After waaaay too long, I finally have part two up! I'm so sorry for how horrifically long it has taken me to get this up. Oy. Thank you so much for your patience! I'm going to do everything I can to have part three up within the next couple weeks, since Christmas is long over and it's probably about time to be moving on.


There were few things as frightening to wake up to as the sound of uncontrollable wheezing and gasping.

Mira sat up abruptly in bed only to find her husband sitting doubled-over beside her, his entire body convulsing as it desperately searched for air. He was covered in beads of sweat and his face was scrunched up in pain.

"Tucker! Tucker, are you all right?" Given his inability to respond, he most certainly was not all right. Mira felt a familiar panic overtake her as she hesitantly began to slap his back. The likelihood that she was helping was not high at all-she was striking him far too lightly, but she didn't dare hit him any harder for fearing of doing more harm than good. After a few moments, she withdrew her hand and watched helplessly as her husband's body heaved with the effort to find oxygen.

Mira hated this. She hated it. Because really, what could she do but watch helplessly as her husband suffered? Even if she had hit his back harder, it probably wouldn't have helped anyway. After all, the problem wasn't that anything was blocking his throat. The problem was in his lungs.

The minute that followed was pure agony on both sides; Mira watching her husband in distress, Tucker feeling excruciating pain both physical and mental. He didn't want his wife to have to watch this.

Finally, his coughing began to subside. Every breath became a little less rattled and clearer until it was mostly back to normal.

"Thank god." Mira muttered. Tucker began to rise from the bed, and she shot him a quizzical look. "...where are you going?"

"Just going to the bathroom to get some water." He rasped, his chest still burning from his coughing fit. He smiled weakly to reassure her. She smiled weakly back, but even in the dim light he could see the worry pooling in her eyes.

When Tucker reached the bathroom he quietly closed the door behind him and leaned his back against it. He closed his eyes and let out a heavy sigh.

It was hard not to feel he was a burden to Mira. He had coughing fits fairly often and though she tried not to talk about it much, he could tell that his health weighed on her mind quite often.

When they had first met, Tucker had been a heavy smoker. He'd picked up the habit sometime during middle school, an especially confusing and lonely time for him. He wasn't particularly strong or smart or talkative, and next to everyone else he just felt so bland and worthless, like he was nothing. Not to mention many of the kids just started getting nasty. Smoking had been a way of coping, a crutch.

Of course, as he grew older he realized it had been a mistake to turn to smoking for comfort. Not only was it terrible for his lungs, it sucked money out of his wallet like a leech and often left him with little to live off of. He had tried to quit several times, but each time he had failed. There was always something that pulled him back. Some careless word, or action, or simply an unfortunate circumstance that upset him enough that he ran right back to cigarettes.

When he got engaged to Mira, he thought that knowing he was going to share a house with her would be enough for him to finally stop, because it wasn't just about his health anymore. The health of the woman he loved was at risk too. And he came close. He really came close. But what stopped him from completely quitting was, in fact, the pressure his family put on him to quit. The scoffing and guilt-tripping and insistence that if he really loved Mira, he'd be able to stop – it was too much. He caved under the pressure and ran right back to the very thing his family was trying to 'help' him get away from.

He was only able to fully quit after they were married. After they lived in a new town that put some distance between him and his relatives; after Mira's quiet encouragement and patience was separated from so many other frustrated and impatient voices.

But unfortunately, though his quitting was certainly a good thing, it didn't undo years upon years of lung damage.

Tucker just prayed to the goddess that Mira's lungs hadn't been damaged during the time they had lived together while he still smoked.

Tucker took a deep breath and wandered over to the bathroom sink. He picked up one of the plastic cups on the counter and began to fill it with water. He stared detachedly at the mirror that hung above the sink.

He felt bitter resentment swell up in his chest as he stared at his reflection – his prematurely gray hair, thin frame, and the dark circles under his eyes didn't exactly make him feel better about himself.

No, he shouldn't be thinking like this. It wasn't helpful or constructive in the least. But changing one's frame of mind wasn't as simple as flipping over a coin.

Suddenly Tucker realized that water was running over his hand. The cup he had been filling was overflowing. Sighing, he turned off the faucet, shook the water off his hand, and downed the water in his glass hastily. Mira would worry about him if he stayed in here too long.

As he left the bathroom, he took one last glance in the mirror and shook his head dejectedly.


When Julius came to work the next morning, he was quite decidedly not wearing a suit.

He was wearing rose-printed skinny jeans with a ruffled shirt that looked a bit like something a man in the 18th century might have worn. And boots with heels.

Tucker stared at him from the other side of the room where he was setting out a new necklace, mouth hanging slightly open. He couldn't recall seeing any man wearing anything like that in his life, except on a dare or as a result of losing a bet. But he had a feeling that wasn't why Julius was wearing that outfit.

He quickly reigned in his surprise and greeted Julius. "Good morning, Julius."

Julius, who had been staring at the floor when he walked in, quickly looked up at Tucker. "...morning, boss." he greeted cautiously.

Immediately Tucker sensed that something besides Julius' clothes was different. His expression was much more guarded than usual, his mouth in a straight line and something like suspicion in his eyes.

Tucker wondered whether he should make some mention of Julius' clothes or ignore them and pretend nothing was different. Honestly, either way might be making a wrong move and he didn't want to upset Julius, especially when something was obviously up with him.

He decided it would be better to be honest and say something rather than act like he hadn't noticed when he obviously had. "Julius, those are some really unusual pants." He tilted his head slightly and pursed his lips. Already, he could feel his initial shock beginning to wear off. "They look good on you." Tucker smiled slightly. He had to admit that Julius' outfit really did seem rather natural on him, in a way – he actually pulled of more "feminine" clothing rather well.

Julius blinked a few times and raised an eyebrow. "...they do?"

Tucker nodded. "Yeah. They really suit you."

Some of the apprehension faded from Julius' face and he cracked a grin. " think so? Thanks." His grin grew a bit, and he leaned towards Tucker conspiratorially. "I practically died when I saw them in the window of Sonata Tailoring."

Tucker chuckled. "I can picture it."

Suddenly Mira entered the room and let out a shocked gasp. "Oh my! Julius! What are you wearing?" Mira looked Julius up and down. "Goodness, how unusual! But it looks lovely on you!" Tucker felt his chest grow warm and his smile grow bigger as Julius and Mira began chattering excitedly. Mira had recovered from her surprise even more quickly than he had – and she hadn't even had to think for a moment how to respond. She had an innate sensitivity and openness like no one he had ever met before – one of the many things he loved about her.

Suddenly he felt a twinge in his chest and dread overcame him. No. Not again. Not now. He tried to hold back the cough coming on but of course it did no good. He began coughing violently, though fortunately it didn't last nearly as long as his fit the previous night. Suddenly he was reminded of just how little sleep he had gotten and how very weary his entire body felt.

"Are you alright, boss?" Julius' ruby eyes were filled with concern.

"I'm fine..." Tucker breathed rather unconvincingly.

Julius squinted at Tucker and shook his head. " don't look too good. You're kind of pale and you look really tired."

Mira swallowed. "Tucker didn't get very much sleep last night. He was up a lot of the night coughing. I tried to convince him to take the day off, but he's as stubborn as all-get-out."

"I don't want to leave you two with all the work. Besides, there are several orders I need to get done soon..."

"Oh, you don't need to worry about us! Between the two of us we should be able to run the store alright. And, um..." Julius turned to Mira. He wanted to offer to help Tucker complete his orders, but Julius was still only a beginner and wouldn't be able to actually make jewelry for customers for a while yet. He wondered if Mira knew how to cut gems, but when he looked to her, she shrugged. He took that to mean she couldn't cut gems to sell to customers either.

But Tucker began having another minor coughing fit, and Mira decided to put her foot down. "That's it. You need to take the day off, orders or no orders. They can be finished some other time, but now you really do need to rest."

Tucker wanted to protest, but both Mira and Julius had crossed their arms and were giving him rather stern looks.

"Please, honey. I don't want your health to decline because you won't rest when you need to."

Tucker sighed in defeat. "...fine, fine. Looks like I'm outnumbered." He really didn't want to skip out on work like this, but Mira had a point. If he didn't rest today, what if he caught an illness because his body was too tired to fight it off? Then he'd be in an even worse state and would probably have to take more time off. But he was worried about finding time to catch up on those orders, although he knew that both Mira and Julius would try to help him in any way they could.

It was hard not to be angry at himself at times like these. If only he hadn't been so stupid and weak-willed when he was younger...

His musings were cut short though, and almost before he knew what was happening, a warm bath had been drawn for him and he was sitting in the tub.

While Tucker was in the bath, Mira and Julius scurried about quickly to get the store in shape. It would be opening in about an hour, so it wasn't as if they were too pressed for time, but they wanted to finish quickly so they could make Tucker some tea to drink while he rested. Tucker and Mira had already gotten most of the store cleaned already, so they just had to bring out and rearrange some pieces. As soon as they finished they headed for the kitchen.

As Mira got the tea kettle out of the cupboard, Julius opened the spice cabinet. "So, what kind of tea does Tucker like?"

"Oh, his favorite is green tea."

Julius grabbed the bottle filled with tea leaves and closed the spice cabinet. "Green tea, huh? So he prefers a smooth, fresh tea?"

Mira chuckled. "I guess so. I don't really like tea much, so I don't know the difference between them all that well."

"Not a tea drinker? That's a shame! Tea's very good for you, and it's a very refined drink." He scoffed. "Unlike coffee!" Suddenly Julius looked slightly horrified. "Wait-don't tell me you're a coffee drinker!"

Mira let out a peal of laughter as she filled the tea kettle. "No, I don't particularly like coffee either." She brought the kettle now filled with water over to the stove and set it on one of the burners and switched it on. "I like fruit juice better than tea or coffee. But my goodness, what do you have against coffee?"

Julius scrunched up his nose. "It's just gross! Like drinking a cup of watery mud! Half the people who drink it only do it because they're trying to use it as a substitute for sleep, and that's not healthy! And a lot of them dump a bunch of sugar and cream into it to cover the taste anyway because it's gross! Just...why?" Julius was dramatically leaning on the counter with a look of desolation on his face.

Mira giggled. "Well, I'll be sure not to make you coffee if you come over for a visit! Do you react like this if someone offers you coffee?"

"Oh no! That would be rude, but I just figured since we were talking about what we like to drink anyway I'd mention it."

Mira smiled, her eyes wandering across the kitchen absentmindedly. "So, what has Tucker been teaching you lately?"

"Oh, he's been teaching me about the different cuts and shapes that gems can be made into! I've finished a few cabochan cut gems – ones without any faceting. So I pretty much just polished them." He sighed. "I know it's a good cut for gems like opals and star sapphires that have interesting patterns inside, because faceting would make the gem more reflective and make the patterns harder to see, but I hope I get to try a different cut soon."

"Ahh, yes, I know how you feel. I remember when cabochan was the only way I could cut gems."

"Oh! You can cut gems too, Mira?"

"Yes, but I'm not particularity good at it. I don't seem to have the natural talent for it like Tucker has, or like you have. At least, Tucker thinks you have a knack for it. He says you're catching on pretty quickly."

"He does?" Julius ducked his head in embarrassment and pleasure. "I don't know about that, but I'm glad he thinks so. At least I know I'm doing alright then. It's kind of hard to tell, since I don't really know anyone else who cuts gems."

"Yeah, it's not a very common hobby." Mira mused. "I actually haven't cut gems in a while. I got kind of frustrated with how much trouble I was having with it so I just kind of...stopped. Maybe I should give it another try sometime."

Julius' face lit up. "Yes! Then we could learn together!"

Mira nodded. "That wouldn't be so bad. Hmm, I'll have to think about it." Suddenly she noticed that the tea kettle was beginning to squeal. "Oh, the water's boiling!" As she turned the heat off and removed the kettle from the burner, Tucker wandered into the kitchen with damp hair and wearing more comfortable-looking clothes than he'd previously been wearing. "Oh, hello Tucker! We're making some tea for you!"

"Oh! You didn't have to do that! Thank you."

As Mira and Julius began to steep the tea, Mira nodded her head toward Julius. "So, apparently Julius is also a tea lover."

"Really? What's your favorite kind?"

"I prefer tea made with red herbs."

"What does red herb tea taste like?" Mira asked.

"Well, it's kind of peppery." Tucker answered. "So, you two have been busy discussing tea?"

Mira nodded. "Oh yes, that and coffee." Julius made a gagging sound. Mira gave Tucker a knowing look. "Julius doesn't have much of an appreciation for that particular drink."

Tucker cast an amused look in his apprentice's direction. "I can see that."

"We were also talking about what you've been teaching Julius, and I was considering the possibility of taking up gemcutting again. I'm not decided yet, but I'm considering it."

The three of them chatted for a while longer while the tea steeped. When it was finished, Mira and Julius headed to the store room since it was almost eight o' clock – time to open the accessory store – and Tucker made his way back to the bedroom.

He did feel a bit better after having his warm bath and the tea was much appreciated. He was glad to see that Julius was much more relaxed after talking with Mira. He sat in bed drinking the tea a while, wondering why Julius had seemed upset at first and hoping that whatever it was would resolve itself.

He began to succumb to the warmth of the tea and the soft sheets around him. Though it was hard not to feel guilty for sleeping during a work day, Tucker couldn't help but be kind of glad that his wife and apprentice had been so persistent.


Julius was making Tucker nervous.

The violet-haired teen was seated before a spinning wheel which he was pressing a gemstone against. He was preforming it-working it into the basic shape he wanted it to be-but he was pressing much harder than he should have been. Not only would he wear away more of the stone than he meant to and end up with a smaller gem, the particular stone he was working with was both very soft and brittle. If Julius wasn't careful, the whole thing might fall apart.

Julius had worked with several stones before this, and though he'd made a few errors, he certainly hadn't been this reckless before.

"Julius, you're putting too much pressure on the stone-!"

"I know!" Julius spat with venom as he gripped the stone tighter in irritation.

Tucker flinched as if he had been struck and backed away a few paces.

A few heavy seconds passed before Julius' eyes grew wide and he drew the gem away from the wheel as he sat up straight in realization. He sat stiffly, staring numbly at the wheel in front of him, his rogue-covered lips trembling. "Oh! Oh...uh..." Julius sounded something like a worn-out cassette tape or a skipping CD.

"I'm sorry! I wasn't...I didn't...shouldn't's just that..." As he frantically grasped for words to apologize for his outburst, it seemed every explanation he thought of was inadequate. Julius lowered his head to stare at the floor and went silent.

Tucker felt the concern that he'd had for Julius the past few weeks grow. He'd been acting increasingly irritable and withdrawn, but this was the first time he'd snapped at Tucker like that.

"Julius, is something wrong?"

The teen's head snapped in Tucker's direction and he blinked in surprise. "...huh?"

"You haven't been acting yourself something the matter? Are you okay?"

"No...nothing's wrong. I'm fine."

Tucker raised his eyebrow a bit. "...that wasn't very convincing." Julius turned to stare at the ground again. " can take the rest of the day off if you need to."

Julius panicked and practically fell over in his chair as he spun around to face Tucker. "What? No! No." Tucker backed up a few more paces, startled by how strongly Julius had reacted. "I-I mean, thank you for offering. It's very kind of you to do that! But...I'd rather be here than at home right now."

Julius stared at Tucker, silently begging not to be sent home. Tucker felt his chest tighten as his worry for Julius deepened even further. Why was he so desperate to stay away from home?

"You don't have to go home it you don't want to, Julius. It's okay." The two stared at each other awkwardly for a moment before Tucker exited the room on the pretense that he just remembered he needed to pick up some groceries.

When he returned, he found Julius sitting at the kitchen table with his head in his hands. He looked up at Tucker when he entered the room and grimaced. "I'm sorry...I shattered it. I shouldn't have tried to finish it."

"It's okay Julius. It wasn't a very expensive stone anyway. We'll try again next week."


Tucker's worst fear was realized later that week. He'd been worried for a while now – he'd noticed that many customers gave Julius odd looks and he could see the disapproval in some of their faces as they looked over the eccentric and feminine outfits he now regularly wore, but none of them had actually said anything out loud. With Julius being as irritable as he was, Tucker didn't feel optimistic at all about what would happen when someone who had the guts to comment visited the shop.

Tucker had just finished up his lapidary work for the day. He'd heard somewhat raised voices from the storeroom over the machine he'd been running, but he couldn't discern the words. As he shut the machine off and the noise died down, he only caught two words.

"Piss off!"

Tucker practically felt his blood freeze. There was no mistaking whose voice that was. It was Julius.

A knot formed deep in the pit of Tucker's stomach. He didn't believe for a moment that Julius had talked like that to a customer unprovoked. But that didn't mean Tucker could ignore it. He would have to talk to Julius about this. Dealing with unpleasant customers calmly was part of the whole business of selling things, and it was important for Julius to understand that.

But Tucker had a feeling that this was a bit more complicated than that. He felt a wave of dread overtake him as he thought about having to confront the teen.

What would he say? What should he say? Tucker had never liked confrontation, and he feared he would be opening a whole can of worms when he broached the issue of Julius' behavior.

He didn't want to lose his apprentice.

So, I know there isn't anything in canon about Julius not liking coffee, but the idea came to me and I decided to run with it. Funny thing is, as I wrote Julius' rant about coffee, I was downing several cups of it. With a rather large amount of creamer in them. :O

Oh, Julius, if only you knew.