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The Cat and The Envelope

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It was a freezing night. 

 

Chills bite into his bones, the wind snarled and whipped against him mercilessly. His white haori battered with the cold, providing little warmth for him. 

 

Yeah, heading back to Bao would be the rational choice. 

 

But Akeboshi didn’t budge.

 

How could he, when the prickling sensation was the only thing keeping him grounded?  

 

Everything seemed so gray, so dull . It had been like that for as long as he can remember. He let out a humorless laugh. Though it came out sounding more like a series of harsh gasps and wheezes as if he was choking, trying to gulp down some air to get his lung working, to breathe . He supposed that was accurate as well, in some sense.

 

His legs dangled over the edge of the cliff. Slipping away sounded so appealing right now. Leaving all his responsibilities behind and letting himself be swallowed by the oh-so-inviting embrace of Death. It would be laughable easy, all that he needed was just a little push and he would fall to his end. 

 

But Akeboshi didn’t budge. 

 

Don’t get him wrong, the promise of a never-ending slumber was comforting. It’s not like he had anywhere he belonged. He left the Twelve Seats and ran away from the Federation, selfishly. For the sake of freedom, away from the shackles, watchful eyes those Chiefs locked on him. Look at where it got him now. 

 

His travels did put a damper on the cold that had been chipping away his soul. The light in his eyes got a little brighter, the world around him, too, got a little more colorful.

 

Not for long, though. When has life been easy for him?

 

 Who would miss him anyway? Kou, maybe. She was such a sweet child, talented and hardworking, with a bright future ahead of her. The apprentice looked up to him, always eager to lend a hand. Sure, she might be upset, but with the guide of her mentor, she’d move on in no time. 

 

The Twelve Seats would be glad that a burden had been disposed of, especially Tsuzumi. Hah, he was sure the Stone-eater would be ecstatic. He could already see him throwing a drinking party to celebrate his death, that bastard. ( He ignored the bitter taste in his mouth, it was the truth after all .) 

 

The mineralogist’s focus got dragged back into reality as something wet dripped down his palm. Ah . He didn’t even notice how hard he had been clenching his hand. Fingernails dug through his skin, drawing specks of blood beads that were steadily rolling down his hand. 

 

He paid them no mind. The hissing pain was not enough to ground him and he was too distracted to bandage it up, it’s not a serious wound anyway. 

 

Not a second later, he found himself staring into the abyss beneath the cliff yet again. Falling to his death doesn’t sound quite pleasing, now that he thought about it. What if he gets stuck on a sharp pillar and he has to bleed out to his death? He’d rather not, thank you very much. 

 

Hm, didn’t he get some stones from a village days ago? He was sure one of the galleries had Stibnite laying around. Akeboshi rarely, almost never used Stibnite in his fights. The gemstone was poisonous, its ability was too. Surely if he activates Stibnite’s power before ingesting it, he will die in an instant. With how quickly it is, it might even be painless.

 

He blinked, was he really doing this? Teeth biting down the inner side of his mouth as he pondered until the taste of iron began to spread. 

 

“There’s nothing else to live for anyway.” 

 

The man stood, arching his neck to look at the constellations that were swimming and dancing in the sky, lighting up the pitch-black night. 

 

Regardless of how bright the stars are burning, the world around him was still so painfully dull. 

 

Akeboshi lowered his head, returning to his partner without looking back. 

 

________________________________

 

Fountain pen tapped on a piece of paper restlessly as Akeboshi struggled to think of anything to write on his… his departure note. 

 

Apologies… That’s what people usually write on these, right? He groaned, who knew writing this kind of stuff can be this hard? This should be something that he didn’t even have to think about, just… write whatever came to mind, right? 

 

Right.

 

Few longing glances directed at the Stibnite behind him, sitting innocently at his worn-out desk that was on the other side of the room. The gemstone was kept in a small, delicate glass jar, glinting beneath the few sunrays that had escaped his closed curtains. 

 

He sighed, then finally began to write. Sounds of the pen dancing across the paper filled the room.

 

Admittedly, Akeboshi wanted to just swallow the stones and get this over with, but a Feudal Lord from a run-down village had sent an invitation to him some days ago. He wouldn’t want to trouble the man with his absence.

 

Just a little longer. He hummed, stealing another glance at the Stibnite. 

 

Just a little longer. 

 

________________________________

 

To those who I knew,

 

Hey, it’s Akeboshi. Before anything else, I would like to apologize for the matter…

 

________________________________



Hagi village was a lively place.  

 

He walked around the place with an ever plastered smile on his face, the strain of having to maintain the expression lessened slightly by the laughter and chatter around him. 

 

Maybe he can even carry this good mood when he returns! Coming here doesn’t seem so bad after all. 

 

At least, that’s what he thought before getting buried alive in a hole. 

 

I’m taking that back. Alarmed shouts echoed through the narrow place as he was trying to convince the teen that no , he was not the guy the boy was looking for. It was his first time here! And every Mineralogist has an earring similar to his! 

 

The walls beside him threaten to suffocate him. Fear clawed at his throat as his vision swam, dark spots engulfing his sight. He reached up blindly, feeling like someone had stuffed his ears with cotton, and dragged him underwater. Panicked gasps escaped him while he tried to grip at nothing. 

 

Please! His mind screamed weakly before his knee hit the ground, slipping into unconsciousness.



________________________________

 

 

…I’m sorry for running away from being in the Twelfth Seat. The responsibilities were too much to bear, it just doesn’t feel right. But I assume you don’t want any excuses, do you?

 

 

I’m sorry for not being strong enough. I’m sorry that I can’t stand my ground like the rest of the Twelve Seats. But despite it all, I am not sorry for setting off on a journey myself. The world was wide, and I can’t help but want to experience it myself. 

 

Although, I am sorry for being selfish for my sake.

 

 

________________________________



Honestly, once he looked past how the teen tried to interrogate him, ( and maybe possibly murder him- ) Kai was actually a nice person. Not to mention, his cooking skills were top-notch! He couldn’t hold back himself from wolfing down his share. 

 

He had apologized sheepishly for the incident afterward, answering his question about the reason he’s trying to track down a said man with a red earring and three lines. 

 

And boy, seeing one’s foot that got petrified was a first for him. He couldn’t imagine how terrific it was for a little boy, seeing your own family get turned into nothing but stones and gems.

 

Tragic backstory aside, they got along quite well. With him describing the outside world and Kai shooting questions and wows back at him at a rapid speed.

 

It was refreshing. 

 

Then everything went downhill. 

 

Of course, when has life been easy for him?

 

Humanity was rotten to the core. That was one of the first lessons he had learned, drilled into his skull again and again so he could never forget. He had experienced it first hand after all. But it didn’t make the truth less bitter, less disturbing

 

It was old news to him. But oh , how dare they lay their hands on an innocent child, out of nothing but greed .

 

( A voice in the back of his mind cried that he was once a child too, but that never seemed to stop them. )

 

He took the slash that was meant to cut off the boy’s leg, forcing out a grin. Soothing words were whispered gently at the trembling teen in his arms, words that he himself craved to hear when he got kicked and stomped down repeatedly. 

 

Akeboshi cupped his ruby earring within Kai’s warm but thin fingers, turning to stare down Sabiya and his bodyguards. He spat his disgust at the greedy bunch, venom laced his words as he drew his crimson sword.  

 

But then a petrified lion with hardened diamonds as its fangs stepped up. The grip on his katana tightened, knowing full well his weapon couldn’t cut through the beast and the wound behind his back certainly wasn’t helping. 

 

Honestly, this doesn’t sound like a bad way to go . His stance wobbled, trying his best to stand his ground as he panted from exhaustion and blood loss. 

 

Then Kai came back, baring his teeth with quivering arms spread out, shielding the older man from further harm. 

 

And oh , how that sparked a tiny flame in his heart. 

 

The spark, slowly but surely, became a blazing inferno as the boy stood alongside him. The sword in his hand shook as diamonds coated its edge, sharpening the blade to a degree that it could cut through the beast as if it was nothing but butter. 

 

He didn’t notice it right away, but the raging flame that Kai lit in him was eating away the cold in his heart steadily. So when the boy begged him to take him under his wing, his soul trembled with excitement as he comprehend that he actually wouldn’t mind exploring life a little longer, if it meant doing it with Kai. 

 

Sure, the red diamond may be the rarest, the most valuable diamond, but Kai’s ruby eyes with fierce determination swirling inside…

  

Akeboshi wouldn’t trade this for anything in the world. Not even the red diamond, never .

 

( An envelope sat inside his drawer, safely tucked away in the back of his mind .)

 

________________________________



      - Kou  

 

Kou, you’re always such an energetic child. So strong and brilliant, with a heart of gold. Never change, got it? 

 

I have no doubt that you will become one of the best bureaus in the Federation, prove those who say otherwise how wrong they are, eh? I’m sure Sakon would agree with me on that. 

 

Thank you for always looking up to me with admiration in your eyes, I apologize that I couldn’t live up to your expectations. Tell your mentor that I’m grateful you’re getting taken care of, will you? 

 

Thank you for being you, Kou. Best of luck! 

 

________________________________        

 

Seeing Kou beaming at him really brought back memories, that boisterous laughter of hers playing repeatedly in his mind, tucking the corner of his mouth. 

 

Akeboshi just hoped Kai and Kou would get along. A snicker escaped his throat as he thought about all kinds of chaos Kai was facing with Kou nagging him. They would get along just fine. 

 

A loud explosion boomed through the city, whistles of a petrified whale and crashes caused by the destruction of the buildings rang in his ears. 

 

Then everything went downhill. 

 

Of course, when has life been easy for him?

 

The irony was so hilarious that he would have laughed out loud instead of screaming in agony if he weren’t currently getting stabbed by makeshift Stibnite daggers all over the place. The plan that he had forgotten bubbled up in his mind without restrain. 

 

His apprentice’s muffled pleas reached his ears as he hit the ground. Akeboshi chastised himself mentally, he was really pathetic, wasn’t he? It was a mentor’s responsibility to keep any harm from coming near their apprentice, and yet here he was, getting protected by Kai again.

 

“...What you really want is the red diamonds, right…?” Kai stood up from his previous kneeling position, voice steely. 

 

His heart ached in realization. No. He gritted his teeth. I wouldn’t trade you for anything in this world. 

 

Akeboshi’s hand outstretched and grabbed Kai’s hand firmly, stopping him from marching on. Not even the red diamond. Or my life. His mind hissed, Never .

 

The two rose together and wished upon a diamond. A flashing light engulfed the scene in the form of an answer to Kai’s prayer, but it wasn’t enough.

 

Until a familiar roar entered the scene. His shoulders sagged in relief, the Twelve Seats had arrived.

 

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Akeboshi slumped down against the wooden door of their room, the meeting had taken a toll on not only him, but Kai too. He sighed and shook his head as if the action would clear his thoughts. 

 

“Kai, has it ever crossed your mind that Akeboshi might’ve been so kind to you because of those red diamonds you have?” Lady Mumyou’s weirdly smooth voice bounced around his skull, throwing out an accusation like it was merely a suggestion. 

 

His mind was running overdrive, because what if… What if that’s what he thought?

 

Never .” Kai had denied so easily without missing a beat, sincerity rolling off his tongue.

 

For some reason, his shoulders felt lighter after that. He mused, leaning the back of his head on the door frame lightly. 

 

“Hey, um…” 

 

The mineralogist looked up, staring right into his apprentice’s eyes, who was sitting on a bed. Akeboshi hummed, prompting him to continue. 

 

Kai tightened his grasp on the blanket, opening his mouth after a moment. “Why did you… take me as your apprentice?” 

 

Ah, so that’s what this was about. The apprentice averted his gaze nervously, phrasing his question slowly and carefully.

 

“I mean, everyone… keeps saying… that you never did.” Kai wrung his braid, fidgeting. A nervous tick, it seemed. “Also… I still wonder why you’re willing to go that far for me when I’m just a stranger in the end. I…I don’t get it .” He finished, head lowered.

 

“I see…” Akeboshi started, standing up. “This is kind of a pathetic story, okay?” He huffed, looking away. “So, until four years ago, I was part of the inspection Bureau of the Ore Federation. But to be honest, it didn’t feel right.”  

 

“Huh? Why? Kou told me everyone used to envy you.” Kai muttered curiously, head turned to have a better look at him. 

 

“Ahahah, I guess that’s true.” Akeboshi bit out bitterly, a hint of resignation in his tone. “But they hated me twice as much.” 

 

“You see… ‘Pigeon Blood’ is the name given to a ruby of the highest quality, one with superb transparency and deep red color. ‘Some’ people began to call me that after I was chosen as the most suitable to carry it.” He found his finger on the hilt of his sword, rubbing the gemstone engraved in it. 

 

“That title and all that work I had to do at the inspection Bureau was suffocating me, so I left the Federation.” He marched on, gingerly leaving out some of his personal details.

 

“I set out on a journey alongside Old Bao to dig for the gems I love, and I spent my days as I liked.” The mineralogist grinned slightly at the memory, but his eyes quickly darkened, a distant look on his face. “But… For some reason, my heart went cold altogether.” An image of a certain glass jar flashed in his mind.

 

Kai nibbled his lip, brows furrowed at that.

 

“It was around that time that I met you.” Akeboshi’s expression softened, sparks returning to his eyes. “When you asked me to take you in as my apprentice, I thought… I wouldn’t mind staying there living such a life with you.” 

 

“I couldn’t help being ecstatic .” The mentor turned around, facing his apprentice, with a small but surely genuine smile on his face. 

 

The teen stilled, dumbstruck. Akeboshi could hear the cogs in his apprentice’s mind whirring right now, though he’s not sure what it was about.

 

“Alright! I’ll study till I drop!” Kai suddenly shrieked, hands tightening into a fist. “ EHH?! Am I that unreliable?!” His mentor squawked, sweat dropping. The apprentice rolled his eyes in reply.

 

They still have a long way to go, but for now, they will enjoy a slice of peace they earned, just for a little while.

 

________________________________                                        

 

      - Benito

 

Hey, Benito. 

 

You must be disappointed huh?

 

Honestly, I’m happy that I have met you in this life. When we were young, you stuck by my side, when no one else would. 

 

I wouldn’t admit this face to face but you are like a big sister to me, how you fretted over me, care for me when it’s not even your responsibility. 

 

Thank you for being by my side, I’m grateful for you. 

 

________________________________

 

The screaming match had left Akeboshi emotionally exhausted and… shocked. He collapsed in his chair, an arm over his eyes. 

 

Kai had been enraged when he found out, Akeboshi thought he was doing the right thing but Kai certainly didn’t think so. He was still puzzled over the exchange, wasn’t this what he was supposed to do? 

 

“Of course I don’t want to die! But…” 

 

Akeboshi let out a ragged breath, mind still buzzing, his reply at Kai’s accusation ringing in his head over and over again.

 

Do I mean it? The image of a neatly folded paper that sat in his drawer flickered, haunting him, mocking him. 

 

Do I mean it?

 

“That’s all I wanted to hear. That’s… enough for me.” 

 

The resignation in Kai’s words had sent a pang in his chest, did he hurt his apprentice because of this? How stupid, utterly idiotic of him.

 

“I’ll have to apologize to Kai tomorrow.” Akeboshi sighed, earning an approved hum from Benito.

 

Something that sounded like glass shattering filled the air. “Oh my.” Benito glanced outside through a window, “What was that noise?”

 

Then everything went downhill.

 

Of course, when has his life been easy? 

 

The sight that greeted Akeboshi was one that he was sure would become one of the nightmares that will haunt him for his life.

 

“Kai?” 

 

He didn’t even register the sound that came out from him, katana slipped through his hand, resulting in a sounding clang. His mind was screeching at him, shrieking and clawing, desperate. 

 

But Kai didn’t budge. 

 

There the statue knelt, unmoving, unresponsive. Blazing rage instantly replaced the inferno that Kai lit in him. 

 

I will get you back. No matter the cause. Was what went through his head when the stone-eater rode her dragon and flew away.

 

I will get you back. No matter the cause. Was what went through his head when he wailed, roaring his heart both out of the pain in his shoulder, and his utter failure from protecting his apprentice. 

 

I will get you back. No matter the cause.  Was what went through his head when he spoke to Kai’s petrified body, gentle but determined.

 

I promise you. He thought as Kou reluctantly slipped a pair of rope cuffs on him. I will get you back.

 

He let himself get pulled along by the Aonibi Guard. To meet the ruler of Aonibi Mine, Lord Tsuzumi, they said. ‘ Lord Tsuzumi’ . He tested out the word in his mind, face souring slightly.

 

It was about time for a reunion to happen anyway.

 

________________________________

 

 

      - Tsuzumi  

 

Sorry for proving you right. Should I even apologize for that? 

 

Call me a coward, a rat, whatever you want. Don’t forget to take care of yourself, you bull, always putting others above yourself first, though that’s kind of hypocritic for me to say. Huh? 

 

Think whatever you want, but I mean these genuinely. Your health matters too, keep that in mind, or else your workers are gonna have gray hair from worrying you.

 

Heh, just know that now I will forever be the champion of our drinking contest, take that!

 

Good luck with your duties. Though I suppose you don’t even need my blessing, you’d manage them just fine.



________________________________

                                                          

“Don’t you feel so pathetic… That you could just cry?” 

 

A long shadow loomed over Akeboshi’s laying frame whilst the mineralogist coughed, struggling to recover from the body slam that he had just been subjected to. Sharp gaze glued at his expression, tracking his movement like a shark. Right, maybe Tsuzumi might be the shark in this, but that didn’t mean Akeboshi was going to be an easy prey for him to dissect. 

 

“Cry?” The Ruby user flipped back onto his feet with a bounce, a humorless snort accompanied his retort. “I feel so mortified I could die.” 

 

Tsuzumi growled threateningly, teeth bared in a silent warning. “In that case, hurry up and go to hell! ” The arm of his surged forward, readied to throw the other off-balance, only to hit something hard. The Stone-eater’s eyes widen in confusion, unconsciously creating a split-second opening. The petrification of his shoulder had helped him somehow, funny. 

 

Akeboshi leaped forward, tackling the bigger man as he locked his legs around Tsuzumi’s neck. “I may be so mortified that I could die, but-” Not wasting another second, Akeboshi tilted their balance, returning the flavor earlier as he slammed the Aquamarine user on the floor hard

 

-there’s no way I can afford to die now! ” 

 

Needless to say, they put together a plan after that, the ruler of Aoboni had lent him a hand, generously , as the man himself may add. Seeing Tsuzumi getting bombarded by a bunch of passionate civilians was a fun sight though, what a busy man. He muffled his chuckle with a fist when children climbed over him. 

 

A busy man indeed. 

 

( He narrowly missed the funny look that Tsuzumi gave him, relief slipped out from his cracks for a split second before smoothed back to his stoic expression.) 

 

(‘He finally found something to clutch onto.’ Tsuzumi pondered, sparing a glance at the Ruby user that was currently talking with the blonde from the Federation, who had a newfound resolve and determination in his eyes.

 

________________________________

 

There’s not much to say, honestly.  

 

Stay safe, you hear me? I don’t want any of you to visit me so soon. 

 

Till we meet again, 

 

      - Akeboshi

 

________________________________

 

Things had calmed down somewhat after the whole Kurotobi incident, before the whole chaos happened, Akeboshi was like a worried motherhen, always fretting over his apprentice. After the incident, however, the man was still a motherhen, but worse .  

 

Kai had to chase his mentor off so he could clean their house in peace. Normally when Akeboshi tried to glue himself onto Kai as if he’s some off-brand koala bear, he’d let him, for the Ruby user’s peace of mind. 

 

But the mineralogist had been gushing about an upcoming big discount at a gemstone market, and coincidentally that was today. Kai was absolutely not letting him miss this just because his mentor was worried that he might get kidnapped while he was not around. ( “But Kai! What if-” Akeboshi whined, sniffling like a lost child. “Argh, it’s not fair an old man like you have puppy eyes- I will be fine! Just go, shoo!” “I’m not old!” )

 

So here he is, alone in the house sorting through all kinds of mess. A vein on his forehead nearly popped out when he spot Akeboshi’s so-called workplace . The abomination had scattered books all over the place, bookshelves were supposed to be used , dammit. Decks of galleries that contained gemstones could be seen everywhere across the room, some of them are even out of the box, he almost stepped on one! 

 

In conclusion, this place was a mess . An even bigger mess than he and his mentor combined which was saying something. That was why he decided to take the matter into his own hands, shooing Akeboshi away when he asked if he needed any help. 

 

You see, cleaning was one of the jobs that Kai had picked up when he was back in the village, he considered himself a decent cleaner so he was quite confident with this task. 

 

He picked up his bucket of cleaning tools and subconsciously melted back into his old habits. Hours passed by in a blur and there was no sign of Akeboshi arriving home, but that was expected since the market he’s going to was kind of popular and his mentor already warned him beforehand that he might be late. 

 

Of course, his mentor’s workplace was the hardest one to clean. Kai was currently trying to sort through the galleries, finding the ones that were missing from the box and putting them back in place. He was starting to regret not asking for Akeboshi’s help, his mentor might at least remember which gallery had which stones.

 

Kai let out a long sigh as he rubbed his nose bridge, this was a nightmare. He was almost done, he only needed to find a Lace Agate for the last box and he’s done. Pride bubbled up his chest when he realized wow he’s almost done! A grin broke out on his face, he continued his search, trying to find the pale blue gem. 

 

Nearly twenty minutes later the teen found himself sprawled across the floor, grunting. 

 

“Auugh, maybe I should just ask Akeboshi when he gets back,” Kai pouted, ranting to the ceiling. “I’ve checked everywhere, but it’s just not there!” His head rolled to the side, staring at a table leg. 

 

“Wait…” He narrowed his eyes before sitting up, squinting at the desk as if it has all the secrets in the entire universe. “I haven’t checked the drawer,” Kai stood up, opening the wooden drawer.

 

Kai made a noise of triumph when his gaze laid upon a lone gem inside, sitting beside an envelope. He packed the Lace Agate back in the box it belongs to before turning to look inside the drawer again. There was nothing besides the gem he just found and a white envelope. He knew sometimes the man received some mail from the Federation despite him not being one anymore, and some random mail that businessmen sent. 

 

But this envelope didn’t seem professional, it didn’t even have a seal on it. Curious, he picked up the envelope delicately, flipping it over to the back revealed the sentence ‘To Those Who I Knew.’ scrawled on it in his mentor’s handwriting. 

 

“Huh.” He blinked, “I wonder what’s in it.” He muttered before he shook his head furiously. 

 

Privacy! He reminded himself. Respect privacy! This must be an unsent mail from Akeboshi, he shouldn’t read it. No. Nuh-uh. Nope. 

 

…But the mail wasn’t sealed, he could just take a peek and put it back, easy. ‘ No, Kai! What on the earth are you thinking? You’re not doing this!’ Kai pinched his nose bridge, trying to ignore the burning curiosity in his stomach. 

 

After a few minutes of staring contest, the searing curiosity inside him swallowed him whole. The teen gave in, with a sigh, he pried open the envelope gently, what met him was a square piece of folded paper… 

 

…and what might be a life-changing revelation.

 

________________________________

 

‘Curiosity killed the cat.’ They said. Kai just hoped that he won’t grow cat tails and ears now because that was literally what’s happening to him, right now.  

 

Gnawing horror clawed at him, dread pooling beneath his feet while he tried to force down the tremor in his hands. Kai was well aware that the paper in his hands was crumpled, like himself. 

 

He skimmed over the words, again and again, blinking rapidly. 

 

The words stayed, no matter how hard he blinked, how hard he shook his head, hoping and praying that his eyes were just playing a cruel trick on him but the words stayed on the paper and it was not going away .

 

His breath hitched, the air was not coming through no matter how hard he heaved. His vision blurred as the tremor spread throughout his entire frame, trembling like a newborn deer. 

 

His mentor was going to kill himself. 

 

Oh god. His mentor was going to kill himself. 

 

Droplets of water rolled down from his cheek. Oh. He was crying. He put the crumpled paper on his mentor’s desk, wiping his tears with the back of his hands but they kept coming. It was like someone ripped his water tap’s handle so he couldn’t turn off the waterworks even if he tried to stop it with his bare hands, the water was still spewing out one way or the other. 

 

So he cried. Kneeling beside the desk. He screamed and sobbed and wailed, bawling his heart out. Honestly, somewhere in the process, he forgot what he was crying for, who he was crying for. Then the image of Akeboshi, his mentor, the one that reached out to him and gave him hope died somewhere in a ditch he was weeping again. 

 

“For some reason, my heart went cold altogether.”

 

Ah, that made so much sense now. A burst of laughter bubbled up his throat and got caught up in the tears, making a pathetic noise. He must look like a total mess, the fact that his hair tie got pulled off when he was tearing his hair wasn’t helping. 

 

After who knows how long, the waterworks had finally stopped, after all a tap can’t run if it has no water. He had thought he’d feel lighter after his crying session. Well, he did feel lighter, but it was more of an I-might-collapse-the-second-I-move kind, rather than the good kind. 

 

Kai could really use a cup of water right now, but his legs wouldn’t listen and he really, really didn’t want to move, but he had to. His wobbly hand reached out, grabbing the edge of the desk to help him stand, then stumbled to the kitchen. 

 

It was when he guzzled down the water when he heard a click coming from the front

________________________________

 

“I’m back!” Akeboshi called, with a broad smile on his face. The bag he was carrying made a small clanging sound as the boxes inside clashed, he found so much good stuff at the market, all with a discount. Oh, Kai’s gonna love these! 

 

 A shattering sound came from the kitchen. 

 

His heart stuttered in his chest and he jumped to the worst scenario because what if , what if, what if-  One hand readied at the hilt of his sword, he rushed into the kitchen. And Kai was there, unharmed, oh thank the gods

 

But then he realized that Kai wasn’t looking at him, he didn’t seem like he noticed his arrival either. Only a dazed look on his face, staring at the broken glass shards on the floor.

 

“...Kai?”  Akeboshi tilted his head a tiny bit, squinting to have a better look at his apprentice. 

 

The teen’s eyes were red and puffy with a distant look on his face like he’s not all there , his usual braid too, was nowhere to be seen, replaced by a bundle of messy hair.

 

Was he sick? Was he drugged- He bit his tongue to stop the what-ifs from flooding his head, panicking was the last thing he needed right now. 

 

“Kai?” He spoke a little louder, concerned deep in his tone. “Kai… can you hear me?” 

 

Akeboshi put his hand tenderly on Kai’s shoulder, worries spiraling even deeper as he watched the touch make his apprentice jolt, eyes blowing wide all of a sudden. Kai’s hands were in his hair immediately, tearing and ripping them out, accompanied with harsh jagged breath.

 

“Hey, hey,” He soothed, his hand retracted. “Can you put your hands away? Can you do that for me?” The man whispered, mentally reminding himself to not make any sudden movements. Kai’s hands stilled for a moment before stiffy returned to his side, twitching ever so slightly. 

 

“Good, good, thank you.” Akeboshi gave him a soft smile, “May I have your hand? It’s okay if you don’t want me to.” He asked slowly, a jerk that was supposed to be a nod was his answer. The mineralogist held out his gloved hand, wrapping his fingers loosely around the small hand. 

 

He tapped softly on the palm of his apprentice’s, tracing a pattern, “Now, I need you to follow my breathing. Is that alright?” The teen let out a shaky hum, “Great, now follow me.” Akeboshi resumed his tracing on the other’s palm, inhaling and exhaling slowly and loudly for him to hear. 

 

“You’re doing a wonderful job, continue to repeat after me, yea?” 

 

They went on like this for a while, before Kai finally calmed down enough, his head bobbed slightly from exhaustion. “Wanna head to bed, Gem?” The teen in question blinked away some of the weariness in his puffy eyes before shaking his head slightly, staggering towards the older man. 

 

Akeboshi made a noise of confusion before a pair of arms wrapped around him, with Kai’s head buried in his chest. The man ruffled the brunette’s fluffy hair, smiling softly. 

 

“‘m sorry, weak.” 

 

“Mm, none of that. You’re strong, I’ve seen it.” Akeboshi mumbled into Kai’s hair, skies were blue, oceans were salty, Kai was strong. The affirmation earned him a wet sniffling sound. 

 

“...Th’res s’mthin’ I w’h to tell y’u,” Kai muttered quiety, he picked up the trembles and anxiousness in his tone as he made a questioning noise, prompting him to continue. 

 

“I w’s cleanin’ ‘nd, ” A pair of feet shuffled, “w’s tryin’ to f’nd one of y’ur gem. ” 

 

“So I… open’d yo’r draw’r, th’ one at your workplace.” The mineralogist hummed, still clueless about where this was going. 

 

“Th’res… an envelope,” Akeboshi had a sharp intake of breath, feeling someone just splashed cold water over his head, Kai’s grasp on him tightened, grounding him. “S’ your suicide note.” 

 

“Oh, Kai. ” The older man’s heart ached, this was his fault, his fault .

 

“At least I know I don’t want to hang around a master who has a death wish !”

 

Again.

 

Kai pulled back, breaking the hug. Akeboshi had half a mind to lean in so he could melt back into the safe haven. Thin fingers with snake-like scars sprinkled around them found his, caressing his hands that were roughed up by many battles from the past. 

 

The apprentice’s unwavering gaze stared into his head-on, lip pressed into a thin line. Akeboshi braced himself for rejection, for pitying looks, for abandonment. 

 

They never came. What reached him instead were soft, gentle words, hushing his fear delicately with a fuzzy blanket. 

 

“Not your fault,” Kai spoke, clear as day. His previous slurring was gone, replaced by a confident tone. He must look surprised, disbelieve blooming in his expression, so his kid repeated after himself again, still as stern. “ Never your fault.”

 

 “But I-” 

 

“Not a burden.” Crimson eyes met Ruby’s, the mineralogist searched, he looked and looked, finding nothing. Nothing but raw, genuine honesty. It left the man breathless, speechless as he waited for the other shoe to drop because it has to, right? 

 

“I,” The teen inhaled, their hands still linked together. “I thought of this, before, too.” 

 

“But then you gave me a place to belong. A place to strived, find a cure for my family, a place that I can hope .” Did he just get hit by a train? He must’ve had, yea.

 

“Now I will return the favor, so you can, too.”  Kai gave him a small, wobbly smile, eyes crinkled around the edges. The flame, gifted by this precious boy in front of him, twisting and dancing in him. It rose, brighter than ever.

 

Huh, his cheek was wet, when did he start crying? Akeboshi laughed wetly, one hand brushing away messy strands in front of his apprentice’s eyes fondly. 

 

“You already did, Kai.” 

 

________________________________

 

‘Curiosity killed the cat.’ They said, but some had forgotten the whole idiom. ‘But satisfaction brought it back.’ Some echoed the line, encouraging children to question, to find answers. Kai was one of the cats that lived, grasping the chance that his curiosity provided him, and somehow it blossomed into something that he will never regret doing. 

 

Life was not kind, and it was certainly not easy. But the two of them were determined to help each other, and they will. One hand in another as they walk down this road full of obstacles and bumps, supporting one anothers’ weight on a bad day. 

 

After all, gems create the most beautiful miracle when one believes in them.