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Ashes to Ashes
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Hana sat in front of her laptop this evening, browsing through various websites. She was exhausted, but she needed to find more places to visit. Eagerly, she wrote down anything even remotely interesting on a list so she wouldn’t forget. The past eleven days with Kāi had been eventful—and they had passed in a blur. When she’d checked the date earlier, she had been shocked. Cold dread had gripped her. The feared moment came closer, and so much faster than she had thought. She wanted to cry just thinking about it, and she was determined to make the most of the days that remained. Despite her doctor’s advice to stay in the hospital, she refused to do so. If she would die anyway, then she at least wanted to choose the place, and that certainly wasn’t a damn hospital.

At least with Kāi around, she wasn’t lonely or miserable. He was good at cheering her up with his shenanigans, and his constant flirting made her feel giddy. She was sure that she was about to fall for him… and how couldn’t she? He didn’t know about it, but he was granting her last wish—to see as much of the world as possible before she passed. She’d have to thank him soon.

Engrossed in her research, her eyes flitted from one photo to the next as she clicked through the websites. Kyoto looked interesting, Manila as well, and then there was Havana and the Caribbean. The world still had plenty of places to offer she hadn’t explored yet. The question was, where did she want to go next?

“Maybe I should change my plans,” she mumbled, leaning back in her chair. “What if I let Kāi pick a destination? He probably knows many gorgeous places.”

Since it had gotten late, she closed her laptop and walked towards the bathroom to brush her teeth. This day had been quite exhausting for her frail body. She feared she had overdone it this time, and therefore she wanted to rest now.

Kāi had visited Kuala Lumpur with her, a large city with an impressive skyline. They had walked around a lot until her legs had started to hurt and she’d felt a bit dizzy. She’d tried to hide it from Kāi, but by the end of it, he had noticed that something was wrong and brought her home. He had been irritated when she’d refused to tell him what was going on with her. Understandably so, but she couldn’t bring herself to vocalize it. If she said it out loud, if he knew, then wouldn’t he treat her just like all the other people she had isolated herself from? She didn’t want pity, and she didn’t want to be treated like a fragile flower either.

She just wanted to live.

Kāi wasn’t the type of person who stayed mad for long, so she was confident his anger would fade soon. She wondered why her condition had even worried him in the first place. Couldn’t he care less about a human?

As she made her way to the bathroom, she stumbled. Suddenly, her lungs were hurting. A weight settled on them and prevented her from breathing properly. Grimacing, she leaned against the wall for support, taking deep breaths. The pounding headache returned so abruptly, she nearly lost her balance.

She groaned. Had she crossed her limit today? Or would this have happened either way? Cursing under her breath, she walked on into the bathroom. Gripping the sink with both hands, she gazed at her reflection in the mirror, and she wasn’t happy at what she saw. No wonder had Kāi been upset. Her complexion was so pale it appeared ashen, even her lips had lost their rosy color. She looked ill, just like she felt. There was no shine in her dull brown eyes. She was a picture of misery.

With her knees giving out, she crashed on the tiles of the bathroom, her finger still cramped around the edge of the sink. Nausea returned to torment her, bile rising in . Why did this have to happen now? She’d only wanted to spend another carefree day sightseeing. Wasn’t that a completely normal thing to do? Not for her, apparently. Tears of frustration pricked at her eyes when the pain didn’t go away. She didn’t have the strength to get up.

 

 

That night, she hardly slept. Only after about half an hour, she’d been able to get up from the bathroom floor, and then she had dragged herself to her bed where she lay awake for a long time. When the morning came, she was anything but ready for the day, her limbs heavy and parched. It was like she had run through the desert.

By the time Kāi arrived, she was still lying in bed. He’d teleported into the living room, but when she wasn’t waiting for him there as usual, he looked into the kitchen and eventually entered the bedroom.

“You still in bed, sweetheart?” he smirked and stood at the foot of the bed, watching her.

She blinked, rubbed her eyes. Either he was too early, or she had overslept, but it was probably the latter given how long she’d lay awake. Sitting up slowly, she stretched her limbs and heaved a sigh.

“Good morning, Kāi,” she said quietly.

“Morning? It’s past noon,” he replied, arching an eyebrow. “Why don’t you get up?”

She didn’t know what to say to that and avoided his prying eyes by staring at the window. The sky was cloudy and gloomy, the weather most likely cold and unpleasant. Normally, that would have been reason enough for her to just stay in bed, but she couldn’t waste a day. Even if she felt bad, even if her body rebelled, she had to use every minute that she’d left. She sat on the edge of the mattress, hoping that her legs would hold her weight. The dizziness was back, so she wasn’t sure about that.

“I’ll get ready and then we can leave,” she said as she got up. The room spun for a second, but then she had herself under control. Kāi’s eyes lingered on her as she made her way to the bathroom, scrutinizing her. Something appeared to be wrong, but he couldn’t tell what it was.

While she was gone, he used the opportunity to look around. Her bedroom was small just like the other rooms of her tiny student apartment, but it was filled with photos and little trinkets. He studied the countless pictures she’d put up on the wall over her desk, seeing that most of them portrayed nature or the cityscape of Seoul. It looked like she had a passion for photography since all of the pictures seemed to have been taken with great care. They weren’t just random depictions of city life but emphasized certain details that he normally wouldn’t have paid attention to.

Interestedly, his eyes lingered on the old camera sitting on her desk next to a cheap laptop. It was covered in stickers. A half-empty teacup was right next to it along with a scrap of paper. She’d written something down on it, and he curiously picked it up.

“Kyoto, Manila, Havana…” he read, his gaze moving over the list she’d made. He assumed that those were places she wanted to visit. Oddly enough, she’d noted the exact number of days that had passed since they had started this game. 12 days… that meant he had 18 days left to win her over. Half the time had almost passed and all he had accomplished was seeing her smile and steal a little kiss.  

Putting the list back down on the table, Kāi moved on to the shelf next to her desk where she kept souvenirs. He grinned when he noticed the miniature Big Ben he had gotten for her in London and the fancy-looking pin from Las Vegas. Hearing the bathroom door close, he turned and saw Hana appear in the doorway, dressed for the day and ready to leave.

“I’m done,” she said, a barely noticeable smile on her pale lips. He yet again got the sense that something wasn’t right, but he couldn’t quite put his finger on it. Humans were strange.

“Shouldn’t you eat before we leave?” he asked skeptically.

“W-Well… I’m not hungry right now, and I could eat later?” she mumbled, but her words sounded more like a question as she glanced at him insecurely.

“Fine, but don’t forget about it! Where do you want to go?”

“I’ll leave it up to you this time,” she said. “I’m sure you could surprise me.”

His typical flirty smirk appeared on his face. “Yeah, I probably could,” he said and playfully ruffled her hair that she’d only just brushed.

“Kāi! Stop that,” she pouted, prompting him to laugh at her.

“Is my little sweetheart angry now?” he snickered.

“You’re a clown.”

“No, I’m a demon.”

“I was joking, you silly,” she said, rolled her eyes, and couldn’t hold back a snort when she noticed his offended look.

“I’ll let it slide for now,” he replied. “But only because we’re about to go on another date.” His smirk widened as soon as he saw the blush on her cheeks. He leaned in, intending to fluster her some more before they left.

“Perhaps I could get a kiss today?” he murmured into her ear, grazing it with his lips. She shivered, her heart palpitating in her chest.

“M-Maybe,” she said and shyly avoided his mischievous gaze.

“Looks like I need to work extra hard,” he laughed, and then he took her hand to teleport.

Hana and Kāi reappeared in a city she’d been interested in for a long time. In her opinion, it was one of the most beautiful places Italy had to offer; Venice. The city was located in a lagoon, its buildings and streets separated by small canals and linked by countless beautiful bridges.

“Kāi, this is… incredible!” she said. Even though they had only just arrived at the edge of the city, she was already curiously craning her neck, trying to take in as much of her surroundings as possible.

He chuckled as he followed her, keeping an eye on her. She was walking close to the Grand Canal and watched boats drift by. The water was of a clear blue color today, reflecting the weak sunlight. Because it was fall, the weather was cool, but not uncomfortably so. She was entranced by the city’s unique look, the architecture reminding her of fairytales—it was very pretty. Each house looked like it was taken straight from a historical movie and she had no trouble picturing this place during renaissance times, swarmed with nobles, merchants, and the like.

“I wonder what it was like centuries ago,” she mumbled.

“Not all that different,” Kāi answered cheekily.

“Huh?”

“I’m a demon, remember? We are kind of old,” he winked at her.

“Wait, you actually visited Venice centuries ago?” she asked, her jaw dropping.

“Yeah,” he said and shrugged as if it was completely normal. Well, it was for him.

“I’m jealous! Then you probably know all the secret pretty places this city has to offer, right?” she asked eagerly. “Can you show me?”

In her excitement, she had forgotten about her terribly long night, finally relaxing and enjoying the day. He noticed the change in her. Kāi had come to appreciate the tentative smiles she showed from time to time. Whenever they went sightseeing together, she bloomed like a flower in spring. With rosy cheeks and glimmering brown eyes, she looked very pretty, he noted to himself.

“Maybe,” he smirked. “But only if I get a kiss as a reward.”

“N-Now?” she stuttered, caught off guard.

“Why not? You don’t want to?” he said huskily. The seductive tone of his voice had heat pool in her stomach. Her eyes flitted to his plush lips. “Looks like you’re just a little shy.”

He cupped her flushed cheeks and as he leaned in, her eyes fluttered closed. His breath ghosted over her lips while he lingered close to her for a moment, drinking in her hopeful expression. Kāi smiled, amused at how obvious her attraction to him was. He adored her innocence, and how shy she was about a little kiss.

Bridging the last few centimeters that separated them, he captured her lips. Her breath hitched. Amazed at how soft his lips were as they tenderly moved against hers, she felt like she was floating. His arms embraced her, tugged

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