Arc I: The Blue Koi

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Aoto paused before quietly, and somewhat hesitantly, saying, "Shoma's going to inherit a high-end antiques business someday."

"Your family has an antique shop?" Lills exclaimed. "How have we never talked about this before? How have I never been there? Ah, I bet it's awesome!"

"Truth be told, I haven't been there in a long time myself," Aoto said. The playfulness was gone, and he took a sip of tea to cover up his lack of smile.

"Aren't you going to inherit it too?" Lills asked, furrowing her brow. "You seem like you'd be absolutely smashing at it. Plus, you actually like the history of Chinese pottery- no offense Shoma."

"None taken," Shoma mumbled.

"It's true, I do like pottery," Aoto shook his head. "But I'm not inheriting the business, not anymore," he said, his voice uncharacteristically forlorn. "Shō ga nai." He sipped his tea once again. She sensed that there was a story there, but judging by his face, she wasn't going to get it today.

"You must be very excited," Rubén said to Shoma.

"No comment," he mumbled. Immediately, he recognized his mistake and apologized, bowing his head slightly in embarrassment.

"You don't want to inherit the business?" Lills asked.

The younger Aihara brother squirmed in his chair, desperate to get out from under her inquisitive stare. "It's a very good job," he said, carefully choosing neutral words. Yet his right hand subconsciously reached for his notebook on the table.

"But it's not the job you wanted," Lills said sympathetically, tilting her head.

Shoma looked to the ground. "Well, um... I guess when I was younger, I wanted to be an architect. But after A-" He glanced at his brother and nervously swallowed whatever it was he was about to say. Aoto's expression remained the same, but his entire body as froze, teacup centimeters from his lips, as he waited to hear what his brother would say.

Shoma shook his head and forced himself to look Lills in the eyes; when he wasn't fidgeting or cowering in a corner, he almost looked his age. "But that was a long time ago," he said, his words carrying a solemn finality. "I am very fortunate to have a father who cares about my future so much, and to have such a lucrative and secure job lined up for me."

Aoto sipped his tea. Lills could sense the relief washing over him, though relief over what, she could not say. Shoma turned back to his book.

"What do you do for work, Aoto?" Rubén asked.

Aoto smiled, thankful for the change of subject. "I worked for a construction firm in Tokyo for years, but now I'm a waiter. You should all come to the restaurant sometime; it's a tad posh, but I'm sure I could get you a discount."

Interesting how he'll invite us to his place of work but not this family's store, Lills noted, but all she said was, "I'm definitely going to take you up on that. Kinda broke at the moment; turns out that Ancient Greece was not as budget-friendly as I was led to believe." The comment earned her a chuckle from Aoto. She grinned ear to ear.

"Do you prefer being a waiter to the construction firm?" Rubén continued.

Aoto nodded. "Now I have time to travel with this nerd," he joked, ruffling Shoma's hair. Shoma rolled his eyes and slicked it back in place.

"Come on, Shoma! I can understand not caring about pottery, but don't tell me that you're the one person in history who isn't ruddy psyched about time travel?" Lills exclaimed.

Shoma's eyes did not meet hers. "Time travel isn't the problem. It's the time travelers themselves." A twinge of anger caused his jaw to twitch. He looked up at all of them. "There's only so much time that you can spend reliving the past. Sooner or later, you have to deal with the present."

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