothing is moved in the kitchen, his bed is never slept in. He vanishes like smoke, only to reappear later, eyes as bright as a fire.

China is already a ghost in his own home, Japan thinks. But China knows he is not a ghost, not just watching.

He is merely waiting for what he knows will eventually happen.

----

He is sitting in the garden, watching the sun climb higher in the sky and chase away the last traces of dawn away, hand curled around a mug of green tea when his side bursts open and his blood stains the green grass of China's yard.

Japan screams, pain filling him, his whole body, as he falls face first to the table, writhing in agony as his heartbeat fills him, shaking his whole body. His blood is hot, he notes dimly, one hand pressed hard against the wound. Hotter then the sunlight on his skin, hotter then the pain in his nerves.

He is crying, he is screaming, his body thrashes and his legs flail, fingers digging into the green grass and loose dirt.

Pictures and feelings fill his mind; a flash of light, burning pain, body burning, fire, fear so tangible he tastes it on his tongue, bitter and sour. Destruction. Anger. Hatred.

He screams again as cool fingers press his forehead and warm breath breathes in his ear, words of comfort, words of love. Something is pressed against his wound, and thin, bony arms lift his limp body up, hugging him to a warm chest.

Japan cries, clinging to China's now bloody crimson shirt, not caring about the tears that streak his face, and he focuses on China instead.

This scene, he thinks dimly, isn't the way that idiot America would display it in one of his movies. No rain falls from the sky, no snow covers the ground. No clouds cover the sun, no cold breeze makes him shiver and shake.

But there is one detail that is right, Japan decides as China hugs him closer.

Tears drip from China's eyes, sparkling in the rising sun. That, Japan thinks, mind growing fuzzy, is exactly the way it would happen in a movie. His vision blurs, and fades to black, and his heart throbs painfully in his chest as China bites back his own sobs.

----

Save me before I crack.

----

In what seems to be only a few hours later, but could be weeks, months, years, Japan's right shoulder bursts open, blood spraying China's bedroom as Japan screams, voice cracking, pain and misery and hatred and fear filling him once more, and China is there, pressing a cold rag to his burning forehead, forcing cool tea down his aching throat.

"I'm here, aru," China whispers, clasping Japan's shaking, trembling hand, so pale and tiny, in his own larger one. "I'm here, aru. Please don't leave. Don't leave me, aru."

"I won't," Japan forces out through gritted teeth as China forces him to lie down so he can bandage the new wound. His jaw aches, his gums bleed. "I won't ever leave you...not again."

China smiles, bitterly. "I know, aru."

----

Years later, Japan watches silently as China enters the world conference room. His wounds from that war past have healed, although the scars most of his torso, angry and as ugly as the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki are now, with their ruined buildings and ashes of the dead spread across the land.

China pauses behind Japan's chair, and the younger nation tenses, lips tightening. "China..." he begins, but cuts himself off when a hand lands on his head and ruffles his hair. His bangs fall in his eyes as he whips around to see China running away, laughing, long sleeves pressing against his face. His ponytail fly behind him, his eyes dance, and he laughs as he runs.

Japan smiles sadly as he smoothen down his hair.

No, China does not act four thousand years old at all. He acts like a child, but Japan knows it is all a lie. All it takes is one look in his eyes to see.

----

"Why didn't you stop me? You could have. You could have prevented me from so much pain and death and agony..." he trails off, choking back a sob.

A brush on fingers on cool skin, a gentle chuckle. "I needed you to see what pain was, so you would understand love better, aru."

Tear filled brown eyes met ancient amber, and the world spins back into an ancient cycle of war, anger, peace, love, mistakes, learning. Japan picks up the rhythm he had once forgotten, China smiling by his side, staring at the world with old, old eyes and a child's grin, hiding the wisdom he holds inside.