Author's Note: Yet again, the things I write will make people wonder if I have some unaddressed issues in my life. The answer is yes, but they're not related to my fanfics. I'm just trying to make up for lost time with more writing. So here, to help explain the Jaarin Rinchei subplot, is what we on TV Tropes call a Breather Episode, otherwise known as filler with plot. This is all about minor characters, after all, and they barely even get dialogue.

Anyway, we'll be back to the main plot very shortly, I promise.


Theme: Before


There was a time when Rinchei and Jaarin were together and Henry was just a baby.

They still called each other Wenchang and Jie Rin, and they spoke Cantonese and learned bits of Mandarin out of books and giggled at the funny sounds. They lived in Hong Kong where the people were so thick they had to hold onto each other to keep from being separated. Old ladies and older men would smile at them from their shops and benches, making comments about him being a good brother or them being a good little couple. At first he didn't even notice, or when he did he straightened up proudly so Jie Rin would smile and cling to his arm a little tighter. She was proud of her cool older brother.

Their apartment was tiny and their parents were working, their mother scrubbing floors and their father putting in overtime. One day they were going to go to Japan and live where the schools were better, apartments larger, and people not so thick everywhere. They were going to have their own rooms and eat onigiri. But for those days they were alone a lot, perhaps more than their parents would have liked, so they were each other's best friends. They went everywhere together because it wasn't safe to go alone, the news said so, and the news was never wrong. Wenchang made her noodles with a weird sauce made up of some random ingredients he thought went well together. The smelly food made her smile and rejoice whenever they got home from school. They ate and watched cartoons side by side.

At first nothing was wrong, and their parents counted themselves blessed to have kids that got along so well. They were uneasy with Jie Rin still sleeping in Wenchang's bed, because it was infantile, but they had neither the space nor the time to get another bed. So long as she didn't complain about it, where was the harm in it? They stayed up whispering secrets to each other and giggling. On school days Wenchang walked her there before going to his own classroom, because he was nearly six and knew everything. He knew the route to his aunt's house where his baby brother stayed most of the time, because the landlord had limits on the number of people and this was one too much. He knew how to get dinner from the grocery store or the hole-in-the-wall stalls on his way home so his mother would be happy. He could tie shoes so that they came undone and sneakers thus became slip ons.

Before the move to Japan, there was a night where Jie Rin was laying with her head on his lap, and he asked her if she would marry him when they got older. She asked if they could have a dog. When that condition was met, she said yes. And they had dinner and it was like nothing was different, other than that now he knew she liked him more than the other boys, and that meant he was cool. Wenchang tried hard to be cool, messing up his hair with water each morning, learning Japanese to impress his parents, and yet no one's opinion mattered more than Jie Rin's. She was his best friend. Without her he would have been lost.

Then they moved to Japan, and everything changed.

They were made of, for their hair, eyes, everything from their backpacks to their accents. They were teased and some adults said mean things when they thought they weren't listening. They got their own rooms and didn't really know what to do with all that space. Every day they walked through an unfamiliar jungle of a world, filled with kanji they could barely read and people that didn't like them, and they reached for each other's hands. They held on tight until they reached the school. They didn't use their Japanese names for each other. At lunch they huddled together at the outcasts table and lapsed into their native tongue, and it was then that they began to really realize how odd they were. Other kids did not do these things with their siblings. They didn't play nice with them or talk to them about everything, they didn't even like each other. No one had as many kids as their family did. They weren't like the others, and in Japan the nail that stuck up must be hammered down.

For nearly two school years, they took it. They got called every slur in the books, every nasty name no child should hear, and had food thrown at them more than once. They found their backpacks in trash cans outside school once. Their Japanese got better and yet the taunting about their voices remained. Their parents got mad at them when Wenchang slept in Jie Rin's bed one night after having a nightmare about not being able to protect her. They had to eat new foods they didn't like, write in a whole new alphabet - even their names were taken from them. Their parents were in love with Japan. They thought it was perfect and wouldn't hear a word against it. Their mother got to stay home now. Everything was perfect and everything was awful. The only thing they had left to depend on in this world was each other.

One day on the playground the older boys formed a circle and began shoving Jie Rin. She was spinning, lost in a tangle of arms and anger and people who hated her, flying off her feet, until finally one of them threw her to the ground, laughing. Wenchang was a blur of motion. He was angry, livid, his fists faster than the angry words he was saying in Chinese, his eyes glinting like gray fire. The circle broke as another, one of spectators, formed around them. Jie Rin got to her feet slowly. Her knees were torn up and there was a large bruise forming on her cheek, but she stood up and reached for her brother's hand. It was curled into a fist so tight his knuckles were turning white.

"Renchei's in love with his sister!" one of the bullies shouted, and suddenly the siblings realized how tightly the world was packed around them. People were staring. Whispers were everywhere. Some people were laughing. Nobody looked like they doubted it. Jie Rin stepped closer to her only protection. His eyes were on the crowd.

He threw her to the ground.

"I don't love her!" he snapped. "You're just making things up because no one would talk to you otherwise, you ugly future drop out!"

Then he stormed off. Jie Rin was left on the ground. Everyone was staring at her, and she was watching her brother's retreating form. The bullies followed him. The crowd dispersed, deprived of a fight yet still hopeful for another one. She sat on the cold concrete, feeling tears well up in her eyes. He wasn't even looking back at her. Jie Rin stood up and walked back into the school building. The nurse fretted over her. Her brother didn't come look in on her. He wasn't there to walk her home after school. On the bulletin board in the front entrance, where they normally met to walk together, there were sign up sheets. She signed up for everything that looked like fun. If her brother didn't want to be around her, she'd find someone who did.

She didn't love him, either.