Disclaimer: Diabolo was created by Kei Kusunoki and Kaoru Ohashi
A/N: I have computer problems. . .
Chapter 4: Under the Stars
The two sat behind the back of the school building, hidden like thieves, Rai looking wordlessly up to the bright summer sky and Ren resting his head sleepily on his friend's shoulder in a habit they would return to often in the long dark days to come. Not that they knew that. They had yet to have any idea of the horror that would be unleashed into their small, heretofore insignificant lives.
Not a thought of such things entered their minds.
Not as they sat quietly in each other's company.
An errant soccer ball flew in front of the pair, bouncing over the pavement and waking Ren. He roused slow and reluctant, still caught in the last vestiges of a pleasant dream, at the sound of a sport the two boys often played, although not this afternoon. He rubbed his eyes clear and yawned widely, his warm breath floating over Rai's neck in almost familiar fashion. Rai watched him intensely, taking in every curve of Ren's downy covered cheek, every strand of Ren's hair as if Rai were etching it into his mind for all eternity. Ren's mouth closed and he pried his eyes open, still not wanting to let go of his sleeping flights of fancy until that is, he spied Rai. The upward curve of his lips at the sight of his friend was reflexive and the slight blush to his cheeks had now become commonplace.
Rai only smiled, that strangely adult smile and raised his hand to brush a few stray golden hairs from Ren's face. Without thought or embarrassment, Ren leaned into that simple touch, savoring the way Rai's hand was both gentle and strong, cool and yet made Ren feel warm. Rai brushed his thumb gently over Ren's soft skin and the blond closed his eyes, sighing contentedly.
Touch. It was all about touch; the feel of fingers and skin and warmth.
Words seemed unimportant to them now, more could be said in a look or a gesture than in speech. Especially when they were as yet unsure what exactly it was they wanted to say.
They were an odd sight there in the schoolyard, amongst children playing games and shouting loudly, the noises floating through the air. There was even a fight starting up in the far corner of the field which a teacher had rushed out to stop, interposing himself between one child and the other.
But for Rai and Ren, there could have been a war erupting on around them and they probably wouldn't have noticed.
They were too lost in the first flushes of childhood love, new and innocent and sweet.
Ren scooted himself closer to Rai, the hand on his face falling away, so that they lined up from shoulder to toe, the skin of their bared legs brushing up alongside each other. The blond leaned his head in until his nose just barely skimmed Rai's cheek, his warm candy breath unknowingly sending nameless shivers down Rai's spine and tying knots in his stomach.
Enjoyable, painfully pleasant knots that Rai wouldn't trade for anything in the world.
"You know," Ren whispered into Rai's ear. "You're my best friend."
"I am?" Rai asked quietly, easing his face closer to brush his cheek affectionately along Ren's.
Ren nodded, liking the intense nearness of Rai, the feel of skin against skin.
"You're my best friend, too." Rai said, stating what was obvious.
The blond hummed, a noise deep down in his little boy throat. He angled his head so that his breath now tickled over Rai's neck. "You know what else?" Ren went on without waiting for an answer. "I'm gonna keep you. For ever and ever."
A strange thrill flowed the length of Rai's body. But it was he who was supposed to own Ren, not the other way around. And yet, something about the statement made the tiny butterflies in Rai's tummy excited, fluttering against its walls in a frantic bid for escape. "Really?" he asked, trying to sound normal. "How are you going to do that?"
"I'm gonna take you home with me tonight and hide you, away from all the people who treat you bad. And I'll watch over you and care for you and . . ." There was a moment's pause as Rai stared confusedly and then Ren suddenly sat up. The blond's face was serious as it stared at his friend. "I want to make a promise." he said, abruptly changing the subject.
"What promise?" Rai looked at him warily, his eyes narrowed.
"Here, stick out your pinky. Like this." Ren obligingly demonstrated and Rai followed suit. Then the smaller boy crossed the fingers and latched them tight. "See? And now we promise. That we'll always be best friends. That we'll never forget each other. Never ever."
The blond's expression was oddly sincere, stern almost, which unfortunately only had the effect of making him more deliciously adorable. Yet still Rai found it a trifle disturbing. There had to be a reason for the sudden request and all he could think was: his father. "Of course. But, why? Did something happen?"
Ren shook his head fiercely, a little too much so, and then yanked his hand away as if burned. The force of the action made Rai's arm jerk forward, awkwardly closer to Ren and he sat that way a moment; just sat, his arm outstretched towards nothing, hovering near to the huddled little form. And then he took the dive. He reached his arm around Ren and pulled him close, so tight against his body that Ren gasped, momentarily unable to breathe.
"Ow. Rai, that hurts." The smaller boy whined, though only half-heartedly.
"That's O.K.." Rai smooth the flyaway hairs on Ren's head and held on tighter. "Why won't you tell me? What's a promise mean to you, Ren?"
The blond tensed uncomfortably and them gripped his small fingers into the cotton of Rai's shirt. The tears that fell silently dampened the fabric and trickled inward towards Rai's skin, exposed by the pull Ren had on the shirt. "It means everything." He shook his head again needlessly. "I want to be stronger so I can do what I want. I want to be able to protect you. I want to be strong enough to protect everyone. But I can't. And people are so mean . . ." He raised his head and looked straight into Rai's face, the trails of tears drying on his pinked cheeks. "Why are people mean, Rai?"
Just then, the soccer ball from before hurtled at the two, hitting Rai squarely on the head, making him accidentally bite down and cause his lip to bleed. Rai and Ren separated enough to see who had thrown the ball and saw an older boy, ugly by his attitude, sneering at them, glaring down as if he owned the world and they were unwelcome visitors. "Take it somewhere else, you fairies!" he yelled. A group of boys, what could only be assumed were the jerk's friends, gathered round and gave the same superior, disgusted look.
Taunts that Rai and Ren didn't quite understand were hurled at them, ending only once the initial boy had picked up the ball. And just for good measure, he kicked a rock at Ren before going on his way. Then the group, laughing and sending nasty glares backwards, ran off to the field and thought nothing more of the two boys sitting at the far end of the wall.
Ren tried to pull away from Rai, flushed and embarrassed but not knowing why, but Rai wouldn't let him. Instead, Rai tightened his hold and pulled Ren even closer.
And Ren didn't fight it. He didn't really want to.
The place he liked best, the place he felt safest, was here in Rai's arms.
Rai stared angrily at the direction the boys went and thought.
Old man Kobayashi, these kids at school they didn't even know, and from what little he could guess, Ren's father. Rai wished he could lock his friend away and keep him safe from all the ugliness that infested the world like a plague. But he couldn't; not yet. He wasn't strong enough either.
But one day he would be; this was his promise. He would make Ren just like him, with no one else in the world to cling to, and protect him from everything else that existed.
Why are people mean, Rai?
The brunette only squeezed the shaking little form in his arms. He didn't have the answer to that question.
He hoped he never would.
"C'mon, this way, just a little farther." Ren's golden brown eyes looked back anxiously. "Are you O.K.?"
"We're going to get into trouble." Rai looked blearily up at his friend. He was tired and hungry and wanted to stop and rest, but Ren would have none of it and Rai always had a hard time saying no to him. But it was also true that they were going to get into trouble for this. Big trouble, especially Rai if they were caught. A thing of which Rai was convinced of increasingly more with each step he took. He wanted to tell Ren to just turn around and go back before things got any worse. But then he looked at his best friend. Those puppy brown eyes shifted nervous and worried, but the ever-present smile was still present and that little, familiar hand was reaching out to him.
"Please?" Ren nearly pleaded.
How could Rai say no to that?
So bracing himself on the dirt slope with one hand and stretching out with the other, he let Ren help pull him up. Rai stumbled when he finally got his second foot up with him, but by some miracle managed not to fall and looked at Ren who stood beside him beaming.
How could he say no to that?
The answer was he couldn't.
Ren had done just as he said, with his mother's approval, and had stolen Rai from his captors for a sleepover. What they were doing now however, was certainly not done with any form of approval.
Continuing to hold Rai's hand, Ren pushed onward, deeper into the strange outcropping of land behind his home. It seemed to be, and perhaps was, the only expanse of nature anywhere within the overgrown city. Rai couldn't help but wonder how it was that Ren initially wandered in here to find this "special place", as he called it, pocketed somewhere within the vast jungle.
Although of course it was not a jungle. It was nothing like a jungle.
But the boys were still no more than seven, and to a seven-year-old's eyes, sometimes a small copse of trees can look like a veritable forest.
"There it is!" Ren shouted ecstatically, pointing upward. He turned to look back at Rai, who seemed a bit at a loss, confused and foggy, with dirt staining his cheeks. The image made Ren smile.
The little blond always thought of Rai as smart, in control, calm. So whenever he, well, wasn't, Ren thought it to be very appealing. It was uncommon, and more importantly, a look and attitude, a familiarity if you will, that only Ren was allowed to see.
And that made him feel enormously special.
Ren scanned out over the horizon. The day had already passed by red and gold and had evolved to the deep colors of purple and blue, calling on the onset of night. It was absolutely the perfect time.
With Rai obediently following, Ren walked over to the tall tree before him and stopped. Rai creased his forehead, rather cutely Ren would say, though equating "cute" to "Rai" was never quite a perfect fit.
Ren somewhat regrettably let go the hand he'd been holding and began to climb up the tiny ladder-like notches carved into the trunk of the old, weathered tree. Taking a glance back, he spotted Rai still standing like a statue at the base, looking entirely perplexed. Ren smiled and shook his head.
Actually it was, to be honest, part of what Ren liked most about his friend: every experience, everything that Ren took for granted was new to Rai, in a way both interesting and exciting. And Ren liked being the one to show Rai all these new things, these new experiences. To be the one to give him all these special days. Or nights, as it so happened. It was like he could never disappoint Rai because the brunette had no expectations. Having that much influence and control was addictive.
But Rai was an addiction Ren did not want to quit.
"Just climb up!" He shouted down, and then without further ado, scrambled like an acrobat up into the boughs of the tree and vanished from sight.
Rai eyed the tree with dubious trepidation. He . . was not a climber. He was strong, at least all things considered, but he was not entirely into doing such things as climbing up trees to go to who knows where to face who knows what possible danger. He craned his head back, looking upward to the now barely perceptible sky and considered.
Well, the thing was, Ren had gone up there without a moment's hesitation.
And that overruled everything else.
Because Rai trusted Ren.
Trusted him in a way he never had anyone before and knew would never trust anyone again.
But more than that, he would always go where Ren was. That was a life he had decided upon. He would seek Ren out until the boy would come to him.
Come to him when he called.
For some reason, that was a delightful little thought.
So, Rai took in a deep breath and steeling his nerves, took the first step that would take him up into the sky to rejoin his friend.
But he hit his head when he reached that sky and was surprised that something filled with only air could be so hard. But that was stupid, and he laughed quietly to himself as he rubbed his hand over the bump he was sure would soon be forming on his skull. Then he reached his hand up, feeling for what was there and found what seemed to be a wall or rather, based on the position, a floor.
"Ren?" He called softly, a little nervously despite himself.
Immediately, a little blond angel peeked his head down through an opening on the right of Rai. The delicate light hair stretched towards the ground, catching the pale moonlight in an ethereal way, making it look as though spun from clouds and gold. Ren really did look angelic, as if he had recently fallen from the heavens to land squarely in the middle of Rai's empty life.
And Rai wondered for one scary moment if there was any way the world would let a little monster like him capture an angel.
"This way," Rai's happiness said, waving and disappearing once more into the darkness.
Not wanting to lose sight of his precious friend, Rai leaned over and looked up curiously into the open space to find Ren, sitting quite calmly, and solidly, on the floor of a tree house. So Rai understood now. Gaining confidence from this clear indication that these were not mere clouds Ren sat on but wooden planks, Rai, with much more struggling than Ren but amazingly contrived grace, hauled himself up into the tiny house in the sky.
The soft noise Rai made had the blond turning his head in Rai's direction as he patted the spot beside him wordlessly. Accepting the invitation, Rai sat down.
The air of the tree house was somehow cooler and fresher than that below and a gentle breeze lapped against Rai's skin.
Ren watched him with intense curiosity.
Then the blond leaned in to Rai as if to whisper a secret, even though there was no one else to hear. "I found this place a while ago. I used to sneak up here when I wanted to hide out. It's beautiful, isn't it? The sky always looks clearer from here than anywhere else in the world." He said it with the conviction of a child who has in fact seen very little of the world to compare it to. "It's my special place." Ren turned his brown eyes, reflecting the glow of starlight, to Rai meaningfully. "Ive never brought anyone here before," he confided.
A shiver ran up Rai's spine, thinking that what was really beautiful up here was Ren. "Really?"
Ren nodded. "Really." Then he leaned in closer, their noses almost touching. "Only you."
There was something significant about this Rai knew, though to say exactly how and why, he was at a complete loss. But he did understand it on an instinctual level.
Just as it should be only Ren.
The two of them, isolated in their little world to fend for themselves. Then Ren would understand and Rai wouldn't have to be jealous of all the things the little angel had that only existed in Rai's wildest dreams.
"Look up there," Ren said, pointing to the sky and interrupting Rai's wayward thoughts. Glittering like a million little wishes hung the stars, shimmering down on the pair hiding out in this abandoned tree house. The blond edged closer to his friend. "Aren't they pretty? This is the only really good place o see them. The street lights and buildings usually block them out."
Rai tilted his head back. It was true. He had never before seen so many stars, sparkling like jewels in the sky, and certainly not so clearly. If he wanted, he could count them. Debating it, that might not be such a bad idea, really. It would take a lifetime to count them all, and every moment like this, with Ren by his side.
The moon continued to shine in competition with the stars, like an otherworldly beacon, casting a strange silveriness over everything.
Ren gazed over at Rai, bathed as he was in that moonlight, his pale skin glowing. It was altogether odd and nerve-wracking and frustrating, to have this feeling on the tip of his brain and yet still not know what it was.
He wanted to tell Rai . . .something, but what? Unformed thoughts formed in his young mind with no name and no solidity.
That is all he knew, the only thing he could put into words. He wanted to get closer.
He wanted to be able to crawl inside Rai's skin, so that nothing could separate them. He wanted to feel and touch and be as near as humanly possible.
So he did.
And voiced the only thing he could think of, but knew was more true than any other words he'd ever spoken in his short life.
"I like you," Ren said, brushing his nose along Rai's. Contact, that is what he wanted. "More than anyone."
Somewhat startled Rai sat, frozen as ice and a little afraid to break this magical moment.
"I only like you," he replied in a whisper.
Little short, catching puffs escaped Ren's lips. Something he couldn't place his finger on, ever elusive, but there and powerful. "Silly," he said breathily. Only that's not entirely what he meant.
And Rai could hear it. Ren's voice sounded strangely low, hanging heavy in the air. His eyes, normally wide, were half mast and drowsy, just like Rai's. But they were intense too, centered on the impossibly green ones staring back at him.
Rai swallowed, nervous and unsure and tilted his head. Ren lowered his gaze, and leaned a tiny bit more forward. The night was still and quiet, the only things heard were the gentle wind, the chirping of crickets, and the soft, anxious breathing of two young boys.
Closer. That is what they wanted.
Contact. In some way they didn't quite understand.
Then, as if by some silent, mutual consent, they both closed their eyes and leaned forward, and for a moment, their lips touched.
It was awkward.
It was strange, and they didn't knew quite what to do now or why they had done this to start with. But it wasn't unpleasant either and neither pulled away immediately.
It made Rai feel light and dizzy, somehow separated from himself and yet more in that moment than he had been in any other moment of his brief existence. It was a kiss of childhood, of first crushes and first loves, innocent in the time before even knowing what a kiss really is. The kind of kiss that is a mimic of what a child sees an adult do, not understanding exactly, but sensing in a way, the significance.
It lasted but short seconds before they drew apart.
The whole thing sent a strange thrill through Rai's body, making him warm and happy and wanting that closer, that contact again.
And it left Ren confused, his face flushed clear to the roots of his hair as he felt both giddy and excited. But mostly what he felt was embarrassed. Shrugging up his shoulders to hide this, he bit his lip and leaned into Rai with such suddenness so as to nearly tackle him. A little surprised by this reaction and therefore caught off guard, Rai slipped backwards, tried to right himself, and then thinking better of it, changed his mind and opted instead to let them both fall backwards. Nervously Ren giggled, now laying on top of Rai and hiding his face in the crook of Rai's neck. But then he settled down, lulled by the rhythm of Rai's breathing and the familiar warmth of his body. He snuggled himself alongside Rai like a puppy.
Something had changed between them, but they were still too hopelessly young to know what it was.
But Rai just let it slide. He liked this too much, looking up at the stars, with this perfect, innocent and trusting boy cuddled up to his side. Rai wound his thin arms around that boy and hugged him close. Closer, closer, ever closer, as if they could become one person.
Ren accepted the hold and raised his free hand to cup the side of Rai's chin. Then emboldened by who knows what, perhaps the mere fact of being Ren, he leaned up and planted another kiss at Rai's jawline. With his mouth still there, breathing warm air over Rai's neck, he closed his eyes and nestled as close as he possibly could.
Rai simply held on tighter.
He never wanted to leave this place.
Because the moment right now was perfect and he didn't have to think about resenting Ren's charmed life.
"We're going to get into trouble, you know," whispered Ren.
Rai laughed quietly, dismissing his darker thoughts and shook the little bundle in his arms. "I already said that!" he mock-chided his friend.
"I know." Ren paused. "I just . . I just didn't mean to get you into trouble. I really didn't. I just . . . Don't be mad at me, please Rai?"
The sad desperation in Ren's voice tugged at Rai heart in a way he could never have imagined. But it was in a way that could never be erased. "Why would I be mad?"
Ren didn't answer, instead letting the chirping crickets do it for him. Moments ticked by. "I wonder why no one's come to look for us yet?"
The dark-haired boy tensed. He didn't want to leave this.
He didn't want to hate Ren.
"Don't ask. Just let it go. It just means we can stay here longer." He looked down at the top of Ren's head and smiled softly. No matter the trouble they would face, it would be worth it. He wouldn't give this up. He would never let go of Ren, never forget. If ever they were separated, Rai would hunt Ren down until he found him.
He would protect him, keep him. Make Ren just like him, regardless the cost.
He wouldn't let Ren go.
He didn't think he could.
Ren, meanwhile, worried his lip between his teeth, twisting a bit of the fabric of Rai's shirt between his fingers. He liked Rai. He didn't want ever want to be without him. He wanted Rai there, to help him, to spend time with him. He enjoyed being with Rai, every moment.
He needed him.
There was nothing more to be done about it. He draped himself over his friend, acting his usual part of the blanket, and just knew.
They would together, in heart and mind if nothing else until the day they died. He just knew it and it made him happy. He smiled into Rai's skin as he spoke.
"We'll be best friends forever, won't we Rai?"
The dark-haired boy did that which he had only learned with Ren: he blushed all the way down his neck and nodded awkwardly. There was nothing else to say. No one had ever before in his life said such things to him. But it was nice to know that Ren felt the same as he did.
No matter the nature or circumstances.
That was all there was to be said, all that mattered to him in his confined world. Whatever trouble hit him tomorrow, he would deal with it. Just so long as he had Ren, it made no difference.
His little fingers dug into the softness of Ren's back, hidden beneath the boy's shirt.
He would never let go.
Ren turned to Rai then, wide-eyed and curious. Lifting his head, he asserted with endearment, "You know, you're a little weird."
Rai looked at his friend - his best friend - and pouted. Which just made Ren crinkle up his eyes and laugh. Those expressions, kept only for him, made Ren's existence somehow better, somehow complete. Staring at Ren, Rai tried to stay angry, but the happy gentle feeling was too infectious and he ended up chuckling softly along with Ren's much more giggly loud laughter.
Yes, best friends. Most precious friends.
Even more than that.
The two stayed there, content in each other's company, secreted in the depths of their own created world, perfect and beautiful at least for this moment. A safe place in the nightmare they had no idea would soon consume them.
And the musical harmony of their laughter drifted out into the night sky as they lay side by side; the sound caught by a warm breeze and taken away to the clouds and farther and farther still until it reached the stars.