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An Exchange of Sorts

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"I need your Spiritual Bead".

Riku tensed up.

She and Aoi were setting up for the night and she had been enjoying the calm. Their group finally had a decent spot to rest for the night and Riku was currently sprawled out on the bed. She looked over at the boy who was unpacking his supplies.

The way he spoke sounded like he was seconds from running away again, but his actions would suggest otherwise. He was currently unpacking his maps, making sure nothing was torn or damaged from the rough trip. He laid them out carefully on the side table, placing the candlestick on top to make sure they lay flat.

Riku sat up before answering him, "Why do you need it all of a sudden? I know yours broke, but that's kind of asking a lot."
Aoi looked over at Riku, sighing before replying,

"I need to get in contact with Liz. I know you haven't been able to master contacting spirits through yours, and honestly even if you did contact Riot I'm not so sure he'll help you. So far he’s the only spirit you’ve been able to contact on purpose. Liz has always been there for me and I can summon her without any issues." The words stung, but Riku couldn't argue that.

'But to change my bead so only he could use it. It’s scary. What if I end up needing the second chance...?' The thought made Riku nervous. The guarantee to come back to life if things went south.. he really was asking a lot.

He was right, however - Riot was an arrogant spirit that wanted nothing to do with his status during his life, and even after. The times that Riku actually managed to call his spirit he just blew her off or tried his best to annoy her into dismissing him. The Spirit Bead provided Riku comfort, but by no means was a good support to her. Although... This could work in Riku's favor. She always thought Aoi was a mystery.

"Ok… I'll give it to you if you give me something in exchange."

"What on earth could I give you? I don’t exactly travel with a good amount of things Ri." Aoi shook his now empty bad at her to prove his point. He wasn’t annoyed, but after the long day they had, his tone sounded more aggressive than usual.

"Not a possession of yours, I… want you to tell me something about you. Something from your past. Something Cicilia knows about you."

“Something Cicilia knows about me? Don’t tell me you’re jealous of the Queen.”

Riku’s cheeks heated up, “I’m not jealous. She just knows you better than anyone else.”

With that Aoi moved to sit next to Riku, giving her a questioning look. He couldn’t help but smile at her before replying, "And why would you want to know about me?"

"Because I...." Riku paused, trying to find her words. 'I like you.' "I... want to get to know you better. You always run off so fast, I think it's time we had time to just. Talk. About ourselves. What lives we had before this mess. Have a conversation as friends."

"You want to get to know me better... ‘cause I'm always running away?"

"It's more than that,” Riku sighed not wanting to elaborate. Aoi didn’t push her to continue, “ it a deal?"

Aoi sighed, leaning back on his arms, "Yeah, okay - I'll tell you about my family. You might like this one - we were a band of traveling entertainers."

Riku couldn’t help her snort. Aoi glared at her.

"Sorry-sorry!” Riku put her hands up in defense. She couldn’t imagine Aoi as a performer. He was way too serious. “So… Entertainers? What kind? Like a Circus?"

"Do I look like I know how to juggle?" Riku laughed at Aoi's expression.

"No it was more of a storytelling troupe. We would travel all over the world and tell stories of whatever lands we passed through. I was so young when I got separated from my family, but I remember them taking every opportunity to just, fluff up even the tiniest story they were ever told. Someone in a foreign land could sneeze and my aunts and uncles would be talking about how it moved a mountain. Shook the lands. Created some sort of monster to awaken from its slumber. They would never create stories to speak badly of a person or a place. They were all very kind people. Very strict when growing up, but they would make everyone laugh. They were all very funny stories…" Aoi chuckled before continuing on, "…no one knows where those entertainers went, but from time to time I hear some jokes that are so familiar."

"That's amazing!" Rikus eyes lit up immediately, "I wonder if they kept performing or if they stopped when you were separated. Have you tried to find them?"

"No. I haven’t” Riku was shocked by that. She was still trying to find where her family ended up after the village attack and was so sure that Aoi would be trying to do the same. Softly she asked, “Why haven’t you tried to find them?”

“It’s not that I don’t want to, it’s just that I… I don’t think I can find them. Even if by some miracle I do they might not believe I'm their lost child," Aoi sounded very serious when he said this, his tone very soft. Sad. Riku leaned back to match his gaze.

"What do you mean? How could they not believe your theirs?"

"I uh," Aoi looked away, "When I was separated I was also separated from their strict behavior. They wanted me to act and uh, dress in a way that just didn't match how I felt inside. I loved them, but it was hard being forced into a role you were never meant to play. I never had the chance to tell them why I rebelled against them so much when it came to appearance. They could never shape me the way they wanted me to look. When I was by myself with only Liz to support me I found myself, and that's it’s okay to be the way I am. I'm not sure if my parents would share the same ideals."

"Aoi they're your parents, they'll love you regardless." Riku reached out to hold his hand, giving him silent comfort.

"I don’t believe I'll ever find them to find out for sure. When I was young I asked around wherever I went about their group, with no results. It was like they just… vanished. I couldn’t find a single person who even had an idea of where this traveling group went. I was helped by a lot of strangers, but they just wanted to keep me as their new child. I ran off before anyone could get attached to me. Liz is my only family, and the Spirit Bead kept us tied together with no matter where I went. Before it was shattered that is…”

Aoi played with the empty string dangling from his neck. He hadn’t found a placeholder to put there, and Riku knew that he hadn’t intended to. He had stolen from Loz years ago and was possibly planning on stealing Riku’s. That’s must have been why he pushed to share a room with her. Asshole.

Despite this, Riku could understand where he was coming from. She missed her family dearly and was determined to find them again one day once the mess clears up throughout the land. 'Once we defeat... When the land is safe again'.

Riku’s eyes flickered to Aoi as he took a breath before speaking again, still very softly barely audible, “If they're out there they're not looking for a son. They're looking for a daughter and that’s not me. It never has been."

He didn't meet Riku's eye, ears turning red and hot. Riku’s eyes widened, but she didn’t say anything. It was definitely a surprise to her. This wasn’t something he addressed often, especially out loud. He liked to keep it under wraps. Sometimes more than literally. It had been years since he had addressed anything similar to this. Rikus hold on his hand tightened, giving him the support he needed to keep talking, "Liz is the one who raised me. She's my parent. If I ever meet the traveling storytellers again I might try to meet them as a fan before I meet them as a son, if I'm even theirs. I just can’t reveal this to every entertainer I meet out there."

Riku smiled at Aoi, "You're hard not to like Aoi. No matter what I'm sure they'll love you.”

Riku looked at him softly, “Thank you for telling me this." 

Riku sat up and began to undo the knot that kept her bead around her neck. Aoi sat up and finally met her eye. He didn’t voice it, but the look in his eyes conveyed how thankful he was.

He looked significantly more tired than he had looked minutes before.