Warmth spread through hands that were hugging a hot cup of Shou Mei tea. North Korea sat with his legs crossed, an unusually subdued posture for the high-strung man, and lips in a faint frown. His eyes, glistening with a hint of dolefulness, were occupied with the etched drawings of dragons that circled the small, round table. Across from him, China was coolly watching him and thinking about money.
“I feel sorry for her,” North Korea said finally. “That’s what it comes down to.”
An eyebrow was raised. “Oh?”
North Korea looked up at China and began slowly, as if he was thinking through this own words. “We don’t think alike and we never will. But we both know that America is… a problem. She wants him gone as much as I do.” Then he added quickly after noticing China give him a disbelieving look, “almost as much as I do.”
“But not really.”
“Is that right?”
“He’s overstaying his welcome.”
China sipped his tea, nodding at the flavor–or perhaps the statement. “You prompted her to extend that invitation.”
China nodded again. “Right.”
“Whatever use he was to her then is irrelevant now.”
“You scare her.”
North Korea’s posture tightened. His feet were planted firmly on and the ground now and his back had become rigid. The hands that had been cupping fine china were now clenched in his lap.
“What do you want from your sister, North Korea?”
“It’s the same thing I want from everyone else.”
With a french fry, South Korea absentmindedly poked at a glob of ketchup sitting on her hamburger wrapper. A wrinkled brow told her lunchmate that she was toiling over troublesome thoughts, and when she looked up she shrugged her shoulders lightly before sighing.
“It’s frustrating. That’s what it is.”
America hummed inquisitively, mouth full of food.
“North. He’s just so… I want to help, him. I really do!” Frustration embossed her tone. “But it’s complicated.” Without realizing it, she was worriedly munching on her fries, one after another disappearing into the fry grinder that has her mouth. America watched her with mild concern. “He’s the most difficult person I know.” After a pause she added, “Next to China. Next to Japan.”
“Yeah, I feel you.”
South Korea looked down; the munching stopped and she began to frown with forlorn. “He wrote me the other day,” she started. “It was… unusual.” Whatever troubling information was in that letter caused South Korea to slouch slightly and give up on the french fries. “He didn’t ask for this,” she continued. “For the situation that he’s in. No one anticipated it would get as bad as it is now.” Then she smiled a joyless smile. “Hell, in 1960 I thought we were both doing pretty alright for ourselves.”
America watched her carefully as he listened, quietly savoring his lunch while the conversation began to tread the dangerous line between serious and seriously uncomfortable. When she looked up at him with dauntless, dark eyes, he felt a knot in his stomach (or that could have just been the Big Mac).
When she spoke again, her tone became progressively more accusing, “If I’m being honest… I know that it’s mostly his fault, but you messed him pretty bad. And Japan doesn’t make things any better.”
America stopped slurping his Cola immediately.
America was the first to break through the sound of excessive clicking as the two gamers sat in front of a plasma TV mashing buttons on their controllers.
“South Korea blamed us for brother’s craziness.”
Japan was utterly fixated on the game, eyes boring into the screen. “No way.”
“Yeah, man. She said something like…” America’s eyes narrowed as he thought back to that the conversation they had over lunch. “That we’re responsible for messing him up and, like, I dunno. She was trying to guilt trip me or something. Said we kinda have a history of being assholes. Uh, well, she implied that I was the asshole,” he emphasized. “I don’t know if there’s a PG version of what she said about you.”
“Oh no she didn’t,” responded Japan, impassive.
“It got me thinking…”
“Are we the ones who tell him to shoot off missiles over our heads? Are we the ones who force him to throw his money at his military? No.”
“Well, see, that’s what I was thinking about. That she’s totally wrong.”
“I started thinking about something else, too,” said America before hissing at the video game.
Together, America’s body and controller made a clutch swerve to the right, as if that had some bearing on the motion of his virtual character. “If we’re playing the blame game, we can actually just say everything is England’s fault.”
“Why? You’re not wrong, but why?”
“Because…” He leaned forward, stealing a quick glance at Japan before turning his attention back to their intense race. “When it comes down to it, England is responsible. ‘Cause England led to me, and I’m the one going around pissing everyone off. Right?”
“Right that I’m pissing everyone off, or right that I’m right?”
Then a jubilant sound came from the Wii U and Japan, who had been expertly composed and persistently focused the entire game, leaped up to let out a whoop. Thus began her victory celebration, which included degrading (but friendly) insults, and quite a few instances of her urging America to suck her you-know-what.
The room smelled of antique furniture, old leather books, and aged wood. Not even the aroma of red mahogany tea could mask the study’s 17th-century charm.
On the wall was a framed piece of parchment that read, in large calligraphic letters, Rules of the Book Club. Beneath it, in equally fine penning:
- Do not trust France.
- Do not speak of spoilers.
- Do not, UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES, let America join.
In the dim and dusty room, two scholars (or geeks, as they are sometimes called) congregated for tea. One stood by the bookshelf in thought while the other sat quietly and stared into her cup.
“America blames you,” said Japan suddenly, faint edge in the tone of her otherwise flat voice.
A leather bound book snapped shut, causing a cloud of dust to poof into the air. A man shamelessly sporting a black wizard’s robe turned, ever so slightly, to his friend. A large brimmed witch hat prevented Japan from seeing him without tilting her head up, though she’d known him long enough to picture the look on his face.
There was a pause. “For him?”
First the floor creaked as wood was dragged across wood, then the chair yawned as England sat down. When he began pouring himself a cup of tea, Japan finally adjusted her hat. She’d been right.
“South Korea blamed him for North Korea. He blamed himself for everything. But not really. He said that if it’s true that he’s the source of everyone’s problems, it’s really all your fault. Because you made him.”
England stirred his tea using an oak wand. It’d cost him a few hundred pounds on eBay, but he’d always wanted to be able to stir his tea using a wand. Except, he wasn’t an actual wizard, so rather than stir the tea with a spoon using the magical telekinetic powers of a wand, he had to stir the tea with the wand. It was very inconvenient.
“I didn’t make him.”
“You let him make himself.”
England swallowed the boiling tea. It burned the whole way down, but he only just grimaced. “I didn’t let him make himself.”
“But you weren’t able to stop him–”
A sudden, agitated chuckle and waving gesture interrupted her. “Let’s not be ridiculous.”
Japan leaned forward, dark brown eyes boring into England’s. “You know what I think?”
He took another gulp of tea. “What?”
“It’s all China’s fault.”
“He watches too many soap operas. He must like it when there’s global drama. Maybe he just pretends to get mad when North Korea causes trouble.”
England shook his head. “That doesn’t make sense.”
“Politically? No. But for his own entertainment purposes, it does.”
“He’s sad, lonely, and old. When you reach a certain level of decrepit-ness, you seek drama for entertainment.” She finished off her tea with a final sip before stating matter-of-factly, “It’s the sad reality of life, England.”
“Well, hold on, now…” With a small but hearty clank, a tea cup reunited with its saucer. “Not all of that is true. I mean, yes, he is old, according to history books, but he looks to be in lively spirits! And he might be a troubled bastard, but he’s certainly not a sad–”
“Plus, he gets that bad cough sometimes, doesn’t he?” Interrupted Japan. “Anyway, let’s talk about werewolves.” When she looked down, her eyes caught the arrangement of tea leaves at the bottom of her cup and lit up. “Oh, look. Cat.”
On a plane ride to Berlin, they had time to kill. England shifted in his seat and leaned into the dark haired man in the sharp business suit. “I shouldn’t be telling you this,” he began, voice lowered with hush-hush secrecy. “But, Japan thinks you’re some sort of a mastermind who’s behind the soap opera madness that is East Asian politics.”
China cracked a smile. “Tell me more.”