There had been talk of a bomb. Horrible rumors about what it had done spread like shockwaves from the epicenter. China couldn’t know what had happened, truly, except that lately, he had felt sickness coming up on him like a wave.
Perhaps it was a few days early to arrest Japan, but that didn’t mean he couldn’t check in on him.
The air was wrong. The ocean curdled around the edges of the path at China’s feet. Even the jagged trees of Japan’s garden cried out like skeletons pressed against the shrouded sky.
How wrong it was that Japan’s door should stand open with nobody around to watch it-- how unnatural that no barking greeted China when he stepped inside. Wind hummed to him from the depths of a corridor, idly flipping the pages of a book that had been left open on a table. He followed where it beckoned. Beside the book, he found a cup of tea. Full. Untouched. Cold.
How wrong it all was.
A whimper fell from the empty air, and China dove after it, into a darkened room. Another whine told him the suffering wasn’t human or nation. Beneath the nightstand, shivering and withdrawn, growled Pochi in defense of his master’s home. The dog appeared to want to get to his feet, although whether he wanted to attack or flee, China couldn’t be sure. Whatever the case, the dog clearly lacked the strength to do either very effectively.
China let him be while he crept through the rest of the house in search of Japan, or any sign of where he might have gone.
A draft guided his fruitless search until he reached Japan’s office, where the wind wheezed in and out of an open window. Papers littered the floor in a strewn mess. Several of them fluttered weakly from where they were pinned beneath Japan’s overturned chair. There had been a vase of white lilies on Japan’s desk, but now they lay withered on the floor in a loose bed of dirt. Black ink dripped over the edge of the desk from a toppled bottle, darkening the soil and ruining the rug where it splashed against it, one sluggish drop at a time.
There was so much mess to take in that it took China several long seconds to see the blood.
It was spattered against the papers, against the bone white of the lilies, coughed up and out of someone again and again. A puddle of it had congealed on the rug, nearly as dark as the ink. There was a smear of it spread across the arm of the overturned chair.
Something horrible had happened to Japan.
China searched the house over once more, his heart pounding frantic worry into his chest. Japan hadn’t disappeared. He was far too young. He was somewhere else, still alive. Still alive. China darted outside and searched for a path that would lead him to Japan, rooting deep into his focus, digging desperately for the heart of him.
There was nothing. Japan was nowhere to be found.
Numbly, China returned inside. He moved through the house, feeling more like he was inside a crypt than a home, and when he found the bedroom again, he knelt by the nightstand just as solemnly. “Pochi,” he whispered, reaching out to the shivering little animal that cowered there. “Here, boy. It’s alright.”
The dog gave a half-hearted growl, and then crawled forward, warily sniffing China’s fingers. Finally, he let out a tired breath and rested his tiny head in China’s palm, looking up at him, hesitant, trusting.
“That’s a good boy,” China sighed, pulling the weak, shivering dog into his arms. “I’ll take care of you until I find him. Don’t you worry.” He drifted outside, absently patting Pochi’s fur. “I’ll find him. I will. He’ll be home soon.”
China was not an impatient man. That was the fact of the matter, and anyone who knew him would be in agreement with that particular assessment of his character, whatever else they thought of him. For this reason, he was able to conclude with absolute certainty that a meeting had never taken more time to arrange.
Of the nations that had even answered the phone, only Russia had been willing and able to drop everything to discuss Japan’s disappearance. That had been where China’s fortune had ended. Most everyone else had been most tragically and regrettably busy-- although China could scarcely imagine what could be so important that they couldn’t set aside a few hours to discuss the fact that one of their fellow nations was missing-- and of those, America had taken several days to even respond to China’s calls.
Another handful of days passed while the invited nations argued about whether or not Germany should be allowed to attend the meeting, or even be informed of Japan’s disappearance at all. It seemed he had been completely put in the dark by those that controlled him, and that they intended to keep him that way. By that point, China couldn’t find it within himself to care what they decided to do about Germany.
All that mattered to him was finding Japan.
After far, far too long, there came the day when he stood in front of those with whom he had allied himself throughout the war, with the addition of Italy and Romano, and was finally able to tell them of what he had found.
There was a long pause once he had finished, and nobody knew where to rest their eyes.
“So,” Italy hesitantly started. “He’s… He’s really… missing. I really hoped he would have turned up before the meeting, you know? But he’s still...”
“How terrible,” said Russia, his mouth a firm line. “Just terrible. It’s a shame that America had to be so rough with him. Really, I wouldn’t be surprised if he dissolved--”
“That wasn’t my idea!” America shot back. His face was entirely red. “Nobody told me that was gonna happen!”
“Well, it did, and now Japan’s missing,” China cooly reminded him.
“Last I checked,” America retorted, “Russia just finished up an invasion over there, so why don’t you stop looking at me like I’m the bad guy here and check with him, instead?”
“Pointing fingers already,” Russia tutted. “You twist reality. It was no invasion. That was a relief effort,” he said, causing America to roll his eyes.
“Sure, yeah, relief effort. Trying to relieve him of his land, more like it.”
“We see the worst of ourselves in those around us, now don’t we?” said Russia.
England huffed and shook his head, knowing that he had to reroute the discussion before it devolved further. “Look, it was almost time for us to go and make Japan own up to what he’s done, right?” he said. “He’s probably off hiding somewhere. I say we let him be. It’s not like he can do us much harm, now. He’ll turn up sooner or later.”
“Oh, that’s rich,” Romano cut in, trembling minutely in his fury. “Japan? Run away? Are you fucking serious? He’d die first.”
France had to be the first to break the harsh silence that had followed Romano’s words. “Well, assuming he didn’t die,” he said, “and assuming he didn’t run away, where did he go? China said his house was a mess.”
China frowned deeply, but nodded all the same and said, “It looked like he’d been taken.”
“But who would do that?” America asked. “What would anyone have to gain from kidnapping him?”
Romano shot him a sidelong glare and said, “Weren’t you guys planning on kidnapping him soon, anyway?”
“Arresting him,” England curtly corrected him. “And your point only adds to the evidence that it wasn’t any of us. He was going to be under our watch soon, so there would be no reason for any of us to capture him before then.”
“Oh, I wouldn’t say that,” said Russia. “It’s entirely possible that someone in this very room might be keeping him hostage-- or, perhaps, trying to protect him, somehow. Maybe someone didn’t want him to get arrested,” he suggested, pointedly not looking at Italy or Romano. “Or--and this is just an idea-- maybe someone’s been taking care of him out of guilt and doesn’t want anyone to see how bad off he really is.”
America glowered at Russia from across the table. “I’ve got some theories of my own,” he bit out. “Like maybe, just maybe, someone’s holding him ransom hoping for a little cut of land. Golly, I wonder who’s shown interest in Japan’s land, lately!”
“Um, I have an idea.” As Canada spoke, several nations seemed to remember that he had been in the room with them the whole time. “I think it’s much more likely that Japan’s own people are keeping watch over him somewhere. He’s-- He’s probably hurt,” Canada continued, glancing apologetically at his brother. “And his superiors probably knew we were planning to take him in soon. I bet he’s just being looked after somewhere secret.”
“Always the voice of reason,” said France, patting Canada on the back. “I think he has a point. Japan is probably fine.”
“Besides,” said England, “Isn’t it his people’s job to keep track of him? It’s worrisome, nobody’s denying that, but we all have duties to fulfill. It’s not our place to go out looking for him when he may not even want to be found.”
“So you’re not going to help,” China stated, scanning the room. “None of you?”
“I think we should all look for him, when we get the time,” Russia suggested. “Just in case.”
“I’ll help, too!” Italy called out. “I have a really bad feeling about this…”
“You can help from your house,” America told him, crossing his arms.
“That was part of the deal,” said America, eyeing him warily. “You’re with us, now, so you play by our rules.”
“He’s right,” England agreed. “Minimal contact with Germany and Japan. That was our agreement, so if you want to go look for him, you take one of us with you.”
“And how long are you going to treat us like we’re common criminals?” Romano retorted. “The war’s over! He was our friend!”
“Was,” said England. “Past tense. He’s not, anymore, so I suggest you remember where your loyalty lies.”
France shot England a cross glare and said, “That’s far too harsh. Think about how you would feel, in their shoes. I don’t see why we can’t let them help.”
“I don’t see where they’ll find the time,” England shot back.
“And I don’t have time to deal with your politics,” China huffed, getting to his feet and gathering his things. “I’ll find him myself, if I have to. The rest of you can rot.” With that, he left the table.
“Meeting adjourned, then, I guess,” Canada sighed as the others rose in a cloud of discord.
While the rest of them continued to bicker about whether or not Italy and Romano should be allowed to undertake their own investigations, and further about whether or not Germany should be told about any of this at all, Russia hurried to catch up with China.
“I hope you know that you have my full support,” he told him, resting a hand on his shoulder in hopes of slowing him down. “This whole situation-- it truly is a mess.”
China took a breath. “Thank you, Russia,” he said. “What you said, though… it has me thinking. America and England were very quick to shut down any plans of searching for him.”
“You think they do not want him to be found,” Russia stated, a curious eyebrow raised.
“With as long as it took them to agree to this meeting, it definitely seems that way,” said China.
Russia hummed in grim agreement. “Whatever ill has befallen Japan,” he said in a low voice, “it might be of use to keep an eye on the others.”
“I certainly will try to,” said China. Then, he shook his head, his eyes shifting pensively beneath his furrowed brows. “Something is off about all of this. It’s like the moment one war ends, someone tries to start another.”
“Life is never boring,” said Russia, a hint of cheerfulness trying to poke its way out of his voice. “All we can do is live it.” He followed China in silence a while longer before he added, “Do you have a plan? Perhaps we can work together.”
“Not yet,” China sighed. “I had hoped that we could all work together to make a real plan at that meeting, but you saw how that went. No, I need to exhaust every possibility, probably starting with Japan’s officials. Although--” He paused, his shoulders sagging. “As much as I hate it, England and the others do have a point. We all have our duties, and I won’t be able to devote every waking hour to looking for him. He might be in danger, but he might not be, either. I have my own people to take care of.”
Russia nodded. “Yes, I can understand. But, you must see the bright side, here.”
China shot him a skeptical glance and said, “I can assure you I don’t.”
Russia smiled at him, then. “This meeting has given you plenty of information to work with. People’s reactions in situations such as this can be very telling.”
“I need to mull it over,” China agreed. “You’re right, though. With certain individuals acting so strangely, I do have several leads to follow.”
“We,” said Russia.
China frowned at him.
“We have several leads to follow,” Russia elaborated. “I will be by your side through this, until he is found. I know how important family can be.”
“Family,” China repeated. The word rolled sour off his tongue. “I don’t know if that’s the right word for it, anymore.”
“Ah, so it was the right word at one point,” said Russia. “Believe me, only family could give you that sort of doubt.”
China grunted, scratching at his cheek, and said, “That reminds me. Is Prussia still alive?”
It seemed to pain Russia greatly to say, “I fear he might not have long. It truly is a shame. I’m doing everything in my power to ease his way out of this world.”
China nodded solemnly and said, “I can only hope someone does the same for me, one day. The heavens know I’m getting far too old for all this nonsense.”
Russia huffed a laugh. “There may yet be some youth left in us, old friend.”
“If there is, I doubt there will be any left by the time all this has been cleared up,” China replied.
Shortly thereafter, the two of them parted ways, each considering all the distance that still lay between them and their goals.