chapter two


"You sold him this?" England sniffed. "I never knew you were quite this foolish, America."

America snorted, and muffled the speakerphone option, no longer wanting England to hear China's reply. England was clearly only saying so because he was jealous, because if he couldn't get the grapes, why not call them sour? "I think," America said, glancing at England pointedly, "that we're quite done here. I've made my point pretty well, don't you think?"

"What point?" England shot him a derisive look. "China, do you truly believe that America's actions mean anything? He merely sold you one of his technological farces. If you think this means the two of you are entering into some long-standing alliance or that you can depend on that two-faced American for anything, then I can assure you you're delusional." England then gave an amused chuckle and added, "Not that you're not already delusional, Yao, what with the opium and the alcohol—"

"You don't know shit." America snapped his—China's—phone shut, telling himself he'd call China after he managed to remove England's presence from his house. Two-faced American? Oh, yes, because England was being so much less two-faced by talking about people behind their backs!

"Really, I don't?" England asked, "Because you've interacted a lot with America, right? Because you know so much about him, you who insist on being as isolated as possible, on being left alone—"

"And just what," America began with a sneer, "just what do you know about America, since you've interacted with him oh-so-much?" Because the goddamn British Empire obviously knew more about America than America himself! Then he shuddered involuntarily, feeling an uncanny wave of nausea wash over him—it was all over in a moment, but what the hell was that?

"I know that he's not who you think he is," England stated flatly, "You think he'll stop selling you opium just because he promised to in that useless treaty of his? You think he's above lying just because he's a child? I would hope that one who has lived as long as you would not be so naive, or is your senility getting to you?"

America made an annoyed noise, eyes fixated on the twisted smile England wore. If anyone was growing senile between the two of them, it was probably England. "Of course you can be trusted, oh great British Empire," he leered. Then the look in his eyes hardened and he snapped, "You know what, get the hell out of my house, England."

England shot him an assessing look. "Oh, and on top of the senility, bi-polar, are we? I'm not going anywhere, China. We had an agreement, and I'll be damned if you think you can disregard it whenever you please."

"I'm not disregarding anything. Our agreement was on trade, not on whether or not you're allowed to reside in my house and steal my tea and waste my fucking time!" Was their agreement on trade? America wasn't entirely sure—yes, his own Treaty of Wanghia had been based on England's agreement, but there were probably special conditions to the British agreement that he no longer remembered. This was why he needed to contact China now, so he could figure out exactly what this complex network of treaties was supposed to be doing.

"I told you what I was here for, China, and I have no intentions of leaving until you give me an answer. Do not waste my time by dawdling."

"You want your apology, is that it? And I gave you my answer, so can you have some patience and—"

"I demand the apology now. It was a grave offence you committed, and I will not allow such a grievance against me to be left alone."

"Alright, alright, geez. I'm sorry, okay? Are you fucking happy now?" America wasn't even sure exactly what the offence against Britain was supposed to be. Something about seizing a pirate ship that was flying the British flag, right? Not that he really cared—he just needed England to get the fuck out, and the faster he could get the nation out the door, the better. It didn't mean that he was going to grovel for it, but a half-done apology might just speed things along...

Unfortunately, England wouldn't have any of it. "Could you be any more insincere? You tear apart my flag, accuse me of committing a crime I never committed, and this is your apology, China? This bullshit, non-committal, meaningless little exchange? You know what, I'll give you one more chance. One more, and if your apology isn't properly apologetic by then, don't be surprised about Canton's fate."

England, satisfied with his own diatribe, slammed the door behind him as he left.

America cradled his head in his hands, feeling ever more nauseous by the moment. The goddamn stress was getting to him, he thought, and England wanted a real apology? How the hell was he supposed to be sincere when he had no idea what was going on? Not that he didn't issue apologies when they were appropriate, but this was not the same—this was not some reparation for a past crime (he was barely even aware of what the goddamn crime was), this was a political gimmick—a "grovel to the British Empire and we won't hack you apart" apology, and fuck England if he thought America was going to grovel.

But at least, America groused bitterly, at least England was gone, and he was now free to call (and complain to) China as he pleased.

He opened the phone again, realizing wearily that he'd had three missed calls. Apparently China had called once more after America abruptly cut off their conversation. As he pressed '1', he realized that he should ask China about the existence of the phone itself—how in the world were they able to communicate at all? Where were the goddamn phone towers in 1850-something?

"Hey, is this...China?"

A long sigh could be heard at the other end. "Yes, yes. I take it you were having...problems with Yīngguó?"

"No shit. I don't even know if I have the brain cells to think about what the hell happened last night that caused this. I should never agree to go drinking with you again, you old bastard."

China ignored the insult to his age (because even though young nations were so, so immature, he didn't have time to play another round of "get off my lawn") and instead supplied, "Don't you repeat this mantra daily? 'China, I'm never drinking with you again!' or 'Damn it all, this hangover is gonna be the death of me.' And yet you join me every night."

"Yeah, and thanks for breaking the tradition, sheesh! Now we can't drink together, ever, not even if we want to. How many miles apart are we again? A goddamn fourteen hour plane flight, if I'm remembering correctly. And we won't even have planes for another fifty years..."

"Your drinking is really not healthy, Měiguó, so I wouldn't view this in the most negative light."

"Could you just shut up about my drinking already?" America grumbled petulantly, "You're starting to sound like England—'oh, you're an opium addict, a drug fiend, and a drunkard'—the fucking bastard. I don't drink that much, and certainly not any more than you do." China did drink plenty, and he'd bragged about it too, saying, "Ǎn kéyǐ hē sìshí wǎn jiǔ, zěnme yàng?", which America had loosely interpreted as 'I can drink more than Prussia and Russia combined!'

China sighed. "I'll believe when you sound less like a whiny child. And tell England that I would not have been nearly as addicted to opium if he hadn't forced it on me!"

America mumbled something incoherent and equally petulant in response to China's jab about his childishness. Then he cleared his throat and said, "So how the hell are we able to call each other anyway? Phone towers—hell, telephones haven't even been invented yet—not for another twenty years at least, so why is it that our cell phones actually work?"

"I must admit I don't know. But since the time travelling brought back more than just us—it brought back our clothes and our phones too, remember? I also have your handgun, your collection of pocket knives, and the half-melted chocolate bar in your pants pocket, so why couldn't it also have brought back phone towers?"

"You have my chocolate bar? You lucky bastard. Maybe your chant brings back whatever we were touching at the time. I think I blacked out at some point, so I don't know, maybe I wandered out of the jiudian and touched a phone tower or something."

"If that is what happened, then I am grateful. But in any case, your chocolate was half-melted, Měiguó. Absolutely inedible, and it ruined a pair of perfectly good pants. Fǎguó was not joking about you having inheirited your taste buds from Yīngguó."

"Oh man," America moaned, "Don't talk to me about YīngguóEngland, please. Why in the world do I have to take your place, damnit? And just how addicted to opium were you? 'Cause I mean, I'm in your body, and sometimes I get these waves of...nausea and stuff."

China's next words sounded hesitant, as though reluctant to admit the addictions of his past self, "Well, I was certainly...having problems. But you are a nation, so as long as some of your people aren't...addicted, the symptoms won't show up all the time. You'll have times of sobriety and...well."

"Brilliant," America muttered, rolling his eyes. "Absolutely brilliant."

"Your life sucks too," China grumbled sourly, "Or do you want to explain the persistent road rash in my—your—mid-section?"

"Persistent road rash? Oh shit, it's the 1850s isn't it? I guess that means in a few years—oh—Oh!" In a few years the Civil War would break out, and America's memory during most of the war's start had been hazy—just pain and hallucinations and gunshots and nondescript wounds. Still, China was old, he'd seen hundreds of civil wars, and this shouldn't have been anything new, right?

"Yes, meiguo, I'm well aware of what's supposed to happen in another five years or so. I'm guessing this persistent road rash is just a precursor, right?"

"Yeah, yeah. I remember now—Kansas was bleeding, that's what the road rash was. Damn. This would be so much easier to handle if we were actually the right people—I mean, I barely even know what the hell it is England is talking about, and he keeps on making demand after demand, and I just want to punch him in the fucking face and ask him to explain his holier-than-thou self better."

"I'm not disagreeing with you," China replied, "Yīngguó was very...irksome."

"Right, so why don't you lend me some weapons or money or something so that I can have some goddamn leveraging power against the guy? If he touches Canton now, and he probably will 'cause I've got no intentions of groveling the way he wants me to, I'd be screwed."

China let out an annoyed sigh. "Lend? I'm not going to allow you to run my country into debt-ridden never-never-land, Měiguó. Just because you are perfectly content with building up an army on borrowed money does not mean—"

America pouted at the phone. "Alright, fine, forget about lending then, why don't you sell them to me? I've got a ton of Ming dynasty vases and really really expensive tea sets just sitting here in my living room. If I don't sell them, England'll probably find some excuse to take them anyway. Besides, don't you want to be reunited with your taoci? It'd be awesome, and I know you love your cultural artifacts—"

It was then that America realized the light breathing indicating that China was still there had disappeared. In fact, when he pulled the phone away from his ear and glanced down at it, it was flashing a disturbing "out of batteries" sign. America cursed—the loudest he'd ever done so—and set the phone down on the table, drained. If China had been intelligent enough to teleport a couple of phone towers back, why the hell hadn't he also teleported extra batteries or a charger? Though technically chargers were useless because they didn't have outlets, but a couple of batteries could've done a world of wonders. Or maybe if China had actually charged his damn phone to full speed before their night of drunken insanity...

And to make matters worse, he hadn't even asked China what the hell England was going on about, so he was still in the dark. How else had people communicated back in the day? Letters? America cringed at the thought of himself penning a letter after a good fifty years of not writing a thing. He could touch type in his mind's eye, but penmanship? England had always complained that his penmanship was horrid. America, in turn, had pointed out that England couldn't touch type for crap, and they'd never resolved that particular diplomatic crisis. (France had offered to meditate, but that had mostly been France saying, "Oh, you Anglophones have the genetic disease of sloppy handwriting. Now, look at this, my fine French script!")

Besides, a letter would take months to reach China, and he needed to appease England very, very soon.

Maybe he could write a sickly sweet letter sucking up to England and deliver it to him personally. Then he could avoid the confrontation—and embarrassment—that would be involved in actually talking to England. Besides, he knew England was a sucker for good English (the kind with the u's and the s's in their proper places), so he would just write in his best imitation of England's flowery prose.

Dear Arthur,

You are an insufferable arsehole.

Sincerely,
You-know-who

America admired his own work, shaking with mirth. Okay, that was definitely not going to work—it was neither flowery nor sickly sweet, even though he had spelled 'arsehole' the way England wanted it. He tried again:

Dear The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland,

Centuries ago, in a small kingdom by the sea, a great poet named Alexander Pope penned, "To err is human, to forgive, divine."
The aspiration to divinity is a bold one, but we all know the gods take kindly to it when humans imitate them. Is this perfection
not what we seek in the end?

My transgressions the other day were only human, and I deliver my sincerest apologies for them. A great misunderstanding
that was blown out of proportion, and I hope you can find it in yourself to embrace the divine.

Sincerely,
Zhongguo

America cringed. That was the most disgustingly diplomatic letter he'd ever written in a lifetime. Then he groaned when he realized that technically, it wasn't "Northern Ireland" back in the day, but just "Ireland". He was going to have great fun painstakingly recopying the damn letter for England's sake (because really, it just wouldn't do to have him happen upon random hints of the future, would it?). After all the effort he was going to, England had better not bombard Canton, because if the bastard had any idea how difficult penmanship was for America...

And maybe, just maybe, he should also edit out that part where he'd called England a "small kingdom". Would "large empire" appease him? Centuries ago, in a large empire by the sea...

No, that lacked a certain ring to it.

Centuries ago, on a crammed island surrounded by sharks...

That would be good. If he wanted England to kill him.

(Fundamentally, all nations were pretty similar. They all shared that dash of greed, the tidbit of compassion, and everything else in between.)

"The entire state of California," America had said, and indeed he had made good on his promise, because technically, China had California now, post-gold-rush economy and all. He'd remembered making the journey to California back in 1851, with the news of gold, gold, glorious gold ringing in his mind. The trip, however, was a disappointment, as America had been less than welcoming. In fact, there were moments when he'd been downright hostile, though China had still managed to set up a vacation home ('vacation' being a euphemism of sorts) amid Alfred's protests.

Well, it would certainly be different now, because they were unaffected by that disturbing xenophobia of yesteryear, because that war—

A couple of misplaced time travelers, he mused to himself, and they would screw over history forever.

After America's call had abruptly ended, China had called him back a good five times. No response, not even an automated "leave a message". He realized belatedly that this was probably because America had his phone and he'd never bothered to set up his voicemail box. The abrupt end probably only meant one thing—something was distracting America, rendering the nation unable to talk. It was possible that England had started up something again—the British Empire had been such an annoyance, just like all the other Western powers back then.

He cursed whoever was distracting America from answering the phone, because he'd only discovered an hour ago that it was election season. Sure, he'd seen enough of America's elections to know a thing or two, but it would've been nice to ask America for some foresight on who the candidates were, who was going to win, and what he was supposed to do.

(Because he had a feeling this election was going to end badly. Just a feeling.)

And because without any knowledge, he could only nurse his wound, alone in his empty house. (America, for someone so young, had been quite good at keeping Bleeding Kansas hidden, hadn't he?) China thought it was quite like the old days, when he could sit alone for days and days, free to compose his poetry and drink his wine in peace.

(Then every generation or so, there'd be a rebellion, a civil war of sorts, but that had just been the natural course of things, because as Xúnzǐ had said in his advice to the emperor, the people can give power or take it away whenever they please, and what were the civil wars for if not an overthrow of the corrupt? Just natural, watching governments flow in and out of power...Everything would be made right again in the end.)

But extended isolation was a hazy memory of yesteryear, and he'd gotten used to the convenience of their modern world. Even in the most secluded forest, he had never felt truly alone, because his allies were just a phone call away.

Now, though, he felt peculiarly isolated. He couldn't travel (or at least, not with any ease), couldn't fire long diplomatic emails at enemies and friends alike, couldn't disseminate fake versions of software to needle America (yes, it had been highly amusing when Alfred had come to his house red-faced and screaming about "copyright protection" when China knew America downloaded his music for free), couldn't do much of anything.

When had the world become so slow?

And America, who was usually more in tune with technology than him—America was probably even worse off.

He could only imagine that the nation was tearing his hair out because he couldn't shoot England an email saying "hey r u ok sorry about that boat i seized dont be a jerk and forgive me, k?". To which England would complain that America had no "email etiquette" and was misusing his u's and r's like a madman. America would snap that England frequently overused his u's and s's, so who was he to complain? China remembered that the two had started this exact argument during a UN Security Council meeting, and he, France, and Russia had all quietly agreed that meetings would be much more productive if they voted to ban the two rabble-rousers permanently.

And then there was what America had said before the abrupt end to their call—"Why don't you sell 'em to me?"

Certainly he wanted to buy his ceramics, because he'd be giving himself a very useful weapons arsenal in the trade process, and who didn't want to help themselves? There was just the small problem of what would America's government think? If Alfred's people were adamantly against this "arming China" business, how was he going to convince them it was beneficial? They would never be convinced that who they thought was China was actually more apt to look out for American interests than 'America' himself.

Worse, with letters being the only possible form of communication (because there were no telegraph lines in his land yet, damn), they would take years to negotiate a single trade. Perhaps, though, he could send a telegram to a middle man, and ask them to deliver it to America. Of course, America would have no way of replying, and who could he trust to be a middle man?

There was also the fact that his past self had been...quite addicted to opium, and America would probably need advice about struggling with the after-effects of the drug.

China suddenly had an unwelcome image of an opium-high America running about with nuclear weapons.

Oh, the insanity.

"I hadn't expected the brat to be quite such a...pain."

"What do you mean, Angleterre? I'm sure you can't begrudge him for using the same tactics we're using. Besides, it just seems like he's doing a good job of currying favor. No need to be jealous."

"For heaven's sake, think about what you're saying, France! Either China is off his rocker or America really did sell him a portable telegraph-type thing. And if it's the latter, how can you possibly condone it? America's breaking our tacit agreement that no one nation should be allowed to receive 'favored nation' status! If he thinks he can hog China to himself—damn it, he's probably so incapable of reading into subtleties that he didn't even know of our implicit agreement."

"Angleterre, you are quite the whiner—seems like 'whinging pom' is accurate after all. And besides, don't you think the bigger problem here is this 'portable telegraph-type thing' you're speaking of? We've never even heard of it—when did États-Unis develop it? And why did he not choose to share it with us first, especially considering that we already have telegraph lines in place?"

England sighed. "Yes, that brings me to my next point—I think we ought to do some investigating into this device of America's. It will be difficult to get any information out of America at this point, considering how far he went to keep this a secret from us, so it may be easiest to focus our energies on China. He seemed confident when he demonstrated the device to me, so he probably knows a thing or two about how it was created."

"Focus our energies, Angleterre? I was not aware that I was included in this plan."

England raised an eyebrow. "I'm assuming your aid is a given on this one, France. After all, don't we both have grievances against China? I seem to remember you being attacked by him at some point. And as for America—we can't have him taking more than his fair share, can we?"

"True, true." France smiled vaguely, because a part of him was thirsting for revenge against China, because being slapped for expounding his beliefs had been humiliating and downright rude, and wasn't this the perfect opportunity to humiliate China in turn? "So, Angleterre, since you look like you've been in and out of China's house all of last week, what do you suggest we do?"

"It's simple. I have demanded an apology from China for the Arrow incident, so I expect him to visit me sometime soon, likely within this week. When this occurs, I will invite him in for food and drinks, and we will talk. Then—"

"Oh, so England is finally going to sit down and speak civilly with someone?"

"France," England snapped icily, "I am always perfectly civil. But that does not mean I will allow mere politeness to get in the way of my goals."

France snorted. "So what exactly are you intending on doing? Clearly you're aiming for more than just simple talking, because I don't see China telling you anything over tea. He and America probably have some form of a non-disclosure agreement. Certainly America is likely to be careful about revealing his trade secrets—he learned—and stole—from the best, didn't he, England?"

Yes, England thought, the pesky brat had stolen his textile secrets, so this was his chance for some payback. Whatever secretive little communication device America had developed, he would leak out into the open for the world to see. Information was best shared, wasn't it?

"There is no need to worry about my plan, France. I will take care of the drinks; you can handle the food. China seems to be unable to appreciate my cooking abilities, much like the rest of you heathens."

France guffawed, waving his hands about in mock horror. "Oh, heathens indeed! It seems like China is very much in line with the rest of us then. Perhaps we, in our united dislike of your cooking abilities, should declare war on you? Our goals would be to defend our health and tastebuds from the terrifying monster that is English cooking!"

"Goddamnit, can you be serious for once?"

"I am being perfectly serious, Angleterre! After all, it is not very often that you ask me for help in the fine art of cooking." France smirked, and added, "In any case, I will agree, on the condition that whatever information you obtain will be shared duly with me and only me. Should Russia come to you with requests of the fruit of our labor, you will refuse."

"Certainly. After all, I have no particular love for Russia, as you know."

They shook hands, and France realized something.

There was a package of brownish powder in England's coat pocket, and France quietly wondered—who loved the plant more—Angleterre or Chine?


notes:

(1) translations

- Ǎn kéyǐ hē sìshí wǎn jiǔ, zěnme yàng? - 俺可以喝四十碗酒,怎么样?- of course it doesn't actually mean what America thought it did, it's actually "I can down forty bowls of alcohol, so what?". The "I" used here is kinda like the "I" Prussia would use. China's drunk. ;)
- Fǎguó - 法国 - France
- Xún Zǐ (荀子) said 水能载舟,亦能覆舟 - shuǐ néng zài zhōu, yì néng fù zhōu - meaning that water (people) can keep a boat afloat or sink it (revolt)

(2) Apparently medicinal opium usage (and abuse) was common in Victorian England, even for children. Opium dens in London, however, were a thing sensationalized by fiction. Also, I just read up more on opium (and opiates in general) than I ever needed to know. Urk.

(3) Timeline of things:

- Oct 1856: The Second Opium War breaks out with seizing of the Arrow. France helps Britain because a French missionary was executed (China's "slapping" of France). The US and Russia also sent envoys but never really helped militarily.
- Nov 1856: US Presidential Election. James Buchanan (often said by historians to be one of the worst presidents) wins.
- 1850-1864: Taiping Rebellion (civil war in southern China)
- 1861-1865: American Civil War. Concurrent civil wars. D: