what if there's a footprint i left a life ago


a scar is only so when cuts run too deep


Yong Soo and Jia Long were moved to the second guest bedroom to join Kasem and Andre, in preparation for Yao's visit. Kiku's bed was rearranged and given new bedsheets, a larger pillow, and even a coverlet. Kiku, however, remained on the futon and was paid no mind to. (It wasn't like he cared, anyway. Don't mind me. I'm just part of the scenery here.).

The day of Yao's arrival seemed to have a festive air to it. Kiku's new siblings talked restlessly in more Chinese, even writing a large paper banner in broken Japanese that read 'Back You Are Uncle'. Wang-san said something about not having talked to her son in nearly a year, which ended up in waterworks and Otou-san immediately rushing to her side to comfort her; the sentimentality of the scene, however, was somewhat ruined by the fact that Kiku had as a matter of fact heard her chattering to Yao on the phone the other day, excitedly discussing his visit.

Somebody placed an incense burner over the microwave.

And then it was a race against time to double check that everything was perfect again, Wang-san quarantining the kitchen to whip up some extravagant hundred-course feast, Lien vacuuming the same stained patch of the floor for a good thirty minutes straight, Yong Soo go set the table or I swear I will maim you—

The doorbell rang at precisely seven-thirty in the evening. Mei and Yong Soo both made a rush to the door, bickering with each other angrily until Kasem opened the door in their stead.

A person stood outside.

The first thing Kiku processed was that Yao was noticeably feminine in appearance, with glossy black hair tied into a ponytail, sharp, slender features, and slanted golden eyes that were even fiercer than Lien's—if he had not known explicitly that Yao was a man, Kiku would have definitely mistaken him for a female. Yao looked similar to Wang-san, but not so much that they were identical; his face too angular, his eyes too prominent. A golden amulet dangled from where the hair was tied, shaking with every movement, giving the impression of someone regal and elegant. He was dressed impressively, with a white suit that seemed to be made of silk and a single crimson red tie.

The second thing Kiku noticed was that Yao was a little taller than himself, although that could easily be explained by platform shoes (so maybe Kiku was being a too little generous in that estimation).

"Mama!" Yao cried, rushing into Wang-san's arms, and immediately breaking the regal effect. His voice was much higher pitched than what Kiku had expected, sounding (and looking) more like a female high-schooler with a friend than an important employee at a elite medical firm. He shouted something that Kiku couldn't understand, his lips stretching from one side of his face to another.

("What a fine young man," Otou-san whispered to Kiku, looking pleased. "Do your best to be more like him, Kiku."

Kiku frowned moodily.)

Wang-san chuckled, answering back in rapid Mandarin and embracing Yao back tightly. She finally let go after about five minutes into the embrace, looking slightly embarrassed at the bemused faces of her children around her, her face flushed a light pink. "This is your new Otou-san, Honda-san."

"It's a pleasure to meet you," Otou-san said, offering a hand. He looked slightly nervous, although Kiku couldn't quite make out why.

"Yes," Yao said, suddenly regaining the mature and professional aura once more. His voice deepened slightly, but was still on the feminine side. "Please, take care of my mother, aru. I leave her in your care." His grasp of Japanese was impressive for someone who had never lived in the country itself, although Kiku really should have expected it from a so-called genius.

"Of course," Otou-san said, and looked relieved again. "I'm glad to have your approval."

Wang-san raised her eyebrows, a slender finger reaching onto her neck to scratch an itch. Otou-san blushed.

Yao turned to Kiku, smiling. "It's a pleasure to meet you as well, Kiku-kun."

Kiku would have bristled at the informal address if it weren't for Otou-san's hawkish eyes burning holes against his back. "Yes, Yao-niisan," he said, and feigned a smile. Judging by Yao's wary expression, it must have come out as more of a grimace instead.

"Gege!" Mei cried suddenly, rushing into Yao's arms and pushing Kiku out of the way. Kiku thought, perhaps vindictively, that they looked like a pair of female college students. Yao's choice in hairstyle certainly did him no favors. "You're back!" She spoke the second part of her sentence in Japanese, something that seemed rather odd. A second later, she glanced oddly at Kiku, giving him an exaggerated wink.

Yong-Soo shouted something angrily in Mandarin at Mei, wrapping his arms around Yao's back and—

—groped him?

Yao frowned, easily prying off Yong-Soo's fingers from his chest and shrugging off Mei's still encircled arms. He looked at Otou-san, his expression changing almost sheepish. "Otou-san, thank you so much for your hospitality. Do you mind if I unpack first, before dinner?"

Otou-san said something that Kiku, still in shock at what he had just witnessed, did not catch. Yao nodded in response, bringing in a leather-bound suitcase that Kasem immediately took off his hands, and immediately walked to the hallway where the bedrooms were.

"Oh dear, Yong Soo," Wang-san said, sounding slightly exasperated. "How many times have I told you to stop harassing your brother? And in front of your new family, nonetheless. What kind of behavior is this?"

Yong-Soo muttered something in Mandarin.

"Say it in Japanese. You're not talking to me, but Kiku-kun and your Otou-san," Wang-san admonished.

"Sorry," Yong Soo muttered. He didn't look very sorry.

"That's quite alright, Yong Soo-kun," Otou-san said. He gave a congenial smile. Yong Soo looked suspiciously at him, no long impish and cheerful, before running off into the area that Yao had disappeared into. A loud yell immediately ensued.

"I'm sorry, dear. He's awfully spoiled. I've always let him have his way when he was younger, ever since his broth..." Wang-san suddenly stopped, turning pale. She brought a hand to her head, looking as she were going to faint.

Otou-san immediately reached a hand to her shoulder. "Wang-chan?" he asked intrepidly.

"I'm fine," Wang-san gave a brilliant smile, almost blinding Kiku's eyes. She reached inside a pocket inside her Angora wool jacket, pulling out a linen handkerchief, which she then used to dab nervously at her lipstick with. "It's just been a tiring night, you see."

"Of course," Otou-san said, not pressing any more. Kiku blinked, briefly wondering if there was something that Wang-san hadn't quite told them yet.

...of course not. Wang-san was much too honest and kind for that. He was just being paranoid.

Right. Paranoid. Of course.

Dinner was starting to get cold by the time Yao finally came out of the bedroom. He had changed out of the white suit, and was now wearing an olive T-shirt and jeans that looked casual but somehow still exuded an expensive impression.

(Speaking of which, all of Kiku's new siblings and Wang-san appeared to be dressed impeccably, even Yong-Soo, who's kimono-like robe seemed to be made entirely of silk. Just how rich were they, and why had they come to live in Otou-san's modest four bedroom house near the suburbs instead of an expensive penthouse apartment in Tokyo?)

Once they were all seated around the table—a difficult task, considering they were already hard-pressed for seats and Kasem and Lien were both sitting in makeshift chairs—Wang-san passed around the chopsticks, placing a freshly steaming bowl of rice in front of everyone.

"Itadatakimasu," Kasem said, slightly butchering the pronunciation as he pressed his hands together. At that, Kiku looked at Otou-san, trying to see his reaction—whenever Otou-san saw foreigners mangling Japanese customs, he would frown and mutter about impudent gaijin.

Contrary to expectations, Otou-san laughed. "It's itadakimasu, Kasem-kun," he gently corrected. "You have an extra ta after the itada. And a little less emphasis on the u sound."

Kiku didn't really know what to think anymore. Otou-san had been acting so uncharacteristically for the past few days that had he not known better, he would have suspected schizophrenia or that he had been replaced by a clone.

"Okay," Kasem nodded, and tried again. "Itadakimasu."

"Very good," said Otou-san, and gave his own thanks for the food after that. "Wang-chan, what did you put into this dashi? It's delicious."

"Thank you," Wang-san said, blushing slightly. "I thought I would experiment a little with the bonito flakes this time."

A little farther away and on the opposite end of the table, Jia Long made an outburst, startling Kiku and making him turn his full attention to him. He appeared to be having an aggressive chopstick battle with Mei over a bowl of rice.

"Stop shoving your damned rice in my bowl!" Jia Long hissed, and Kiku was slightly impressed that the feminine-looking teen was well-versed enough in Japanese to know such crude language. He had a slight accent back when they'd first met, but it seemed to be an act.

"Don't you know that I'm on a diet?" Mei whispered back, forcefully shoving a clump of rice into her brother's plate. "And you should know that Mama doesn't let me put it back into the rice pot. She says it's 'disrespectful'."

"Then give it to Kasem, or something, he's a fan tong." Kiku didn't know what a fan tong was, but by the tone that Jia Long used he could tell it was something used in a negative context.

"No way, he's too far away," Mei said, straining her neck to look in Kiku's direction. Kiku hurriedly turned away, pretending to be interested in the fish fillet in front of him.

"Then what about Yong-Soo?"

"He's still in a bad mood from earlier. You know what he's like when he gets reprimanded—Jung Soo was the only one who could console him." Jung Soo? Was that the name of one of Yong-Soo's friends from China? It didn't sound Chinese to him, though, although Kiku was no expert.

"Why are we still talking in Japanese? What if that old geezer or that kid with the stick up his ass overhears us?" Kiku bristled at the flippant disrespect shown towards his father and himself, but didn't move.

"It's good practice, since we'll be living here from now on. Anyway, Honda-san's too busy talking with Mama, and we're too far away from Kiku-kun for him to hear us." Kiku-kun? Since when had Mei started referring to him so casually, and on a -kun basis too?

"Anyway, just give the rice to Yao-ge if you don't want it." Jia Long eventually turned the conversation back around. "What if I'm on a diet too?"

"Shut up, if I give it to Yao-ge he'll start worrying that I'm ill or something and I'll end up on a bed for three days while he tries to nurse me back to health. Seriously, the last time was so traumatizing."

"And what's keeping me from telling Yao-ge this moment about your so-called sickness?"

"...I'm going to video-call Lukas about how mean you've been to me."

"You wouldn't dare."

"I should be saying that."

Kiku eventually lost interest in the conversation, turning his attention back to Otou-san, who was now questioning Yao with the same eagerness and rigor as an interviewer conducting a job interview.

"And how long have you worked in the company for, Yao-kun?"

"Three years," Yao said, somehow managing to chew a slice of braised pork belly and talk without managing to look sloppy. "I was given the opportunity by one of my professors in university, who recommended me to the CEO."

"Oh! Kiku has a lot to learn from you, it seems. I worry about him; all he does is laze around and read manga these days. If he had even a fraction of your capability, I could rest easy as a father."

"You praise me too much."

Kiku frowned at how high of a pedestal Otou-san seemed to hold Yao, and how low of a bar he set for Kiku. Yao was impressive, sure, but there were smarter geniuses out there who were much more talented than his new brother.

Life had been better, before Wang-san and these new siblings came into the home. Back then, even if Kiku brought home failing grades, Otou-san didn't care, let alone 'worry about him'. It was easy to predict Otou-san's moods—if you did something that would upset him, he would become upset; if you did something to please him, he would remain as indifferent as ever.

Wang-san brought change into the household, but Kiku had always been one for tradition.

He didn't like Yao, Kiku finally decided. It was a conscious dislike, one that took effort to maintain. Yao had somehow managed to win over Otou-san, something that Kiku in all his eighteen years had never managed to achieve.

After all, in Otou-san's eyes, he was just a failure.