there should be more love for this ship. REALLY.
It's awkward. Hong Kong expected it to be awkward. From the moment England walks in and glances around the house, shrugs his coat off his shoulders (you'd think it would be travel-worn but it isn't), and turns as if to place it on the coat rack which used to stand by the door – but of course, the coat rack isn't there, the same way the bust of Victoria and the grand piano and the roses are not there.
"Long ago, we fought a war over these-"
He kept the tea, though. He thinks it is important that England knows this so he opens his mouth to speak but England's presence smothers him. England holds out a hand in starched white and Hong Kong takes it, his fingers light, and he makes an effort to stop them trembling a little. England's handshake is firm and nearly overwhelming, and though Hong averts his eyes he knows that England's are focused right on him.
" – did you know?"
When he first saw the ships he was a child, or just about. From where he stood even miles away he could tell that these were not China's junks – the sails were less angular, the boats larger, and the fleet gave off such an air of different that it made Hong Kong shiver. The shiver ran all the way down his back, and his silk robes shivered too. The nation held its breath.
This time, at least; this time England lets him go. Hong watches from behind trees, under rocks as England prowls across the shoreline, surveying, judging his worth. Time flies. England takes a puff of his pipe and calls something to one of the boats, and the little boy behind the boulder pulls a bit tighter into himself and feels silk slither over his skin.
And then England, decisively, turns on his heel – it's easy to do in those boots – and leaps back onto his ship. The boats scrape and clatter like bone as they lumber back into the sea, and Hong Kong thinks they are almost beautiful when they get into the water.
When England lets him go Hong's hand feels bare. And there is silence, hanging over them like the opium smoke used to. He blurts, "I kept the tea." His voice sounds odd, and England just… looks at him. His eyes are unreadable.
"I mean, your tea." He is not going to just leave it at that. "From when you - lived here. I kept it. Do you want some?" Awkward, his mind is saying, bad idea bad idea but he – England looks down at him and for the first time today, for the first time in decades their eyes meet. And Hong sees every year in England's gaze.
China hadn't said anything; just leant down and swept the hair off Hong's forehead, and then turned him around and given him a little push forwards.
England stood under columns of pale stone, and as Hong stumbled towards him he'd seen a look pass between England and China, something mutual, almost measuring, judging - but he hadn't thought too much about it; he didn't want to think too much about anything.
England held out a hand and Hong Kong took it, and he looked over his shoulder as China walked away.
It had been good, and then it had been bad. Trade had become war again, and Hong Kong had been stuck in between two giants, the middleman. He'd never intended that, but he'd never really intended to become England's either, and – well.
Tea and silk and opium for silver and clocks, England had said, and " - did you know?"
That day the screams were louder but he didn't hear them; he was coddled, for now - England didn't want him disturbed. England needed him – for now. So England would stand by the bed, stroking his hair, murmuring, and Hong Kong would curl like a cat under his touch and try to tell himself he was reluctant.
He sat wrapped in silk, smothered by it, and the discoloured smoke hung around his head, suffocating. England was gone – or he was there, but hiding. Hong Kong slid deeper into his nest of red and gold, screwed his eyes tight shut and breathed in opium.
The noises the kettle makes aren't loud enough to drown out the tension. England sits in a high-backed red chair with his legs crossed, looking almost as elegant as he used to, still watching and judging and surveying. His hand makes a loose fist on the armrest.
Hong Kong tries to busy himself getting teacups and saucers (white with pale blue flowers – another thing he'd kept). He feels out of practice; it has been years since he's made tea for anyone, and England has high standards. He closes his eyes for a moment, and thinks, water, rinse, leaves, water –
"Put the leaves in before the water," England ordered. "It releases more flavour." The tealeaves were brittle as he placed them in the pot, and when he moved his hand away he could smell them crumbling on his fingers. He didn't mind. This process was appealing to him, like a ritual; it needed more skill than he had first thought, but that was okay. He could learn.
"And then, water?" he asked and England nodded and watched through a critic's eyes as Hong Kong lifted the kettle, poured, squinted through the billowing steam. "Stop there," said England, and Hong Kong stopped. (There was no arguing with that voice, anyway.)
"Leave it for a few minutes."
When England said so he grasped the teapot – winced a little at the heat and jerked his hand so his sleeve covered his fingers – and poured. When he got used to the weight he lifted his hand higher, more confident, and England murmured "don't get too showy, lad," but he was almost almost almost smiling.
China's arm round his shoulders was different from England's arm round his shoulders, and through the smoke clouding his mind and vision he had no idea which one he would rather feel.
England's not smiling as he takes the cup, sets it down on the table. Before Hong Kong can offer England has helped himself to milk, and Hong finds himself thinking – and he doesn't know what to call the emotion surrounding the thought – you don't live here any more.
The first time England kissed him was July 4th, 1842. England had been drinking, of course, a lot, and Hong Kong liked to tell himself he had been drinking too, otherwise he'd never have let England touch him and touch him, that first time when he gasped "America-"
-and all the other times after that, when England was visiting, pressing up into silk cushions and they were both sickeningly sober, and he watched England bite his lip so he didn't gasp anything at all.
England drains the teacup right down to the dirty brown-green stuff swilling about at the bottom, and leans back in his chair, exhaling. Hong Kong watches him, and he watches as England stands and watches England's eyes, and they're sort of half-closed but Hong knows it's not contentment that's making them that way.
And he stands as well, out of some left-over obedience (ah, who is he kidding?) and watches England's eyes, England's unhappy eyes sweeping the room. He notices that England never did take his coat off, and somehow the knowledge makes his stomach turn.
Hong thinks I wonder if he would kiss me again, and he opens his mouth but only the end of the sentence spills out – "England-"
England turns and looks at him – he's grown taller, maybe – and says "yes?" and looks down at Hong through his half-closed, unhappy eyes.
"No," says Hong Kong, and he's remembering. "No, no – it's nothing." The lie slips from his mouth as the silk used to slip off his skin; he tells himself, this is the bit where you stop remembering.
"-did you know?"
By the time he looks up, England is gone.