“Don’t let them force you into anything, Cytau,” his fingers press against the wood, “The only thing they’re going to do is harass you about Ohy.”
“Naoki,” she sighs, dropping her spoon into a half-empty bowl, “You don’t know what they— ”
“Whatever deal they’re trying to cut you is not something he would’ve accepted without a fight.”
Naoki watches her mouth snap close, food long forgotten. He recognizes the sadness in her eyes — that deep set grief that has been haunting her for over a year now. He’s gone too far; he knows that.
He watches her rest a hand against her chest; her long, thin fingers looking more frail than he’s ever seen. Subtle tremors showcasing the months of stress and anxiety, the kind of existential fear that would shock even the strongest person. Naoki’s own lip begins to shake. He doesn’t know how to help.
A squeak and there’s a brightly-coloured Qomiat on the table, frantically clicking as it rubs its head against his Cytau’s hand. “Oh, Xi’a,” she coos, scratching behind its fin with gentle fingers. The animal continues its clicking, soft little sounds echoing through the kitchen. “You always know what to say.”
Lowering his gaze, Naoki attempts to take another bite, but finds his appetite gone. The oh-so delicious dish looks stale now; the once sweet smell resembling something rotten. Nose scrunching up, he turns to take another look at the abandoned chair next to his, varnish worn down and dulled.
“I better go,” Naoki mumbles, placing the bowl down with a clang.
His aunt doesn’t look up as he leaves, so he shuffles out of the door while avoiding the creaking floorboards. The moment he reaches his shoes, her voice resounds throughout the hallway. “Make sure you light a candle for yourself before you head out.”
Naoki’s shoulders tense. The pressure travels down his spine as he turns to look at the protruding stones on the other side of the door. His aunt’s altar hasn’t changed one bit. Except for the newly lit candle in its centre, clearly replaced earlier that day. His gaze remains there just another moment, lip worrying between his teeth. Then, he sighs, before lighting up his own.
There’s some peaceful quality to the way the amber flames illuminate the darkening rock, climbing up the ore of the monument. The large stone owl regards him with black eyes — unseeing and yet accusatory. Shaking his head, Naoki stands back up and stops.
“Love you, Cytau,” he calls and climbs down the steps of the house.
He makes it to the boat in a dash. It’s lower than it was the last time; the entrance being more of a jump than usual. “Fucking tide,” he mumbles as he directs it out of the bay. Accelerating, he lets the breeze hit his face with familiar vigor, eyes falling close.
Then, he hears a horn.