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Sense Of Distance

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 Flower is usually a peaceful cafe where Kunikida can study. It’s on the way home from school and he’d rather not go home. It’s too loud. Too busy. When there’s people there, at least. But not today. When Kunikida picks up his tea, there’a pair at a table by the window in white blazers, black shirts and gold ties. He didn’t know there were any school with a uniform like that in Yokohama, even the private schools. Perhaps they’re here on a trip.

 Normally, Kunikida wouldn’t take much notice, but they’re noisey. And strangers. One a lanky, airy looking brown haired boy covered in bandages who looks like he might blow over in a mild breeze and a compact looking redhead, a little bruised but far sturdier.

 Kunikida tries to focus on his school work, but the noisy strangers don’t help and Kunikida finds himself lifting his gaze just as the redhead tucks hi hair back behind his ear, blue eyes bright and full of life as he bickers with his friend. Kunikida blinks, his face warming slightly. He’d never realised such a simple action could be quite so enchanting.

 The redhead picks that moment to look up and their eyes meet. Kunikida jerks his head away, pushing up his glasses and returning to his work. He’s not getting distracted by a pretty face. He’s got to focus.

 Far easier said than done. Kunikida finds his gaze lifting to the pair constantly, watching them sharing pastries and drinking as they go over something. Probably their own homework and studies. Perhaps they’re having to write a report on whatever they do on their trip. Something about them seems off though.

 He glances up once more and is rather surprised to see the boy with brown hair meet his gaze with a nasty grin. His arms are draped over his companion, his head tucked into his shoulder in a very obvious message. Kunikida turns back to his studies. Ridiculous. He can’t get distracted. He needs to focus. He can’t waste time on some boy who’s already got a boyfriend.

 

 The boys stay nearly as late as Kunikida. The brown haired bean pole is attached to his redhead friend, being fed sweets and sharing his drink and general making it very obvious they’re a pair. When they do eventually leave the cafe the sun is going down. They seem rather hesitant to leave, Kunikida thinks.

 “Do we have to?” the redhead says quietly.

 His friend grabs his hand. “We can always jump off a bridge on the way.”

 “You and your fucking suicide obsession,” he sighs. A folded piece of paper drops onto Kunikida’s table as they pass. He frowns, about to tell him he’d dropped it, but when he opens it, it’s a phone number. He glances up and the redhead glances back over his shoulder before following his friend. “Fuck it, let’s go to arcade instead, huh?”

 “He’ll send Shirase and Yuan after us again,” the other says. “We always got there when we don’t want to go back.”

 “Then you think of something,” he replies as they’re heading out the door. “Aren’t you the one who keeps pointing out you’re the brains of the operation?”

 “Hmm…”

 Kunikida watches them leave. They definitely didn’t want to go back to wherever they came from. And they way they spoke, it seemed they were locals, not just here on a trip. How strange. Kunikida gazes down at the note he’d been given. A phone number, his name and a quick note to ignore the asshole, he’s not his boyfriend.

 Chuuya.

 Kunikida takes out his phone and puts in Chuuya’s contact before sending him a simple message, a mild greeting and his name as an introduction. Assuming it’s a real number. And almost instantly there’s a message in response. It’s a real number.

 

 For the next few weeks Kunikida and Chuuya message back and forth. The messages are all cautious and casual, feeling each other out and testing the waters more than anything, but a notification from Chuuya always makes Kunikida smile. Even his parents have commented that he seems cheerier recently.

 Chuuya says he comes from an orphanage, that’s why he avoids going back when he can. That the boy with him - apparently called Dazai, although one could be mistaken for thinking his name was bastard - is his best friend and is simply overprotective. Given where they come from and the state of the world, perhaps Kunikida understands.

 

 It’s a grey day nearly a month from their meeting and Kunikida hasn’t heard from Chuuya all afternoon. It’s rather worrying given the number of outbreaks today. Kunikida, of course, knows that people die and people die in great numbers these days. His school had been forced into their crowded shelters early that morning and hadn’t been able to leave until hours after school was officially over. The streets are empty and Kunikida finds himself watching the military police cleaning up the piles of dust that were once people. Chuuya could well die in the chaos and there would be no way of knowing. Nothing was left behind to identify the victims. Many people will simply go down as missing and the people who loved them would never get answers.

 What the creatures are, no one really knows. At least, no one in the general public. They’re referred to only as monsters. They seem to have no sentience or intelligence beyond the need to kill humans and nothing can stop them. Even the shelters they hide in aren’t really protection. They’re safer because they’re underground, beneath layers and layers of earth making it more unlikely they’ll be reached, but everyone knows there’s no true safety.

 Of course, there are many theories about what they are. Everything from secret government experiments to aliens. All Kunikida knows is they’ve been around as long as he can remember, since the war. He’s heard people say they were summoned by the war, by the carnage and bloodlust and death. Ancient creatures summoned to feed upon the ruins of humanity.

 

 Kunikida’s footsteps falter as he catches sight of the white uniforms. Chuuya’s red hair is stark and bright against the monochrome world around him. He sits on the hood of a police car with a drink in hand. Around him are others in the same uniform, all around the same age. An older teen with red hair is sitting next to him, letting him lean on her shoulder. All look worse for wear but none seriously injured as the military work around them.

 “Don’t.” Kunikida shuts his mouth at the voice behind him. Dazai is there. There are bloody bandages over one eye, a new addition since last time, but it’s certainly him. “If our carers find out he’s been talking to someone outside, he’ll be punished. He’ll text you later.”

 He walks off before Kunikida can say a word and joins Chuuya and the others. Kunikida watches for a moment longer, as Chuuya kicks out at Dazai halfheartedly, laughing with the others. At least, despite how unsettled Chuuya’s situation seems, he has friends and people who care about him. Kunikida certainly doesn’t want to get Chuuya into trouble.

 

 And, as promised, Chuuya texts him late that night. Usually Kunikida would be annoyed at having to wait so long when he has a strict schedule, but he’d been too worried waiting for him. He couldn’t sleep until he was sure Chuuya was alright. Not that Chuuya seems to have any sort of schedule. His messages come through at all times of the day. Kunikida asks about Dazai’s injury, more out of politeness than anything, and Chuuya says it’s nothing more than him being dramatic. A picture comes through and Kunikida smiles absently. Dazai and Chuuya are curled up together in a small white bed, dressed in the same unassuming white t-shirts, with matching blue bands around their wrists. Kunikida can’t help wonder what type of orphanage they’re in. Uniforms and bands that look distinctly medical, the secrecy, the idea that he’ll get in trouble for talking with outsiders. But at least Dazai appears perfectly fine. And as clingy as ever. Sharing a bed? Really?

 Somehow, they manage to talk all night. Kunikida doesn’t even remember falling asleep, only that he wakes with his phone still in hand. There’s a message from Chuuya, wishing him goodnight and letting him know that a few of them are going on a trip and he’s not sure how well they’ll be able to stay in contact.

 It’ll be easier if we don’t talk. Just try to forget it. We might not come back after all. It was fun while it lasted.

 Of course he knows Chuuya might never come back. That’s something he faces every time he sends a message. That it might simply never get a reply and he will never know what really happened. That Chuuya could vanish on some trip is even worse. That doesn't mean he wants to forget though.

 I’m not forgetting anything. Text me when you get back. I’ll be waiting.

 

 Waiting is easier said than done.

 After over a year or radio silence - sixteen months, two weeks and four days - Kunikida’s friendship with Chuuya seems little more than a chance encounter, a childish infatuation and a few messages. It’s not like you find the love of you life at fourteen. They hardly knew each other really.

 And yet, when he steps into Flower after school and is faced with a familiar pair of kids, Kunikida’s pulse races. He forces himself to focus on his order and not Chuuya feeding Dazai pastry. He takes his order and sits in a booth at the back of the cafe to work.

 After a few moments, there are quiet footsteps and Chuuya slips into the booth across from him. He looks a bit more mature. His hair curls around his face and his eyes are sharper. He’s grown a little, and gone is the white uniform. In its place a hoodie, jacket and jeans. Dazai on the other side of the cafe is in a shirt and tie, coat hanging over his shoulders with one arm in a sling. Both wear the blue medical bracelets still, but at least they look more like regular kids.

 “Hi,” Chuuya says quietly.

 “Hi,” Kunikida replies, adjusting his glasses.

 “Umm…” Chuuya frown, tucking his hair behind his ear. “Nakahara Chuuya.”

 “Kunikida Doppo.” Chuuya smiles and tilts his head and it’s a little daunting to realise this is the first time they’ve actually spoken. “Is your friend ok?”

 Chuuya tips his head, gazing back at Dazai, who grins and waves back. “Don’t let him fool you with his pathetic look. He’s a cold hearted bastard who’ll slit your throat as soon as look at you.”

 “And yet I’ve never seen you without him?” Kunikida says.

 “I’m kinda useless without him,” Chuuya laughs, although it’s completely hollow. “Besides, the world is kinda dangerous, right? Best to have a buddy system.”

 “Perhaps,” he replies. “How are things at the orphanage? You’re out of uniform for once.”

 “Yeah.” He smiles, leaning on his palm and playing absently with his hair. Kunikida adjusts his glasses slightly. He wants to run his hands through Chuuya’s hair. The bright red curls look so soft. “Things have kinda got better, actually. The old head of the organisation died. A new guy’s taking over. It a bit of a mess, but we’re getting there. He’s nowhere near as bad as the last guy, at least.”

 “It never sounded great,” Kunikida replies with a smile. “I’m glad things are getting better.”

 “Ah, I’m sorry I couldn’t text you,” Chuuya says. “I lost my phone, there was this river i got in a fight with which was totally shitty Dazai’s fault and, well, it got away with my phone and had to get a new one and didn’t have your number so I hoped you’d still come here.”

 “Thank you for taking the chance,” he says. Chuuya slides his phone over and Kunikida takes it to put in his new number. “Does this new head let you spent time with people outside the orphanage?”

 “I think so,” he replies. His smile softens a little. “I hope so. Umm, me and the bastard were going to go to the arcade. It’s been forever since we’ve been, especially without being dragged back by the others. Do you wanna come?”

 “I wouldn’t want to impose,” Kunikida replies, “and I have to study.”

 “It’s not imposing. And he’s kinda my best friend, you know? I think… you should get to know him since...”

 “Since?”

 “It’d be cool if we hung out more…” He turns his attention to his drink and takes a long drink. “I’m not really allowed to wander off without him. I’m afraid we come as a package. He’s kinda ok, if you don’t let him get under your skin too much.”

 Kunikida frowns, glancing over at Dazai once more. “If you say so. I suppose, one night off won’t hurt.”

 

 Chuuya grins and Dazai joins them as they’re heading out the cafe together. He grabs Chuuya’s arm, rather possessively and Kunikida wonders just how much trouble dealing with Dazai is going to be.

 “I’m Dazai,” he says with an obviously fake smile. “It’s lovely to meet my chibi’s mystery boyfriend properly at last, Kunikida.”

 “We’re not boyfriends,” Chuuya snaps, jabbing his elbow into Dazai’s ribs.

 “It’s nice to meet you too, Dazai,” Kunikida replies, not bothering to acknowledge his troublemaking.

 

 The arcade is surprisingly fun. Kunikida doesn’t spend much time hanging around playing games with kids his age. Dazai and Chuuya play some fighting game over a lot of yelling, apparently the first one they played when they first came here as youngsters. Apparently it was because of this game and some bet they became the way they are.

 And then Chuuya insists it’s Kunikida’s turn, pushing him into his seat and draping his arms over his shoulders, his weight against his back and hands over his on the controls to guide him. Kunikida’s gaze touches the blue bracelet around Chuuya’s wrist. It’s definitely some kind of ID bracelet.

 Nakahara Chuuya | April 29 | A5158 | SG-PM-012 Shul Shagana

 “Focus,” Chuuya whispers by his ear. “We beat the bastard and we’ll call this a date.”

 “Now I definitely can’t let that happen, chibi,” Dazai laughs.

 “How the fuck can you hear that with all those bandages?!” he yells.

 “I just always know exactly what my partner is thinking at all times, without question,” he replies with a playful trill to his voice. “We’re soulmates, you know?”

 “Soulmates?” Kunikida says quietly.

 “Ignore him,” Chuuya replies. “Shitty mackerel.”

 “We’re totally soulmates,” Dazai laughs. “We get each other without trying. Slug always knows what I’m thinking and I always know what he’s thinking. Mori-san says we’re two parts of the same whole. I’m the only one who’s ever been able handle chibi.”

 “Handle me?” he snaps.

 

 Dazai is definitely a pain in the backside. But Chuuya is smiling and laughing and Kunikida is absolutely enchanted by the warmth and life in his eyes. Their fingers brush lightly as they watch Dazai works on clearing out a crane machine before they’re shooed off by the manager for cheating, which Dazai loudly protests. Apparently he just has the knack for it. He only keeps one of the prizes he wins, a large red and black dog with a tail of fire. He, of course, gives this one to Chuuya, who keeps a hold of it despite his loud complaints. Red dogs seem to be a thing for Chuuya. Kunikida’s noted he and Dazai have matching phone charms. A pinkish-red dog with a fedora for Chuuya with and greenish-blue cat with a witch's hat for Dazai, each holding a red crystal.

 “I’ll give you two a minute then,” Dazai says from where he’s walking along the top of the sea wall. He glares at Kunikida. “Keep you hands off him. I’m watching.”

 “Dazai!” Chuuya yells but Dazai already bouncing away. “Ignore him. He’s just an asshole.”

 “Ignore which part?” Kunikida replies.

 “All of it,” he mutters. “He’s such a dick.”

 “Then I am allowed touch you,” he says, fingers brushing Chuuya’s.

 His cheeks flush and Kunikida glaces away. “You think you’re some kinda smooth fucker, huh?”

 “Quite the opposite,” he replies, “but I thought it best to be honest. I like you.”

 “Me too,” Chuuya mumbles. “I mean, I like you too. Obviously. But…”

 “But?”

 “You’ve noticed by now I’m not quite normal,” he says, playing with this ID bracelet. “Our orphanage isn’t exactly a normal place.”

 “It seems a bit like a prison,” Kunikida says, taking Chuuya’s hand and running his fingers over the bracelet. “You’re not a child murderer with a new identity or something, are you?”

 “Would change your mind about me if I was?” Chuuya replies.

 “Are you-”

 “No!” He shakes his head quickly and glares down at his bracelet. “But you’re not exactly a million miles off.” Kunikida frowns. “There are going to be times when things just go quiet. When I can’t tell you things. Dazai’s always gonna be around and-” He sighs and lowers his head. “If you want to be friends, it’s going to be weird.”

 “And if I want to be more than friends?” Kunikida says.

 Chuuya swallows thickly. “I’m not sure if I’m ready for that.”

 “You’re the one threatening to call it a date,” he replies. Chuuya’s face goes redder. “I’m ok with weird. I think you’ll be worth it.”

 “Well, you didn’t beat that bastard, so it wasn’t a date,” he stammers. “You’ll just have to try harder before I even think about calling you my boyfriend.”

 “And what if we didn’t call each other boyfriends, and I just kissed you anyway?”

 “I- I guess but-” Kunikida steps closer, cautiously reaching up and brushing Chuuya’s hair from his face. It’s just as soft and silky as he’d imagined. “But I’ve never…”

 “Me neither.”

 Chuuya nods a little, fingers pressed lightly to the back of Kunikida’s hand as he leans in. Their breaths mingle and Kunikida’s hand squeezes Chuuya’s lightly. He’s only a little taller than Chuuya. It’s surprisingly easy to be so close to a boy he realises he knows so very little about. It’s easy. And it’s right.

 

 “Oooh, Shirase! Yuan!” Dazai greets obnoxiously loudly.

 “Sorry,” Chuuya whispers, stepping away and turning to the where Dazai is with another pair of teens coming there way. He smiles and the girl with pink hair bounces over and grabs his arm. “What are you guys doing out there?”

 “We thought we’d find you two wasting time at the arcade,” the other boy replies. “As always. But when we asked around for an asshole who kept cheating the crane machine they said you’d already left.” He pauses and glances at Kunikida. “Who’s this?”

 “Ah, we met Kunikida at the arcade,” Dazai says with a grin. Kunikida frowns at them. They have blue bracelets like Dazai and Chuuya. He thinks he remembers their names being mentioned before. “Him and chibi hit it off. And still lost to me, even playing together. And I don’t cheat the crane machine, I just have a system.”

 “System my ass,” the boy replies. “You’re a cheat at everything. Come on, there’s a new paranormal horror flick come out and we’re going.”

 “Ah, sounds great,” Chuuya laughs.

 “They’re so boring, and those ghost murderers are so inefficent,” Dazai whines.

 “They’re awful!” the girl cries, leaning into Chuuya’s shoulder. “I won’t be able to sleep!”

 “You can hold onto Chuuya, Yuan,” the boy answer.

 

 “I’ll catch up in a sec,” Chuuya calls as they head off. He smiles up at Kunikida sheepishly. “I really enjoyed today.”

 “Me too,” Kunikida says quietly. “Text me when you get in?”

 “Definitely. Umm...” He frowns for a moment before reaching up and undoing Kunikida’s tie. He’s rather lost for a moment before Chuuya ties it around his dog’s neck in a loose bow. “Here.”

 He hands over the dog and Kunikida frowns. “Really? Is that ok? Didn’t Dazai-”

 “Dazai thinks I need a shit ton of them,” he replies. “That’s why he sleeps in my bed, you know? He’s won me to many that they take up all of his bed.” Kunikida frowns at the dog. “Ah, I didn’t mean that to sounds like I’m not grateful. Or I’m handing off toys I don’t like. I do like them. I like that he wins them for me. Even if there’s not really any challenge and-” He stops and groans, lowering head. “None of this is coming out right.”

 “No, I understand,” Kunikida replies. “Thank you.”

 “I’ll text you later. I’ve gotta go before they get suspicious.”

 He kisses Kunikida’s cheek quickly and runs off after his friends. Kunikida stares after him for a moment and Dazai sticks out his tongue over his shoulder only to be jabbed in the ribs by Chuuya. After a long moment watching them go, Kunikida glances down at the dog in his hand.

 He looks forward to arranging another chance at a date.