Warnings: A lot of swearing, mainly on America's part. Can't blame him though, he's pretty frustrated with the state of the world.
The real problem was that humans found it too easy to squabble, too easy to hate. You're different, they would snarl, and I don't want anything to do with you. Because difference—and deviation from the norm—was unacceptable, and humans were just humans, right?
"I can bet you the entire state of California that that's not possible," America grumbled. He should never have agreed to drink with China—that baijiu shit tasted very much like toilet cleaner, and whatever foods they were using to wash the alcohol down were just not helping...
"I'll gladly take you up on that," China chorused, shakily reaching for the ink pen in his pocket. "Watch and be silent," he says, and starts scribbling madly on the tablecloth.
When the Plutonians had attacked, with technology no better than earth's (they didn't even have nukes) and population no larger, the citizens of earth had continued with their infighting. continued, continued, until the Plutonians, bastards that they were, had manipulated several earthling nations into turning against each other.
And so here he was, sharing a final drink with China, each silently congratulating the other for having lived so long, each bitter, but not mourning, because they no longer knew how to mourn.
"What the hell is the point of the ellipsis at the end?" America asked, lifting the tablecloth to examine China's writing, not caring that the plates of food (glorious, glorious food) were slipping and falling.
"Don't question what I'm doing!" China grumbled, "I told you to be silent!"
"Fuck this, my head hurts too much! You—you're trying to poison me, aren't you? What the hell is in this thing?" America yelled, gesturing wildly to his drink.
China didn't respond, and chose to shake the tablecloth he was scribbling on in annoyance. Could America not shut up? He was not the only one with a splitting headache, and he was not the only one who hadn't slept for nearly a week, half-crazy and half-sick, paranoia and confusion and hollowed eyes everywhere...
But they wouldn't see this anymore, not if he could help it.
(No, they would see a past that was every bit as bloody instead.)
With a final shake of the tablecloth, the two of them fell forward, power of the drink in their veins, no longer aware of the world...
When America awoke, he was distinctly aware of the horrible pain in the base of his head. What had he done last night? Oh, yes, he'd been stupid enough to go drinking with China, stupid enough to celebrate a non-victory when he should've been fighting. Fighting, and fuck, he'd squandered an entire night...who knew how his countrymen were faring?
America leapt off the bed, reaching for his glasses out of instinct. Except they were not there. He glanced around the room, trying to search for them, only to realize that he was—he was seeing clearly. Fuck, what had happened last night? They'd drank that disgusting baijiu, and ate some pastries, which had been nice, but had done nothing about the bitterness of the alcohol, and—
Fuck. America had made some bet in his drunkenness, something about the state of California...
America glanced down, trying to remember. What had he bet last night? Was it real, was all of this—something was off about...his bed covers. Since when had he ever had silk red bed covers? He'd remembered phasing out all the red in his closet during the Cold War, because fear and paranoia had taken over his mind, and he nearly laughed at the hysterics of it all—that red, a mere color had scared him so.
It wasn't real, just a damn color, and now he was seeing it everyday, mostly his own, but sometimes he'd remember—
"You're not a fucking magician, so don't delude yourself. If you can make us a goddamn time machine, I'll—I'll—"
"You—you really want to make a bet?"
"I can bet you the entire state of California that that's not possible."
A time machine. And he wasn't at the jiudian China had brought him to, so did that mean they'd succeeded? He was about to swear some more when he heard a sharp knock at the door.
Except this wasn't his house—fuck—where was he? It took him a good ten minutes to find the door, and when he opened it—
Fuck, it was England, and he was so sure the nation had disappeared in a crazy showdown with Russia, and here he was, looking like he hadn't had a single scratch on him.
"England..." he breathed, not noticing that his own voice sounded very, very off, "You're alive, all this time, all this fucking time and you couldn't have given me a heads up?"
"China," England greeted, voice flat, "Of course I'm alive. What made you think otherwise?"
"China?" America asked, "He's alive, man, drunk as hell last night, but alive and kicking. And you," America laughed, voice bordering hysteria, and grabbed England's shoulders, wrapping the nation into a hug. "Everyone thought you were dead."
Then he realized. A time machine. A fucking time machine, and that was why England was alive, why England was at his door, dressed in—pirate gear? Just what year were they in again? China hadn't mentioned any exact years, and he hadn't asked, being too tired and drunk and caught up in his disbelief to bother.
"So England," he mumbled, pulling away because this wasn't the right England and it looked like this England-of-the-past was freaking out over his sudden show of affection. "What brings you here?"
England glared at him, nose tingling at the stench of alcohol. "I think you should know already. I told you I expect an immediate release along with an apology. If you don't deliver..."
America stumbled back, confused. An immediate release? Of what? He was clearly at some time where England was still feeling hostile towards him, still...he brushed his hands through his hair, hoping to calm himself down. Wait. His hair—there was something different about it—the texture was—it was—his hair was long and it was dark and—since when had his hair ever been black? And then England had mentioned China at the door, as though he were greeting him...
"Wait, England," America began, hoping to buy time.
"If you don't deliver...I will be forced to bombard Canton."
Bombard Canton? Canton, that city...America remembered how he'd been hiding out under it all last month, because it was too fucking dangerous to leave. His leg had been broken, and he'd been really, really glad that they were working together at last, even if they were the only ones left. China had built a massive underground network beneath Canton, just like the one beneath his San Francisco hills, and they'd hid there, hid the wounds that were growing by day and drank their sorrows away by night.
"You're not bombarding anything," America snapped, unable to help himself. It was illogical to blame this England, wasn't it? This England didn't fucking know, didn't understand just how important it was...
"So that means you'll be releasing them, hm?" England smiled, but America realized it lacked the warmth he usually saw on England's face.
"Right, whatever," he mumbled.
England looked at him expectantly. Then he took a step in and asked, voice leering—"You're not going to invite me in, China?"
America stared, confused, but moved aside to allow England in. England hadn't ceased with calling him China, so either England thought he was China, or he actually was China. Either way, he had to get into contact with the real China. He reached for his pocket instinctively for his cell phone—and then realized that there were no phone towers back in the day. No damn phone towers, and cell phones would surely be useless.
"Fuck," he mumbled, annoyed at himself for forgetting that he was in the past. When had telephones been invented again? 18—1870 something? But what year was it now?
"I didn't know you were one to swear, China," England stated, "Or that you'd picked up on an American accent."
"Well," America began, feeling frustration creeping upon him, "Clearly you don't know anything about me."
If he was being forced to masquerade as China, then where was the real China? The only logical conclusion he could come up with was that China was, well, him. That meant he had to contact himself somehow, so...
"No," England agreed easily, "I obviously don't. After all, I didn't think you were the type to go back on your word. Remember that treaty we had a decade or so back?"
A treaty that China had made a decade or so back? Well, this was his chance to figure out what year they were in, hopefully without weirding England out.
"Remind me again, England," America began, "we had a treaty? When was this?"
England narrowed his eyes. "The 1842 Treaty of Nanjing. Forgetting already? Or is this just your attempt at wheedling—"
A decade from 1842, so it was now close to the mid-1850s? Which meant that telephones hadn't been invented yet, which meant that if he wanted to contact the real China now, he was fucked. How else had they communicated back in the 1800s? Telegram? He glanced around the room, trying to assess if he should leave England alone in it. The room was sparsely furnished, so maybe it wouldn't matter? "I need to do something," he announced, "Stay here if you want. Or come with me, whatever."
He turned towards the door, and heard England say, "Are you usually this rude with your guests? I just arrive, and you immediately make your exit."
"Well," America snapped, not bothering to face England, "I already told you that you don't fucking know me."
He slammed the door behind him.
America wanted to gloat—the conversation had been so sickly sweet it was disturbing, and England was probably still reeling from the shock that anyone would dare to be so rude to him. Well, fuck this England and his Victorian era politeness, America decided, because whatever beef he was having with China in the late 1850s, America just didn't give a shit. His future—their future was in the balance, and the disunity they'd shown year in and year out had been the very reason for their current predicament.
He realized, far too late, that there were no telegraph lines in China in the 1850s.
Damn, he growled, sickened. He'd spent the past half hour wandering aimlessly around the city, and it was all for naught. He needed some fucking alcohol, but he couldn't, he just couldn't waste another night like that. How the hell was he supposed to get into contact with the real China? He remembered the Treaty of Nanjing, mainly because he himself had signed a similar treaty with China two years later, so handling England wasn't going to be a problem. And...if he'd signed a similar treaty, perhaps it was possible that the real China in his body would be around here somewhere!
He just needed to—
"China." England again? Fuck, how had the nation found him?
"Don't you think," England began, grabbing a hold of China—America's arm, "don't you think it's more than a bit rude to leave your guest inside your house while you wander around mumbling like a drunkard?"
"Hey!" America protested, pulling his arm back in anger.
"In fact," England snorted, "I don't even see why you're bothered by opium when it's clear that your problems are alcoholic in nature."
"Look, fuck off, will you? I gave you what you wanted—"
"You've hardly apologized," England said, voice grave, "and that was one of my conditions, was it not?"
"And I will apologize," America snapped, placing an emphasis on will, "if you'll kindly stop following me."
"Leave you alone?" England asked, lips twisting into a sneer, "You don't think we've left you alone long enough? Do you—" England lowered himself to America (China)'s height "—do you really think isolationism would do you any good? Because you really know what you're doing, right? You, piss drunk and half high, standing in the middle of the—"
"Look," America growled, "I need to talk to America." And he wasn't half-high, damn it, even if he'd just smoked some pot a couple nights back. China had frowned with disapproval, but he hadn't given a fuck, because what was there to care about anyway? Everything was shot to hell and back, and even all the fighting they were doing was useless, pointless, and simply disgraceful.
"And why, pray tell, would you need to speak with that dastardly fool?"
America snorted, echoing England, "And why, pray tell, would you need to know? I'm going to look for him, and if you want your damn apology, kindly stay away from me."
America whirled around, annoyed. This England was so fucking smarmy and condescending and arrogant it was damn difficult to keep his composure. Even the England in his memories had never been quite like this.
To make matters worse, he had no idea where he was going—he could only hope that the real China was hanging around somewhere nearby, as he vaguely remembered himself signing a couple treaties in China close to this time. It would be highly unfortunate if he had just left...But then again, England had asked him why he would need to speak with America, not questioned his sanity in wanting to do so, which meant that America, who housed the real China, was probably nearby. America shook his head with excitement, maybe there was a chance, some fucking hope after all!
The last five hours had been a disappointment, because he saw no signs of...himself. Perhaps he really had left, perhaps he was hiding in some difficult-to-find location, perhaps...America closed his eyes, kneading his head, it was time to go back. Go back to his newest temporary house, one of China's numerous old residences, go back and deal with a disgustingly annoying England.
As soon as he'd opened the door, he saw a familiar scene—England was sitting at the nearest table, sipping tea with an eerie calm.
"Have fun?" England asked, nonchalant.
"Fuck you," America snarled, bitter at the wasted afternoon, the wasted day, and the piss poor excuse of an entire week. Then he looked around—Well, this scene was familiar, wasn't it? Tea, tea, and more fucking tea, except this time he'd actually have to drink it, before England started to accuse him of being a fraud.
"You shouldn't drink so much, China," England replied smoothly, "A drug habit is more than enough, don't you think?"
America ignored England's jab about his alcoholism and yelled, "Who the hell said you could help yourself to my tea?" Well, technically it wasn't his tea, but what kind of guest just grabbed whatever they wanted from the host's house without asking? He was sure that England and China had never been close enough to share food just like that.
England shrugged. "For someone who is rude enough to leave the room when a guest is over, do you really have the right to complain about me helping myself to some drinks?"
America was about to yell back something equally rude when he realized that his (or, he supposed, China's) cell phone was vibrating. Vibrating, when there were no phone towers. What the hell was going on? He quickly sat down and slid his phone out from under the table, glancing at it surreptitiously. It was a text from 'America'.
02:30 # call me. we have a problem.
No fucking kidding, they had a problem. He glanced up at England, who was looking at him oddly. And on top of the problem, he had a mad England staring at him. America hastily grabbed a teacup and looked around the collection of tea bags England had amassed on the table. China had been a particular fan of oolong cha lately, but who knew what the nation liked back in the 1850s? Longjing cha, perhaps? He hesitated, and realized that England was still staring at him.
America looked up, meeting England's gaze, and snapped, "Did anyone ever tell you it was impolite to stare?"
"It does not take this long to select a tea," England stated evenly, "Or are you no longer interested in hong cha?"
"It's not any of your business how long I take to select tea. Clearly," America cleared his throat, realizing that he was actually going to be lecturing England on how his tea-drinking was all wrong, oh, it was fucking hysterical. "Clearly, you have absolutely no taste in tea. Hong cha," America continued, fully realizing he was making up a lot of bullshit, "should only be drunk at a wedding ceremony, when couples are about to be joined together in life and death."
England raised an eyebrow, and America shuddered when he realized the cell phone was vibrating again.
Forget rudeness, he thought, rising. "Excuse me for a moment."
But England didn't miss a beat, and stood at the same time, grabbing his arm. "I've had enough of this, China. We will sit down and talk, like civilized beings."
America pulled back, anger rising. "You wanna talk? You who have been stealing my tea—you fucking tea thief! You know what, you want to talk—talk to this guy—" He speed-dialed the real China (apparently his guess of '1' was correct, but then again, how could it not be?—they were the only ones that were still fucking alive) and switched the phone to speaker.
"Wei, meiguo," he murmured in vaguely accented Chinese, "talk to yingguo for me, will you?" America wondered if England had been able to decipher his Chinese—hopefully not, as it had been a damn difficult language to learn (but all they'd had in between their drunkenness and bloody brawls with the enemy was time, and time was all it took to master a language), and the single decade since that ban on foreigners learning the language had been lifted was probably not enough for England to attain any fluency.
"Talk to who?" England asked, thoroughly confused.
America gestured to the object in his hand, grinning for the first time that day. "It's a portable voiced telegraph machine, recently invented." He nearly added 'by yours truly' when he realized that he wasn't the right nation anymore.
"What?" echoed the voice in the phone, "I—listen, is this...meiguo?"
"Yeah," America answered, "It's me alright. Listen, can you curse England out in his language?"
America could hear China breathing on the other end, probably trying to figure out their situation. Couldn't the nation just come up with some bullshit so that England could shut up? Maybe something like—
"Do you really need my help in that department?" China asked, and America winced because really, China knew his cursing tendencies a bit too well. (But it wasn't his fault, because how the hell were you supposed to compose yourself when you saw your own limbs being torn apart day by day and couldn't control any of it? Besides, he knew China cursed too, just not in English, and the two of them could easily trade only swear words in an entire day.)
"What the hell is this?" England asked, alarmed, "A portable telegraph machine—you don't even have telegraph lines, China, how did you—"
"I sold it to him," the voice in the phone answered smoothly.
"And who the hell are you?"
"You don't remember me, England? Really? Me, that bastard of a colony who somehow kicked your ass in battle after battle? Am I that unmemorable?"
America snorted, wondering if China was grinning in mad amusement at the other end, because he sure as hell sounded like he was. And they had time now, didn't they? Time to joke, time to laugh, time to really appreciate life without hiding underground with filth and dirt and mud lining their fingers, time, so much fucking time that he might just go giddy with glee.
- hong cha = black tea, where hong = red. It's named for the color of the tea, but in English it's named for the color of the leaves. I have heard that baijiu (not white wine) is nasty. A jiu3 dian4 (酒店) is a fancy restaurant + hotel. When I was younger I used to think they only served alcohol (jiu3 = alcohol and dian4 = store), but I have since learned that's not the case.
- mei3 guo2 (美国) is America, ying1 guo2 (英国) is England (but it also means the UK, the word's usage is hella complicated; basically it dates to pre-1707 union England, and thus the term has survived to somehow refer to both England and the UK. The UK's literal name is lian2 he2 wang2 guo2 (联合王国), but I never hear anyone use that, most people just use ying guo. England also has a full name ying1 ge2 lan2 (英格兰), and ying guo is really just an abbrev of that). Fun facts: ying = heroic, mei = beautiful. Sorry America, but China doesn't think you're a hero. :P
- The treaty the US signed with China was the Treaty of Wangxia (1844), signed two years after the UK's Treaty of Nanjing (1842). More on both treaties later.
- In Oct 1856, Chinese officials seized "Arrow", a ship they thought was engaging in piracy under the British flag. The British demanded an apology and that its crew be returned. The crew was returned, but the apology wasn't issued, and so the British bombarded Canton. England is essentially in the middle of negotiating this.
- The first telegraph lines didn't reach China until the 1870s. America was thinking of his own history, where telegraph lines existed in the 1850s.