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younger days

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He had received the phone call while he was washing the dishes.

Lio Fotia had expected something to go wrong today, somehow, deep in his heart. Not that today hadn't been particularly bad, but a precognitive weight had settled on him ever since Galo had gently woken him up to tell him that their son had caught a cold and was coughing really badly. After giving him some water, breakfast, and an extra blanket, Galo helped their daughter pack up lunch and sent her off to walk to school. The weather was absolutely beautiful that morning, and the sun had shimmered through the house windows, leaving prismatic arcs on Lio's hands as he moved additional papers around.

The rest of the day was very peaceful, with Lio occasionally visiting Karre in the kids' room, who was playing on a little game console he had been given on their most recent birthday. His blue eyes, usually sparkling bright with life and joy, were now dim with exhaustion. He held onto his father's arm tightly, showing Lio the colorful sprites dancing on his screen with pointed gestures. It was Galo's work shift today, and the two took turns with their individual work times. One would stay home, one would work. Simple system. Sometimes they would hire a babysitter, but they really preferred to stay with their kids, and care for them themselves.

“When's Am coming back?” Karre had already asked this same question earlier that day. It was dreadfully boring to be alone when you were very sick, as it is known, especially if you were a kid, and Lio could not be in the room all of the time. Even when Am did return, Karre would at least be content with her sitting nearby, doing her homework.

Lio handed Karre a cup of homemade tea, with a few pieces of chocolate wrapped in a tissue.

“A few more hours. Think you can hang on that long?” Lio joked, ruffling his boy's hair.

“Yeah!” Karre grinned after taking a short sip of the tea, the eager spirit deep in him arising to surface yet again. It always reminded Lio so very much of his dear husband.

It couldn't be exactly denied, but everyone always said that in turn, that Am was more like Lio. The Burnish man was inclined to disagree, believing that both of them bore semblance to both himself and his husband. Am's fierce stubbornness was more akin to Galo's, right down to the way she would pace and tap her feet on the floor if things were not going her way. In comparison, despite his eager personality, Karre also had a surprisingly quiet side to him. In his silent moments, Lio saw his son like a mirror reflection of himself in his haphazard youth, even right down to his appearance.

His own youth...

So when the phone call came, Lio felt his throat constrict out of instinct, and he slowly lowered the bowl he was scrubbing. Right after the call, he immediately called Gueira and Meis to come over, the two of which lived pretty near him. The two rowdy men immediately agreed to watch over Karre, with wide grins. They still hadn't lost their wildness, even after all these years. Had Gueira's hairstyle always been that crazy and uncombed, or was that Lio's imagination?

“Karre's sick, and I'll only be away for about half an hour. Hopefully.” Lio looked at his watch, a bright red one that Galo had gifted to him before they had gotten married. “Maybe you could stay for dinner as well, if it's in your time to. Tonight's pizza night, if I'm right.”

“You got it, boss!” Gueira crowed.

Old habits die VERY hard, it seems. Lio thought with a smiling sigh. He was not their boss, not anymore, but the title stayed around as an affectionate nickname. The spirit of Mad Burnish lingered in their flame forever on regardless of the world's axis.

“Again. I'm so sorry to drop this all on you guys-” Lio continued, fiddling with his house keys.

“It's fine.” Meis interrupted , his arms crossed. He had a dark bag draped over his shoulders, and was wearing cool clothing despite the warm shine of the fall weather. “Don't worry about it at all.”

“The little guy needs a little bit of fun, being cooped up inside all day anyways.” Gueira huffed, turning his head upwards a bit.

“Galo will be back later today. If I don't return by then, just tell him I got a call from the school.” The smaller man had already begun to leave, his jog trembling with each step. “Tell him not to worry.”

He hoped that there would be nothing to worry about.

 


 

“Mr. Lio Fotia, was it?”

The Burnish man was standing in a dry room, colored in beige, grey, and muted browns. On the walls, there were various photographs of wildlife, grazing in hyper-colorful positions and poses that were definitely photoshopped. Very fake images of the grandeur of nature.

The headmistress seated in front of him was an unpleasant woman, and Lio had only met her twice before today. Her thin face was drawn in unmasked mild distaste, an expression that the awkwardly smiling teacher beside her did not share.

Complacency. Lio couldn't help the thought. He could feel the edges of anger curling inside of his stomach.

Nearby, seated in a chair, was his older child. Am's face betrayed no emotion, but her wide violet eyes were set on watching her own feet swing back and forth, sneakers which occasionally lit up with blue and red little lights.

“We were expecting Mr. Galo Thymos, to be quite frank.” The smiling teacher laughed, as if it was a joke.

Lio didn't find it very funny. These kinds of people always preferred to talk to Galo if they could help it. There was something about Lio that made any current authority figures deeply uncomfortable. Probably the fact that he was the former leader of Mad Burnish.

Definitely that.

“I believe you called me in here because Am was causing trouble?” Lio began, keeping his voice serious, yet deeply calm.

“Ah, yes, she tried to hit some of her classmates during recess.” The teacher spoke, with a fake cheerfulness. It was like he was trying to minimize the damage of the conversation. “Luckily, there were no injuries, but-”

“Mr. Fotia.” The headmistress rudely interrupted the teacher, who stammered into silence. “This is not the first time something like this has occurred with your daughter.”

Lio's eyes narrowed slightly. He seated himself beside Am, who didn't look his way the entire time he had entered.

“Her behaviour is detrimental to her learning, and to her classmates as well. We recommend private counselling.”

“I will consider it.” He would not. He knew what they were like, so he would lie. Am continued to stay quiet, now playing with her own fingers instead of swinging her feet. The sneakers stopped their colorful blinking.

“Your daughter has...admittedly a worrying personality. Her attitude in class alone is troubling to say the least. She gets disruptive.” The headmistress's tone was icy cold, and she steepled her fingers over her desk.

Lio stared back with his known grim coolness, leaning forward to pronounce his next words firmly and clearly. “She's a child.”

He loathed these people. The people sitting in their chairs and staring with their uncaring eyes. He was willing to bet neither of them had never raised a child in all their lives. They probably didn't want to understand anything about children.

Am stopped playing with her fingers and slowly raised her head to watch her father. He turned to look at her, but upon eye contact, she immediately looked away. She looked much more nervous now.

“A child could grow up, and become dangerous to their peers, Mr. Fotia. It's just a gentle warning, see, because if she...continues to behave in such a way, th-” The teacher simpered.

He couldn't stand it anymore. The fire inside him crackled, but did not show itself to them. Lio abruptly stood up, and motioned to his daughter to take his hand. Without looking back up at him, Am reached up and clutched onto her father's fingers tightly. He could feel her small hand trembling against his touch, and felt another wave of stark anger inside of him.

“Thank you for your time. I'll talk to her myself.” Lio answered firmly. “This won't happen again.”

Without waiting for an answer from either of them, he left, his daughter quickly matching his pace. He didn't look back.

 


 

The color of autumn has peering at Lio's vision ever so slightly. The walk back felt much longer suddenly, now that the initial worry was over with. Sunlight prickled at his sight, and he rubbed his own face tiredly. His hands were still a little clammy, probably from the previous tension inside of him. A few sparks come off of his shoulders, similar to the release of bated breath.

“Am...” Lio began.

“It wasn't my fault.” Am interrupted her father loudly, with a voice that was strained, the way that children spoke when they would pretend to not be sad. She was aggressively kicking a rock on the ground as they walked. Unlike Karre's clear and elevated voice, Am's intonation was usually heavily stressed on specific words. She rarely got upset, but when she did, it was much more intense to deal with than Karre. A broiled wrath of feelings.

Lio remained quiet a bit, looking down at his daughter. Her long blond hair bopped in the sunlight as she walked forward, her nose crinkled in thought.

“It wasn't my fault.” The little girl repeated more angrily, her eyes flashing. “Those other kids...they hate me. They think they are better than me. So I scared them.”

“Why didn't you tell me, Am?” Lio calmly asked, his brows drawing in with concern.

His daughter didn't respond. Instead, her attention was drawn to a long bug crossing the sidewalk, to which she knelt down to stare at. Lio joined her, watching the many-legged creature shamble on the concrete.

Perhaps Meis would know what kind of insect it was, because Lio certainly didn't.

“Am.” Lio continued, his voice a little more firm. “Please talk to me."

Am shot her father a miserable look, and stood up. Her little fists were curled up as if she was expecting her own father to get mad at her too, like she expected he would yell at her (he would never) or blame her (he wouldn't do that either). But instead of getting more angry, she sniffled and hid her face shamefully. Her shoulders trembled a little.

Lio gently placed his arm around her, and pulled her close.

“Did they hurt you? The other kids?”

Am sniffled again, burying her face in her father's shoulder. “No... n-not with their hands. They didn't hit me.”

Lio paused in consideration. “How long has this been going on for? Does Karre know?”

At the mention of her brother's name, the girl hung her head away from her father quickly.

“H-he always tries to butt in and protect me when it happens.” Am said. The bitterness steeped in her voice surprised Lio. “Even when I tell him not to.”

How come Karre didn't tell me? Lio wondered. Did he want there to be no trouble at all? Avoidant behavior like that was worrying, but they were children, they wouldn't know any better. Would they?

“He needs to leave me alone. All of them do.”

Lio definitely noticed how she didn't answer the question for how long the bullying had been going on for. He wasn't gonna press the question further though. His child was upset enough.

Those teachers didn't even do anything...!

The Burnish fought back his irritation with his practiced tension. Instead, he took a deep breath in. Through it, he felt the autumn air shift and change around him, the paroxysm of the flame inside him crackling with the cooling temperature around his skin.

“Am, I used to...rarely ask for help with some things myself.” He started to speak solemnly, motioning to his daughter to follow him in a walk along the sidewalk. She grabbed his hand again, this time with both hands, swinging it back and forth with a fierce strength. Her violet eyes stared up at him with a sharp questioning look, as if Lio would be somehow able to fix this whole problem himself..

“Sometimes I thought it would be better if I did everything myself, even when people hurt me.” Lio continued, his gaze becoming more distant as he remembered past incidents, past injuries. The younger face of a determined and smiling Galo resurfaced in the grey depths of a death that he hadn't completed. “But we shouldn't think like that. And we shouldn't always resort to violence as a way of fighting back.”

The Burnish stopped walking, and looked down to his daughter. She continued to swing his arm up and down as she stared back. Fortunately, she was no longer upset, and was respectfully attentive to his words.

“It's dangerous, Am. If we are in trouble, we should ask for help from those we trust. You trust me, right?”

“Mm-hmm. And Father too.” She was referring to Galo. Lio remembered that sometimes she strangely referred to Karre as 'brother' out loud in front of other people, even her twin himself. In return, Karre adopted to calling Am 'sister'. Which initially was a joke, but soon became an unusual habit that would pop up now and then.

How verbose she is for her age...! Was that what I was like too?

“So, will you tell me next time, Am?”

Am looked perplexed. Her light eyebrows creased in confusion. “Hmm?”

Lio chuckled. “Will you let me know if you have trouble in school in the future? And not to hit any of the other kids?”

The girl's mouth pursed into a pout, but it wasn't an upset one. More of a lightly perturbed expression. “I guess.”

That didn't seem too promising to Lio.

I'll have to talk to Galo about this too when he comes home. And Karre. The Burnish sighed, and continued once again to walk. At least the weather was still fine as they made their way back home. It would also still be a nice surprise for his daughter to see Gueira and Meis had come over.