Chapter 1: Prologue: Setting the Stage for Sensibility
Late 17th Century
“I wanna be friends with him, that’s why I need flowers! Can you get ‘em, Iggy? Can you get ‘em?”
England handed the servant his empty dish and looked at his younger brother, who was swinging his legs back and forth on his chair.
“Yes, America, I’ll get you the forget-me-nots, but that boy — what was his name — isn’t guaranteed to be friends with you just because you bring him flowers.”
America pouted. “But Davie said he wanted flowers! The little purple ones!”
“Flowers aren’t a bad idea, but if that fails,” England thought for a moment about whether he should be telling his colony this. “If at first your plans don’t work, your next move should be to pretend to despise him. In doing so, you’ll both save face and get him to chase your friendship instead.”
America blinked. “Wha, like chess?”
“Yes, precisely like chess!”
“Iggy, teach me chess so I can get people to chase me!”
England clapped his hands together and smiled. “Tell you what, I’ll get you a chess set for Christmas, and we can play it together, okay?”
As the little blond boy left the table, his older brother got the feeling that he had just taught the young nation a very valuable lesson.
Early 20th Century
Upon reaching their usual meeting spot at the top of the hill, Japan flopped onto his back. He was exhausted not physically, but emotionally. America, a recent friend of his, gazed down at him from atop a tree branch, apple in hand.
“What’s up with your face, Keeks? You look like shit.” He tossed the apple to the other nation. Japan caught it and took a bite.
“It’s Chugoku. His attention is always on someone else, never me. Always those Westerners.” Japan flipped the fruit in his hand.
From the tree, America studied his friend’s face. They had met just sixty years ago, but he wanted to help him. Relatively new powers on the world stage had to stick together, and if Japan had a crush then by golly, America was going to help him get the guy.
“Y’know,, if you want his attention…” America briefly contemplated whether this was the right thing to do. Ah, fuck it.
“What?” Japan sat straight up, nearly choking on a piece of apple as he did so. “What is it?”
“Gotta be honest with ya,” America said, “the fastest way to get someone’s attention is probably by declaring war on ‘em.”
Japan tilted his head at an awkward angle to face the American in the tree. “So you’re saying that I should go to war with Chugoku?”
“Yeah, go for it! You get his attention by fighting with him and if you win, you also get control over him? And if you lose, well that’s just pathetic.”
“This whole method of violence for affection, we have a word for it in Japanese,” the island nation realized aloud. “It’s called ‘tsundere.’”
“Does it work?” America asked.
“I haven’t tried it personally,” said Japan after finishing his apple, “but I would be willing to carry out a trial run.”
“Well, what’re you waiting for?” America beamed. “Your soulmate’s out there waiting for you to try to kill ‘im! What’ve you got to lose?”
England looked on fondly as Romano not-so-lightly punched Spain in the chest. That seemed painful.
They were in the lounge of the building, taking a break from the World Meeting in France. Countries could be seen bickering in every corner of the room, and if one were to pay close attention, the voices of various micronations could be heard from the vents. England turned his focus back to the Mediterranean couple.
Spain and Romano had been married for a few years now, so the tsundere method of seduction held some merit. In England’s eyes, Romano had used his wit and charm to lure Spain in while keeping himself just far enough away to build an increasing sense of longing — and subsequently love.
Sighing, England wondered when such a thing would happen for he and France. France, who withstood all of England’s jabs and hits. France, who never pulled any punches when it came to England. France who, when England insulted him… insulted him back. France who, on Valentine’s Day, gave everyone flowers… except for England. France, who had a tendency to flirt with England… and then deny any attraction to him immediately afterward.
With a start, England realized that France was also a tsundere! This must have been why it was taking so long for the two of them to end up together. The method couldn’t work if they were both in denial of their love, so really, there was only one thing to do.
England had to stop being a tsundere.
Chapter 2: Chapter 1: The Beginnings of Befuddlement
England asks out his long-time crush, France sees in gray, and Romano's perceived problems are introduced.
It was the first sunny day of the month in London. England found it fit for the occasion; even the weather was signaling to him that it was time to turn over a new leaf. Mustering some courage, he chose an outfit that looked like he had actually put effort into dressing himself. Sweater vests wouldn’t cut it if he was going to try and charm France, the fashion center of the world.
Finally, he had to brush his hair. England looked around uncertainly. He did have a hairbrush, didn’t he? After some searching, he found a comb in the back of a dusty old drawer. It was made of jade and etched with gold. Surely this wasn’t his. All the same, it was a comb, so he used it to smoothen his unruly bedhead.
Before going out, England remembered that the jade comb belonged to China. He tucked it in his bag and made a mental note to return it the next time he saw him.
London looked so much more vibrant in the sunlight. The corners of buildings seemed to glitter with gold, and the cumulus clouds framed the Shard like a white crown. A flower vendor stood at the corner of the busy street.
“Hullo, could you make a bouquet for me?” England asked.
The vendor got to work. “What would you like in your bouquet, mister?”
He thought for a moment before saying, “White violets, lots of them. With a single red rose in the center.”
“You trying to ask someone you know on a date?” The vendor inquired, making conversation.
“Yes, someone I’ve known for a long time.” Watching the vendor work — his nametag said ‘Phil’ — England thought about what he should say to France. “You know what? Put a few purple hyacinths in there, as an apology.”
Phil the vendor chuckled. “Would this happen to be the same person you sent the Fuck You Bouquet to?”
England frowned. “How did you know?”
“He’s the only person you send flowers to.” The vendor wrapped the bouquet and tied it with a bow, handing it to the other man. “Good luck.”
France woke up. Paris was beautiful. He was beautiful. Paris in the morning was even more beautiful. Then he looked outside.
The sky was windy and a gray blanket of clouds covered everything as far as the eye could see, so that no evidence of a sun could be found. It was the kind of plain, consistent gray where one would even wish for rain, just to get the clouds over and done with. But no, this kind of gray persisted for days — weeks if France was unlucky enough.
Walking through the streets of Paris, France felt as though he were on autopilot. Rather than stepping along the sidewalk, the sidewalks wound around his legs and tugged him along, past homes and stores and ancient monuments only slightly younger than himself. The clouds bathed the road, the buildings in gray. The air tasted and smelled like gray. France felt gray.
The gray clouds of Paris soon melted into the gray skies of Calais, a fifteen-minute walk. He had teleported subconsciously — sipped, dashed, scaled down the distance, whatever the others wanted to call it. France was now at the centre-ville of Calais, gray cars speeding past on gray roads. Amid the pallid cityscape, he spotted a flash of color: red and violet and, ugh, brown.
The colorful figure came closer, and France could make out that it was England, wearing a brown coat — something blue underneath — a stylish shoulder bag over his arm, and a bouquet of flowers in his hand. They made eye contact. England strolled over and beamed at France. This wasn’t right.
“Would you like to go out to dinner tonight?” England handed the flowers to him, a hopeful smile on his face. France read the bouquet as, I apologize for being horrible to you in the past, but we have a chance at happiness now, so I’ve come her to say “I love you.”
France looked up expecting to see the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse riding in flaming chariots across the sky, but no.The clouds were still gray, the sun was still trying to exist, and England was still here asking him out. In this sort of situation, there was only one right answer.
With a blank stare, France said, “I’ll call you back later.”
“NO! Don’t you dare—” England took a deep breath. “I came all this way, and although the teleportation lag mat have improved since we built the Eurotunnel, it’s not that much better, so shut— so please at least consider this dinner date.”
France smirked. “I’m not surprised you’re this desperate for a date, sourcils . Not with those woolly eyebrows and that despicable attitude of yours. Who turned you down this time?”
“No one turned me down! I could easily get a date if I wanted to, you—” England caught himself again. It seemed that his newfound demeanor took more effort than France had thought. “I only came here because I realized that we hadn’t spoken civilly in a while, and just because I wanted to see my darling froggy.”
There were no words to describe France’s current train of thought, but he found that “France.exe has stopped working” fit well enough. If England wanted so badly to have a dinner date with him, then he’d humor him. He wouldn’t go so far as to be romantic, of course. In fact, England would probably have come to his senses by then, and they’d revert to their usual banter.
“Very well,” France said with a sigh, “I suppose there is no other way to be rid of you than to agree to this date. Do you have a place in mind?”
“A charming restaurant just a few blocks from the Parliament building.” Grinning, England gave him the name of the place. “I’ll see you there at eight?”
“That sounds like the name of a French restaurant, non? You’d be willing to have French cuisine, even if it’s in London?”
England scoffed. “I’ve been there before. Their food isn’t half bad. And I thought you’d like it.”
“Hmph. If you enjoy the food, it must be merde, but I guess you can’t truly live life without risking your health a few times.”
“It’s not— Ahem, I look forward to seeing you this evening, love.” With that, England blew France a kiss and walked away.
“And I’ll be off buying life insurance!” France called into the distance.
England soon disappeared, leaving France back among the gray, wondering what had just happened. It was only after their conversation that he realized that the brand of England’s new shoulder bag was French. Why would his mortal enemy wear one of his products? That was when France realized the Englishman was serious — serious in luring him in and possibly murdering him!
“Aaargh!” Another splash of red splattered across the cream-colored wall. It was an atrocious waste of tomatoes, Romano knew, but he couldn’t be bothered to care right now.
Everything was wrong with their marriage. Everything. Spain had smiled and said everything was fine, but Romano knew what he was really thinking. That bastardo would rather be married to Romano’s younger brother!
Not that there was anything wrong with Veneziano, but that was exactly the issue! Veneziano never argued, always smiled, and even though he was messy, he could be good at cleaning when he wanted to be. He’d make a perfect housewife. Compared to his brother, who’d want Romano and his foul attitude? Spain claimed to, but he saw how his husband had smiled at Veneziano the other day: like living sunshine.
Romano checked the clock. One o’clock. He should be delivering the seasonal tomatoes to the other countries right about now. Grumbling, he hauled the unharmed tomato crates into the delivery van. Where the hell was Spain?
“Wait, wait!” yelled Spain, running out the front door, “I need to take a crate with me. I’m going to France’s house. He wants to talk about something. It sounds muy important. I’m really sorry we can’t do the delivery together this time.”
“It’s okay, it doesn’t matter,” Romano mumbled. He shoved a crate at Spain. “Take it, bastardo . I can do the delivery alone. I don’t need you there, anyway!”
“Hehe….” Spain took the crate nervously. “I’ll see you back here at the farm tonight, okay?”
“Yeah, sure.” Romano slammed the back door of the delivery van and got into the driver’s seat. It’d been a while since he’d driven this. He didn’t feel right doing this alone. Looking out the side window, he saw that Spain was already gone. Oh, well. The first stop was the tea bastard. He started the car and drove forward. The sunny, green landscape of his and Spain’s tomato farm blurred and gave way to the brown and dreary cityscape of London.
Romano stood at the door to England’s house and rang the doorbell. A smiling face with striking green eyes answered.
“Oh hullo, Romano. Are these the tomatoes?”
“Sì, they’re here. Goodb—”
“Would you like to come inside? I’ve just made tea.”
Romano paused. The smiling face had just invited him in. He had other deliveries to get to, which normally took until sundown, but only because the bastardo stopped to talk to everyone on the way. He supposed it hurt to chat with just one person for a few minutes.
“Fine, but I can’t stay for long. I have other nations to visit too, you know.” Romano stepped inside and sat at the couch. The tea tasted like Earl Grey, or something. Typical.
“You look like something’s bothering you,” the smiling green eyes pointed out. “What’s wrong?”
“Isn’t there always something wrong?” He sighed, “I don’t think the tomato bastard likes being married to me. I think he smiles less when I’m around. It’s all stupid, really.”
“Have you….” The green-eyed man that looked like England paused for a moment. “Have you tried being nice to him? You know, not insulting him, calling him Spain instead of ‘tomato bastard.’ Just enjoying your married life together?”
“No….” said Romano suspiciously. “Is that what you’ve been doing, ‘enjoying life?’”
“Yes!” exclaimed apparently-England. “I only just began today, but everything in my life falls into place so easily now! The power of cheerfulness is unbelievable! Just hours ago, I secured a dinner date with France!”
“Sounds more like everything’s falling apart to me, but okay,” Romano thought aloud. “Elaborate.” And so England did.
Chapter 3: Chapter 2: Preparation Preceding Production
America takes a walk, England prepares for his date, France ponders going on said date, and Japan begins a conspiracy.
“Do-do-do, do,” America sang as he danced around his kitchen making coffee, “do-do-do, do-do-do!”
He could make out a muffled noise vaguely directed at him, but made no move to acknowledge it. He poured his liquid heaven into his mug, all the while humming along to the beat.
“Do-do-do, do-do,” He sipped his coffee and started a new dance. The muffled voice grew louder. He ignored it. “Do-do, do-do-do….”
“Amerika-kun!” Japan yanked down his roommate’s bluetooth headphones. “There’s a package on the doorstep for you.”
“Oh.” America made his way toward the door of his Brooklyn apartment. Japan had been staying over for some time now, trying to convince him into a partnership on some big “Earth-shattering” project. If “Earth-shattering” didn’t mean nukes, America wasn’t interested.
The box at the door was about the size of an office printer. America had been expecting it, but as he bent down to pick it up, a thought occurred to him. What if this is a bomb?
Before he even opened his mouth, Japan interjected. “It’s not going to be a bomb, Amerika.”
America picked up the cardboard box. It was light as a cloud, like always. He opened it on the kitchen table. Inside were several artificial sunflowers with various petals plucked off. He counted fifteen altogether.
Japan looked over his shoulder. “Didn’t you used to use real ones?”
“Yeah, but those kept dying in transit.”
“What does it say?”
America furrowed his brow. “I can’t tell you that. If you crack the code, you could use it against me.”
One by one, he read the flowers. Red stem first, then the blue stem, then green, yellow, violet, et cetera. He and Russia had been using this code uncracked for decades.
Japan poured himself a cup of coffee and sat down to face his friend. “So, have you thought about my pitch?”
“No….” said America, engrossed in the sunflower messages. “Thought you wanted t’ partner with China.”
“Yes, so if I were to join with you on such a big project, it will make him want to come on board as well. Once he’s with me, you may choose whether or not you want to stay.”
Looking back up, America decided, “Fine, I’ll do the project with you. What the heck was it again, anyway?”
“I’m building a pyramid in Tokyo Bay. It’ll be twelve times the height of the Pyramid of Giza and should house at least one million people.” Japan calmly sipped his coffee.
America shook his head. “And you’re doing this on water?”
“It’s free real estate.”
“Wow, uh, good luck getting anyone else on board with that. You’re lucky China’s fucking crazy.” America got up and threw on a heavy coat. “I’m goin’ out.”
“In that? To where?” Japan asked. “It’s spring.”
“To Russia! I wanna beat up his Commie face in person!” The Japanese man figured at was best not to wonder what the Russian had said in his sunflowers.
Three men sat around a round kitchen table, staring at a bundle of flowers in a vase.
“Yep, it’s definitely a trap,” said Prussia, sitting back in his chair. “But now that you know, you can trap him back!”
“No,” said Spain with concern, “Inglaterra is never this obvious with his tricks.”
“So, what?” France asked. He’d been the one to call them to his home. “He isn’t faking it and Angleterre actually wants to go out with me?
There was an awkward silence.
“It’s implausible!” Prussia said after a minute. “Why are we even considering this?”
“Because that scheming pirate has never acted like this before!” Spain cried. “He could be being threatened, or manipulated, or— or— What if Inglaterra is dying?”
“Well, he was nicer to me around the first turn of the millennium,” France pondered, “but what would make him think he’s dying now?”
“There’s always Brexit,” Prussia brought up. “Just blame it on Brexit.”
Spain stood up and plucked a white violet from the bouquet. He began pacing around the table.
“The real question here is: should you actually go to the dinner,” he paused for dramatic effect, “or should you stand him up?”
“Standing him up sounds like a good idea,” Prussia said. “Just think
about all the times he’s hurt you.”
“But I’ve hurt him, too,” France said. “It wouldn’t be fair to stand him up for that reason.”
“So you’re going on the date?” Prussia made a face.
“ Non. Maybe, maybe not.”
“Just make a decision already! We’ve been sitting here for over an hour!”
“I— uh, I—” France’s eyes flitted around the table like he was looking for clues. Throughout this, Spain was still circling them. All of a sudden, he slammed his palms on the table inches from France’s face.
“DO YOU OR DO YOU NOT WANT TO GO ON THE DATE WITH INGLATERRA?!”
“I want to go on the date!” France all but squeaked.
“See? We could have done that an hour ago,” said Spain casually. “Pressure always works in getting the truth.”
“So it’s a date, huh? Need help picking a dress?” Prussia snickered.
“I am perfectly capable of finding something to wear on my own.” France rested his chin in his hand. “ Mais oui, your opinion would be appreciated.”
America was halfway down the city block; the traffic lights were starting to blur, the car noises became muffled, he began walking straight through pedestrians, when he suddenly felt himself being pulled to the right. Far to the right, by a familiar hand on his wrist. The zooming rapidly increased pace, until he lost footing and all he could see was blue, blue, blue, blue—
America fell onto England’s green couch. England himself was sitting right next to him, still holding America’s wrist. Two cups of tea were set up on the table before them.
This wasn’t right. A trip across the Atlantic normally took at least a couple of hours. Sitting up and adjusting his glasses, America asked, “Wha— You can do that? And that fast?”
England mumbled something like “pixie dust.” He took a sip of tea and said, “I need your opinion on what I should wear. France and I are going on a date tonight.”
“You pulled me here for this? Hold up. You and France are goin’ out? Is somethin’ goin’ on with you, Iggy?”
England shook his head. “No, nothing’s going on with me. I’ve simply discovered a new way of courting France. In just a few measly hours, I’ve managed more than I’ve been able to in the past eleven centuries! America, drink your tea.”
America gulped down a cuppa. “Seriously, you’re not kidding? You gotta tell me what kinda method this is!”
“No, what I need right now,” England got up and beckoned for his estranged brother to follow him to his bedroom, “is for you to help me pick out and outfit to wear tonight.”
“Okey-dokey.” America followed him. “Tell me ‘bout it while we’re doin’ this then. Hey, need any help with lingerie?”
“... No, I’ll be quite alright.”
Strategy, it’s all strategy, Japan thought as he printed out the final papers. The whirr of the printer machine dimmed to a hum as the last sheet of black and white slid out. He took it and added it to his meticulously ordered stack.
Now that this step was completed, he had to move on to the next one: rumors. Japan sat down at the desk in his room and opened his laptop. Word had to be spread and attention had to be attracted. He’d need to drop hints on his Twitter and Line accounts, maybe an architectural sketch on Instagram with a caption open to interpretation. If high school girls could do it, Japan could too.
On the other hand, he’d need to plant at least one red flag that would make it past even the fortress of Chinese censorship for his brother to see. It seemed that Hello Kitty had been permitted to persist, so Japan dropped allusions to his pet project in a “bootleg Hello Kitty short film” that he conjured from scratch. The low’-quality video didn’t take much time to make.
Lastly, the most important element was jealousy. He found a photo of himself with America and France at an anime convention several months ago, and Photoshopped them onto a backdrop of a confidential-looking Japanese laboratory. The exponentially-better quality of the fake photograph felt to Japan like emotional and mental healing from creating the Hello Kitty film.
He posted the picture on Snapchat. It would only exist for a short time, but Japan knew China would see it before it was gone.
The island lounged on his bed once the deed was done, clutching the Amerimochi pillow that his roommate found both endearing and creepy. Before long, word would get around — around to China in particular. France would probably ask a few questions, but Japan could deal with that. He hugged Amerimochi tighter and sighed.
The sound of the apartment door opening snapped him back to attention. America is back already? He went out into the living room, making sure to take his bundle of papers with him. His blond roommate was hanging up his coat.
“You’re already home?” Japan asked America. “You normally stay at Roshia’s place for at least a day.”
“Nope,” America responded, popping the ‘p.’ “Never even made it there. Iggy abducted me — exactly like an alien, by the way — to help him pick out clothes for a date. Can you believe he’s goin’ out with France?”
“Nani?” Japan shook his head. “Whatever, it doesn’t matter. Now that you’re back, I need you to sign these for me. It’s confirmation of our deal.” He handed him the papers.
As America was signing the contracts, he recounted his unwilling visit to England. “And then he told me that I should try being nice t’ him! That’s— Can you believe that? Me, nice to that Red?”
“No, not really,” the island admitted.
“Still, I guess I ought’a give it a shot.” America sounded like it damn near hurt him to say those words. Japan could see very clearly that any attempt he made to be nice to his wintry rival wouldn’t go over well.
“You don’t necessarily have to be either a tsundere or the perfect housewife to get Russia to love you, like it sounds like England’s doing,” Japan said after a while of America appearing to be mentally screaming. “At my place, there’s something called a yandere. By being a yandere, you could be loving as well as violent. Violently loving, basically.”
“Keep talkin’,” America said. He was liking the sound of this. It seemed so much more fitting for him than being a tsundere.
Japan briefly wondered about the consequences of making a yandere nation, but shrugged it off. After all, Belarus didn’t cause too much damage, so how much worse could a country spanning a third of a continent with one of the largest military forces in the world and sixty-five hundred nuclear warheads really be?
Chapter 4: Chapter 3: Dressing for a Dreaded Dream
England is getting dressed, France is [not] trying to get dressed, and Romano complains about relationship issues to some tea guy.
Sorry for posting this a day late, I honestly forgot about it yesterday.
Green. Green brings out my eyes.
England and America had narrowed the clothing choices down to just three combinations, but now, only minutes after America had left, England was second-guessing their decisions.
Green… with gold? No, that looks like Loki.
The restaurant they’d be going to was upper class, the kind of dining where one would have to look a little more than just presentable if they wanted to be let in the door. He and France both fancied that sort of thing, but that meant he’d have to be dressed his best. At times like these, England wished he still had servants to tell him what looked good and what didn’t. No matter. He’d just ask the fae.
England brought his two best outfits out with him to the parlor of his house. Two fae sat on his coffee table. Marilyn was completing a human-sized puzzle while Lunette was playing Call of Duty on a miniature screen.
“Excuse me, ladies,” he said. “Do you think I’d look better in this,” He held up his green-accented suit, “or this?” He held up his red-accented suit.
Marilyn looked between the two. “ᴿᵉᵈ ᵈᵒᵉˢⁿ'ᵗ ˡᵒᵒᵏ ᵍᵒᵒᵈ ʷʰᵉⁿ ˢᵉʷⁿ ˡᶦᵏᵉ ᵗʰᵃᵗ,” she decided, “ᵗᵒᵒ ᵐᵃⁿʸ ᵃⁿᵍˡᵉˢ, ᵘᵍʰ. ᴸᵘⁿᵉ?”
Lunette didn’t glance up from her game. “ᴵᶠ ᴵ ˡᵒᵒᵏ ᵃʷᵃʸ, ᴵ ᵐᶦᵍʰᵗ ʲᵘˢᵗ ᵈᶦᵉ,” she said, panicking. “ᴮᵘᵗ ᴸʸⁿⁿ'ˢ ʳᶦᵍʰᵗ. ᴵⁿ ᵐʸ ᵒᵖᶦⁿᶦᵒⁿ, ʸᵒᵘ’ᵛᵉ ᵍᵒᵗ ᵗᵒ ʰᵃᵛᵉ ᵈᵃʳᵏ ʰᵃᶦʳ ᵗᵒ ᵖᵘˡˡ ᵒᶠᶠ ʳᵉᵈ ᶦⁿ ᵃ ˢᵘᶦᵗ.” She then began spouting Celtifc curses at her screen.
“Green it is,” England decided. “And should I wear earrings?”
“ᴼⁿˡʸ ᵗʰᵉ ˢᵐᵃˡˡ ᵒⁿᵉˢ,” Marilyn said, “ⁿᵒᵗ ᵗʰᵉ ᶠˡᵃˢʰʸ ᵏᶦⁿᵈ ʸᵒᵘ ʷᵒʳᵉ ʷʰᵉⁿ ʸᵒᵘ ʷᵉʳᵉ ᵃ ᵖᶦʳᵃᵗᵉ.”
England retreated to his room to put the rest of his clothes away. It was only five o’clock, so he had just under three hours to kill before dinner. He wasn’t a girl. He wasn’t about to spend two of those hours doing his makeup and fixing his hair. No, he wasn’t.
England went to the bathroom to find his makeup kit.
“Who cares about jewelry?”
“A watch, at least!”
“Not on my watch, kesese!”
France was lounging on his bed, lazily scrolling through Twitter on his phone. What’s this? Japan is building his own pyramid, huh? On the other side of the room, closer to to the balcony, Spain and Prussia were arguing about what he should wear.
“This one’s nice,” Spain said, holding up a purple top.
“No, that’s no good at all,” France said, shaking his head. “It’s too pretty. I must look as though I put in no effort at all.”
Prussia held up a pair of sweatpants. “Then how about this one?”
“No that’s too little effort. That’s negative effort.”
“Why aren’t you doing anything?” Prussia complained, slouching into an armchair. His companion had made his way onto the balcony and begun poking at potted plants.
“ Mon ami , I am doing something. I am trying not to try. Do you know how much it pains me to sit here and not prepare for a date?”
“Then get the fuck up here and help us! We’ll tell you if something looks like you tried too hard.”
“Alright, allons-y, ” France sighed.
They — Spain came back inside — eliminated purple as a possibility, and went through pink, red, orange, and blue before falling on either green or light yellow.
“How’s this?” Prussia brought into view an elegantly loose-fitting blue dress shirt. “It’s plain enough, and it looks good if you do your hair all wavy-like.”
“Would it look good with this watch?” Spain asked.
“Kesese, not on my wa—”
France arranged the full outfit. “Oké, so this shirt, these pants, and no jewelry.” I look like I just rolled out of bed and threw this on. Parfait.
Prussia chuckled. “ Ja , and with some luck, you might be in for a cultural exchange tonight.”
“Pfft, I don’t need luck. Besides, I would never! I despise him!” France actually looked scandalized. “This date is a one-time thing only.”
“What’s wrong?” Spain asked. “You’ve slept with him before. How’s this different?”
“Because I think he actually intends to keep dating after the échange culturel!”
Spain’s eyes widened and his mouth fell into an ‘o’ shape. “Different shirt, different shirt, different shirt!”
With that, the hunt for the right outfit continued.
Romano dropped the tomato crate on the doorstep, rang the doorbell, and dashed back to the delivery can before Russia could answer the door. He slammed his foot on the gas pedal and “zoomed” right out of the frigid country. His last stop would be China. A crucial part of tomato delivery was knowing where everyone would be living at different times of the year. In the spring, the other tea bastard should be at his southern countryside palace. Yes, a fucking palace.
The sprawling sunny rooves of the summer home appeared in view, and Romano lugged a crate to the front gate. He was surprised to find a doorbell installed there. Hesitantly, he pressed it.
In less than a minute, China was throwing open the massive red gate doors and welcoming him in. Romano begrudgingly accepted, trying to process the fact that the ancient nation was wearing jogging clothes and a sweatband.
“You caught me in the middle of a run,” China chirped. “I don’t normally go running this late in the day, but the weather was just so nice. And there’s no civilization for miles, so no one can see me wearing this.”
“I can see you,” Romano deadpanned.
“It’s also good for keeping hostages,” China added. Romano shut up.
On the way to the main house, they made further awkward conversation. The Asian asked how his economy was doing, Romano answered neutrally. He asked China how communism was working for him, China responded to the Italian neutrally as well. Then the Chinese man asked Romano how married life was treating him and Spain.
“Well,” Romano looked away to avoid eye contact. “We’re fine, I guess. Nothing wrong at all.”
“You lie,” China said. “Tell me the truth.”
“He’s not paying attention to me anymore,” Romano grumbled. “He hangs out with the sine and potato bastards all the time and when he talks to me he smiles but he doesn’t sound into it at all and I know it’s fake and I know he doesn’t love me anymore!” He broke down into tears.
China looked at the weeping Italian and scoffed. “Why am I not surprised? Honestly, I’m more shocked that you two managed to get married in the first place, aru. Xībānyá (Spain) gives you so much love and care, but do you even show him any love in return?”
“Shut up, bastardo! I don’t want to hear it!”
“I think you need to,” China said in a wise-sounding tone. “If you’re so worried about your marriage, then why are you standing here crying? Go do something about it! Win him back! But please, whatever you do, don’t do it the way you normally do.”
` Romano side-eyed him. They were at the entrance of the main palace building by now. “Inghilterra told me something like that. It sounded like complete bullshit. Give me one good reason why I should listen to you.”
“Well, you like Xībānyá, right?”
“I love him, yes.”
“You love it when he smiles and when he’s kind to you and when he does nice things, right?”
“No shit.” Romano set down the tomato box on the doorstep.
“So, logically, he’d like it when you do that, too. But when was the last time you smiled or did something nice? Imagine if you never saw your husband smile, even after you were married. Now tell me what you think.” China sat on the crate and folded his hands in his lap.
Romano scowled and said, “I will try to do those things you said, but I make no guarantees. Now, these tomatoes aren’t free.”
China reached into his sleeve and pulled out a ballpoint pen. “Where do I sign?”
“We use electronic payment now,” Romano said, presenting a tablet. “Type your credit card number here. We take Discovery or MasterCard.” China only sighed.
England adjusted his tie as he stood outside the restaurant. France was supposed to meet him here ten minutes ago, which meant that if his date was fashionably late as always, France would be here in five minutes. He’d even booked their reservation fifteen minutes late to accommodate for it. England checked his watch. Yep, four minutes and thirty-three seconds until France arrived.
England really shouldn’t be this jittery. It wouldn’t be the first time he’d had dinner with France, but they’d never been on a proper date before. Briefly, he thought back to the time they took a tour through London; they’d just rebuilt that section of the city after it had burned down for the eleventh time. It had felt like a date, it really had, until Scotland had shown up and England was reminded that France’s real trip was to his brother further north. It didn’t matter, anyhow. The Auld Alliance was old news, and England had a chance to make things right now. He checked his watch again: eight-fourteen.
France was crossing the street to his side, walking in that confident stroll that had become so familiar to England’s eyes. He was wearing a deep purple, effortlessly graceful and not too flashy, or at least not as much as England might have feared. France wove a path through the passing crowd, making his way over to the restaurant window.
“ Bonsoir, Angleterre.” He flashed a lazy smile. “Have you come to your senses yet?”
“Not by your definition, no.” England’s voice sounded borderline giddy, but that was ordinary before any first date, wasn’t it? It’ll go away in time, he assured himself. “Uh, shall we head inside?”
England could hardly contain his grin. France showed up, he showed up, he showed up! Not that I had any doubt, of course. He tried to hook his arm in France’s, but was batted away.
“We’re not quite there yet,” France said.
When they walked inside, England did the gentlemanly thing and held the door for his date. France eyed him suspiciously, but didn’t question it. The lady at the reservation desk greeted them warmly and led them to their table. Once they were seated, she listed the evening specials and went about her way.
Looking at the menu, England asked, “So how has your week been? It must have been exhausting, hosting a World Conference.”
“Non, not really.” France smirked. “It’s much easier when you have friends to help you out. Though I suppose you wouldn’t have that luxury.”
England brushed off the comment. It was nothing he hadn’t heard before. He saw France pout when he didn’t get the reaction he wanted, and England laughed. Comfortable with the atmosphere now, he made his choice and close the menu.
“What do you plan on ordering, France?”
Chapter 5: Chapter 4: Downright Disaster
England and France finally get to that date, America packs for a trip, and China chooses alcohol over murder.
The sounds of soft piano music and tinkling glasses floated around the room. White plates and purple-red wine glimmered under the chandelier light, accenting cream tablecloths and dark, polished wood chairs. Gold watches and jewelry glinted at every corner of the eye. It was a setting not unfamiliar to the two golden-haired men who sat across from each other beside a window allowing perfect view of the outside world, rushing streets and pedestrians unacknowledged and ignored.
The two men were deep in conversation, as if nothing existed but them. They spoke about topics that few others understood, about the questions of humanity and the universe. Their voices were low and their mannerisms refined. Nothing about them was grounded, peasantly.
“TikTok is not that bad,” England protested.
“Not bad? It’s obnoxious. It is the bane of my ears and eyes,” France said, stiffly in disagreement.
“Remind me again why your opinion holds any credibility.” The corners of England’s lips quirked into a smile. France stared at the light reflected in his eyes, gold on peridot green. This was bad. He was having too much fun; fraternizing with the enemy was only acceptable if one didn’t enjoy it.
“Well, it’s not as if yours is any better.” He paused as the waiter collected their dishes. They had to be careful of what they said around humans. Once the waiter was out of sight, their conversation resumed. “Angleterre, how are your brothers?”
England looked offended that the question was even brought up, but answered it anyway. “Ireland is good. Wales is good. Northern Ireland is okay. Scotland is… less than okay, but when has he ever been, really?” He chuckled uncomfortably. “What about the trio?”
“I heard Prusse has a crush on someone, he’s north of Amerique, I think. Allegedly, I know him. En réalité, I have no idea who the new guy is.” France took a sip of wine, like he was preparing for a long monologue. “Espagne, on the other hand, says that Romano has been acting distant lately. It’s true, I don’t see his little sidekick around much anymore. And while we’re at it, Espagne wants his armada back.”
“Bollocks, that sounds like the plot of a soap opera. Is Spain alright?”
Despite all of the day’s inconsistencies, France still managed to be taken aback. “What, you care? That’s unlike you. You’ve always distanced yourself from our personal problems.”
Of course I care. Your problems are my problems. Friends bear the burden together.” England grinned like he was proud of himself. France elegantly choked on his wine.
“Friends, as in the European Union?”
“Yes. So long as we are together, we shall help each other when we’re down.” the Englishman folded his hands on the tablecloth.
“Are you saying that you’ve finally come to a consensus?” France asked incredulously. “Brexit isn’t happening after all?”
“W-well, I never said that….” He was blushing now. “The decision, we’re still split on whether or not to leave….” England looked down to hide his eyes.
“You look so cute like that,” France said offhandedly.
“Really, I do?” His head whipped up instantaneously, eyes wide with delight.
“Well, not anymore,” France grumbled. “The key was in the demureness.”
“Seriously though, should I hand out with the rest of Europe more often, or is it as overrated as the tourists claim it is?” England sounded genuine enough, but the other nation decided to poke fun anyway.
“As long as you don’t plan any invasions, you’re welcome anytime.” He then added, “Just not at my place.” It was exigent that he quashed his feelings now, for if he let them continue, he might end up in a serious relationship with the green-eyed island.
“Why not? I thought we were fine with each other now. If we weren’t, we wouldn’t be here on a date.”
France scoffed. “We’re not fine in any way! Even with how odd you’ve been lately, surely you must know that.”
England started to panic. “What could possibly still be wrong? Why can’t we be together? I thought for sure I did everything right!”
France waved a hand nonchalantly. “I simply don’t love you.” There, he’d said it. Now that butterfly feeling in his gut should stop. He was doing the right thing, he told himself. Nothing good could come from dating the black sheep of Europe, only discontentment and social ruin.
“You… don’t love me?” England appeared to be taken aback. “I-I thought for sure…. You’ve been flirting with me since forever ago, we’ve had countless cultural exchanges, we’ve been through thick and thin together, how… ? You really don’t love me?”
“ Non, I do not.” After centuries of practice, France’s acting was perfect. He was determined that the nation across from him would not detect the truth.
“Th-then….” England delicately placed his napkin back on the table. “I suppose that after this dinner, we should part ways, since you only see me as a friend—”
“Not even that.”
“Then we shall simply part ways, no strings attached.”
“None at all.”
The crystal chandeliers twinkled, their light reflecting in England’s tears as he stood up to leave. His legs moved like lead against the immaculate marble floor, but agonizing as it was to take every step away, he could not stop himself. The piano music resounded in his ears like an echoing death march, the clinking wine glasses like toasts celebrating his departure. Before he knew it, the bejeweled ceiling lights were instead the gleaming glow of the stars, and he was enveloped in the safe cloak of the night sky.
England was a ways down the city street, determined not to look back, by the time he remembered, “Shite, I forgot to pay the bill.”
“You think bringing an AK-47 might be a little over the top?”
“It’s nothing you haven’t done before,” Japan said in monotone. Helping America prepare for an extended trip to Russia was like cleaning a sink drain: monotonous yet disturbing at the same time.
“You’re right. Wouldn’t wanna be boring and predictable. How ‘bout I bring that revolver he and I used to play Russian roulette with? It’s symbolic.” America was rummaging through his stash of weapons looking for something to pack. Not all of his guns were here, of course. The more important ones were kept in Virginia or D.C., such as his lucky rifle from the Revolution.
“Why not bring a new weapon with you, to make new memories with?” Japan asked, twirling a pen between his fingers.”
“You’re right, you’re right! Why didn’t I think of that?” America pocketed a simple black handgun and paused, then reached back and took another, hiding it on the inside of his bomber jacket. “Just for good measure,” he reassured himself.
“That’s the last thing, right?” Frankly, Japan had better things to do than play wingman, but it was only fair that he helped his friend out in return for the earlier favor.
“Yep, I’m all set.”
“If you don’t mind my asking,” the islander halted his pen-twirling, “how do you plan to avoid another Cold War if this goes awry?”
“I dunno,” America shrugged. “Guess I’ll just improvise.”
“Improvisation is partly what led to the Cold War in the first place, Amerika-kun.”
“I’ll make sure the tension doesn’t get too high, okay? I’ll try t’ keep it chill.” America zipped up his luggage and propped it upright.
“Somehow I doubt that,” Japan mumbled under his breath, but for all his ninja skills, his roommate still heard his remark.
“Hey, I’m just sayin’ that just because I’m in love with someone, it ain’t the end of the— Actually, I’d better rephrase that.”
“Mhm,” Japan agreed. “Now, did you get your president’s permission to leave yet?”
America tugged on his signature black gloves and swung open the door. “Eh, he’ll survive without me.”
By the time America had left, it was nearly eleven o’clock at night. They’d skipped dinner in favor of packing, so Japan was overjoyed to now prepare a midnight snack. Come morning, he was to return home. He couldn’t wait to be back in the comfort of his Tokyo flat.
Zap! The smell of burning flesh lingered in the air, combined with the sparks flitting out of the wall.
“Ugh, I will break your will eventually, aru!”
China just wanted a functioning home security system. Truth be told, he already had them in his city homes, but his more rural and ancient palaces were still vulnerable to intrusion, especially since having guards posted at every door had gone out of style. So he’d decided to start with one of the younger palaces, his southern spring and summer home which was only a couple thousand years old, and outfit it with some modern technology. It wasn’t going so well, though. The wires, like sneaky miniature vipers, got tangled in each other and refused to cooperate.
China groaned and sank into an embroidered chair. At least he’d managed to get the Wi-Fi running. He was scanning through the Internet, browsing for Hello Kitty merch, when he came across a video. It seemed hastily put together, but he didn’t mind much. It was the shady connotations that troubled him. From the sound of it, Japan was up to something.
He dug through Line, MySpace, even Snapchat and all the other social media that he didn’t care for to find what was going on. Once China pieced together what was going on, he was furious.
“So Rìběn (Japan) is working on a big project, huh? And with Měiguó (America) and Fǎguó (France), too….”
China pouted and slouched lower in his chair. What does he see in those westerners, I wonder? They haven’t stuck with him for nearly as long as I have. They don’t know him like I do!
He opened Japan’s contact on his phone. Should he call him and ask to join the project? No, too straightforward — he’d come across as desperate and jealous. So what could he do?
China paced around the worn wooden floors of the palace for what felt like hours before he resigned to call it quits for the day. It was nighttime now, but he wasn’t sleepy. No, he needed to vent to someone. But who?
He thought of the Koreas first, but they could take it the wrong way and get clingy, either of them. He thought of America next, but the recent trade wars had been putting a strain on their long-standing friendship. He could always just rant to a random human, sure, but neuralyzers hadn’t been invented yet and China wasn’t feeling like murder today.
Fortunately, he knew of a place that was always guaranteed to have drunks willing to listen to and promptly forget a stranger’s life story. With that, China headed off to England. To make the trip shorter, he drove in his car — though he scared himself half to death when he nearly hit Mount Everest — and arrived on the rocky isles in just over forty-five minutes.
He parked his car outside a nameless pub in London. The ones at the city center were most active, and with more people around he was less likely to be remembered. China sat down at the bar and ordered a drink. The raucous noise from the swarming plebeians everywhere drowned out his request, and China had to yell for the barkeep’s attention. Somewhere further down the bar, a plebeian fell out of his seat.
The blond man approached him as he was receiving his drink, and it was then that China realized he was not a plebeian at all, but rather England.
“What are you doing here, Yīngguó (England)? Didn’t you post on Twitter that you had a date with Fǎguó tonight?” China wasn’t all too perplexed, though. These two westerners somehow always managed to kill every chance at romance that came their way.
“It - hic - didn’t go so well.” England’s red-rimmed eyes were proof that he’d just been crying buckets, and China felt compelled to soothe his old friend.
“Why don’t you sit back down, and you can tell me all about it.” China gestured to the barstool next to his own.
“Ah, why the hell not? I’m out of tears anyway.” England stumbled onto the stool. “It all started back when France and I first met around 400 C.E.”
“No, that take too long. Start from today.” China leaned against the bar and waited to hear the story.