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  Aiko looks between them as if there's something she's missing, but doesn't question it for now.
  
“It's still early, yet. Toshio and Reo don't arrive for another few hours. Always working, it seems.” She motions down at the entrance and then for them to follow.
  
Saya bends mannerly at the knees and slips out of her heels before stepping up onto the raised floor in front. Turning to pick them up, she finds them already in the hands of one of the attendants, who place them in a cubbyhole to the side. Lan wasn't as gracious as he simply steps one shoe on the heel of the other, stepping up next to Saya.
  
She watches as the same woman places Lan's shoes in another slot, but keeps an eye on the man next to her. He may not like this place, but he knows what to expect, noting that Lan didn't even turn around to deal with his shoes.
  
“Let's start with a.. late afternoon tea, shall we say, and should you both like, we can all have dinner together,” Aiko says as she turns a corner and starts down a hall. At the very mention of the word tea, attendants skirt in front of her and off to the side, murmuring to each other. The three walk single-file for now, Aiko, Saya, and Lan bringing up the rear.
  
She looks to the right in a brief glance at the kitchen, massive and stainless everything, one assistant preparing a tea set before they kept moving.
  
For what should have been a century old house, if what Lan said was true about the company's age, everything was pristine. Her feet made soundless steps on glossy, polished wood, sliding doors open to tatami clad rooms and out further into a courtyard with other buildings beyond that.
  
Her instinct was right, at least, it was more of a compound than a simple home.
  
Aiko stops at a closed door and moves it aside with a swff before entering. Saya looks back at Lan, who stands next to her, but holds his arm out for her to enter first.
  
She does and is presented with a low table, seats with cushions and a solid wooden back tucked underneath. Aiko pulls one out and motions for Saya to see. “If you would.” The matriarch herself walks around opposite, waiting for the guest to sit before she finally does. Lan was left to fend for himself as he pulls out the seat beside Saya's – but hesitates.
  
“Actually, if you'll excuse me for just a moment..” Saya looks sharply up at him for leaving the two of them alone, and he simply holds up his hands. “Restroom, right back.”

--

  As Lan steps out, the attendant steps in with the tea set, placing it gingerly on the unoccupied table space next to Aiko. She nods and the assistant holds the top of the ceramic teapot and pours it out slowly into the three cups, being very methodical about it. She picks up the cup and holds it out to Saya across the table, who takes it with a slight bow, before doing the same for Aiko.
  
Showing off, intimidation, the best defense is.. why am I thinking about this? Saya wonders. This woman has shown her nothing but kindness, and all she knows is based on what Lan has briefly told her. And what person actually gets along with a step-parent? She exuded both affluence and influence, but hadn't wronged Saya thus far.
  
Saya takes a sip from her cup, before setting it down in front of her. Blank slate, open mind.
  
“I have to admit,” Aiko starts, “that I am rather curious as to who you are and why you are here, Miss Travis. Lan hasn't visited for a long while, and it's been.. more than a decade since he has come with anyone else.”
  
She marks the pause with a drink from her own cup, tilting her head to look over at Saya.
  
“And never with a woman.”

--

  Meanwhile, Lan steps quickly, and quietly down the hall to the back entrance of the kitchen, peering around the corner as the staff seems to have cleared out for the time being, tea was made, there were other things to attend to.
  
His father was only mildly security conscious, and Lan didn't think the home cameras would be inside, but he had noticed them outside as they came up to the house itself.
  
He walks across the kitchen and pulls open the pantry door, eyes scanning each shelf quickly, tapping a bare section of wood where what he was looking for would normally be.
  
So they dried it out when they heard I was coming, he thinks.
  
Reo's voice echoes in his head as Lan had once admitted to his half-brother when they had started to control his income when they noticed his alcoholism: “An addict finds a way. Always.”
  
True to his own words, he kneels at the bottom of the pantry and snakes his hand behind a large bottle of rarely used dinnerware, including a set of large silver champagne chillers and ice buckets, smiling to himself as his fingers wrap around the neck of a bottle he expected to find.
  
Pulling it out, he tilts it in his hand as he blows off the dust of the nearly-full bottle of vodka, twisting open the top and tilting it back, taking two, three large swallows before coming up for air, gritting his teeth at the burn down his throat.
  
Lan takes one large, last gulp and twists the bottle closed, replacing it in its hiding place. He briefly wonders if any of the other hiding places he stored things like this in this home had been compromised. He'd have to wash his mouth out a bit before going back to Aiko and Saya, but pauses as he reaches up to grip the light-switch cord.
  
An addict finds a way, he thinks, pulling down and plunging the pantry back into darkness.

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About the author

drac

Bio: apologies for everything about me, it might get better.

updates will be once a day for the next seventy days since i am migrating from another platform and have those chapters - and more - ready to go. (from 8/9)

feel free to come hang out in the discord, if you like.

[email protected]

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