Hello Dear Readers!

I ask that you please read this AN, or at least the part that may apply to you

For anyone reading this for the first time since 1/21/13: I accidentally replaced this chapter with a different document, and when I found the original file on my USB I found the ending missing because, oh, that's right, the file with the ending was deleted. So, got to work on re-writing the ending, and would have had it up on the 25th, but then my USB decided to be the biggest douche ever and delete ALL my files. Every. Single. One. Thus, I had to re-write the ending a SECOND time. You're welcome.

For anyone who may be re-reading this, and read this for the first time prior to 1/21/13: You may or may not notice the wording to the ending is different. Explanation is above, if you care.

No, the numbers in parenthesis scattered through the story are not random. I need to put in footnotes, and I will get to that when I can, but the story makes enough sense without; footnotes just add a bit more information in perspective and give some insight to some Asian culture.

Well, that's all I have to say, guys. I hope you enjoy your read.

And remember: I do not own Hetalia: Axis Powers

Because It Is From Japan…

Kiku had waited the exact thirty minutes he was instructed before walking in the direction of Yao's home, remains of the Mandarin orange he had eaten not long ago in hand. When he came across a conveniently-located trash bin, he threw away the peel, save the small portion with a familiar-looking phone number he couldn't quite place messily scribbled on with permanent marker. As he reached the house – candles lit outside, guiding and inviting him in – he recalled the fruit's sweet taste, and the apparent elation on Yao's face when he described its saccharine flavor, the substantial lack of a bitter tang from the first bite to the last. He raised his hand – the fingers slightly curled in, the back of his hand, rather than the front, facing the red-painted door – to knock one, twice, thrice.


Come in

Kiku removed his shoes and left them out on the porch before obediently opening the door, entering and closing it securely behind him, unaware of what would transpire next.

Bare feet wandered aimlessly about the hallways of an old Chinese Imperial house, the almost inaudible scuffle they made against polished wooden floorboard accompanied by an almost inaudible sigh. As light-brown irises searched yet another vacant room, inspecting every corner and crevice from afar, yet another sigh poured from the constantly picked-and-bitten remains of once moderately-smooth lips, and, devoid of further purpose, the irresolute feet continued their trek, repeating the disheartening pattern.

"Aiiyah… to think, after two weeks, no one has showed up, aru."

Yao paused as he came across the calendar he hung up in his living room and stared up at it, eyes dim with dejection, even as the same, ever-optimistic thought allowed hope to flare within him once more.

There is still time

The date he had surrounded in overlapping red-inked circles was but two days away. Even if they were not able to arrive for cleaning, surely they would at least come for that day, the time of year he had been eagerly anticipating for so long. He had before always received notice, but, as the days passed and not a word was heard, he had grown more restless; he was barely able to sleep, and when he did, it never lasted longer than perhaps four hours.

Meimei still has yet to talk to me

The cute, innocent girl he had raised was gone – Meimei was now a beautiful, fickle young woman, and she had developed a grudge against him. He knew she would eventually overcome her immaturity, but, what with the tension between their people, and the recent threats she had been imposing, he was well aware it would take a number of years.

Xiang will not be here, either

Since Op-England's occupation of Hong Kong, Yao had barely been given any opportunity to see his impassive younger brother. Any visits permitted were few and far in-between – and never around the time of a big Chinese festival. Xiang may have been able to get around England's restrictions during World War II, when it would, for the most part, go unnoticed, but Yao had already known better than to expect impromptu visits after the war's end.


Yao shook his head, huffing at the path his thoughts took him. The only times he had seen… Japan had been at meetings, the only time before then…

Yao's blood ran cold, even as he once more felt the searing, burningpain…

A trembling hand wiped at his face, as if he could dry off the tears he had remembered trickling down another's cheeks. With a shaky breath, Yao began walking toward the kitchen to prepare some tea that would, hopefully, calm his nerves.

Yao picked at the dinner before him, looking on at the fish he had spent long to prepare without a sliver of hunger. With a wistful sigh, he finally threw away the picked-and-bitten remains, murmuring an apology for wasting the food under his breath and slowly made his way to his room.

Just earlier that day, he had received word from Im Yong Soo and Kim-ly – neither would be able to see him, as they had business in their countries, what with the Korean War just having been resolved and difficulties arising in Vietnam.

He would be alone again.

Yao skimmed a hand against the wall as he walked, going through his mental check-list. Already, he had bought new clothes, trimmed his hair almost imperceptibly and cleaned the entire house, as well as the statues and altars (despite having no more use for them). He had burned the old decorations and replaced them, painted a new coat or two of red paint on the door and window sills, put up the candles around his house, ready to light the next day, and put sweets outside his door. The food he would eat the next day was already prepared. He had everything taken care of so early.

Despite his exhaustion, Yao had laid in bed for no less than an hour before falling asleep.

Yao awoke with a start, eyes blinking rapidly to rid both the images from the memory and the tears that had begun to gather on the tips of his lashes.

He had been lying on his back, and Japan had been sitting atop his stomach, gripping tightly at the handle of his katana, the blade of which was embedded just a few centimeters above Yao's head. If he were to his head by just a fraction, he had no doubt it would graze his scalp. But Yao was not afraid, because Japan – Kiku, his first of little brothers, the child that had always been so indifferent to everything, so cold and distant to him – who usually showed little-to-no emotions was crying. His once dull, unfeeling eyes burned with his internal despair and the overflowing tears cascading down his cheeks, falling onto Yao's face.


Yao could tell Kiku's clutch had tightened; he could feel the blade cutting deeper into the wooden floorboards, but he paid it no mind. Yao watched Kiku, waiting to see what he would do, what he had come to do.


Kiku was trembling, his lip was quivering, his hands and arms were shaking. He was gasping for breath, every breath shorter than the last – hyperventilating, then. And yet, even as he stared on at Yao beneath him – perhaps looking for some kind of sign on what to do – his breaths became shorter, his frame's quaking more prominent. Perhaps Yao's passive behavior was unnerving him?


Kiku's teeth clenched, ground against one another before he bit and nipped at the skin on his lips (Yao wondered, as he did then, if that might have been a habit Japan had picked up from him). The poor boy looked so lost…

Yao raised an unsteady hand-


-and let it rest on Kiku's neck, then on Kiku's cheek, wiping the tears away slowly, comfortingly.


Kiku gave a pitiful whimper and leaned into the touch with a relieved sigh, uncharacteristically nuzzling the supportive hand. He closed his eyes, and the tears poured out faster.

"Big Brother's here…"(1)

Kiku's eyes snapped open, determination set in his eyes. A few last tears escaped. With a set jaw, he turned Yao over. On his stomach now, Yao raised his eyes and watched as Kiku removed the katana from where it had been lodged.

Yao braced himself.

Tentatively, Yao fingered the top of the scar that ran down his back. A look at the clock showed it to be a quarter to midnight. Yao heaved a heavy sigh and brushed away the hair that had stuck to his forehead from cold sweat.

… He had roughly fifteen minutes.

With that in mind, Yao walked briskly to his kitchen and prepared some tea. He had just finished with a few seconds to midnight remaining, and had served himself when he heard a sound outside.

"Hm?" Yao glanced curiously at his door, shrugged and brought the teacup to his lips when he heard the noise once more. Knuckle against wood. With a confused blink, and then a wide smile, he rushed over to the door, practically wrenching it open.

"Who is it, a… ru?"

The person before him had his head slightly turned to the side – embarrassed – arms crossed and pressed close to his stomach – hugging himself, Yao realized – and eyes wandering – so as to avoid Yao's gaze.

Japan was, without doubt, the epitome of awkwardness.

"Japan… What are you doing here, aru?"

"Xīnnián kuàilè."

Happy New Year

Yao blinked, speechless. "What…?"

"Is… today not the first day of the New Year?"

"It… it is, aru."

"Is it not tradition to visit the oldest members of the family on this day?"

"It is, aru." Yao acknowledged, less hesitantly and feeling higher in spirits than he had for days.

Japan opened his mouth, closed it with a frown and opened it once more. "Well… I have visited you, then."

The hope Yao had foolishly let rise in his chest abruptly shattered. "Ah, would you not like some tea, aru?" He asked quickly, stalling for time.

Japan blinked, seeing the teacup in the elder's hands for the first time, and looked up with a politely raised brow.

"It is already prepared, aru!"(2) Yao exclaimed defensively, and felt just the slightest hint of pride when a corner of Japan's lip quivered upwards.

"I apologize, but I must return."

"Return? To Japan?" When Yao's suspicion was confirmed with a nod, his mind raced for something – anything – to say, to delay the other if only for a few moments more. "Why don't you stay the night?"

Japan's eyes widened in disbelief before returning to their normal, apathetic stare.

"I suppose, if you wish, I can find a hotel still open somewhere…"

"At this time, aru?!"

"Where else could I stay?"

"… Your room is still here, aru."

Japan cast a glance over Yao's shoulder into the house. "You must have spent quite a while cleaning. It would be a shame for all that time to go to waste."

Yao flinched, understanding the meaning behind what had been left unsaid.

It would be a shame for all that time to go to waste so I can bring all the bad luck back

Yao could hear Japan's voice, flat with resignation and indifference, echoing that sentence over and over in his head – because he would say something along those lines, and Yao knew he would. The elder gave a laugh that was too loud to be relaxed, but he hoped it was enough to lighten the atmosphere.

"Don't be silly, aru! The shame would be in not showing off my newly-cleaned home, aru! Come, now, I insist! Consider this part of your visit, aru."

"Ano… I am not sure…" Japan began, his too-long sleeve obstructing his mouth, projecting his weak protests as mumbles. His head snapped up when he felt a hand wrap around his wrist.

"The tea will get cold if you remain out here, and you know I will not warm it later."

Japan looked uncertain, but, under his elder's pleading gaze, he knew he was helpless to refuse. He obediently and not-quite-reluctantly allowed China to gently coax him inside.

"Zǎoshang hǎo"

China jumped, a hand over his chest – his heart nearly leapt out of his ribcage! – as he spun to face Japan's now-guilt-ridden face with a shaky smile and breathy laugh. "Ah, Japan, aru! Do not sneak up on me next time; you gave me quite a fright, aru! A-and a good morning to you as well, aru."

"Thank you. In any case, I believe I have overstayed my welcome."

Fear seized Yao's heart once more. "Ah, no! You may stay as long as you wish! It is really no bother, aru."

"Thank you for your hospitality, but I have some trivial affairs I would like to finalize as soon as possible." There was a slow blink before a casual survey of the kitchen area. "It must be extraordinarily early – I did not wake up to boisterous laughter, yelling or any form of chaos imaginable."

"Ah, yes, aru." Yao acknowledged with a sad, solemn smile. "No one else was able to come."

Japan's eyes widened just a fraction with realization, and he watched as the other sat himself at the table and reached over to pick a pomegranate from the fruit bowl. "Stay for breakfast, at least, aru." China mumbled before he began eating the fruit, gesturing to the bowl before him. "Help yourself, aru."

Japan sat in the seat to the right of China, just as he always had when he was younger, and, after just a bit of hesitation, picked his own pomegranate to awkwardly nibble at.

Yao waited until Japan had finished before standing. "Would you like me to-?"

"If you do not mind…" Japan interrupted, head bowed – Yao knew, though, even with the eyes shielded from view, that Japan was staring hard at the wooden surface – teeth noticeably indenting his lower lip (Yao couldn't resist a smile at that, despite the younger's obvious nervousness). "If you do not mind…" he repeated, "I think… I would like to remain here for the duration of the day, if that is-?"

"I don't mind at all, aru! Stay for however long you would like, aru!" Yao exclaimed, pleased at having some company. Japan raised his head and curled his lips ever-so-slightly upwards in an almost-smile. Yao felt his heart threaten to leap out of his throat.

"Aiiyah! What do you think you are doing, aru?!"

Japan's hand stilled, remaining mid-air even as China took the bowl – and what little rice remained within it – to place back upon the table. With a firm grasp on Japan's wrist, China led them to a remote corner and promptly began to scold the younger nation.

"You are lucky I managed to stop you from finishing the whole bowl, aru! You would have made the both of us look bad if you had, aru!"

Japan gave a slow, uncomprehending blink before remembering one of the few dramatic differences in table manners between him and his elder. (3) "Ah, I apologize. Wǒ hěn bàoqiàn."

Yao felt his cheeks become just a tad bit warmer, and knew his blush was visible by Japan's curious tilt-of-the-head. "Why you speak so much Chinese lately?"

Japan's lips twitched, amused as he remembered America's poor imitations of China's odd way of speaking when he would become flustered or angry. "Does it displease you?"

"N-no, it does not, aru."

Japan blinked, nodded, and hummed a noncommittal "Mm."

"A-ah, look, aru! A lion dance troupe, aru!" Yao cried, holding tightly onto Japan's sleeve. "Let's get closer, aru!" He demanded, dragging Japan closer to the performers despite the latter's half-hearted protests.

Just as lettuce had been hung – nearly twenty feet above the ground – and the "lions" began competing to see who would reach it first, Yao turned to Japan, mouth open with a pressing question at the ready, only to close it with an audible snap.

Beside Yao stood Japan, eyes shining with more emotion than Yao could ever remember seeing. Vibrant brown irises excitedly followed every shift of the specially crafted fabric, the carefully-choreographed movements of the performers' legs, the "animal's" fluid sways and ripples, all with utmost attention. It was only then did Yao remember how different the lion dances were in other countries, and how long it had been since Japan had watched such a performance with him.

Yao's expression undoubtedly softened at Japan's small, delightedly-surprised gasp, and he barely – only reluctantly – glanced to find the red "lion" had succeeded in its efforts, and was currently "consuming" – demolishing – the cabbage, the remains of which fell messily from its ornate mouth. Yao clapped with the rest of the audience, looking at his younger brother from the corner of his eye, disregarding the tightening sensation he felt in his chest. He was glad to finally have some company – after so many years of solitude – during New Year's.

Japan wasn't quite sure what had entitled this reaction, but, when China sharply smacked the back of his hand, his apparent initial response had been to bring the stinging skin up to his lips, eyes wide as he looked up to his ranting elder.

"Aiiyah! First almost finish rice, now throw away miso! Why you act this way aru?!" Yao had released an exasperated sharp breath before glancing down at the nearly-empty bowl and starting up once more. "Again you almost finish food! Why you no learn first time?!"

Red up to his ears, Japan quickly set the bowl down on the table – and made sure to correctly set the chopsticks horizontally atop the bowl as he did so – with an embarrassed glance and slightly hunched shoulders. "I apologize, China-san. I was lost in thought. Wǒ hěn bàoqiàn."

A large, bowed head supported by tiny, hunched shoulders. Ebony locks hid impossibly large, scrunched-up eyes from view. A rigid back despite it all. The upper body folded into the lowest possible bow the boy could manage.

"Wǒ hěn bàoqiàn, Chuugoku nii-san."

Yao blinked away the hazy memory – how long ago could that have been? – and, as he came to, he found himself looking once more at his brother's typical stoic face, the ashamed expression that had briefly appeared gone forever. With a sigh and soft smile, He held out to Japan a bowl of soup. "Here, help yourself, aru."

Japan nodded, inwardly relieved that China seemed to have regained his composure. He accepted the bowl and set of chopsticks offered to him with another polite nod and began to eat, slurping almost inaudibly. He found he couldn't help but send an almost offended glance to his left as his elder slurped loudly before unabashedly releasing a belch. (4) Japan felt his eye involuntarily twitch once, and then again when an even louder was discharged.

"Are you enjoying the food, aru?" Yao asked lowly, and, after receiving an affirmative nod, continued, with a frown, "Then why you no make noise? The cook is right there, aru."

"I-I would rather not…" Japan answered honestly, avoiding further discussion on the subject with a long sip from the bowl in his hands. He politely ignored China's discontented huff.

The moment they exited the restaurant, however, Japan found himself once more on the receiving end of China's rants (he began to wonder if there would be an end to those long-winded lectures (he doubted as much, since that would mean China had changed, if only slightly, over the years, and, as far as Japan knew, his elder had remained as he had since Japan first met him)). Japan removed a sheet of paper and a capped ink pen from the confines of his sleeves and paused at a table. He had just finished writing when China – having noticed he had involuntarily left the other quite-aways back– approached him from behind with a frown and downturned lips.

"Japan, aru! You shouldn't just stop like that; I thought I might have lost you, aru!"


China's shoulders slumped, and he pouted, disappointed that his reprimand had been ignored – as they always were, especially concerning his oldest of younger siblings. "Ah, yes, aru?"

"I have a gift for you."

Amber eyes widened, sepia brows rose, a rosy red settled over previously peach cheeks. "G-giving gifts on holidays is a Western tradition, aru." A petal pink tongue ran over chapped, cracked lips. "But…" Curious eyes flickered to the arms conspicuously kept behind a rigid back. "because it is from Japan… I want it."

Japan could see how China had tensed – for no other reason than to keep himself still – when he took a step, then another and another closer, hands reaching over to pat the other's back – as if in embrace, but there was no other contact between them – before stepping back (Yao could have sworn he saw mischief gleaming in those eyes before the suspicious spark subsided) and walked away without a word.

Yao – face unbearably hot and feeling light-headed – reached blindly over his shoulder and grasped the sheet, reading the solitary word. His bewilderment quickly became annoyance.

"Magistrate?!" (5)

Japan had his fingertips futilely pressed over his lips to keep his grin at bay when Yao caught up with him. "You are so unappreciative, aru! How rude you are to your own brother, aru!"

Japan – without warning – froze; Yao nearly walked into him.

"Japan, aru?"

Japan turned his head slowly, regarding China's genuinely concerned face before giving a small smile.

"I was lost in thought. Wǒ hěn bàoqiàn, Chuugoku nii-san."

I am very sorry, Big Brother China

Japan pretended to not notice China stumble, or how China seemed to absolutely glow after catching up with him.

"Are you truly sure I will not be a nuisance?"

Yao, at his doorstep now, turned to give Japan a disbelieving look from under the flickers of the red candles' flames around them. "Of course I am, aru! It is too late to find a hotel or return home in any case, aru."

"…Fēicháng gǎnxiè nín"

Thank you very much

Yao smiled and opened his door.

After a breakfast of wonton noodles, Yao stood and began washing their dishes when Japan mentioned he would need to return soon.

"Today, aru?" Yao asked curiously, but Japan could hear the disappointment in his voice.

"I am a bit tired. Perhaps-"

"We returned long after midnight, aru! I think you should at least wait aru!" Yao cut in quickly – anxiously – before Japan could get another word in. Perhaps it was selfish, but it had been so long since he hadn't felt lonely over the holidays, and even longer since he was able to be on good terms with Japan…

"Tomorrow is the third day…" (6)

Yao blinked, smiled at what had been pointed out and returned to his chore. "It would be heartless of you to leave me tomorrow, then, aru."

"If you insist… I will just have to leave the day after tomorrow."

Yao nodded, strained smile in place. He could hear, from the tone in the other's voice, that there would be no further delay in Japan's departure.

"I will take my leave now."

Before the last word had left Japan's mouth, China had suddenly appeared, as if magically manifested, by Japan's side; it was painfully obvious that the elder was disheartened. The second and third day had come and gone quickly, as if time had flown – a sharp contrast to how it had lingered and dragged the day Japan had arrived. Licking, then biting his lips, Japan hesitated even as he gripped the door handle.

"I will be here next year."

China's eyes widened, but, then, so did his smile. He gave a happy nod, even as he watched Japan leave with lonely, heartbroken eyes.

Yao had never known Japan to lie or fail to keep a promise, yet, throughout that year he had tried – futilely – to keep his optimism at a minimum. After all, Japan hadn't actually given his word, per say…

The doubt was eating away at him all year long, and he puzzled at how such an issue could drive away his peace of mind.

So when Yao opened the front door the day before New Year's Eve, broom in hand, he was clueless how to react upon finding Japan there with an arm raised to knock. Even as Japan withdrew his arm and bowed with a polite "Zǎoshang hǎo", Yao remained immobile – eyes wide, mouth agape. Then, a twitching of his fingers, a tremble in his shoulders, a quiver in his lips.


What felt like an electric shock ran through Yao's body, and, when his head snapped up, establishing eye contact with Japan, he found, behind the indifferent exterior, just the slightest bit of uneasiness, a hint of anxiety. The broom clattered to the floor.

Next Yao knew, his arms were wrapped securely around Japan – trapping his brother in a warm, loving embrace – his nose was pressed against the other's kimono – the scent of Yīnghuā (or, as Japan called it, sakura) had never been more distinct – and he was laughing – genuinely – out of pure (delight, ecstasy, joy) happiness. He was so utterly content, holding the younger nation close to him; he let out a rather dreamy sigh and tightened his grip, subconsciously aware of how the tension left the body in his grasp.


Yao blinked and found himself politely – if not firmly – pushed away; he let out a sheepish chuckle upon seeing how impossibly red Japan's face had become.

"I am just… glad you arrived… aru." Yao explained lamely, feeling a blush creeping up on his own cheeks.

"I said I would." Japan answered without missing a beat, his features returning to their normal state. Yao happened to glance down and immediately noticed the suitcase at his brother's side.

"You are staying, aru!" It wasn't a question, and even he knew there was no hiding the elation in his exclamation, but he was in too-high spirits to bother putting up a mannerly front.

"If you do not mind…"

"Of course not, aru! I'll put this in your room, you make yourself at home, aru!"

Japan stared as China took off with only slight surprise before shaking his head, lips quivering with the threat of an oncoming smile. As he looked back to the hall leading to the living room, though, he found his mood becoming somber, and he bit as his lips upon catching sight of the broom that had been so carelessly discarded. Should he really dare to enter…?

"Aiiyah!" Japan jumped, head whipping up to look at China, who was standing before him with arms crossed, upper body leaning slightly forward, a small furrow of the brows and pouting lips. He was disappointed. There was no other word to describe him at that moment.

"Thought I told you make yourself at home!" When Japan made no move, China sniffed with a displeased air about him, wrapped a hand around one of Japan's wrist and gently coaxed the other in, just as he had a year prior.

As China led Japan through the hallway directly across the entrance and into the living room, Japan found his gaze drawn to the scarred floorboard, the depth of the scratch too deep for it to be considered a nick, no matter how thin it appeared on the surface. Even as China rounded a corner, Japan was unable to resist turning his head to look back at that ugly mar he created only a few years ago.

China's grip on his wrist tightened noticeably, and, when he turned his head to glance at his elder's face, Japan could see the teeth biting into the lower lip, the quaking shoulders, how the watering eyes blinked in rapid succession. Japan lowered his head and cast his eyes down.

They hardly spoke as they finished cleaning up the house that day. When all that remained was the main living room, they worked with even less noise than before, the air between them awkward and tense. Japan, who had wordlessly decided on cleaning the floor, found himself avoiding that damn abrasion until it was all that had been left untouched. As he knelt beside the mark he left, he traced the surface with upmost delicacy and a trembling finger.

A hand settled atop his own.

"Don't feel bad, aru."

Japan looked up at China. His mouth opened and closed without a sound, his throat clogged up with guilt, and he was left unable to voice his apologies, the words he longed to say for so long. In the end, all he could do was nod and return to washing, and then later polishing, the scarred floorboard with his elder.

"Hyung nim!"

No more than a second after the holler was the door predictably slammed open. Japan and China both jumped when the door rebounded off the wall, creating a heart-stopping boom, but only the former returned to preparing the fish for dinner. China eagerly raced to the entrance and was promptly greeted with a hug from long arms that easily engulfed him.

"Hyung nim!" Im Yong Soo repeated, stepping back and spreading his arms, a fish in each hand. "I missed you, da-ze~! Ah, I brought some fish; Kim-ly is out getting more! We're really hungry, so let's start cooking, da-ze~!"

With that, Im Yong Soo began walking to the kitchen, rambling on about something or other Yao could never really keep up with. The former halted as soon as he stepped foot onto the patterned tiles.

"Why is he here?"

Japan tensed and turned to face South Korea, both of them noticeably pale with a set jaw.

"Im Yo-"


Japan flinched under the enraged bellow and menacing glare fixated upon him. He swallowed, removed the apron from his person and bowed deeply.

"I humbly apologize."

Im Yong Soo stood his ground, blocking Japan from approaching Yao despite him making no move to do so. Rather, Japan left through the other exit, and Im Yong Soo could hear the footsteps heading toward the rooms. He didn't dare relax, even as Japan returned with his suitcase and, with a bow to them both, left once more.

Yao snapped out of his daze just as he heard the front door slam open once more.

"Anh trai! Has Im Yo-… Japan…?"


At that moment, Japan – Kiku – faltered for just a second, and Yao managed to seize hold of the sleeve of his kimono.

"Please, don't go aru…"

"Why are you defending him?!" Im Yong Soo demanded, stomping into the room. Kim-ly, still in shock, turned around slowly, her grip on the pail in her hands faltering.


"Kiku is staying, aru! If neither of you approve, you can leave, aru!"

Kim-ly swallowed the lump in her throat and regained her firm hold on the pail. "I'll stay." She managed, voice a tad hoarse.

Im Yong Soo grumbled something about it "barely being ten years", but nodded and grabbed Kim-ly's elbow to drag her to the kitchen regardless.

Japan swallowed thickly as he watched the others retreat further into the house. "China-san, if it will become a problem I can-"

"Yao, Kiku. And you won't be going anywhere, aru."

Japan – Kiku – looked concernedly over at China – Yao. "Are you certain…?"

"Of course I am, aru. Come, let's put your stuff back in your room, aru. Then we can help out in the kitchen."

Dinner – needless to say – was an awkward affair.

Between Kim-ly's uncharacteristically reticent and jumpy behavior, Im Yong Soo's frequent venomous glares to Kiku (Yao kicking Im Yong Soo under the table in vain attempts to discourage him), Kiku's eyes fixed upon the table's surface throughout the duration of the meal and Yao's forced smiles and laughs, the four in attendance had difficulty remembering a time they felt more uncomfortable.

"We'll be making dumplings, right, da-ze?" Im Yong Soo asked, a tad bit less irate than he had been just a few minutes before – perhaps for the sake of lightening the mood. Yao, having just finished washing the used dishes, beamed.

"Ah, yes, aru! Kiku, can you get out the ingredients, please, aru?"

Kiku nodded and did as he was told. Yao ignored Im Yong Soo's grumbles under his breath.

Hours later, as they watched the fireworks from Yao's roof, animosity among the family had simmered.

All four pairs of eyes widened with every boom! that thundered across the sky. Red and green and yellow and purple and blue and orange and pink and white streaks flickered and blinked on their forms. The city was illuminated by the light provided. For the few minutes they remained outside, there was no hostile atmosphere. It was almost as if there had never been any sort of strain or unease among them.

By midnight, when the family had retreated back into the house and nearly pounced on the dumplings they had just finished, Kim-ly had managed to make polite – if not forced – conversation with Kiku that was more or less small talk. Im Yong Soo's scowl had more or less disappeared, and Kiku had more or less given up on departing at every available opportunity out of guilt. Yao smiled, relieved, as he watched the tension and distrust gradually fade with the slumping of once-hunched shoulders. As far as he was concerned, his family was coming together once more.

"I must take my leave now."

After thirty-nine times of repeating that same line over the span of three days – and a majority of those being on the first day of that year – Kiku was not going to comply with any more excuses. Yao – crestfallen as he was – reminded himself that he had at least managed to keep Kiku with him until the morning of the fourth day of the New Year once more; Kim-ly and Im Yong Soo had left for their respective homes just the night before. Yao nodded and watched as Kiku hesitated with his hand upon the door handle – just as he had the year before.

"I will be here next year."

Yao didn't doubt him. He gave Kiku a wide, relieved smile as he felt the weight vanish from his chest.

"I will be waiting for you."

And so he did.

Kim-ly wasn't able to celebrate Chinese New Year's for another twenty years – from the beginning to the end of the Vietnam War. Xiang was still in England's possession, and would remain so for another several years. Meimei still had yet to so much as contact Yao (on friendly terms).

For those twenty years of Kim-ly's absence, only Kiku and Im Yong Soo could provide to Yao their company every New Year.

The first few years had been uncomfortable to say the least, as Im Yong Soo had yet to let go of his suspicions of Kiku; only when he no longer doubted Kiku did Im Yong Soo return to his boisterous nature. From then on, it seemed hard to believe there was a dark side to the history the three shared together.

While South Korea could stay for three days at most, Japan somehow got roped into staying an extra day or two than he had planned every year. Before long, Im Yong Soo began complaining of his jealousy of Kiku, who always had more free time to spend with Yao than he himself ever would.

It was not until Im Yong Soo had brought up the subject did Kiku realize the truth in his words.

Within the first five years, Kiku's visits to Yao would always begin on the day before New Year's Eve and end on the morning of the fourth day of the New Year. Sometime within the following fifteen years, he found the visits extending, ending at the fifth, and then the seventh day of the New Year.

The first day of the New Year of 1976 found Kim-ly joining them once more, and, thus, a new victim for Im Yong Soo to bemoan his misfortunes to.

"It's not nearly as big a deal as you make it." Kim-ly would say, which would only prove to further his aggravation, much to her own amusement. In all honesty, though, she thought it somewhat beneficial to her "older brothers" – Yao, having lived alone for so long, undoubtedly wanted some company once in a while, and Kiku, isolated as ever, would surely become more sociable from having such a close companionship with another. Kim-ly then remembered how Kiku had broken his relations with Meimei in favor of those with Yao just four years prior (7) and thought, with a sense of dark humor, perhaps, the only result was Kiku becoming protective of Yao, ironically enough.

Two years later, in 1978, Meimei surprised them all with the announcement of permitting her people to travel to mainland China. She showed up on Yao's doorstep on the eve of 1979, and, though there were still complications to be worked out between the two, everything would be resolved eventually, they all knew. (8)

In 1997, Hong Kong was rightfully returned to China by England. At some point between Meimei and Xiang's return, Kiku noticed his visits extending until, at most, the twelfth day into the New Year.

"What time will the fireworks be lit Gege?" Xian asked on the eve of 1998.

Yao smiled – neither he nor his younger siblings would ever change, he was certain – and glanced at the clock. "Aiiyah! It will begin soon, aru!" He exclaimed, grabbing Kiku by the wrist and dragging him outside. Xiang raised a brow and gave the other occupants of the main living room a questioning look, only to receive a just-as-unknowing frown by Im Yong Soo and Meimei both, and a wry, smug smile from Kim-ly.

When he and the other three climbed the roof and settled, Xiang – seated between Japan and Vietnam – found Yao and Kiku talking in hushed murmurs, their faces a little too-close for the mere sake of maintaining a whispered conversation. After a minute of observing them, Xiang turned to Kim-ly and acceded with a rather bland "oh."

"'Joint Declaration on Building a Partnership of Friendship and Cooperation'… aru?"

"Mm. I understand the title is quite long – it will be shortened later, I assure you – but the main idea-"

"I like it, aru."

Kiku's eyes (which had been straying from Yao's own) flickered to his elder's face from across the long table, and blinked stupidly at the enthusiasm in the gaze he found himself captive to (for a second, he was certain he saw stars and sparkles in those familiar, proud amber eyes (much like those in overly flamboyant bishounen characters that were becoming increasingly popular in his peoples' anime nowadays)). He swallowed (what, exactly, he wasn't sure – it might have been the nervousness he felt before even voicing the idea he had proposed, perhaps it was the relief flooding just about every other sense he had left, or even just as a method to smother the giddy excitement he felt that made his fingers twitch desperately with the urge to fidget) tightly and gave a genuine, small smile with an accompanying nod.

After the meeting, Kiku and Yao walked together at a leisurely pace toward the exit.

"If we are to strengthen our ties with one another, I believe it would be best if you remain in my residence for the extent of my country's New Year celebrations, aru."

Kiku blinked at the casual suggestion, a frown marring his face as he failed to determine what, exactly, he felt he was missing, or what he was overlooking in their conversation. Surely, there was something…?

"Ah, that sounds like a wonderful idea!"

Japan blinked and turned, facing Obuchi Keizou, the prime minister of his country, with complete bafflement, unable to comprehend how the man had managed to understand China. Only after mentally running over what Yao had said did Kiku realize why – rather than speaking in Mandarin (as was the norm for his elder), Yao had voiced his opinion in Japanese.

Then, Kiku realized the motive behind Yao's decision to speak up in Japanese. By having Obuchi-san agree to this arrangement, Japan was obligated to spend a total of two and a half consecutive weeks in China – not that he minded, but he highly doubted Obuchi-san was aware just how long the Chinese New Year celebration truly lasted.

"Hai, I agree, Obuchi-sama." Japan politely said before turning forward, glancing at China and, upon establishing eye contact, sent his elder a deadpan stare. Yao, unperturbed, simply grinned, more than enthusiastic at finally getting his way.

It was only when Kiku blinked and looked forward once more did Yao admit defeat to the blush that then overtook his cheeks, give in to the flutters in his stomach, surrender to the tightening, constricting motion of his chest. His lip quivered as he bit into it, but he disregarded the insignificant sliver of pain it brought about before turning to Zemin Jiang – a Chinese General Secretary who had assisted in establishing the relations – to translate the brief conversation and the arrangements that would be organized for Japan's visits over New Year's henceforth.

It was November 26th, only several weeks away from the new year of 1999. He wondered if that was enough time to work up his nerve for… that.


"What is it, aru?"

Kiku knelt down beside the river they'd been walking by, picked out the bobbing sphere. "A mandarin orange." He said, then over at the black ink of a permanent number written on the skin - a phone number. Yao stepped closer, peered over Kiku's shoulder to look.

"Go on, aru." Kiku turned, looked at Yao over his shoulder. Yao's lips curved up in a sort of secret smile. "It's a mandarin orange; go on and eat it, aru."

Kiku blinked. Then, obediently, he dug his short nails in near the top, pulled, and began to peel.

"Ah! Careful with the numbers, aru!"

Kiku stopped short of tearing the first digit in half, then peeled around the phone numbers, left them in tact and attached until it was all that was left of the peel. He ripped that off, too, gently, patiently, left that in his lap; he assumed there was a reason, if he was to be careful with the phone number, to keep it. He split the orange in half, offered Yao a slice.

Yao hesitated.

"No, thank you." He shook his head, stood up straight, leaned on his right leg, then his left. "It's your orange, eat it."

Kiku blinked, and, obediently, he took a bite into the first slice.

"... Well, aru?" Yao prompted, bit his lip, leaned back on his right leg.

"It's..." Kiku started, paused, "... almost too sweet."

Yao blinked, once, twice, thrice. His mouth stretched in a grin almost too wide for his face, despite the teeth that dug, indented, his bottom lip. "Really?" He asked, almost disbelieving. "Is it really aru?"

"Yes..." Kiku said, brows furrowed, confused. "Yao-san, are you-?"

"Yao, aru!" The elder nation insisted, bouncing on his toes. He glanced back almost impatiently, bit his lip, frowned thoughtfully. After a moment, he said, "I need to go home."

"So soon?" Orange in one hand, the ripped peel slices in the other, Kiku began to stand. "You insisted we go on this walk."

"Ah! You, wait here, aru!" Yao paused, bit his lip again, thought. "Stay here until a half hour after you finish the orange."


Yao had already turned and ran. Kiku blinked again, sighed, settled himself and bit into the second slice.

He might as well listen, if only to sate his curiosity.

When he opened the door, on the fifteenth day of the Chinese New Year in 2012, he had no expectations to how that night would end.


Red fabric, patterned with other colors - Kiku faintly recognized the shapes to be chrysanthemums and peonies, his and Yao's native flowers, respectively - reached just out to the shoulders, clung tight to the torso, ended just above the knees, and Kiku had to take a moment to realize what Yao was wearing: a cheongsam.

A one-piece traditional Chinese dress.

"You open door, why you no come in?"

As he had so many years before, the first year Kiku had visited - how many years ago was that, Kiku wondered - Yao gently grasped Kiku by the wrist, pulled him in, then, leaned forward - just enough for Kiku to catch the faint whiff of perfume, just enough for Kiku to see the thin mark of eye-liner that accented golden eyes - to shut the front door, lock it.

A shiver of anticipation crept down Kiku's spine.

He didn't so much as notice when he let the sole peel he kept slip through his fingers.

Yao looked back to him, looked him in the eye, smiled gently with red-painted lips.

"Come on, aru."

Yao walked, and Kiku slowly followed, through the hallway, and into the living room.

Half-way through Yao paused, turned to see the patter of footsteps had stopped at the preceding doorway, where Kiku stood, tense, a hand, clenched in a fist, up against the wall, teeth deeply embedded in the lower lip, blank eyes focused on the only impairment to the wooden floorboards.

Gently, unhurriedly, Yao's hands removed Kiku's from the wall, and Yao's fingers pried Kiku's from the tight fist.

Kiku chanced a glance at Yao, saw the eyes half-lid with sorrow, with affection, forgiveness.

And, gently, unhurriedly, Yao ushered Kiku in, past the couch, sat them both down.

A long silence reigned, awkward and tense, until Yao managed to lift his eyes from their joint hands, and immediately caught sight of a thin string of red, spilt from Kiku's bottom lip, where his teeth were still. In the next moment, Yao found his hands perched atop Kiku's shoulders, and his tongue traced the rivulet of blood from Kiku's chin up to the soft flesh of picked-and-bitten lips. Kiku's head jerked back at the contact, but he didn't resist – not when Yao shuffled forward on his knees until he was comfortably settled in Kiku's lap, not when Yao let his arms wrap around Kiku's back, and not when Yao angled his head and enveloped Kiku's lips in a kiss. Kiku didn't resist – but he didn't reciprocate, either.

Yao felt his hands fist in the back of Kiku's kimono.

Unrelenting, Yao shifted closer, breathed in deep through his nose, took in the Kiku's scent, relaxed, and only half-assured by the spark of lust he saw (not imagined, not imagined!) when Kiku first opened the door, the shiver that crept up Kiku's spine when he leaned in close, the noticeably-brightened color of Kiku's eyes when Kiku had caught sight of the eye-liner and lipstick he shamelessly wore. And so Yao kissed Kiku again, and waited – for a sign, a reaction, a response. He tried to maintain his composure as seconds ticked by, but he couldn't help his tensing, prepared himself for–for the shove, the disgust, the-

-hands that quickly, gently, hurriedly cupped his face, the lips that folded over his, the tongue that pushed against his own. Yao wrapped his arms tighter around Kiku as he released a sputtering sigh of relief through an open-mouthed smile.

Yao was more than happy to continue on that track, so accepting was he, when Kiku abruptly broke their kiss, held Yao's face back with his just-calloused pale hands. Yao had just frowned at the act, but held his tongue at the look on Kiku's face – pinched, unsure, hesitant – and, patiently, he waited.

Kiku's lips parted for a quick breath, pursed, parted once more. "Why?" He asked, and Yao couldn't help the pity he felt at the confusion, the bewilderment in Kiku's voice, how lost he sounded.

Yao licked his lips, shook his head with a small smile.

"Never care much for love or sex. Find it waste of time." Yao began, blunt as Kiku remembered him to be, though the absence of his "aru", and the awkward phrasing, especially in this... situation, just went to show how nervous Yao really was, and so Kiku was for the most part unmoved by the declaration.

"But, because it is from Japan..." Kiku almost held his breath at that – those words, he'd heard them before, years ago when he knew not where – or if he could – belong. "No, because it is from Kiku..."

Kiku's head snapped up, noting the change of words, and what it meant, immediately. His lips parted in shock, disbelief, at the next words that Yao would say – that he knew Yao would say.

"I want it."

Kiku's eyes widened.

How had it come to this, he wondered. The barrier he'd purposefully and carefully constructed was crumbling to dust. Yao was in his lap, straddling him-

-and, in all honesty, Kiku wanted nothing more than to take him.

There was a tremble in his hands, Kiku knew, as he pulled Yao's face closer to him once more, as he let his fingers slip to the back of Yao's head and snake through black, black hair while Yao kissed him eagerly, to the tie where it was always constrained. Curious, he untied the ribbon, and pulled back just enough to break the kiss, just enough to see how, freed, Yao's hair framed neatly around his face, gave him a softer, almost fragile look.

"Kiku," Yao murmured, a hitch in his breath, a plea. "Kiku, Kiku."

Slowly, almost magnetically, they came together once more – Yao impatiently, arms tightening even more so around Kiku, with a deep breath through his nose at that, that moment, and what it would forever mean to him; Kiku no less brashly, fingers combing through Yao's hair for a secure hold of his head to bring him impossibly closer, with a deep shudder of breath at the nth chance he was so generously given to right his wrongs, at the acceptance he wouldn't and couldn't ask for but still received.

At the slight pressure on the back of his neck from Yao's overlapped wrists, Kiku gently laid Yao down on the wooden floorboards they'd washed and polished a mere two or so weeks ago. With Yao on his back and Kiku braced above him, their kisses only grew wilder, hungrier; harried, hungry lips and rough, roaming tongues – the only indication of their growing passion, desperation, desire, aside from the shallowed breaths, the occasional soft noise torn from a throat.

Abruptly, reluctantly, Yao felt Kiku pull back to gather his breath, and Yao couldn't help the curve of his lips at the smears over Kiku's mouth. With a quick lick of his own messy lips, he pulled Kiku closer by the front of the olive-green yukata, angled his head and licked and bit at the sweaty pale neck, easily encouraged by the high groan, the low whine he received. Too far-gone for shame, embarrassment, modesty, Yao raised his legs, unperturbed and not-at-all bothered that the action caused his cheongsam to ride up to his thighs, around Kiku's waist, sneaked a hand in the inner fold of the yukata and let his hand slide slowly down Kiku's chest, follow the path of the thin beads of perspiration along the very neck he was still occupied with, delighted with the resulting labored breaths and soft moans.

Impatient, Yao used his free hand to bring one of Kiku's before him, released the neck and instead licked casually, languidly at slightly-curled fingers before he folded his mouth over two, three, sucked at them hungrily – and Kiku's face, of course, heated at the display he'd put on. Almost hesitantly, Kiku rested his forehead atop Yao's, briefly bracing himself precariously on his knees, and Yao could feel Kiku's free hand pushing his cheongsam up even further, above his hips, and he was a bit pleased with the short pause he'd earned for wearing nothing underneath.

He pulled on the wrist, teeth nibbling at the fingertips still, when he deemed the digits thoroughly coated with his saliva. He unwrapped his legs, rested them on the floor, spread out so Kiku would have better access, and clenched his hands once more around fistfuls of Kiku's clothes; to Kiku's inquiring and unsure eyes, he looked back with his own level stare, nodded determinedly, decisively, murmured, "Do it, aru."

Yao could feel the second shiver to creep up Kiku's spine.

There was not much pain to the first digit – just a sharp sting that barely made him flinch, but not enough to pull away. His breaths were still even, eyes still on Kiku's though Kiku's strayed often. He gave a nod in consent to Kiku's wordless question.

The second was worth more discomfort than pain. He tried to not shift or move around much at the fingers he felt were too-cramped within him. A minute or two longer it took for his body to be at ease, for him to relax, but eventually he did and, even scissoring – which left his knees shaking and body trembling for more – the digits had more than enough room to work with in him. He tried to not appear nervous as he reached down to Kiku's wrist, pushed it as much closer as he could to his body. Kiku's eyes flickered up once more at him, uncertain, but again he didn't seem to relent.

Yao closed his eyes, heard some shifting, some shuffling; his hand had already returned to his side. The fingers within him retreated, left him feeling empty, vacant, and the sensation was so discomforting he waited for a breath, two, almost began counting seconds in his head when he suddenly felt three fingers slam harshly into him.

He couldn't stop the cry that tore from his throat, nor the sharp breaths he took in through clenched teeth. His body jerked, his eyes clenched shut, and he was forced to remind himself to take deep, even breaths. The fingers hadn't moved, and he didn't take long to grow used to them, after he no longer felt faint ringing of pain up his spine, after the dull ache faded. The feeling of having more, though, the sensation of being more full, appealed to him instantly, and he couldn't resist rolling, rocking his hips, letting loose a moan or two, a pleased sigh, as the fingers were pushed in deeper. Still when the fingers remained immobile, he cracked open an eye, gave Kiku a glare level as a one-eyed glare could be.

With a slight duck of his head and already-averted eyes, Kiku asked, "Did I... hurt you?"

Of course; only Kiku would retreat at the first sign of pain. Yao almost smiled at the thought.

"I'm fine," Yao managed through heavy breaths, "Just... felt really good, aru." He noticed his voice lowered to a murmur by the end, but he couldn't bring himself to care, especially when Kiku's fingers began to move again – he cut himself off with a high arch of his back and a just-as-high, drawn-out whine.

Without his conscious decision to do so, his eyes clamped shut once more, and his nails raked and clawed at the wooden floorboards above him. His body was rocking in tandem to the thrust of Kiku's fingers when they stilled suddenly once more.

With a tired sigh he opened both his eyes, though they were narrowed and deadpan when they stared up at Kiku. He waited for a second, five, ten, before he sighed again and, deciding to see what'd caught Kiku's attention, turned his head to his right-

-the nail of his forefinger was caught on the edge of a scratch half-hidden by tangled fanned-out hair, absently raking across its length, the depth of it too deep to ever be a nick no matter how thin it appeared on the surface.

Yao's heart leapt into his throat, and he found it hard to swallow back down to his aching chest. With stinging eyes and a turned-down curve to his parted lips, Yao forced his head to turn forward once more.

He raised his hand-


-let it rest on Kiku's neck-


-then his cheek-


-wiped away phantom tears, tears he knew were not there, but could still feel on his shaking fingertips-

"I am here..."

-or, perhaps, they were the very tears he was swallowing down?

Kiku's head turned back to Yao, but his eyes were dark once more, blank, almost unseeing.

No! Yao found a frantic, panicked voice shouting, screaming at him, Don't take him from me! Not when he finally started smiling and laughing and feeling again, don't take him from me again!

Yao managed to nudge Kiku's hovering body closer to his, so their foreheads rested once more, and, gripping Kiku's free hand, he lifted his hips just enough to guide it up his back under the patterned vibrant fabric, to the scar that resided there, would forever stay, a constant presence, a constant reminder.

Kiku's eyes widened in bewilderment, panic, unmistakable guilt – but Yao ignored it, and instead combed his other hand through the short jet-black hair, murmured, "Kiku," ran his thumb along Kiku's porcelain cheeks, "don't be sad, aru."

Kiku didn't seem to have so much as heard him.

Spurred on by that panicked voice inside him that had yet to quiet, he pushed Kiku back into the sitting position – with himself straddling atop – they'd started this with, kissed and affectionately nipped Kiku's lips until Kiku looked at, and not toward, him.

"On fifteenth day of New Year there is tradition," Yao paused, licked his lips, too nervous to notice his anxiety was given away with just the words he spoke. "There is tradition, in Malaysia and Singapore, single women put phone number on orange and cast down river. Single men eat orange and taste tell how relationship will go – sweet mean good luck, sour mean bad luck."

Though the rest of his face looked expressionless, Kiku's widening eyes at least told Yao he was listening, and so Yao braced himself.

Lips trembling, eyes burning, he cupped Kiku's face – quickly, gently, hurriedly, as Kiku had done to him earlier – and made absolute certain he had Kiku's attention before admitting, softly, fondly, "Wo ai ni."

I love you

He pressed his forehead against Kiku's again, eyes shut, gave a shaky sigh, repeated, "Wo ai ni."

Gentle hands and delicate fingers cupped his jaw once more, and with a whisper of a breath against his lips, Kiku responded, "Watashi mo... anata o aishite."

I... love you, too

Yao's eyes snapped open, searched Kiku's and, upon finding them no longer blank, and somewhat lighter once more, he heaved a sigh heavy with relief, grin wide even as he threw himself once more at Kiku and kissed him, hurriedly, hungrily. The kiss back was just as fervent, and Yao didn't so much as hesitate when he lowered his hands to Kiku's obi, untied the sash and threw it somewhere across the room. His mood increased when he realized the shaking shoulders under his arms were the result of Kiku's silent laughter.

Kiku's hands strayed from his face to his exposed hips, thumbing the skin questioningly, and Yao responded only by parting the yukata so it was only held on by Kiku's arms and shoulders.

Yao shuffled forward on his knees, until his clothed chest and Kiku's bared were almost touching, his hands fisted in the material of Kiku's kimono, and he slowly lowered himself down on Kiku.

It hurt, and he took a while to catch his breath, but when the pain finally faded and his body adjusted, there was a deep, resounding pleasure in his bones, excitement settled in his very core, with the knowledge that Kiku was in him, and so he wasted little time to set the pace, to slowly lift and lower himself with gradually increasing speed. When the pace quickened to moderate, he settled his hands over Kiku's atop his hips, let Kiku guide him, and when Kiku thrust up just as Yao was pulled down, Yao mewled, moaned, and he was surprised at how easily he was losing his breath again.

Every other breath was a moan or a whine, a groan or a grunt; the only sounds were those they let out, accompanied by shallow pants, breathless gasps, pleased sighs, the harsh slap of their skin smacking together. Yao was lost in bliss, in ecstasy; unable to find even himself all he knew was heat and pleasure, the delicious friction between Kiku and him, the move of their bodies against each other, and he knew he was close.

There was–movement, and Yao took a few seconds to realize Kiku had lowered him to the floor once more. He sighed at the feel of the cool boards beneath his heated skin, hummed in approval at the move when he felt his legs and to an extent his hips were lifted, and, when Kiku slammed back in–he yelped, but he pulled Kiku even closer, moaned wantonly at the second thrust, the third, mewled at the fourth, bit his lip but couldn't hold back the pleased noises he made at the fifth, sixth, seventh, and so on. He wondered if the blood would rush to his head, considered that it just might have when he could hardly hear himself over the pulsing thrum of his excited heartbeat. Thus, it wasn't 'til Yao cracked open both his eyes did he see Kiku's lips move in a quick, excited pattern, and he had to focus on those lips to realize they were murmuring, "Yao, Yao, Yao", chanting as if in mantra.

Yao's heart swelled at the motion, and, in reckless abandon, he tightened the vice grip his arms had around covered shoulders, and, rather than wordless moans and whines and mewls, he cried, "Kiku! Kiku! Kiku!" in reply.

Because they were not having sex. They were making love.

Yao's chest ached, his eyes burned again, and breath was even harder to come by at the realization. They were at the same time moving too slow and too fast. Their breathing quickened, their thrusting lost rhythm, and it took little time for them to clutch at one another enough to leave bruises – reminders, proof that what they had done was real – as they finished.

When at last they could breathe, albeit somewhat heavily, Kiku pulled himself out, rolled Yao's cheongsam up and pulled it off as Yao helped Kiku shrug off the yukata. Kiku rolled off Yao and lay next to him, both on their backs, side-by-side until Yao decisively turned on his right side and rested his head on Kiku's chest, listened to his heartbeat, his breathing.

A long silence reigned, comfortable and easy – with Kiku's fingers hesitantly, then resolutely, combing the knots and tangles from Yao's hair, and Yao with his left arm over Kiku's stomach, right arm pressed against Kiku's side, curled up and unwilling to move – until they were both began to nod off to sleep.

As if in afterthought, Yao managed to tiredly mumble, around a yawn, "You should stop biting at your lips. It's a bad habit, aru." before he dozed off, and he could feel Kiku move from underneath him. After, there were no sounds but for their heavy breathing, the occasional shift or turn in their sleep.

And Yao was at peace.


Despite his words Yao raced down his stairs, hoping to beat the person who'd knocked at the door that morning, the day before the Eve of the Chinese New Year of 2013. When his words were obeyed, though, and the door opened, he felt his excitement somewhat simmer – after all, Kiku had for so long been the first one to visit him, and for so long had refused to come in on his own even at Yao's insistence – and his abrupt change of pace from running to reluctant steps caused him to trip over his own feet, and fall too quick for him to try to catch himself with his arms. Face-down he stayed on the floor still, emanating his bad mood best he could even whilst his mystery guest stepped in. There was a small thud, like baggage had been dropped on the floor, before a patter footsteps took one step, two, to where he lay, so close within reach of the door. He heard an annoyed sigh – though, he supposed, it could have been amused as well – and he thought he felt the presence lower itself almost to his level.

Slowly, Yao lifted his head from the floor and looked up, saw first the wooden sandals, then the kimono, the smooth and long-since-unbitten pale pink lips, the attentive light-brown eyes, the white flower tucked by his left ear, a sharp contrast to the jet-black hair surrounding it.

Kiku was crouched before him, brows raised in bemusement he didn't dare show through a smile. Kiku stretched out a hand for Yao to take, and when he did Kiku helped him sit up in a kneel.

"Kiku, aru?"

Kiku seemed to ignore when Yao's eyes flickered toward the still-open door in question, so instead he took in the kimono, to find the what in the pattern lay with the black chrysanthemums he easily distinguished, and realized, the thin black lines drew out more flowers, hard to catch at first sight with the white background, they were-

-white peonies.

"I thought this," Kiku raised an arm as if to gesture toward the kimono with too-long sleeves, and Yao couldn't help note it seemed distinctly feminine somehow, "was more accurate to our personalities to your attire last year."

"You could be vibrant if you wish, aru." Yao insisted, unwilling as ever to let Kiku stew in his guilty conscience.

"Only when I am with you." Kiku responded without missing a beat–though he faintly blushed when he must have realized how cliché and out-of-character that line really was, but Yao couldn't help the smile that tugged at his own lips.

Kiku, still crouched, took in a deep breath; Yao shifted and looked only at Kiku to show he was listening.

"As I am incapable of seduction of your level from the year prior," both their faces reddened here – Kiku at his admission, Yao at the reminder, "I thought I would rather wear garment similarly made for women," another pause, where Yao took in the implication in Kiku's words. Kiku's adverted eyes turned back to his.

"I believe it is my turn to take the feminine role in our relationship."

Yao's eyes found the white flower in Kiku's hair once more, and only then realized that, too, was a peony.

Yao pursed his lips, hoping to hide his grin when he recognized Kiku's too-formal wording – the way Kiku talked when he was frightfully nervous.

With only a murmur of, "All you have to do is ask, aru," Yao shuffled closer, hands on Kiku's wrists to keep him anchored, his head leaning closer to Kiku's with just-parted lips, just as Kiku's was to his.

A strangled gasp broke the short, serene silence, and Yao barely had the mind to keep his grip lest Kiku fall on his back when they both abruptly drew back at the sound, turned to see through the still-open door to find four too-familiar figures standing outside, watching.

Another broken breath sounded, undoubtedly Im Yong Soo – the only one with tears trailing from both eyes, one hand cupped over his mouth, the other fisting at his clothes directly over his heart. "Such love!" He cried, in his ever-dramatic fashion. "Such sorrow, such forgiveness! Their love should be captured in a drama to be broadcasted every Friday night!"

Xiang only stared, one brow raised, but there was a tiny curve to the corner of his lips, a hint of a smirk. Kim-ly grinned, full of teeth and arrogance to have been the first to figure it out from the start. Meimei glanced between them, brows furrowed, before she laughed and clapped, "They're more like a mother and father caught by their kids than the older brother figures!"

"Yes," Kim-ly agreed, eagerly, "but, who would be the mother?"

Kim-ly gave sinister cackle as the other three turned to one another and bickered over that. She turned to Yao and Kiku, both of whom were standing, now, with a gentle, accepting smile before she joined in the argument with her pseudo siblings.

Kiku watched them all with a frown and confused smile, bemused. Yao watched Kiku out of the corner of his eye, then at the other four, turned to look over his shoulder at the living room, remembered everything that happened there, before he turned back to the still-bickering four with a wide smile, shuffled a step closer to Kiku with a deep, sated breath.

His family was together once more.

I will have footnotes re-posted up here soon, hopefully, but the story makes sense even without, so. But anyways, I hope you guys enjoyed your read!

If you have any questions, comments, concerns, constructive criticism, etc., please review or send a message and I'll get back to you when I can

Ja Ne =D!

If you have any questions, comments, concerns, constructive criticism, etc., please review or send a message and I'll get back to you when I can

Ja Ne =D!