The first time he sees her he's young and scared, fresh from Australia, trying to figure out how to fit in this new world called America.
She's just as young, but not quiet as scared, and is happily creating chalk designs with a chubby boy dressed in overalls and a too big aviator hat. He thinks that maybe she can sense his fear, because she looks up at him, allowing a bright smile to spread across her features. She skips over, pigtails bobbing, still smiling smiling smiling until he thinks she's going to blind him with that toothy grin.
"Hi!" she says, bright and cheerful and sweet, everything he's not, yet everything he wishes he could be. "I'm Kuki Sanban."
She sticks out a green clad hand, bouncing on her heels, and Wally takes it hesitantly, unsure whether he's supposed to like or scorn this whirlwind of a girl.
"'Lo." he mumbles, eyes darting to look everywhere besides that blinding smile. "'m Wally."
"Do you want to play?" Wally shrugs and follows her back towards her companion, who had been curiously watching the exchange.
"I'm Hoagie Pennywhistle Gilligan Junior." says the boy, sticking out a chubby hand expectantly. "But you can call me Hoagie."
"Wally." he mumbles and shakes his hand.
(He's still young and scared, but he thinks maybe, just maybe, he might have made some friends)
His first day of training is loud and confusing, and he almost quits then and there. There's too many drills and too many rules, and the cafeteria serves the worst hot dogs he's ever had.
But Kuki is there, and Hoagie is too, and so is Abby, the girl who invited him in the first place. She's already been through training; one of the youngest to ever do so, and is only there now to look for recruits for her sector. She's almost motherly underneath that cool exterior; she helps him and trains him to fight and defend.
Three days later he meets a bald boy named Nigel, who is so dedicated it intimidates him. But he's nice enough, and Wally lets himself consider befriending him.
And as the weeks drag on, the work gets harder, the days get longer, and he allows himself to once again contemplate quitting, of running running running, something he's always been good at.
(But he knows he won't quit, because for the first time in his life, he feels like he belongs)
His last day of training is just as loud and confusing, and it's only Kuki's comforting hand that keeps him seated in his chair. He's nervous, and scared, and full of anxiety over the future and the possibility of being put in a different sector then his friends, but he's determined not to show it. Emotion is weakness, his practice missions have taught him, and Wally never wants to feel weak.
The Soopreme Leader enters the room, and Wally's fists tighten, his anxiety growing growing growing.
"Congratulations Cadets." says the smiling leader, and the operatives cheer. "Welcome to your new beginning!"
And as the rest of the crowd claps and hollers, Wally just swallows, trying to push his fear down down down.
(He's never been good with beginnings)
He can feel Kuki growing on him.
He doesn't understand it, and he doesn't like the way his stomach flip-flops when he's around her. She's one of his very best friends, and that's how it's supposed to stay, with no butterflies and definitely no crushes.
So he denies denies denies with everything he has. He pushes pushes pushes and hopes that it's enough. Sometimes he pushes too hard and he hurts her, but he always manages to make up for it in the end.
They're celebrating a successful mission when he finally accepts the truth. He's still in denial, just not quite as much, and he realizes that he has a crush on her.
He tells himself that it's okay, he'll get over it, he doesn't have to tell her, so he goes back to pushing pushing pushing.
Sometimes he just can't contain it anymore and he almost tells her, but he stops himself at the last second. He's pretty sure she knows anyway.
(He was never good at keeping secrets)
It's his thirteenth birthday.
There's only two of them left. Nigel's somewhere among the stars, Abby turned thirteen four months ago, the same for Hoagie one month later.
Their memories are gone gone gone and they're not coming back.
The two of them sit at a small table, silent and somber as they both stare at the lone candle flickering atop a white frosted cake. They are not alone – dozens of operatives line the walls – and yet to Wally, it's just him and Kuki.
"Numbuh 4." Wally doesn't turn to face the new decommissioning officer, and he can feel the uncertainty and insecurity radiating off her. "Uh... s'cuse me? Umm... it's, y'know... time to blow out the... the... candle."
He jerks his head slightly, and with one puff, the candle is extinguished. He hears Kuki sniff, and he resists the urge to look at her, because if he does he knows he'll break break break, and all the tears he's been holding in will come rushing out.
He won't look weak, not now, not when he's so terrified.
So, so terrified.
(Because it's another beginning, and he's so damn scared of those)
He's in the grocery store with his mother when he next sees her again. He's been thirteen for a month, and is still slightly disturbed by his lack of memories of his past. But he shrugs it off, and doesn't care, because he's pretty sure his old memories would give him nothing to smile about anyway.
He's holding onto Joey's hand as he toddles along, when their shoulders bump. He turns to apologize, and there she is, in all her green-and-black glory. He doesn't know why recognition is bubbling in his stomach, because he's sure he's never seen her before.
It takes him a minute to be able to speak, and by then the girl's eyes are locked on his, almost... almost desperately. He shakes his head to banish the thought and mumbles an apology. The girl simply nods her head, tears brimming in her eyes as she turns and walks away.
Wally watches her go, eyebrows furrowed. He feels like he's seen her before, this girl, but he tells himself he's being stupid.
(So why does it feel like he's falling in love again?)
Did you miss puberty or something?
You're like a midget!
How's it feel to be shorter then a girl?
Aww, did we hurt the little baby's feelings?
The taunts surround him on a daily basis, and Wally feels like dying. He's a middle school boy who is still less than five feet, and he's short short short short short. He tries to compensate by acting tough, and holding his emotions in. He pretends that they don't get to him, but then he punches them anyway, just for good measure.
He holds the school record for most detentions, but he couldn't care less.
Because when he gets home he cries cries cries because it hurts like hell and then he gets mad mad mad because they've turned him into the weakling he never wanted to be.
Kuki is his rock, his anchor. Even though he never asks for it, and never acknowledges it, she sees the pain and does her best to make it go away.
She tries tries tries to keep his innocence alive.
But sometimes she isn't enough, so he does things he shouldn't, like drugs and alcohol and parties and pranks, because he feels powerful, and cool, and less of a victim. He knows it's wrong wrong wrong but he just can't stop. But no matter how much he participates he never fully becomes a part of that crowd, because he knows it would kill her if he did.
She never finds out.
(He's gotten better at keeping things secret)
The bullying stops during his sophomore year of high school. He's still pretty short, but he's not the shortest anymore. He joins the wrestling team and parties on the weekends. His grades are awful, but he has more friends then he's ever had before, and suddenly, his life seems to have gotten a whole lot better.
And he still has Kuki, his very best friend, who has blossomed into something beautiful.
In retrospect, he should've realized he wasn't the only one to see the change.
Five days before his seventeenth birthday, Kuki calls him, voice bubbling over with excitement as she tells him about her new boyfriend.
Apparently he's perfect and smart and sensitive and romantic and Wally can't help but notice she's basically describing the opposite of himself.
He sees them walking around school, holding hands and laughing and just being so damn adorable. He can feel himself slowly slipping out of her life; can feel himself being replaced by that jerk.
And it hurts hurts hurts to see her so happy and bubbly with someone who's not him, but he buries the feeling and tries to be happy for her because she's happy, and really, that should be enough for him.
(But it's not, and it never will be, because dammit, he loves her)
It's another ending, another beginning, and Wally hates this one just as much as ever.
They're eighteen years old, dressed in red graduation robes, and Wally feels sick to his stomach. He's clutching his diploma, the white paper crinkling under his hands. He's so scared scared scared of losing Kuki, even though she's half gone already.
If he had tried harder, would he have gotten accepted to her fancy California school instead of Gallagher Community College?
She's promised that they'd write, that they'd call, that she'd come home and visit whenever she could, but Wally can't help but be skeptical.
Because she'll meet people like her, people that are better then him.
And then her name is called, and Wally watches as she walks proudly up the steps and receives her diploma, hears the proud cheers of her family as she smiles just as blinding blinding blinding as always.
And as he soaks in that smile, he can't help but wonder how they ended up friends in the first place – they hardly ever agree on anything, they don't have any mutual friends, and on paper they're completely different.
(She's nothing like him, and that's exactly why he needs her)
It's her third weekend back, and they already have a system in place. She arrives home from college late Friday afternoon, and texts him when she gets there – that night belongs to her family. Saturday mornings she goes shopping with her old school friends, but Saturday afternoons are all his.
They go down to the park, and walk through the trees and the flowers. Sometimes they sit side by side on the swings, and always they talk.
He tells her about his classes, about the job he got at the malt shop, and how his family's doing.
In turn, she tells him about California, about how beautiful the sunsets are, and her volunteer job at the animal shelter.
She looks so beautiful sitting there, her hair falling out of the clip she had secured it with, her eyes sparkling, with the sunset behind her, that he can't help himself. He opens his mouth to finally finally finally tell her the truth, when she stops him.
"And..." she says, a giggle in her voice, "I...I met someone."
And with those three words, Wally feels his heart crack crack crack in two. And He won't won't won't let her see his pain, won't let the tears in his eyes fall. He's become an expert in the art of hiding his feelings, and Kuki notices nothing, still sharing about her newest romance.
And they're in love and they're happy, and Wally just fakes a smile and nods.
(He didn't realize it would hurt this much)
He tells himself that this relationship is only temporary – they'll never last, and once they're done, he'll stop being such a coward and take a chance.
But he never does, because they do last, and it isn't long before he's sitting in a church pew in an uncomfortably tight suit, watching the love of his life get married to a man that isn't him. The woman next to him is crying tears of joy, and Wally has to resist the urge to punch something.
"Aren't they beautiful?" whispered the woman. "Oh, aren't they beautiful?"
And Wally forces himself to stay seated and not runrunrunrun screaming from the church.
The preacher asks if anyone objects, and Wally knows now is his chance. He clenches his fists and opens his mouth, but his throat is dry, and he can't seem to speak. The church stays silent and the wedding goes on, while Wally kicks himself for being a coward.
(He doesn't bother to stick around for the reception.)
The next time he sees her, five years have passed. He's still jaded and broken and rough, with his denim jeans and ratty old sneakers. He's got a scruff of beard on his face and a cigarette dangling from his lips, looking for all the world like the thug he promised himself he'd never be.
He's in a park, slouching on a bench, watching three young children drawing with chalk, and he can't help but be reminded of a time back when the world didn't seem so hopeless and lonely.
He hears her before he sees her, that oh so sugary sweet laugh of hers that still manages to tie his stomach into knots. He turns his head slightly to the right, and is consumed by the sight of the girl who has haunted his dreams. She's wearing a bright yellow sundress, her hair pulled back into a messy bun, and even from the distance he can see that damned ring glinting glinting glinting in the sunlight.
It takes him some time to realize that she's not alone. She's holding hands with her husband, smiling as she watches a small girl skip down the path, a bright orange rainbow monkey clutched in her small fingers.
The distance between them is shrinking, and Wally drops his head forward, letting his shaggy mess of hair shield his eyes. They pass by, and Wally feels his heart plunge. The child is dressed in a pink gingham dress, her dark raven hair pulled back into a ponytail, tied with a pink ribbon. The resemblance to Kuki is absolute, right down to her slightly upturned nose, and Wally is relieved to find no trace of the father.
And then she turns to face him, and Wally feels his heart crack into pieces.
Her eyes are blue. A deep, cobalt blue, so utterly, utterly different from Kuki's warm chocolate brown eyes. And suddenly, Wally can't lie to himself anymore; can't pretend the child is his, that her eyes are emerald green, that he might, after all these years, have a chance with Kuki.
"Are you all right, mister?" a high-pitched voice snaps him out of his misery. He chances a glance at Kuki, and feels a mixture of relief and sadness that she doesn't seem to recognize him. He turns his attention back to the small girl, nodding slowly.
"Are you sure?" she says, genuine concern shining from her eyes. "You don't look happy."
And before he can say anything, she leans over and hugs him. Wally tenses and looks back at Kuki, who is fidgeting nervously, but doesn't attempt to stop her daughter. Wally lets himself relax, and suddenly, he feels a little bit better.
The little girl pulls away and flashes that oh so familiar blinding blinding blinding smile. She bends over to pick a nearby daisy and hands it to him.
"Bye mister." she says brightly, and skips away, chattering excitedly about the swings and slides she wants to go on. Wally lets a half smile cross his face, twirling the daisy between his fingers, and for that brief moment, the heartache is gone.
Wally always tried to be hard to read, but that little girl had read him like a book, and then added some doodles to the pages.
(Just like her mother)
He's no longer young, but he's still just as scared. He's five minutes away from his high school reunion, and he's terrified of what he'll find there.
Principals, bullies, teachers. . .
He clenches the steering wheel as his girlfriend looks over in concern. Her bright red hair is swept up into a bun and she's wearing a pretty blue dress, and she looks good.
But not as good as her. Never as good as her.
He parks the car and they exit, the walkway to the entrance looking five times longer then it usually did.
But before he knew it he was inside, surrounded by people he knew he didn't have a chance in hell of recognizing. He swallows hard as he clenches his girlfriend's hand. Slowly he leads her through the crowd, wishing with all his heart he was somewhere else.
"Wally?" He freezes as the voice reaches his ears and closes his eyes because that voice is so damn familiar.
Please no. Please no. Anyone but her.
He turns around and his worst fears are confirmed. Kuki is standing there, one hand resting on her bulging stomach, the other grasped in the hand of her husband. Their eyes connect, and suddenly he can't breath as she smiles that blinding blinding blinding smile.
"I thought that was you." said Kuki cheerfully, as she and her husband moved closer. "It's been so long. You remember my husband, right?"
And Wally lets a half grin slide on his face as he shakes hands, because of course he remembers him. How could he forget the man who stole Kuki from his grasp?
He introduces his girlfriend and soon enough she and Kuki are chatting up a storm. There's no jealousy in his girlfriend's eyes, because he never told her what he felt for Kuki.
What he still felt for Kuki.
But he must have let his guard down, because when they're sitting in the car on the way home she sighs.
"You love her." says his girlfriend, and Wally looks at her in confusion. She sighs again and clarifies. "Kuki. I saw the way you were looking at her."
And he doesn't deny it, just stares at the road, jaw clenched. She sighs again, and his eyes flicker towards her.
He feels guilty when he sees the sadness in her eyes, but there's nothing he can do. She's not her, and she never will be, and he'll never love anyone as much as he loves Kuki.
"'m sorry." he says, because he is sorry, because he does love her, just not as much as she wants.
And she just nods as they sit in silence.
"I'll get over her." says Wally hesitantly, swallowing hard. His heart plunges at the idea of getting over Kuki, but he knows deep down it's for the best, because Kuki never was and never will be his.
And his girlfriend just nods, a hesitant smile playing on her lips.
"Does she know?" asks his girlfriend. Wally raises an eyebrow in confusion. "That you love her."
And Wally just sighs and shakes his head no.
He's never told her how he feels.
(And that was his biggest mistake)
Codename KND (c) Mr. Warburton