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Never Before, Never Again

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He annihilates entire solar systems with ease. He destroys stars and nebulas and comets without a second thought. It’s been his purpose for countless millennia to bring balance to the universe this way. He roams the universe from galaxy to galaxy, tearing apart everything in his path, scattering the pieces far and wide before reforming them into something new.

He has never before encountered anyone who will stop him.

Until he meets Chinen.

The solar system he arrives at is tiny and insignificant by most standards. One sun, eight planets, with one smaller pseudo-planet tagging along on the edge. He reaches out, ready to rip it all apart when another presence appears before him.

It takes the shape of a lesser lifeform, something with two arms, two legs, and a face. But he can sense the power condensed underneath its skin. Something akin to his own power, yet also somewhat different at the same time.

“Hello,” it says in a cheerful voice. “You can call me Chinen Yuri.”

He doesn’t quite know how to respond. He’s never had to speak to someone before. The other destroyers stay away, content to focus on their own work. But this newcomer isn’t a destroyer. Not at all.

Chinen exudes a sense of pleasant calm, similar to what he feels whenever he watches the swirls of a nebula twist and twirl. But there’s also a hint of confidence underneath, a different sense of being completely in control of the situation.

“Do you have a name?” Chinen asks.

After some hesitation, he answers in the negative. He’s never needed a name before.

Chinen’s eyes suddenly look brighter. “Then I will give you one!” A pleased look crosses its face before speaking again to change the subject. “But first, I wanted to tell you that you can’t destroy this system.”

The brightness in those eyes doesn’t dim.

He is confused by the sudden declaration. There is no part of the universe that he can’t touch, not even in the depths of the deepest black holes.

“All things must be destroyed before they can be renewed,” he tries to explain.

“I agree,” Chinen says. “But life is just beginning on the third planet.” A hand gestures vaguely towards the green and blue sphere in the distance. “And I’m curious to watch it grow.”

He doesn’t like the idea of something getting in the way of his plans. In all the countless millennia of his existence, nothing has ever told him no. He moves to push past Chinen, but Chinen pushes back without even moving its body.

“I think I will call you… Takaki Yuya,” Chinen declares with a laugh, completely unfazed by his power. “That sounds nice, right?”

Chinen continues to pretend not to notice his efforts to get around the other being. Chinen just smiles and raises its hands. “Until we meet again.”

And then he is suddenly pushed billions of lightyears away across several galaxies. It takes him barely a nanosecond to regain his composure when he comes to a stop, but his thoughts are focused on the strange being he just met, and emotions like annoyance and curiosity rush through his whole essence, mixing together in a mess. He’s never had to deal with these kinds of feelings before.

He slips inside a quiet nebula to contemplate the situation for a while, letting the gases envelop him as his thoughts stray back to the being on the other side of the universe.

Takaki Yuya? He repeats the name given to him by Chinen.

He thinks he might like it.

Once he feels like his mind is settled again, he returns to his work, finding the nearest uninhabited planet and crushing it to bits. Then he scatters the pieces around the solar system like decorations adorning a new house.

He’s never had a real challenge before, and he’ll need some time to think up a good strategy before he can face Chinen again.

***

Takaki likes to think he can be sneaky. He often passes through whole systems without being noticed by anyone or anything at all, though that’s generally because lesser lifeforms aren’t able to detect his presence. So he slips through the vast expanse of space slowly, hoping that Chinen will not notice as he nears closer to that tiny little unremarkable solar system.

As he reaches the edge, he stretches out and grabs a passing asteroid. It seems like a miniscule pebble to him, but it should be big enough to do some damage to the planet and distract Chinen.

Then he can work in peace again.

He tosses the asteroid at the green and blue planet, watches as it burns in the atmosphere before impacting the ground and leaving an expansive crater in its wake. Satisfied with the results, Takaki tries to move quickly to get started on his work.

But quicker than he can even think about it, he feels the crush of an angry presence surrounding him from all sides. And then Chinen appears before him again in that same form as the first time they met, but the angry pressure around him doesn’t recede.

“Yuya, I told you not to interfere,” Chinen says sternly, hands resting on its hips. “Now everything is all shook up. Paths are diverging in ways they weren’t supposed to. All my studies and experiments are in chaos now.”

Takaki feels a bit guilty because Chinen is clearly upset, though he cannot understand why when there are millions of other planets full of life it can study instead. All Takaki wants to do is destroy this solar system like he originally intended.

Chinen sighs. “Well, there’s nothing to be done to fix things now. I’ll just continue my observations as usual and see where this divergence goes. And you,” Chinen continues, lifting up its arms in the same gesture as last time, “you’ll just have to find something else to do.”

Takaki gets pushed against his will once again, far away from the insignificant little planet Chinen wants to protect. But he doesn’t try to race back again right away, instead just choosing to float there in space and think about Chinen.

Thoughts of the mysterious being fill Takaki with anger for standing in the way of his work to bring balance to the universe. Perhaps the idea is selfish and petty, but Takaki had wanted to destroy the planet simply because Chinen told him not to. Chinen’s words made it into a challenge, and he’s spent so long in the universe alone and complacent that he wanted to try to shake things up from his normal routine.

But he also remembers the expression on Chinen’s face: lips turned downward, eyebrows drawn close together. It’s a look of disappointment and sadness. He can recognize the feelings even if he’s never seen them displayed on a face before now.

Guilt. The feeling begins to eat at his insides like an insidious virus, spreading throughout his essence. That’s a new one he doesn’t know how to deal with.

Suddenly he wants to put more distance in between himself and Chinen. He wants to be free of these distracting thoughts and feelings.

He seeks out an old star, one of the verge of going supernova, and he nudges it gently enough to make it explode. The dazzling array of light is spectacular. It’s something he never gets tired of seeing.

***

Takaki decides it’s time to focus on something else for a while. He flies as far away as he can to the edge of the universe, surrounded by flickering baby stars and leftover cosmic dust. He stays there for a couple millennia, gently nurturing the baby stars as they grow brighter each day. He takes the time to weave together dust and gases into planets and moons to gift to the young stars.

He feels a wonderful satisfaction with his work, but it’s not enough to fully erase Chinen from his thoughts. He can still recall that face: the look of happiness and the look of anger.

Sometimes the universe is quiet enough that Takaki thinks solely about the puzzle of Chinen Yuri.

He wants to know more.

Eventually Takaki decides to leave his baby stars behind. He slowly works his way back across the universe, leaving a path of destruction—albeit a bit smaller than usual—in his wake. He just wants to take a peek again, just wants to try to understand Chinen better, just wants to see how the other is doing. Once he’s satisfied, he tells himself, he’ll go back to business as usual and leave the mysterious being alone.

He hides behind a pulsar, observing the small solar system from a distance. He can sense Chinen there too, a swirling mass of intense power. It’s more amazing than anything else he’s ever witnessed throughout the whole universe. It’s why Takaki finds the other so fascinating.

But right now, Takaki also senses a sadness coming from Chinen. Takaki’s never dealt with sadness before but he quickly realizes he doesn’t like it. It feels similar to pain, and he realizes he doesn’t want Chinen to feel like that at all.

He wonders if there’s a way to cheer the other up.

He thinks back to their first encounter, how Chinen exuded a soothing calmness the whole time, how utterly joyful Chinen was to give Takaki a name, how Chinen’s eyes burned bright with excitement.

Chinen’s eyes were like stars.

Takaki reaches out, stretching just a small part of himself towards the solar system’s sun. He does it quickly, gently teasing the yellow star into performing a dazzling solar flare. Spectacular to witness, but nothing that will bother any of the planets, particularly Chinen’s favorite little one.

Then Takaki dashes away, escaping across the galaxies before Chinen can kick him out again.

But he hopes, perhaps, Chinen liked his present.

***

Takaki wouldn’t say he’s hiding in a black hole; it’s just that he likes swimming through the gravity well as it attempts to tear him into a million pieces. That’s all. It’s a fantastic distraction from all the thoughts in his head (specifically, those about Chinen).

He’s not hiding. He’s just taking his time before he decides what needs to be destroyed and rebuilt next.

A small part of him wonders, however, when he let go of his spiteful goal to destroy that particular little solar system.

It’s a surprise when he suddenly feels Chinen calling out for him. There’s no hint of anger or sadness this time. It just feels like an invitation to say hi. No one has ever reached out for something as simple as a greeting before. Not even the other destroyers.

Curiosity gets the better of Takaki and he ventures forth from the black hole, speeding across solar systems and through asteroid belts and past nebulas until he reaches Chinen’s domain. The other being is already waiting for him, just floating in space with a wide grin across its face.

“Yuyan, I’ve missed you,” Chinen says cheerfully, waving a hand in greeting.

Takaki’s not sure what he thinks about now suddenly having a nickname too.

“I missed you… too?” Takaki says with some hesitation. Though now that he’s considering it, he realizes that it’s true. It had been a long time since he’d had a chance to interact with Chinen.

Chinen shoots him a friendly smile as it drifts a little closer. “The solar flare was a beautiful gesture. It really cheered me up earlier, so thank you. I should return the favor. I figure it’s time we stopped flirting and go on a real date.”

Chinen extends its hand, though not in the same gesture to push Takaki away like in the past. It’s a simple invitation instead to hold hands. “I’d like to show you how my little planet is doing these days.”

Takaki doesn’t really know anything about flirting and dating because they’re not concepts he’s ever thought about before. Love was something for the lesser beings of the universe. But Takaki can admit the idea is kind of… thrilling?

That’s a new emotion too.

He’s experienced so many different emotions since he first encountered Chinen. He’s almost forgotten what life was like before.

“You’ll have to dress up a little though,” Chinen says, full on grinning now. “It is a first date, after all.”

***

The sensation of having a physical body is strange. Takaki feels compressed because his energy can’t stretch out the way it usually does. It feels weird to be contained within a layer of skin, having two legs, two arms, and a face to complete the look. He wonders how Chinen can stand it, though the other must be used to it by now.

The clothing he’s wearing is an even weirder sensation which Takaki isn’t even going to spend time thinking about.

But Chinen seems to like the look.

“Your hair looks nice,” Chinen says, reaching up to brush a few strands away from Takaki’s eyes.

They’re on the little green and blue planet now—Earth, as Chinen says the inhabitants call it. Chinen gently wraps his fingers around Takaki’s hand and leads them as they walk together. Takaki has never seen a planet from this perspective before, the perspective of the people who live there.

This specific place is called a park, he’s told. There are trees exploding with different shades of green and brown, the sky above a beautiful brilliant blue, and people passing by, all looking so similar and so different at the same time. Just living their lives the only way they know how.

“Do you want some ice cream?” Chinen asks, eyes shining bright with excitement.

Takaki just nods, not even really sure what ice cream is, but interested in trying anything that lights up Chinen’s face like that. He likes Chinen the best when happy.

Chinen gestures for him to wait on a park bench and then approaches the ice cream vendor. Takaki watches as Chinen talks with the other person, pointing to the menu and then exchanging what he assumes is payment in return for the food. Chinen moves with confidence and ease, completely at home in this environment. Takaki admires that because he feels completely out of place.

Chinen plops down on the bench beside him, handing him a cup and keeping the other in its own hands.

“I got you the classic vanilla with chocolate syrup,” Chinen explains. “And then I got vanilla with sprinkles for myself. I love sprinkles.”

Takaki watches as Chinen scoops up some of the ice cream with a spoon and then eats it, face scrunching up automatically at the taste. He hesitantly follows Chinen’s lead. The taste is pleasant at first, but then he winces as the cold hits him all at once. He’s sure he just mirrored the same scrunched up look Chinen had a moment ago.

Chinen laughs. “Brainfreeze?”

“I don’t know what that is,” Takaki answers. He takes another scoop of ice cream despite the pain because he finds he actually enjoys the sweet taste.

“Try eating it a bit slower,” Chinen advises.

They sit on the park bench for a while and talk as they savor the ice cream. Chinen patiently answers all Takaki’s questions about the planet and its inhabitants, and Takaki is enthralled by the other’s enthusiasm and passion for this world. Once they run out of food, Chinen leads him from the park and into the city, walking past shops and office buildings and restaurants.

“I hope you’re not afraid of heights,” Chinen jokingly declares, stopping in front of the entrance to something called a “ferris wheel.”

“Of course not,” Takaki answers, more focused instead on watching the giant contraption slowly rotate in a circle. He can’t figure out what the appeal is, to just sit and ride in one place for a while, never actually travelling anywhere. But Chinen grabs his hand again, and Takaki can’t bring himself to say no.

Once they’re in the air, however, Takaki can see the city stretched out across the landscape to where it meets the sparkling sea in the distance. The sight is much different from the park earlier but it has its own appeal, all those buildings in different shapes and sizes standing tall. It’s actually more beautiful than he expected. The view doesn’t compare to a swirling nebula or a brilliant solar flare, but it’s elegant in its own way. He’s sure he’ll remember this image for a long time to come.

“They built all this,” Chinen says, having snuggled up close to Takaki’s arm and leaned its head against his shoulder. “The humans, I mean. They’ve come so far since the beginning and they learn more and more each day. I’m so proud.”

“Don’t get me wrong,” the other continues, “there are times when I wish I had let you destroy this solar system. Sometimes they’re awful and destructive and don’t deserve what they have at all. But then there are other times when the life on this planet is just… amazing. So resilient and innovative… I just really love watching them all grow up.”

Takaki doesn’t say anything for a bit. He gazes out at the view again and relishes the calming feeling of warmth from Chinen’s body so close to his. He thinks he’s finally beginning to understand.

By the time they exit the ferris wheel later, the sun is already starting to set, transforming the city into a shadowy vision of its daytime self. They walk around a bit longer, still hand in hand, with Chinen continuing to talk about life on the planet. Takaki watches the other’s eyes burn bright with each word that passes through those lips.

Takaki listens and feels alternatively like a nebula ready to wrap Chinen up in a sweet embrace or a fiery star about to go supernova.

“I hope you’ve enjoyed our date. I’m sure I’ve talked enough for one night,” Chinen says as a joke, but the face looks sincere.

Takaki curves his lips into a smile, mirroring the expression Chinen is so fond of. “I enjoyed it. I like spending time with you,” he admits.

In response, Chinen’s face flushes a light shade of pink.

“I have one more question before I go,” Takaki continues.

“What’s that?”

“What do humans typically do at the end of a date?”

Chinen’s shy smile is now a full-blown grin. “Ah well, they usually kiss… if they had a good time…”

Takaki listens as Chinen tries to explain the gesture, but he doesn’t really understand the appeal. But he also thinks it’s kind of cute watching Chinen start rambling while trying to put it into terms Takaki will comprehend.

Finally, Takaki just leans down, pressing his lips against Chinen’s, effectively cutting off the other’s increasingly nonsensical explanation. He hadn’t actually expected much, but the kiss makes his temporary human body feel almost electrified. He feels more connected to Chinen than ever before.

Maybe he can understand the appeal after all.

Chinen’s face is so full of joy afterwards.

They finally say their goodbyes and Chinen reminds Takaki that he can come back for another “date” anytime.

Takaki sails across the galaxy with a lot on his mind. His goal of destroying that solar system is no longer on his list of priorities. That part of the universe can stay a bit unbalanced for a while longer. He’d rather continue exploring these interesting interactions with Chinen, learning more about life and emotions and so many things he’d never even thought about before.

He used to travel around the universe, destroying and rebuilding without a second thought.

Not anymore. Now he’ll treat his work with more care and consideration.

Life feels different now, but not a bad kind of different.

Takaki’s purpose is to bring balance to the universe, but maybe, just maybe, Chinen brings balance to himself.

Well, that’s just what he thinks, anyway.