Disclaimer: ...I owe it all to Hidekazu.
Ja ;D Sorry it's later than I thought!
Sometimes, Yao wonders if there is a difference, between steel and silk.
They feel the same.
They act the same.
Yes...then they are the same.
Japan tears out the first strand.
It is two centuries ago again, and so long ago, Yao now sees—he is old, and how can he forget?—he forgets that he is old by the name of age, but the ache of his body strokes him across his burdened back, only to slap it before laughing in a way meant to be teasing, but not cruel.
Little boy, now a man, but still little; and yet he stands taller, bigger, older. Has he been planning this?—planning this from the day China had found him, a child among the bamboo, one day to even become a panda if he left him there any longer. (That is what China wishes to believe, tells himself to, and it grapples with knowledge of the brilliance that shrouds his little brother like a halo.)
Japan tears out several more, later, after the disgusting slash of pouring blood hardens into a scar; and no matter how many silk tendrils part from the closed wooden case are ripped out so that there is nothing but an empty, hollow thing...no matter how many culprits...in the end it is Japan who takes the most.
Why must you do this to me..., he whispers, and receives no answer, before he falls, backward, not forward—never on his knees.
He learns to stand again, and walk.
He first lifts himself, dipped in red, crowned with golden stars. He shakes his head to rid himself of it, unsure of what he has just been given—it stays, his people keep it on, saying that they believe in him, to do the thing that is right.
...What is right?
First he raises the flag, then watches Taiwan in the distance; untouchable, far, and blooded. She shares his blood, and he watches that blood begin to hate him. Why do children have to grow?
The blood-red flag flies with a circlet of stars laid in the corner. Faith.
Yao sees Hong Kong again, for a while. It is a short, brief meeting, to the point of brutal.
They stare across the border; he is in Guangdong, having crossed Anhui and Hebei, down from north to south. The rifle rests in his hands, foreign, new—beneath him lays the gu zheng he has owned, its quivering silk strands pleading for life. A smirk flitters across his lips, sad. The past. It is a relic of the past. It is weakness. Raising his head, he stares across the border for his dear little brother, the port; Hong Kong stares back.
Hong Kong has grown. China drinks in the sight of him, like ambrosia; the poor boy, worn from Japan's tyranny, England's greed. Still, he stands, duangua clean, hair waving choppily at his jaw. Behind him are the People's Republic's citizens, run away from this cleansing.
Yao smiles, reassuringly, at the thinness of his youngest child.
I will get you back, he breathes. The rifle tightens in his hands, summoning ecstasy; he giggles girlishly at the thought, of the future; it splits his bloody face like the crescent moon upon the sheet of night. I will get you back. I will become stronger—his grip tightens, weapon hovering over the helpless relic—Japan has shown me that I must.
I will get you back, you hear? he yells quietly, and his heart clenches as Hong Kong remains expressionless, mouthing one thing back, one thing that leaves him blank:
If there is anything more, Yao senses that none of it is positive.
Shedding one crimson tear, he raises the rifle, and brings it down.
The silk shrieks and splits, arching over the wood that breaks from equal force. China watches impassively, even when the splinters stab him, the fine wires draw blood. He has fought for them already—time for the past to go.
He has lost count of the years. All those years, and he still has not seen Japan, Taiwan, or Hong Kong.
Yet America comes knocking. He helps Taiwan, negotiates behind Japan's back. What do you want? China asks him one day, when the nation is chattering away about one insignificant thing and another.
The young boy of a nation flashes a snow-white smile, replying cheerfully, earnestly, Justice!
Fool, China sighs that night, when America has gone on his way. He has not lived to see even half a century.
Smog chokes him, kills his mountains and makes his people sick.
He blinks slowly at the sky, thinking vaguely, dimly, that he never wanted this industrialization do this to his perfect lands. The moon was once bigger, the xian tu and Chang'e much closer; it rotates and dances with the earth, spinning away and away; the stars twinkle and die, burning themselves out.
He turns, and there is Japan, gazing sadly with him. He retracts, with his whole body, hissing with alarm and oxymoronic longing. He has not seen him in years, ever since he limped home—no, crawled, from America's compressed hell, from the resistance of the defending Asians—Yao kicked him out, though gentler than he would have liked. Kiku looked hurt then, unsurprisingly—hurt in his crushed glory; he had tried to reach utopia, tried to touch the sun only to be burned. The ocean lay beneath him.
The first thing he wants to do is hate him. Hate him with action, and then words. Spit at him, beat him like he was beaten, slice his back open and tear it. He wants to scream that he hates him, that hell is too good for him.
...And yet, in the end, after several moments of shock, all he can do is nod. He does it slowly, and Japan nods back.
Japan, he says, I only let you off because it was necessary. Mao wanted it.
Kiku's lip bleeds, the rosy color dripping from the slit between his lips. I'm sorry.
Yao almost shakes his head. I'm stronger now.
He bows, and Yao stares, not knowing how to feel.
Silk is strong as steel.
China wants to kiss the wires clinging to his gu zheng. It's new, the wood polished and shiny; and at the edges, his homage to thousands of years of tradition and the Chinese people is presented in the form of carved phoenixes, and his earliest writing.
When Kiku comes in, he raises his head to him, with a spare steel wire looped about his fingers. He stabs him in the arm, pressing down so it hurts; Japan looks at him with half-concealed surprise, looking very much like a child deprived of its innocence, as the red slowly slides down his elbow and falls to the wooden floorboards. His face does not move for pain—Yao knows that he will not show pain.
His heart burns.
I should hurt you, he whispers. I should hurt you more than this. I should hurt you like you hurt me.
I know, Japan replies, not quite meeting his eyes.
Do you really? Yao grits out, harshly. It suddenly occurs to him how this would look; him stabbing someone who had long faded away, with the strings of a gu zheng as of yet unused. Will the blood leak between the floorboards and, somehow, fall away to drain in the earth?
I should hate you, he says.
I don't believe you.
Nii-san, he says quickly; he blinks, and Yao is sure that he also blinks. Kiku meets his eyes this time, the gentle brown of it strong but pleading. Believe me. I do.
You never called me brother.
China sits back, unsure of how the steel looks against the wood. Diffusion, how it hurts him.
The picks feel tight and uncomfortable wrapped around his fingers; the tape is new, and unbearably white. He can't look at them directly for the awesome beauty of it.
He bends over, plucking the first string. Low six. It feels too foreign.
You can come out, you know.
Japan shuffles out from behind the doorframe, like a child, though like a child long lost from the trail of innocence. No one can walk that path without wandering from it.
Yao's residence is picturesque—chrysanthemums—he just can't let them go—surrounding him, threatening to engulf him, the large blooms weeping excess petals. Gold and white—wealth and loss. He sits in clothing from Shanghai, tight red changshan: not too modern, not too old. Kiku wonders what he has done to himself.
You're getting Hong Kong back? he says, when the last note has trembled its last. The finger pauses above the high one.
Of course I am, Yao replies then, staunchly. About time, what with what you and England have done to him.
It stings. The accusation is not unexpected, yet Kiku cannot help but blink.
At least Taiwan has not been brought into this, or Korea.
Japan is stepping on his own blood. Yao has always valued cleanliness, but the few stains remain. It's brown.
He looks up at China again, serenity crossing the old, yet unlined, face. Should he tell him?—tell him that he was a foolish young child, garbed in black; he was only doing what he believed in.
But Yao does not forgive such damage, even if one sincerely believes it is the right thing, for the better. The greater good is a cruel, hopeful thing.
You hypocrite, he says, neither to China nor himself.
China remembers the shadow. He wishes to paint it white again.
Japan dares to near, leaving the door open to the night outside: how is it that only day avoids them, them and their lament of a story?—night gives him nightmares, for he remembers the dark, and the blood. He will learn from his mistakes, though; he must.
China does not look at him, as he melds his soul into the sheer beauty of nearly five thousand years; five thousand, he is sure, though he may have lost count. He has.
Why should he point a finger, when he has achieved power?
Kiku leans in, taps his forehead recklessly against Yao's, who doesn't stop, continues shaking his thumb, wagging it against the note over and over, bringing the other hand down, the index making water flow from the mountain. Japan closes his weary eyes, basking in what was once a peaceful life; now all he has are shreds. If he could leave the blood behind, the dreams of a dark figure that is him, hurting his family because he believes it to be right...
China kisses him, pressing his lips against his nose in a way almost reassuring.
Japan's heart flutters.
China finishes the song, ending with a mournful, accepting note, thumb shaking the last sound out of the beautiful instrument.
Japan's eyes are still closed, he sees; in a moment he is little Kiku again, feeling kami in his heart and feeling purity practically flowing through his bones. Yao blinks, doesn't smile, though tempted to (he is tempted to slap him as well, or at least reprimand him, but passion runs elsewhere). The moment is hushed, as for the moment there are only the vibrations hanging in the air, and the frail sweep of the chrysanthemums. The smog of his determined modernity has not strangled the life from their flesh yet.
Kiku's eyes open to immediately stare at him, solemnly; Yao recalls when he was younger, before he let the darkness consume him. He sighs.
He cannot forgive.
He most definitely cannot forget.
But he can remember.
He gets up, gesturing at the magnificent instrument, nestled among ripples and ripples of pure flowers. Looking up he gasps.
He cannot see the sky.
What have I done? he asks himself wonderingly, feeling as if all his years had been ripped away from him, cast among the opium smoke. The smog cannot hurt his flowers, but it can destroy the sky. He collapses then on his knees. Only he can bring himself on his knees.
Japan has seen China fall; it shakes him still.
Chuugoku-san..., he whispers.
Suddenly it is last century all over again.
The sky, he chokes. I can't see the sky.
Japan looks as well; the sky is dark, and the moon gray to nothing. Dusted pewter. He blinks in amazement, in shock he joins China on the floor; the boards creak. Chuugoku-san, he repeats.
China shakes his head, gesturing back at the gu zheng lying to the side. Play it, he says. Play it.
Japan settles at the curved seat with China, not sure how he should feel; Yao is shaking at his side, not seeing the moon; not seeing the cowherd nor the silk weaver, nor the great dragon of the river that Yu Huang Da Di's wife the Empress has made with the pin from her hair; not seeing Chang'e dancing, nor her medicine rabbit grinding herbs by the tree. Abruptly he has transformed into an old man, made frail by the years and years binding his limbs and weighing him down. He wants to escape this tragedy, be assured that he has done something fixable.
It is irreversible, but not unfixable.
He wants to see Chang'e again. Japan grits his teeth, winding the tape and picks about his fingers, peeled from his brother's cold thin hand. China, out of an irresistible impulse, gives Kiku a petal-soft kiss on his thumb. He wants to see the moon rabbit, the cowherd and his lover; he wants to see the curse laid upon them by the Jade Emperor's wife, and the hint of a bridge that she has granted them.
The past is gone, but he wants its echoes.
Japan begins to play.
China sighs softly, leaning in; Japan almost pauses, but Yao's insistent touch at his shoulder keeps him in the pseudo-reality. He keeps on playing, the tones eerie; he knows not what he is playing, just knows that Yao is there, and that Yao is his brother, and wants to see the moon again. Kiku wants to do something for him, for his neighbor, his mother, his brother.
Keep playing; China keeps his eyes open, staring at vibrato after vibrato; Japan continues playing, feeling the steel pressing against his fingertips through the tortoiseshell plastic. He decides to close his eyes; the moon is above him, and when he feels China's fingers joining his, he believes that their tomorrow will bring them back peace, if they work towards it. But the moment keeps them both anchored to the heavenly chrysanthemum room, and whether peace or the darkness enshroud them again, they still have at least this moment; create a moon, recall a night, and keep it.
PT: -Blinks- I started with one aim in mind, and explored it in depth here; honestly, I did not expect it to expand to this extent. ...I love writing China in Hetalia xD Seriously, it gives me someplace to press in my culturally-aware raising xD Ahem, anyways—
This was inspired in part by Jay Chou. And the Hetalia episodes with Japan and Greece in them. Makes me think that he almost simply threw away relations with China...and all...you know... You see, I wanted to contribute to the RiZhong group on dA; I wanted to mention Black Kiku. Also, Jay Chou's song Ju Hua Tai from Mancheng Jindai Huangjinjia blew me away. (Eh...watched part of it in its pure form on a Chinese streaming site, but it was taken off before I got even halfway in...damn.) I've recently begun playing the gu zheng, and my teachers are absolutely crazy about Jay Chou. They only mentioned him because I've begun playing Ju Hua Tai; it's the song I'm working on now, y'know. Also, if you go to the article about the gu zheng on Wikipedia, the very first picture at the very top...right now, anyway—God damn it, I swear, the resemblance to my own gu zheng is stunning—the wood is the same, the tail design is the ABSOLUTE SAME. I can't really call it coincidence O_o I based the design of Yao's modern gu zheng on my own. Also, a gu zheng vibrato is freaking awesome-sounding.
The cowherd and the silk weaver. I believe you've heard of them, from the Magic Tree House series?—I read the one about China years ago, and asked my grandparents about it; they told me stories about them, and how the heavenly Empress—I can't remember what she's called for the life of me T_T—plucked a hair ornament—the needle-like thing to pin up one's hair—and threw it, forming a river separating the two. And something about flipping over the Great Wall to find the bones of the cowherd... Yu Huang Da Di is the Jade Emperor; the priss –grins- I know him most of all from Xi You Ji, which I grew up on. Chang'e resides in the moon, and her pet of sorts is the rabbit that grinds herbs. Yep. Also...I've shown the Cultural Revolution, and Hong Kong's separation here; I hope you've picked up on that. Along with Taiwan. The colors of the chrysanthemums—gold usually appears with red, and usually it seems to represent wealth; white is a traditional mourning color, in China and perhaps most, if not all, of East Asia. And yes, in China it's so over-industrialized that in some places I've heard you can't even see the sky. I've been there three times...I can't really call China wonderfully clean and healthy, sadly.
(Also, I need to mention that if anyone finds the content offensive—as in, I feel like I'm pointing a finger at Japan for last century, which I honestly am not trying to do...I'm sorry if anyone is offended; I want to show with perspective; I'm a writer, after all. ...And if anyone asks about where I stand as a neutral mainlander about Guomindang and Mao, I can just honestly say I'm not sure if it would've been better under Guomindang, so I'll just leave it at that. Maybe like Scarlett O'Hara and Suella over Frank Kennedy, if you ever read their book, but as to which side is which...)
Sorry for the huge note ._. If you want any more info, you can definitely ask in a comment. Hope you guys enjoyed.