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Backlit Resolve

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 Oda isn’t sure what to make of his situation. It’s all a bit surreal still. Perhaps what’s evenmore surreal is that beyond the girl he’s supposed to consider his partner and the normal team, they have new passengers on the chopper. Rimbaud has a redheaded boy by his side, chatting away animatedly and gazing out the window as they fly. And Dr Mori has another youngster. He sits by Mori’s side, dead eyes focused on the floor.

 Across from Oda, Ango smiles shyly and pushes up his glasses. “They’re the other candidates.”

 “Oh?” Typical Ango to know what he’s thinking before he’s even said it. “They’re so young.”

 “I’m not young,” Mori’s kid says. “I’m ten.”

 “I’m ten too and two months older than him,” Rimbaud’s boy says.

 Oda smiles as Kouyou sighs. “What troublesome boys.”

 “The redhead is A5158, Nakahara Chuuya,” Ango says. “The brunette is A1309, Dazai Osamu. We’re trying to find relics for them. Both have rather high sync rates. They’ll surpass you two easily when they’re ready to fight.”

 “Isn’t it cruel to make kids fight?” Oda says with a frown.

 “This a time of war,” Mori says, putting his hand on Dazai’s shoulder. Dazai’s eyes narrow. “We cannot afford such sentimentalities.”

 “They are government property,” Ango says quietly.

 “People aren’t property,” Oda hisses.

 “They are, I’m afraid,” Mori replies with a shrug. Dazai smacks Mori’s hand off his shoulder and Mori sighs, handing him a console, which he takes eagerly. “They always have been. If this project didn’t come up, they’d be put to use on another.”

 “I was gonna be a spy,” Nakahara says, still gazing out the window. “Right, Dad?”

 “Right,” Rimbaud replies with an incredibly fond smile. “You would have been incredible. Paul would be so proud of you.”

 “I’ve told you about humanising him,” Mori mutters.

 “You get to raise yours as you wish, I raise mine as I wish,” he says. “That was the agreement. As long as they’re both useful, the data gathered is worthwhile and we should have a decent pair.”

 

 Oda frowns. They might be young themsevles but children who are only ten? Do they even understand the world they’re in? Do they understand the danger they’re being prepared to face? It’s all very well and good to say they’d have been used no matter what, but that really doesn’t make it any better. Even if Nakahara looks absolutely thrilled to be here and Dazai is thoroughly apathetic.

 “He’s right,” Ango whispers, putting his hand on Oda’s. Oda isn't sure when Ango appeared next to him but smiles back weakly anyway. “We can’t afford to be complacent right now. You and Ozaki-san can’t do all the work alone.”

 “Do you ever get tired of playing devil’s advocate, Ango?” he replies, sliding his fingers between his.

 “All the time, but someone has to do it.”

 

 “Dad, Dad!” Nakahara squeals, pointing out the window and bouncing eagerly. “Look how big that bird is.”

 Oda smiles absently as Rimbaud tilts his head to gaze out the window where Nakahara is pointing. But a darkness settles over his eyes. Before anyone can ask, the helicopter jolts and pulls aside. That’s never a good sign. Twists bird like forms screech passed the window and the chopper jolts again.

 “Shit, that was close,” Nakahara cries.

 “Who taught you language like that, young man?” Rimbaud scolds, pulling Nakahara away from the window.

 “Dazai did,” he replies.

 “No way,” Dazai snaps, lifting his head from his game. “Verlaine is always swearing when you’re not around. It was definitely him.”

 “Either way, that’s our cue,” Oda says as he and Kouyou get up. He squeezes Ango’s hand before releasing it. “Stay safe.”

 “You too,” Ango replies with a nervous smile. “Don’t do anything stupid.”

 Oda nods as Kouyou opens open of the doors. “Never.”

 He and Kouyou jump from the helicopter towards the monsters. The red crystal pendants around their necks blaze with energy and the magical armour Oda doesn’t understand in the slightest forms around them. Oda’s hand closes around his spear and Kouyou’s sword flashes in hers. Golden light tears from Kouyou’s blade, ripping through the monsters as Oda’s speartip glows and charges. His light swings further and wider than Kouyou’s, leaving monsters crumbling to dust as they fall to the ground.

 There’s clapping above them, barely heard over the noise of the chopper but Oda lifts his head. Ango is holding the back of Dazai and Nakahara’s collars as they applaud. Kouyou sighs, resting her sword tip lightly on the ground and it shakes.

 “Well, if the kids are watching, then we can’t let them down, no?” she says.

 “I guess not,” Oda sighs, resting the spear on his shoulder. “We’re going to be their seniors, it seems.”

 “It seems so,” Kouyou chuckles.

 

 The battle isn’t the hardest they’ve thought. The helicopter hovers above them, the children watching in awe under Ango’s supervision as they do their job. Oda took this job because he wanted to protect the innocent. He had little to live for, perhaps if he could save people, he could find a reason. And he certainly had.

 Kouyou has been raised for this. Perhaps he shouldn’t be so surprised by the children when he knows Kouyou was raised by a pair of government assassins who, while seemingly loving parents, had trained her to follow in their footsteps. Perhaps Oda was simply naive to believe they wouldn’t use children. Perhaps it should reassure him that these two, much like Kouyou, have been raised into this and won’t have known any other life, but it just leaves him hollow. At least there is some comfort in how much Rimbaud seems to genuinely adore Nakahara. That’s the sort of family he desperately wants to protect.

 

 “Idiot,” Ango mutters, cleaning off the cut on Oda’s cheek once they’re travelling again. “You could have been killed.”

 “I was fine,” Oda says quietly. “Kouyou had my back.”

 “Ane-san was so cool!” Nakahara declares, punching the air.

 “I’m far too young to be anyone’s ane-san,” Kouyou replies, hands folded in her lap. “Let alone a brat I’ve only just met.”

 “I’m not a brat,” he argues. “Dazai’s the brat!”

 “And you’re a stupid chibi,” Dazai calls from where he’s focused on his game again.

 Nakahara puffs out his cheeks and narrowed his eyes before turning back to Kouyou. “Can I use your sword? It's super cool.”

 “You can’t just use a relic, child,” Kouyou scolds. “You have to find one that matches-”

 “I can,” he huffs.

 “Chuuya,” Rimbaud calls softly, holding out a pair of headphones. “Come and sit.”

 Nakahara wrinkles his nose but climbs up onto the seat next to Rimbaud, putting on the headphones and curling into his handler’s side. The love in Rimbaud’s eyes as he undoes his coat and wraps it around Nakahara for him to hide inside, cuddled into his side, gives Oda hope that at least one of these boys has someone who really does want the best for him. Perhaps life won’t be so bad for him.

 

 And then Ango presses the disinfectant wipe a little too hard to the cut on his cheek and Oda hisses. Ango’s eyes are narrowed and Oda’s cheeks flush slightly. They have to be careful. Ango is an apprentice with the government - Oda’s not entirely sure what that means and Ango is rather cagey about it - and Oda is technically an agent, perhaps a weapon just like these children. Any relationship between them being discovered would very likely see Ango transferred away.

 “Don’t get careless,” Ango says. “You’re valuable to the government. Letting your guard down enough to get a scratch can easily turn into letting your guard down enough to get yourself killed.”

 “Perhaps,” Oda says quietly.

 “Not perhaps,” he scolds, pressing the wipe to his cheek. “It will get your killed one day.”

 “Ow, ow, Ango!”

 “Baby,” he mutters. Their fingers brush lightly as Ango stands. “If you didn’t get hurt, it wouldn’t sting to look after it.”

 “You’re a real slave driver,” Oda sighs.

 Ango smiles and adjusts his glasses as he crosses to his seat once more.They can’t reach their new test bast quickly enough for Oda. The sooner he can scout out the place and find some blindspots to drag Ango into the better. It’s been too long since he could get Ango alone, hold him close and claim his lips. There’s the same smouldering desire in Ango’s eyes, in every discreet brush of their fingertips, always hidden by a quick adjustment of his glasses.

 Oda pities Nakahara and Dazai, who will grow up under this strict regimental care and have never known a life outside. They’ll never understand what they’re missing. They’re little more than lab rats to the government. He can only hope they really are going to be training these youngsters. He’ll be sure to take them outside and show them the world that’s been stolen from them.