-A companion to 'Beta Fish'-
By Chibi Ra Chan
This story takes place in the same universe as my other story 'Beta Fish', I suggest reading that first, but it is not necessary to understand the events of this story. The part I is the lead up to Beta Fish and the part II is the aftermath.
I. A fantastic sequence of haphazardly associative imagery, as seen in dreams, madness or fever.
II. A constantly changing scene composed of numerous elements.
III. A collection of ghosts or spirits.
I. Before the Storm
Lady Silla stares out the window and screams. The white hot pain that is coursing through her abdomen is growing in intensity and she is barely able to stand it. Still, she watches the clouds roll in as if her life depended on it.
Her heart beats wildly in her chest and the rational part of her brain tells her to push. That same part of her knows that she is giving birth, that she is bringing another life into the world, the country that would ultimately replace her.
'A life for a life.' She thinks as another contraction hits her hard. She screams out and she is vaguely aware of one of her handmaids holding her hand.
Through the blinding pain she sees her brothers, their forms transparent and fleeting, but she knows they are there. Nabi hears them calling for her. She won't leave them again and she screams louder.
"Lady Nabi, please concentrate on pushing, the child needs you!" the midwife calls, but Silla ignores the woman. The child doesn't concern her, a child born of filicide, a lie and a horrible, horrible union.
Silla pushes again and reaches blindly toward the open window, towards the storm.
Towards her brothers.
The baby wouldn't stop crying in it's mother's arms.
For her part, Lady Silla did nothing to quiet the newborn. She could only stare at it, as if she didn't quite know what to do with it.
Yao said 'it' because no one knew what sex the child was yet, no one but the elderly midwife that had delivered the child that is, but she was not speaking. No one was, no once besides the tiny would be nation that is.
The loud wails grate against his nerves, but he does his best to ignore the sound. The child was reaching it's tiny arms out toward its mother, making little fists to try and get her to react.
She did not.
"When did this happen?" he demands of one of the maids that were assigned to watch over the pregnant nation. A woman nation was rare enough, but one that was to give birth was even more obscure. It had only occurred a handful of times in all of history. Yao made sure that his adopted little sister was watched over at all times, either by himself or by a few carefully chosen ladies and midwives.
"That Lady Silla only gave birth last night sir." It was now morning, though one could hardly tell from the heavy clouds that hung over the land like a bad omen of events to come. Yao is about to ask why he was not summoned, but the elderly midwife anticipates his question. "It would not have been proper, Gonzhu Yao, that you attend the birth of the child."
China cursed the stupid tradition and grimaced. "Has she named the child yet?"
"That is the thing sir, she won't respond at all, it was all we could do to get her to hold the babe."
'Useless woman.' he thinks darkly. Sometimes he despised humans and their inability to think into the future, or remember the past. They were so simple, learning one task or trade and using it for the rest of their lives. Nothing more nothing less. They were so different from creatures like them, cursed to live long lives and to play many roles on the world's stage.
Yet nation or not they both felt the same nervous apprehension over the state of the Lady Silla. In fact, all the woman in the room looked on at their despondent mistress with worry and fear.
Yao sighs and his annoyance leaves him, replaced by a deep set tiredness. "She has been completely despondent sir. Perhaps you can shake her temperament?"
Yao doubted it. Silla was, for lack of a better word, broken.
"Nabi?" he coos to the once tiny kingdom. He uses her human name in hopes of breaking through to her.
Silla does not answer though. She does nothing besides stare at the screaming baby.
Yao's heart clenches painfully. "Nabi, it's me, Yao-hyung."
Her once pretty amber eyes flicker to him for a moment, but they drop as if disappointed. Yao feels a stab of pain in is chest. She had been hoping for her other brothers, not him.
He stands beside her and contemplates what he should do. China isn't sure how to react to Silla now, nothing makes sense anymore.
Once upon a time she had been one of his closest friends, his ally and the unknowing subject of his emotions and desires. He could talk to her about nearly everything. But ever since the unification, things had been….well, they were different.
Nabi had become one with her brothers, Gogoryeo and Baejke. And as a result she had lost a bit of herself when she realized that Yalu and Seong would never come back.
She didn't care about anything or anyone; not her country, not her people, not him and definitely not her child. She had always been on the sidelines watching as her brothers waged war against him; against each other. Silla had never wanted to become one with them, she loved them, both Seong and Yalu.
But her people were tired of the fighting. They were sick of being pitted against the other nations, and against her judgment she fought them while the were weak, she herself had put an end to their fighting and effectively their lives.
And China had helped her.
While Nabi was simply doing what her people wanted, he had helped her for his own selfish reasons. He wanted to get Seong and Yalu out of the way completely. He wanted his little sister nation for himself.
He wouldn't call it love, maybe a strange attachment if anything, but something about Nabi boiled is blood and stirred his passions. Everything about her made her special. Silla was a rare creature; a woman nation who did not follow anyone else's rules, whose sharp wit was only rivaled by her dangerous beauty. No one owned Silla, and that made her all the more enticing.
Both to him and her brothers, who wanted her all to themselves.
So he forced her hand in getting rid of them; but it backfired. Silla hadn't been able to bare the mental strain that becoming one with her brothers put on her.
She was slowly wasting away.
China pushes the morbid thoughts away and instead focuses on the baby, which was still wailing away loud and strong.
He had no doubt that his baby was the product of the unification; it would grow up to be the three kingdoms replacement. Yao had his theories about the child and what it's birth would mean for Silla. He had hoped that Nabi could be like Lady Egypt who had her child and was able to raise him to be her replacement. He wanted so much for Nabi to get better, to raise this child and to forgive him.
But now while looking at the healthy child screaming for his despondent mother to care for him, he knew it would never happen.
"Can you hear him?" Lady Silla speaks is a near whisper. Her ladies all squeal with happiness, it was the first time that their mistress had spoken in days but Yao hushes them with a harsh look.
"Yes Nabi, the baby has such strong lungs aru." Yao forces his mouth to form a smile. Nabi blinks slowly and looks at the child in her arms as if she's never seen it before.
Her arms fall away from the baby, who thuds into her lap. A hand maiden nearly trips over herself to catch the child before it fell on the floor.
"They're crying for me." she stares out the window, her eyes dull and nearly completely devoid of life. Yao's heart aches, but he doesn't know what to say, what to do to make her feel better, to fix her. So he says nothing.
"They're crying for me. My brothers."
"Mistress, the child, it needs you!" the midwife outcries with tears in her ailing grey eyes. She turns to Yao. "Please sir, do something!"
Despite his hundreds of years of life, his status as both a man of power and the mightiest nation alive and all his fine clothing and jewels, Yao feels like a child who doesn't know what to do.
"My brothers." Her voice is broken and deadly quiet, her face has lost it's luster and her beautify while there, was fleeting. Im Na-bi, the Lady Silla, was nothing but an empty shell, shattered beyond repair.
"I want my brothers back."
Yao flinches at the words. He is unable to do anything to save her, to even help her. He was not the brother she wanted.
"Hand me the child." he demands with a steel quality to his voice. China turns away from Nabi, he can no longer stand to look at her. Even in this state, fragile and lifeless, Silla still managed to invoke feelings in him. Yao hated her for it.
"But Yao Gonzhu, what of Lady Nabi?" the midwife asks.
"Make her comfortable. Do not allow her to leave aru." 'Not that she will go anywhere.' Yao pushed back his long silken sleeves and reached for the child, who still filled the room with it's unimaginably loud crying. The lady lays the child in his arms with apprehension.
"Where will you take the baby?" she asks bravely, it is rare that a woman questions the judgment of a man. Yao knows that it is only her loyalty to Nabi, and by extension her child, that caused her to do so. He obliges her question.
"I am taking this child to the palace aru. I will raise it myself." To them it is highly unusual for a man to raise such a young child, but no one dares question him. To them he was not a nation but an extremely influential royal advisor, his word was paramount to law.
No one would stop him.
"Where are my brothers?" Silla whispers and Yao can not stay a moment longer. "I want them back."
Rocking the child to his chest Yao storms out of the room, his heart breaking with each step.
Soon enough Nabi, the Lady Silla, fades away from existence surrounded by her ladies, her queen, and by ghosts.
Her people mourn the loss of one nation yet celebrate the birth of another. In only a matter of years before her simple grace and smile is completely eclipsed by her successor. The king and queen all the way to the serfs are enchanted by the child she leftbehind.
The Korean peninsula forgets Nabi, but Yao can not get the vision of her staring blankly out of the window calling for her brothers out of his head.
The child is a boy and he is tragically beautiful, like his mother.
So much so that sometimes he is so filled with love for the child that he is unable to deny him anything. He spoils him rotten and gives him everything he wants. Yao needs for this child, Korea, Yong Soo, to love him in the way that his mother could not.
And he does. Yong Soo adores him, and Yao, despite his attitude and his reluctances, loves him as well. He was different from his other siblings, he tempted him more than he have, reminded him of things that he shouldn't want and couldn't have.
Yet there are times when the child reminds him of Silla so much that he is unable to look at him, for fear of seeing her judging him through those deep chocolate eyes.
Sometimes Korea will lay next to him in bed, his naked barely adult body breathing heavily, his skin glowing in the moonlight, and Yao will see Silla in the angles of his cheekbones and in the arch of his brow. He sees her in every flutter of his eyelashes and every inhale of breath reminds the immortal nation of his once sister and almost lover.
It is times like these that he doesn't sleep at all and when morning rolls around he banishes Korea from his bed, from his house, from his life. Sometimes for hours, sometimes for weeks, but he always calls the boy back.
Like a siren singing out her ballad of longing to a ship of lonely sailors, he always calls Korea back to him, to his home, his heart and his bed, sooner or later.
Yao knows that beyond all the childish games and irritating chatter, there is something horribly, horribly wrong with Yong Soo, just like there was with his mother.
Korea was too sensitive, too eager to please, he was too rapt up in his desire to become Yao's favorite that he hurt himself trying to prove his worth. It is unsettling to say the least, this level of devotion, and he can't help but think that he had caused it with his own selfishness.
China catches him trying to smother Japan and he catches a glimpse of Nabi in those glossy brown eyes. 'You've ruined him with your affections. You've ruined my son, just like you ruined me Hyung-nim.' It terrifies him, chill him to the bone and he knows that something must give. He can not let Yong Soo go on like this.
So he does nothing, he encourages the boy no longer. He doesn't call him to his home for tea, he doesn't ask him to warm his bed, China does his very best to sever the feelings that Korea had for him. It is cruel, but Yao like before, does nothing because he knows no better method.
Without realizing it he widens the fracture in Korea's mind. With no resolution from his brother, Yong Soo turns to his people and embraces their love instead. It isn't the same, but it is something and it fills the whole in his heart where China had once resided, for a while anyways. Until the day comes when they too, his beloved people, reject him and cry out for something more than he can give them right now.
China slowly forgets the nightmare ever happened, and calls for Korea to come back to his side.
But Korea, every broken, off kilter, fragile piece of him, can not.
The year is 1953 and a unified Korea is no more. Instead there is a North and a South and the land is soaked in blood. Yong Soo is both nations, yet neither and his heart and mind are split.
His heart reached out to be with Yao, as it always has. He wanted nothing more than to curl up besides his pretty brother and let him take care of things for him.
Everything had always been easier when Yao was right.
But his mind ran wild with new ideas, new culture. Cars, suits, soda pop, everything from the west was new and exciting. And Yong Soo wanted it, wanted it for himself and for his people.
So he defies his brother, one of the few times in his life he has done so, and he befriends these people; America, England, France and all the rest.
There are so many new things to learn, to try, new ways to live, that it makes his head spin.
So there is war figuratively and literally. War between his lands and war amongst his spirit. There is no winner on either front, for Yao will not let him go and he is too stubborn to go back on his own.
Neither side is willing to budge an inch.
Yong Soo has taken a bite from the proverbial apple and there is no possible way of going back.
II. After the Battle
Korea stares blankly out of the window. He has been like this for several hours and China is sure that he will snap out of it.
He simply must.
Korea stares blankly out of the window. It is Saturday and he has been like this for three days. China tries to talk to him, but receives no response at all.
For the first time, he misses the endless chatter of his youngest brother.
Korea stares blankly out of the window. Two weeks have passed and he has grown thin. China tries to feed him but it is no use, the boy is wasting away before his eyes and he is helpless to stop it.
It is Lady Silla all over again.
Yong Soo stares blankly out the window, into the grey, damp sky and does nothing but blink. He knows that something is wrong, he knows that he is wasting away but he doesn't care. He doesn't care about anything anymore. What was the point?
Logically he knows why he is like this, he understands what has caused him to sink into this catatonia. He knows that half of his heart is gone; that his lands have been split and his people divided. He feels as if his soul has been stretched beyond recognition but he is unable to care.
He knows that Yao has come every day to feed him, to change his clothing, to care for him. He knows that his beloved elder brother sits by his side everyday, sometimes in a chair, sometimes with his head laying in his lap, some times crying and talking of ancient nations.
Korea knows that he should feel exalted by this, his brother and his love tending to him and caring for his well being, but he it not.
He can not.
All Yong Soo wants is his other side back.
It is the only thing that matters.
It has been a month and Yao is near his wits end.
He doesn't know what to do to fix his brother.
At night he is haunted by the spector of the boys mother, he hears her screaming at him for letting her down and letting her only child down as well. He awakens in a cold sweat each night, his conscience sooted and heavy.
Just like with Nabi, he doesn't know what to do, he doesn't know what to say to fix him.
China can easily see that he has played a large part in Yong Soo's condition. He was the one who had kept him under his thumb his entire life, desperate to guard him from the fate that befell his mother. He had made sure that Yong Soo idolized him so even when he was forced away from him, Korea would adore him.
Now it ate him from the inside out. He was selfish and it tore the vulnerable nation apart. He shut him off from the outside world, he made sure that Korea would never see anyone other than him. He never again wanted to be passed over for ghosts. And it sent him lusting for other things, for the outside world, it sent him running from him.
The sick irony of the situation was not lost to him.
Korea was torn in two while his body sat and stared out of a window at nothing.
And Yao hates himself all the more.
He lays his head in Yong Soo's lap. Despite the coolness of the weather, his little brother's flesh is warm.
China sighs and it echoes in the large red painted room. There is no other sounds other than the roar of the rain just outside that cursed window and the silence is deafening to his old ears. The quiet was where the ghosts of the past lived and Yao is tired of fighting unwinable battles against ghosts.
So instead he talks.
"Do you remember when you were younger, maybe only a few decades old and I dressed you up as a girl so you could attend the maiden's festival aru? You refused to take that skirt off for days afterwards."
Yong Soo says nothing.
"And there was also that time you and Hong Kong tried to see who could eat the most rice buns. The two of you were bedridden the entire day with sore stomachs aru."
Again Korea says nothing.
Yao feels anger, as well as tears, well up behind his eyes. He takes the boy's hands in his own and squeezes so hard that he knows it will leave bruises. "Yong Soo you need to snap out of this. This is not who you are."
Outside the lightning flashes, lighting up the new split nation's face. Despite the empty look in his normally expressive brown eyes, Yong Soo was still a strangely beautiful creature. His features were too soft in some places, too angular in others, his hair was angelically fine, yet it stood up in completely untamable ways.
Even in this deplorable state Korea was a dangerous kind of beautiful, like Silla had been, and now it only served to mock Yao further.
"Talk to me aru, you've never had a problem with shutting up before, so talk! Tell me that you created something you didn't, sing stupid songs at me, annoy me with your endless chatter, claim my non-existent breasts as yours, tell me that you love me! Anything aru, just stop looking out the damn window!" He yells while shaking his shoulders.
Yong Soo blinks rapidly and with the tiniest of movements his eyes, still clouded and blank, turn to look at China.
Yao's heart beats wildly in his chest. Korea hadn't looked at him once in weeks, he hadn't acknowledged anything in days, surely this was a turn for the better.
He knew now that he had failed Lady Silla, that he hadn't tried hard enough, because he was afraid of her rejecting him for the part he had played in her brother's deaths. He had been selfish, and that had cost his sister her life. But he would not repeat this mistake with her son, his beloved little brother and sometimes lover, not again.
China raises a hand and wipes away a stray tear that runs down Korea's cheek, unnoticed by the peninsula nation of course. "Please Yong Soo, talk to me."
Korea, neither north or south, blinks. "Can you hear them?" he mummers.
Yao's eyebrows furrow in confusion. "Hear who aru? It's only you and me right now."
Korea barely acknowledges his answer. "My people." The blood in Yao's veins turns to ice, like the storm that rages outside. 'No. please not again.' he prays to whatever gods that will listen.
"They're crying for me."
But the gods remain silent and the ghosts stream back in.
"My people. I want my people back." For a moment, in Yong Soo's eyes, in his face, in his dispassionate voice, China sees Nabi, he hears her anger and he feels her silent judgment. 'You have done this Yao-hyung. You have killed me again. Why did you do this to him, wasn't ruining my life enough? Have you no conscience at all?'
But the moment ends as soon as it begins and Yong Soo has returned to staring out the window blankly.
And China's heart breaks all over again.
i. Gonzhu; An old Chinese title for someone who is considered a prince but is lower than the emperor.
ii. The three kingdoms; the three kingdoms of Korea were three tiny countries that had their own distinct culture and people, yet all were considered 'Korean' by foreign powers. Gogoryeo was the eldest and the largest, followed by Baekje and then Silla. The former two fought bitterly for many years only for tiny Silla to take them both over with the help of Tang ruled China.
iii. 1953; when this story takes place almost a year after the end of the Korean war. Yong Soo's despondency stems from the split between North and South.
That was a tough one to write. A despondent Korea is a very challenging character to write for. I hope that you followed and if I confused you, which is a distinct possibility, please feel free to send me a note or review and I'll try to explain! Thank you so much for reading!
Forever and Eternally,