He found the dim warm lights of the quiet lounge comforting to his tired eyes. China nursed a drink silently, soaking in the soft background jazz. Then a smokey voice six seats down said, “You look like shit.”
China pictured Russia over there with two or three empty glasses at her sides. (China had three so far and was certain he’d out drink her by the end of the night). She’d been eyeing him off and on for the past hour but hadn’t said anything. That normally would have been worrying.
He didn’t turn to her. Instead, he stared at the bottom of his drink and sighed.
China was in the middle of terribly important business (aka watching cute animal vines) when a message notification popped up at the top of his tablet. Philippines.
Received: It hurts, doesn’t it?
Sent: My back? Yes, thank you for asking.
Received: Oh, I wasn’t aware that “no participation” also meant “utter denial.”
When Philippines took him to court over the territorial disputes in the South China Sea, China had been so pissed–so wildly offended–that he refused to even attend the hearing. That sure showed her.
Sent: The ruling means nothing, Philippines.
Received: Actually it means fuck: you, your nine-dash line, and your military expansionism.
Sent: I do not want to be your enemy, but I will not respect an illegal ruling. If you try to implement the ruling, I will respond accordingly.
Received: You’ve made that very clear, but that doesn’t change reality.
Sent: What reality?
Received: You’ve dug yourself into a hole, and the number of people who would be willing to throw down a rope is getting smaller and smaller.
“I’ll dig myself out,” China grumbled as he, unwilling to humor Philippines’ foolishness any longer, tabbed back to the pug videos.
North Korea leaned in close and demanded in a low voice, “Say it.”
China fought the urge to take advantage of his office chair’s wheels and just roll away. Far, far away.
China’s jaw tightened. His fists clenched. “I…” The words were caught in his throat, but North Korea was patient. “I… need you…”
China swallowed his pride. It burned all the way down. “I need you.”
“I couldn’t hear that.”
China felt North Korea’s intense, intimate stare crushing him. He hissed and looked away. “Enough. That’s all you’re getting, alright?” The Korean responded only with a beaming grin.
China had to close his eyes and exhale slowly. He reached into one of the drawers and pulled out a pack of cigarettes. He relished the idea of the temporary solace he would soon inhale almost as much as he relished the way his friend’s face wrinkled at the sight of the cigarette. North Korea quit in 2000, but temptation was a bitch.
North Korea shifted his weight to the other foot. “I should have recorded you saying it. So I could play it whenever I wanted.”
China pressed down on his lighter and muttered, “Don’t be weird.”
Soaking tense muscles in a hot bath felt nice. The video call China received afterward felt less nice.
“Uhh, okay. So, here’s a thing.”
China wondered if he should take a preemptive Zantac. America’s voice had a natural quality about it that induced heartburn.
In the corner of China’s computer screen, there was the American, who hadn’t even bothered to change out of his pajamas for the call, sitting next to South Korea in her office. She was sporting a black t-shirt with pink lettering that read “NERF THIS.” Whatever that meant.
America turned to her. “Well, why don’t you tell him?”
“Right,” she started. “So, we finally picked the location of the THAAD.”
There had been talk, on and off, between America and South Korea about deploying an anti-missile defense system–because, God forbid, North Korea press that figurative big, red button one day. The two swore this move was purely defensive. Meanwhile, North Korea practically had an aneurysm over it. And when North Korea practically had an aneurysm over something, China sometimes did too.
“So this is a courtesy call?” China asked.
Unrelated to North Korea, China had another reason to oppose the THAAD deployment: surveillance. He didn’t need American radars sending Chinese intelligence back to American bases. Plus, it might trigger a big ol’ arms race. That’s the last thing East Asia needed.
“Sure,” South Korea said. “You can think of it that way.”
China’s eyes drifted downward momentarily. His jaw tightened as he pressed his tongue into the side of his mouth. Maybe serotonin supplements would have been a wiser choice than the Zantac.
When China looked back up, he spoke with disappointment. “It’s a shame it’s come to this, South Korea. I was hoping you’d appreciate the benefits of being on my good side.”
“You seem to be under the impression that I need you,” She answered with a wry smile.
“Are you under the impression that you don’t? How strange, coming from someone who seems to enjoy money and trade so much.”
“Oh, don’t you worry. The THAAD doesn’t make me want to trade with you any less.”
“And will you pretend that my cooperation in containing your brother’s nuclear ambitions is of no value to you?”
America snorted. “What effort?”
South Korea put up a hand to yield her ally. “China, I really thought it could work at first. I spent years trying to repair whatever ‘friendship’ we might have had, and we definitely made some kind of progress, but… you can’t half-ass this. You have one foot on each side of the DMZ and, honestly, I need commitment.”
China noticed America’s eyes darting between him and South Korea. The idiot was watching this with amusement, like it were some kind of prime-time drama.
“You ought to be careful, South Korea,” China warned. “I think you underestimate the consequences of your actions.”
“You don’t scare me, China. But it is nice to know that I scare you.”
“Hey, hey,” America interjected. “We. We scare him.”
China’s eyes narrowed dangerously. “I hope your allegiance is worth the trouble it will bring.”
South Korea scoffed. “Oh, as if you’re the better option? No offense, but people don’t call you the ‘most powerful country in the world.’ You’re not gonna be able to wedge yourself between me and my ally this time, China.”
America said, “Is it just me or does this whole thing sound like a threesome waiting to happen?”
South Korea let out a mangled shriek. China promptly closed the call.
Time for the ace.
“Sounds like you had a rough week,” Russia said from just one seat away now. She smiled lightly. “But you’ll be okay. You’re China, after all.” He heard a glass slide toward him and he looked over. “Here,” she said. “You need it more than I do.”
I was reading an article that mentioned how China was trying to “wedge itself between the US-ROK alliance” and I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to make a stupid joke about it. Sorry.