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those old glory days

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China doesn't expect the knock on his door on New Year's Eve.

These days, he spends his new year with Beijing. Chunyun has made it hard for the provinces and the cities to come spend the new year with him (though they'll all speak on webcam on New Year's Day), so Beijing is usually the only one who makes it, because they live in the same city. As for his siblings...it's been more than three hundred fifty years since he's spent the new year with Japan and Korea, more than one hundred fifty since he's spent it with Hong Kong, and more than one hundred since he's spent it with Taiwan, and they all have their own people to celebrate the new year with, these days. Beijing's already arrived, so China has no idea who is knocking on his door.

He doesn't expect to see Xi'an through his peephole, and when he opens the door, for a moment, China thinks he's gone back in time. He hasn't seen Xi'an wear anything like that for...more than twelve hundred years, but if he had gone back in time, he wouldn't be in this flat, holding the door, and she would be wearing bright and beautiful silk, with elaborate hairpieces holding her hair up, not something that would likely have been worn by a servant in a wealthy household.

"仁兄," she says in her topolect, greeting him with a traditional curtsy, and he wants to hug her. It's been a long time since anyone's greeted him in this way, and he hasn't even realized that he's missed it until now. But he doesn't hug her, because a woman like the one before him deserves more respect than that, so he returns her curtsy with a traditional bow, all the while feeling foolish because he's not wearing the clothing these actions demand.

"賢妹, come in. It's been a long time since I've seen you in that style of clothing," China replies in her topolect. Xi'an smiles and enters the flat, then lets go of her luggage and spins once in the foyer.

"Do you like it?"

China smiles. "Of course I do. When I first saw you, I thought that we were once again living during the height of the Tang Dynasty. You were the most radiant woman I have ever seen then."

Xi'an ducks her head and curtsies in thanks. "Some of my people sent me this set of clothing as a gift for the new year. It's been so long since I've worn something like this—they are really kind-hearted people."

"Though the last time this was in fashion, there wasn't such a huge bow at the front," China says, gesturing at the bow.

Xi'an laughs lightly. "They've tried their best. They weren't the ones who lived during that period, after all, and no one back then ever thought to leave a manual on how to wear clothing."

China smiles at her.

"大哥, who's at the door?" they hear, and they look toward to the source of the words to find Beijing, who continues. "Oh, it's you."

Xi'an sniffs and says in Standard Mandarin, "You've just said what I was thinking."

"What are you doing in that?" Beijing asks, gesturing to her clothing. "We are in the 21st century now."

Xi'an harrumphs. "I might be the capital of a 'backward' province now, but you, Beijing, were merely a little provincial city for a thousand years. When I was 大哥's capital, he was at the height of the world. You are just a city who's been a gateway for people who wanted to invade 大哥, whose tenure as capital has seen most of the worst destruction of 大哥 in his life."

Beijing rolls his eyes. "Says the hag who doesn't have much to boast about now except for her history as a former capital. Only those who can't keep up remain stuck in nostalgia about their pasts."

Xi'an laughs harshly. "If you had some history to boast about, you'd be using it to counter my words. You may be 大哥's capital now, but I'll always be 大哥's 京城."

"Stop!" China raises his voice over them, and they fall silent. "Today is New Year's Eve, and two of my most important cities have come to spend this important day with me. If the two of you care for me at all, you will not fight in my presence."

Xi'an curtsies to China, then says to Beijing, "For 大哥's sake, I won't argue with you in his presence." Beijing gives her an abrupt nod and replies, "Same."

"Then, Beijing," China says, "will you go prepare one of the other guest rooms for your older sister?" Beijing nods and reluctantly leaves the foyer. China turns back to Xi'an and switches back to her topolect. "I apologize for his behaviour, 賢妹, though you didn't need to goad him, and you knew that your outfit would."

Xi'an pouts. "But I wanted to spend the end of the year with 仁兄 while wearing this!" And then, in a smaller voice, "You loved me the best then."

By now, China is used to the jealousy between the prominent cities that have been his capital at some point, though he still doesn't know how to, or if he even can, mitigate it. He sighs. "All of you are important to me in different ways. Don't tell anyone else, but you will always be my 京城, alright? No one will ever take that title from you."

Xi'an's answering smile is beautiful, and China sees in her expression, coupled with her clothing, a glimpse of the woman she had been at the height of the Tang Dynasty, a woman who intoxicated his people and foreigners alike. He has the sudden urge to give her an outfit that she really would have worn during that time, so he can once again see that woman.

"仁兄," she says, "will you call me by the name I used when I last wore this kind of clothing? The name of your 京城, as her people knew it. It's been a long time since I've heard it, since I thought I would have another opportunity to hear it. Please, just once during this visit."

It's been a very long time since he's spoken in Middle Chinese, but China will never forget her name from then. Under that name, she had been his greatest pride for a long period of his life and is still one of his greatest prides now.

"長安," he says, and she ducks her head, smiling.

"I'm glad I've always been yours when I'm strong, 仁兄."

10.02.13