stencilled: (kame_blackjacket)
[personal profile] stencilled
Title: Our Summer Place
Pairing: KameNo
Rating: G
Word Count: 11,225
A/N: All these months slaving away at this fic just for Krys, the Junno to my KT, the Eeyore to my Pooh Bear. I love you, bb. ♥ I hope you had a fantastic birthday because you deserve no less. ♥ ♥ ♥ strange how the timing worked out, no? and guess who owes me 11K of HP!Au :B You asked for fluff, so I bring you fluff. If this rots your teeth, you have yourself to blame. 0:) #cozy This is unbeta-ed so if anyone spots any errors, please let me know. You'll get a hanamaru mark if you do~ ♥

Summary: For Junno, an apple a day does more than keep the doctor away.


"This way, Junnosuke. Don't dawdle."

His mother's warm hand, clean and soft and exempt from labour, took hold of Junno's own and tugged him away from the store window from behind which a glass bottle sat on display. It encapsulated a sailing ship and Junno wondered, wide eyes fixated on the large white sails that expanded inside the glass as if a gust of wind had been captured along with the ship, just how it had gotten in there.

Maybe there were tiny people that had crawled inside the neck of the bottle, carrying toothpicks and floss and bits of paper, and built the entire ship from scratch. Junno knew about dust bunnies, tiny little rabbits the size of a speck that gathered and made everything grey. His mother had taught him they were dangerous, that they hopped into the lungs and stole everyone's air, that they needed to be banished and Junno should never ever crawl under his bed again because that was their home.

Junno knew about dust bunnies and he wondered if there were dust people out there, too. Maybe they kept the dust bunnies as pets.

"Mother, do dust people exist?" he asked as he was led through the throng off people crowding the cobbled street. Every few steps, ladies in vibrant pinks and yellows and satins and lace turned to say hello, their complicated curls bouncing as they tilted their heads in a bow. Junno thought that was an odd way to say hello, but adults were always rather strange. His mother had told him he would understand once he was of age and Junno hoped that understanding their strange ways wouldn't make him strange, too.

"Of course not, Junnosuke. Don't let people hear you say such silly things."

"But who feeds the dust bunnies carrots, then?" he asked, eyes wandering towards a handful of children throwing stones at a flock of pigeons nearby, squealing in laughter at the flapping feathers and irritated coos. Junno didn't think that was very nice. He wouldn't want anyone throwing stones at him.

An impatient tug on his hand. "You know better than that, Junnosuke. You're not to make friends with them," his mother warned, looking at him pointedly and then shaking her head in displeasure at the children. "Absolutely filthy."

"Covered in dust bunnies," Junno said and beamed when his mother laughed demurely, a handkerchief muffling her giggles. Her lips were hidden, but Junno could see the smile in her eyes as she gazed down at him. He loved making people smile. Especially his mother.

"Dust bunnies, mud and germs," his mother added more calmly. "They're not like us, Junnosuke. You know that."

Junno nodded. He knew this.

"Like apples and oranges."

"Rotten oranges," his mother corrected and turned to continue her quest. Junno peeked back to see if the rot was really there. He had seen rotten oranges before; they had ugly green splotches that sometimes grew white fluff. His father had told him it was 'fungus,' whatever that was. Junno believed it was fur.

There was no fungus or fur on the rotten orange children, though. Just mud and grime. Junno didn't understand why they didn't wear proper clothes or shoes instead of the torn, dirty rags they wore now. The clothes would keep them clean. And maybe then they wouldn't look so rotten.

There was a mass of fluttering wings when another stone landed in the middle of the pigeons, and as the flock dispersed, Junno spotted a scrawny little boy with barefeet blackened by dirt dart into the center and grab the loaf of bread the birds had been pecking at off the floor. As quickly as he had darted in, the boy clutched the loaf to his chest and speeded away, the gang of children shouting in anger and chasing after.

"Come along now," his mother said and Junno turned away, hoping no one threw rocks at the barefoot boy.

-

"Mother," Junno tugged on her salmon pink skirt. "Who feeds the dust bunnies carrots?"

His mother released a weary sigh and smiled an apology to the shopkeeper she had been conversing with before she looked down at him at last. "Junnosuke," she said sternly. "I've already told you dust bunnies eat air. Not carrots. Now be a good boy and let mother carry on with her business."

"Yes, mother," Junno said obediantly and earned another smile.

Air.

It sounded empty.

Junno wondered how the dust bunnies filled their tummies on just air. But they were very tiny, after all. Maybe they didn't need to eat as much as the big bunnies that hopped around in his grandma's garden.

He thought of the scrawny boy and the tiny loaf of bread that had holes and chunks missing. That didn't seem very filling either. And the boy wasn't a dust bunny or a big bunny. Not a dust person or a rotten orange, either. He was a boy of Junno's age.

Junno would starve if all he ate was that tiny loaf of bread.

-

Slowly, he dipped his feet into the narrow creek edging the small town and watched the current wash away the dirt clinging between the cracks of his toes. The cool water felt like a balm against the battered soles of his feet. With a happy sigh, he leaned back and fell onto the bank, the sparse patches of grass tickling his neck and poking through the worn fabric of his shirt.

He reached under the front and pulled out the bread. He had stuffed it against his tummy to keep it away from the grabby hands of the children chasing after him. They were as lost as he was, but he had learned from experience that it was the survival of the fittest, in his world at least. The bruises lining his arms, ugly blues and greens the colour of rot, and the almost permanent growling well in his stomach had taught him that.

He lifted the bread up in the air so that it eclipsed the sun and shone like a commet, golden crust with beak-sized craters speckled all over. This was his prize. The bread was light in his hands, not as dense as he would have liked, but the fact that it was large enough to fill both his palms made up for it.

Swishing his feet in the water, he ripped off a chunk of bread and stuffed it in his mouth. He tried to savour it, to weigh the fluffy dough against his tongue, but it was a pointless effort. He had been hungry for too long. Plucking off another chunk, a larger one this time, he stuffed that in his mouth as well.

"Yummy," he said to himself. The bread was subtly sweet and slightly warm from being tucked against his tummy for so long. It was perfect.

He grinned up at the sky, sweet bread filling his mouth as cool water mended his feet. This was heaven.

-

Silk or satin.

Junno didn't understand the dilemma. They were both soft. Just pieces of fabric that people draped on to feel nice. They looked pretty nice, too. Both of them. So where was the problem?

"I think you look pretty in both, mother," he said from his perch on the shop's stool as he watched his mother look woefully between two gowns. They were both seafoam green and poofy with shiny bits and bobs that caught the sunlight streaming in through the window and reflected mini rainbows along the wooden panels of the shop's walls. He had been tracking their movements for quite some time, wondering if each rainbow had its own pot of gold, while his mother pulled out gown after gown and fretted about some wedding or another.

Junno loved weddings. It was where people smiled the most.

"Thank you, darling, but that's not the issue here. What to do... what to do...," she muttered distractedly and Junno groaned when she shook her head at the seafoam greens and turned to the periwinkles instead. An hour of misgivings and they were back to square one.

Giving up on chasing the mini rainbows with his eyes, Junno leaned against the glass of the shop window, warmed by the sunlight, and peered into the busy street. It was the usual afternoon scene, carriages pulled along by groomed horses trotting about their business, people ducking in out of the shops with an air of dissatisfaction and kids skipping by with lollies. Junno loved lollies; the grape flavoured ones were his favourite, even though they made his tongue purple for hours. Junno liked to stand in front of the mirror and pretend to be a purple-tongued lizard as he hissed and widened his eyes comically; he'd make himself laugh in an instant.

On the other side of the glass, a bulky brown horse suddenly stopped to furiously wave its hooves in the air and as people stepped back to watch, mouths open with inaudible gasps, Junno's attention was immediately caught by a head of messy black hair. It was the barefooted boy - except his feet weren't as black anymore. He was crouched near the horse, trying to collect the stray apples falling from the makeshift sack of his shirt while all eyes remained on the teetering carriage. Junno nearly fell off his stool, his hand automatically reaching out and a small cry falling from his lips as he watched the horse bring down it's hooves.

It didn't miss.

"What's wrong, darling?" his mother asked distractedly, thankfully too focused on a lacy gown to notice the commotion outside. A full circus mime show from where he sat.

"Nothing, Mother," he murmured, his hand slipping down the glass in relief. The horse didn't miss - but the barefooted boy was fast. There was mushy apple pulp all over the cobblestones but the boy was unscathed and was...

...running towards Junno.

Forgetting that he couldn't be heard, Junno almost shouted a hello before the boy made a dive and disappeared. Blinking, Junno peered down the window, not caring that his nose was pressing painfully against the glass. A pair of brown eyes gazed back at him dolefully from within a wooden barrel.

Junno tapped at the glass, his finger typing out a morse code of delight that couldn't be read.

What's your name? he mouthed.

The brown eyes blinked.

My name is Junno, he tried again, forming the words slowly and feeling much a like a fish on display

The brown eyes turned away and Junno's smile faltered.

He snuck a glance back at his mother who was still eyeing the lacy gown with a look of concentration, oblivious to everything else... As silently as he could manage, Junno slid off his stool and slipped out the shop door. Much like a lizard, he thought to himself and wished he had a purple lolly on hand.

A burst of noise hit him as the door clicked shut behind and he froze for a moment, overwhelmed by the previous, stuffy silence of the shop that clogged his ears like cotten wool. Chunks of invisible white fluff fell from his ears as he took in the click-clacking of heels, the hammering of a nearby locksmith and overlapping giggles and words that nearly drowned out the rolling carriages.

Junno crouched underneath the window and moved to the barrel. A crack in the wood framed the brown eyes that widened as they saw him approach - and Junno suddenly remembered the ship in the bottle he had seen the other day. A ship in a bottle and a boy in a barrel. Junno was too big to fit in either.

"Your apples are all gone," Junno said.

"I didn't want them anyway," came the response. It was slightly muffled but Junno was instantly fond of the rough squeakiness, as petulant as it was. And it didn't seem right. Why would he have tried to get the apples back if he didn't want them? Maybe they were too sour. The green ones always were.

"I like red apples. They're sweet."

"Do you have some?"

The brown eyes watched him excitedly as Junno dug into his pocket.

"No, but I have this," Junno replied and offered his open palm which held a dried fig that mother had given him earlier for when his tummy rumbled. It was slightly squashed and wrinkled all over. It reminded Junno of his grandmother's gentle hands.

Through the crack, Junno could see the boy wrinkle his nose in distaste.

Junno smiled. "It's really sweet."

He nibbled at the fig and released a heartfelt mmmmm just to prove it and watched the tense eyebrows relax into curiousity. He extended his hand and the barrel boy, slowly, did the same, his small fingers reaching for the fruit.

"My name is--"

The shop door swung open behind him.

"Junnosuke!"

At the sound of his mother's shout, Junno startled and the dried fig fell from his hand and into the dirt. The small fingers retracted into the barrel in an instant, like the turtle Junno had scene last year when his father had taken him to the zoo. The barefooted boy was curling up tight in his make-shift shell.

"What are you doing crouched in the filth? And what have I told you about wandering, Junnosuke? Only bad boys wander. You gave mother a fright, now come back inside and stay seated until I say otherwise. The wedding is giving me enough of a headache as it is, what with that gown..."

Obediantly, Junno let his mother pull him back into the shop.

"Sorry, mother. I'm sorry for making you frown," he said and carefully left out the I won't do it again, his eyes trained on the window through which he saw the barefooted boy climb out of the barrel and, after a hesitant glance back at Junno, disappear into the streets.

-

On his next trip to town, Junno declined the dried fig and politely asked his mother for a red apple
instead.

-

His bare feet dropped heavily on the sidewalk, one after another like sand-filled paper weights as he walked across town and back to his hidden creek, hands empty and stomach growling. He hadn't managed to scavenge anything today. The grocers were on sharp alert after noticing that the missing fruits and munchable treats from their stalls didn't match up to the coins they carried in a pouch around their bloated bellies. The other lost kids weren't as stealthy as him and he hated them for ruining what would have been a good day. Any day with food was a good day, a day to be thankful for.

He paused as he came across a glass display. Dreams flitted through his mind as he stared at the ships, the majestic sails ready to face the seven seas if not for the fact that they were imprisoned by glass bottles. Stuffed into confinement by the makers. One day, he dreamed, he would ride on ship just like these. He would travel to everywhere. Everywhere would have the best foods -cakes and puddings and lollies and tarts- and he would be able to eat everything with no one stopping him or kicking him away. Everywhere would have friends he could play with, friends who wouldn't laugh at the dirt underneath his nails or shove him around.

One day, he would travel to everywhere and escape to a world that cared about him... Until then, he'd keep fighting on his own.

"They're pretty neat, aren't they? I wonder if dust people built them inside the bottles."

Startled out of his daydreams, he quickly zoomed in on the reflection of the boy he had met a few days ago. He turned around warily, muscles prepared to run. The boy was taller than him. Like a giant. Big hands and big feet. A big smile that made him confused. The boy was after something, and with their size difference, he could probably get it.

"What do you want?" he asked gruffly. "I don't have anything."

The giant's eyes widened but disappeared into a smile once more.

"Want...? I don't want anything, really. Ah! Unless you have a grape lollie. I love those. They make your tongue go purple, did you know? They're my favourite! Only if you want to share, though--wait! Please!"

He ignored the giant's shout and ran as fast as his legs could propel him. The giant, despite his giant features, had not a speck of dirt on him. Not even under his fingernails. His hair was trimmed and combed. Glossy black and neat. He wore shoes without any holes or scuffs and clothes without a single loose thread. The giant was spotless. He knew what grape lollies and red apples tasted like and carried treats in his pockets that he could give to complete strangers without worrying about starving. He had a mother who worried about him.

The giant wasn't from his world. He was a different sort. A dangerous sort, even with that ridiculous smile of his.

He ran through the clump of thin woods that hid his secret creek, instinct carrying him to the only place he felt safe, and heard feet pounding after him. He wished the giant's foot would catch a tree root and send him flying. His lungs starting to burn, he skidded to a stop on the bank and gulped at the air, legs feeling wobbly and weak. A second later, he heard an ear-splitting scream and a sudden, painful contact at his back threw him into the creek.

Back aching and nose stinging with inhaled water, he coughed and furiously whipped back his soaked hair, turning to glare at the sputtering giant who stared back at him frightfully.

"I'm so sorry!" the giant said at once, drenched hair plastering his forehead and cheeks like smeared streaks of black ink. "I slipped! You were running so fast and I was chasing after and I couldn't--"

"Why were you chasing me?"

"Because I asked you stop and you didn't."

Growling and ready to lunge, he took a step towards the giant and watched him back away, his eyes widening.

"You can keep the lollie!" the giant shouted.

For a moment, he stared. And then felt the bruise blossoming on his back.

"I DON'T HAVE A STUPID LOLLIE, YOU STUPID, STUPID--"

He launched a mighty kick at the stream, his anger slightly doused when the giant received a full splash in the face. He had only tasted a red lollie before. He had managed to steal it from a boy's knapsack and it had tasted sour and almost sickly sweet, but he had savoured it all the same.

"O-oh," the giant sputtered. "Why didn't you just say so in the first place? You took off like a wild horse."

"What do you want?" he hissed slowly, patience now completely gone.

"I.. just wanted to say hello... and maybe ask for your name. You probably heard mine from last time," the giant mumbled, scratching the back of his head sheepishly.

"I didn't." It was a blatant lie; the giant's mom had a voice as big as her son's smile. "And I'm not interested," he added, stepping out of the creek and twisting out the water from his shirt. At least bathing was done for the day.

"I'm Taguchi Junnosuke, but you can call me Junno. Nice to meet you! What's your name?" the giant asked as if he hadn't heard his disinterest a moment ago.

"I don't care - but why do you? Why do you want my name?" he asked suspiciously, wondering if the giant was going to try and report him. Not that he would need a name for that.

"I want to be friends."

The giant was looking at him earnestly and for a brief moment, he felt something warm flare up in his chest. But the giant was different, he reminded himself. He couldn't be trusted. More importantly, he wouldn't understand.

"So... can I know your name now?"

"I don't have one," he replied shortly and turned away from those hopeful eyes.

He heard rustling and after a few moments, a plump red apple was shoved into his face.

"For you," the giant said. "The red ones really are sweeter than the green ones."

His eyes flickered from the apple to the giant's face and back again. "You want my name in exchange."

"No!" He looked up to see the giant shaking his head. "I just want you to have it. Here, go one. Take it."

He didn't know whether to believe the giant -Junno, he remembered and shook himself in annoyance because it didn't matter what his name was- or not, but his stomach was growling and the need to fill it with something was stronger than his suspicion.

He snatched the apple before Junno had a chance to change his mind. He bit off a huge chunk right away for good measure, just in case Junno asked for it back. No one from his world would want a bitten apple.

"This doesn't mean we're friends," he said sternly, grinding the apple between his teeth and feeling the sweet juice burst on his tongue. It was delicious.

"Okay," Junno said simply, smile wide and strong.

-

"Junnosuke, hand me the gloves."

Keeping his eyes trained on the fuzzy orange caterpillar inching its way up a flower stem, Junno handed his grandma her gardening gloves. She was crouched over a rose bush that tickled Junno's nose with its sweet scent. The yellow roses bloomed so brightly that, to Junno, the rose bush appeared like a collection of suns.

"I think I made a new friend today," Junno said, using the tip of his finger to help the caterpillar climb its way up when it's tiny feet detached from the stem. He wondered if there was a layer of glue pasted to the soles of its many feet. Maybe Junno would try that one day; it'd make tree climbing much easier. Maybe the barefooted boy would want to try it out, too, although he'd need a pair of shoes first or else he'd always be stuck to the ground.

"That's wonderful, darling," his grandma said, sniffing delicately at a rose before snipping it's stem. "What's his name? Or is it a girl? A school friend?"

"He said he doesn't have a name."

"Nonsense. Everyone has a name, darling." His grandma let out a low hum as she clipped another rose.

"Maybe no one gave him one," Junno tried, not liking the feeling of being lied to.

"Everyone has a name, Junnosuke," his grandma repeated before standing up with a handful of freshly picked yellow roses, a fistful of sunshine. "These will brighten up grandfather's study room, don't you think?"

Junno dug up a returning smile and before following his grandma inside, turned to see the caterpillar fall into sunny petals and curl up and hide. Junno didn't think he was that scary.

-

A twig snapped into two under his feet and Junno winced when the barefooted boy swung around from where he sat near the edge of the creek, feet hanging in the water. Junno wasn't trying to sneak up on him like the other thought. He hated how big his feet were sometimes.

"You're here again," the boy accused and stood up, keeping a hand behind his back as if trying to hide something. Maybe he still thought Junno wanted something from him. "You can't just come here. This is my place. Go away."

"You lied to me," Junno said. He did want something from the boy, but that something couldn't be hidden behind a bony back. "Everyone has a name so you must have one, too."

The boy narrowed his eyes into slits so tiny Junno wondered if he could see anything other than his own eyelashes. "What does it matter? It's not like we're friends. It's not as if I owe you anything," the boy hissed and Junno, despite knowing that the boy was trying to shoo him away, felt hurt. He mustered a smile anyway because he was Junno and that was what he was best at, or so his family told him.

"But what will I call you, then? What if you get lost and I need to find you?"

"I'd never get lost. And even if I did, I'm fine on my own," the boy said, his nose flaring. "I don't need anyone."

As soon as he said it, a small bread roll fell onto the grass behind him and the boy quickly scrambled to grab it before it rolled into the stream. Junno watched the boy turn back to face him, his face red and embarrassed. As soon as their eyes met, the boy stuffed the entire roll into his mouth, sealing his lips shut and jutting out his chin in a challenge, as if he expected Junno to charge at him and tug the bread out of his mouth.

Junno held back a laugh as he remembered the angry squirrel he had seen just a few minutes ago when he'd walked through the thin forest that lined the creek. Instead of a bushy tail, the barefooted boy had bushy eyebrows that now scowled at him.

"Waffs sho gluny," the boy asked, speaking with a mouth so full that his mother would be horrified at the sight of it. What horrible upbringing, she would say. Junno was glad she wasn't here.

"Nothing," he said instead, beaming as the bow chewed furiously and swallowed. Junno had never eaten that fast in his life, unless it came to desserts. He had never been that hungry.

"Why did you come here?" the boy asked, his mouth now empty and words much more clear.

"I want to us to be friends."

"But I don't."

"I guess we can play together without being friends," Junno reasoned, the words stinging the edges of his smile. It's not like he wasn't used to it. His school house friends weren't really his friends, either. The only games they played with Junno involved Junno sneaking into their teacher's room and reaching for the cookie jar on top of the bookshelf because he was the tallest. Beanstalk Junno, they'd call him, munching on the cookies and then running off to play without him. For a moment, they were all friends; the rest was all pretend. Junno was used to pretending.

"You want to play," the barefooted boy repeated slowly, face unreadable. Junno nodded his head, still smiling. To his surprise, the boy smiled back, albeit a bit more sharply than his own. "Okay. We'll play my game, then."

-

He made his way into town, sticking to the busier areas of the streets. Every now and then he glanced over his shoulder to see if Junno was following him and didn't know whether to feel relieved or not upon seeing that he was indeed tagging along the heels of his feet, like a gigantic puppy, his eyes brimming with curiousity and trust. So much trust.

So annoying, he thought and huffed under his breath, facing forward once again and nearly walking into a paunchy belly. He veered to the side before the gluttonous man could strike him and hurried his steps. Behind him, he heard Junno say, "Well that wasn't nice."

"Most people aren't nice," he shot back, worming through the crowd. He wondered if Junno was raised on an island of some sort, removed from reality. His reality, at the very least.

"Where are you taking me? Is there are a park nearby? I only go where mother and father take me. And I can't go too far-"

"We're here," he said and swiveled around to see Junno crane his neck in every direction. He was so tall. It embarrassed him that his head only came up to Junno's chest level. If he was carrying around apples and figs and other food around with him everywhere, he'd be just as tall, too. Taller, even. He just needed to eat more. Somehow.

"There's no park here. It's just a fruit stand," Junno said, looking bewildered and, for the first time since he had met him, slightly crestfallen. He didn't know Junno could frown, didn't know he had the facial muscles for it, what with the way his face was always forzen in a constant smile. The realisation made smirk, slightly. So the giant was human after all. Still not normal, though. "What are we doing here?"

"You said you'd bring me an apple so," he paused to lean against the wall of a neighbouring shop that sold wooden animal carvings, "go on, bring me an apple."

"I don't have any money with me," Junno said slowly, smiling in apology like an idiot and still looking utterly confused. "I thought we were going to play a game."

"We are. We're playing fetch the apple. Go fetch."

"I told you I don't have any m-"

"Steal it, then." He nearly laughed when he saw Junno's eyes widen to the size of the coins he didn't have. "Come on, you wanted to play, didn't you?" he drolled. "Well, this is my game. My rules."

"It's bad to s-steal," Junno said, stuttering on the word as if it was illegal to even speak it. It was nothing next to words he'd heard while rummaging for glass bottles outside taverns, looking for something to store water in. Admittedly, he hadn't understood what half of them had meant, but he knew they were something horrible because they were only uttered late in the evening and never in the light of day. Bad things always happened in the dark.

"It's bad not to keep your word," he returned. "Grab me a red one. They really are the sweetest."

He nudged his head towards the adjacent fruit stall and waited for Junno to move. The attendant was greeting customers on the other side of the stall so it would be a clean sweep. Junno didn't move. Just stood there and stared at the heap of red apples with an upset face. He tsked in annoyance, pushing away from the wall.

"If you're not going to play, then leave," he snapped and brushed past the giant. It's not like he really expected Junno to steal an apple. He knew it from the start. He was different. Junno, who was surprised at being shoved at in the streets would never understand the rules of his game. Would never understand that playing this game was the only reason he was still alive. He was just like everyone else, sweet words and disdainful smiles.

Except Junno smiles were nothing of the sort. Still, it didn't matter. Friends? As if.

He neared the stall and set his eyes on a large, deep red apple. The attendant was still chatting with some women who tittered at his nonsensical jokes. Now or never. With practice stealth, he reached his hand out and had the apple right underneath his hand, the waxy skin smooth and cool against his palm, when one of the women asked, "Is that your boy, Angus? He's awfully dirty."

He didn't have time to retract his hand before the bulky man turned around and snarled, "My boy? No boy of mine is a dirty lil' thief! Get yer hand of that apple and wait here while I fetch my belt, ya scoundrel."

He blanched and stilled for a moment, the scar at the base of his spine aching in memory. The pitch darkness, the cold, the screams, the scolding, the skin-tearing pain. He wouldn't take that again. He couldn't.

"Wait! Please." A warm hand, much larger than his own but not large enough to evoke any memories, enclosed his wrist and tugged it away from the stall. Tugged his mind away from the dark. He followed the warmth and took several breaths, trying to get his system working again. "He's not trying to steal your apple. My mother is just down the street. She'll pay for it."

He blinked and tried not to let his surprise show through so obviously; he hadn't realised that the warm reassurance was coming from the giant. The bulky man surveyed the two of them with beady eyes and he knew the man was wondering what spotless and squeaky clean Junno was doing with an awfully dirty boy like him. It was not as if he had any clue, either.

"And why would yer mother pay for him," the man asked.

"He's a friend," Junno answered, squeezing his wrist. "We're like family."

The man leaned forward to give them another look over and, curiousity getting the better of him, he glanced upwards and to the side. The calm determination in Junno's face was set in stone. His heart lurched and he snapped his eyes back. He hadn't known the giant could lie so well. Hadn't known he'd bother lying for him.

"Alrigh' then. I'll just wait fer yer mother. Gotta tell her to get this one cleaned up too."

"She said she'd be waiting for us so we'll have to get her. It'll only take a moment." When the man looked at them suspiciously, Junno added, "We'll leave your apple here while we go bring her."

"Fine. Get off then," the man grumbled and Junno yanked him away so fast he nearly tripped. "I'll be waitin'!" the man shouted at their backs and Junno almost began to sprint. When they were a couple steps away, Junno really did and he wondered whether the giant realised how much longer his legs were and how he was still gripping his wrist in a tight circle.

"You can stop now," he shouted, huffing as he tried to keep up. "I can't run anymore. Just stop and let go already!"

Junno stopped. It stung, seeing him composed and not even slightly short of breath after such a sprint.

"Where did you learn to run like that?" he asked with a small cough.

"Don't."

He looked up from his tired crouch to see Junno looking down at him with a pained expression. Something twinged in his chest.

"Don't what?" he asked.

"Don't make me lie again," Junno croaked, his voice hoarse and hurt.

There was that twinge again.

"I thought you wanted to be friends?" he asked slowly, unfurling from his crouch so he didn't have to bend back his neck to see Junno's face.

"I do!" Junno insisted, stepping forward and squeezing his wrist again. He hadn't let go the entire time. "I just. I'll bring more apples for you next time, okay? So please..."

He glanced from Junno's earnest face to the warm bracelet of fingers circling his wrist. Long, lean fingers with clean nails squeezing right against his pulse.

"Okay," he said.

-

After the first couple times, Junno found it easy to slip away from his mother whenever she became too distracted, too enamoured with one thing or another. Whenever he found an opening, he swiftly removed himself from her watchful eyes and ran to the woods, the path now memorized in the instinct of his muscles. He had been caught on a few occasions, but he had assured his mother that he had only left to see the ship-in-a-bottle day display one more time; please mother just once more.

The barefooted boy still didn't have a name yet, but he no longer told Junno to go away.

"Here," Junno said and handed the boy his daily apple, the ticket he needed to enter the creek. He sat down beside him on the prickly grass and watched the boy bite into the apple with a smile. The boy was slowly beginning to smile around him more and Junno collected each one as a prize. Even if it was all pretend, it still felt like friendship.

"Thanks," the boy said and wiped the trail of apple juice dripping down his chin with the back of his hand. "I was starving. What do you want to do today? Want to race again. I'll definitely win this time."

"You say that everyday," Junno said with a laugh and the boy took an angry chomp at the apple. His blackened barefeet were small and his legs short; it was no surprise that Junno always won. Junno didn't like losing but the boy hated it even more. Sometimes he'd stop talking to Junno entirely after a race. Junno didn't like that. Maybe he'd let the boy win this time. "We can try tree-climbing," he offered instead and waited for the boy to finish his apple.

"I'd definitely win at that!" the boy said with a smug grin. Smile number two, Junno noted.

"We can be like caterpillars."

"I like caterpillars," the boy said. "When they grow up, they can fly. I wish I could fly."

"But how would you get home?" Junno asked, imagining the boy soaring into the sky and up, up, up so Junno would never see him again. Would never know his name to call him back.

The boy shrugged and clenched his toes in the dirt.

"I don't have a home, anyway," he said quietly before adding with a smile, the third one, "I can live in the clouds!"

Junno was about say what if it rains? you'll be soaked. and what if it's sunny? your home will disappear when a rustling bush at the base of a nearby tree caught their attention.

"What's that?" he asked, more curious than frightened. The barefooted boy didn't look nervous and Junno watched him face the bush on his knees and hands and... mewl.

"Nyan-nyan," the boy cooed and a grey cat slinked out of the bush and to the boy. Junno watched, slightly stunned, as the boy pecked the cat's nose with his own and giggled, cooing good, nyan-nyan every few seconds. There were too many smiles for Junno to count. Too bright and happy to keep track of. He couldn't help but let out one of his own.

"Is this your cat?" Junno asked and the boy shook his head, scratching the fur behind her ears.

"She's a stray. Just like me. We're comrades, right, nyan-nyan?"

The cat let out a deep, resounding purr, eyes closing in contentment under the onslaught of the boy's tiny fingers.

"She really likes you," Junno said. He had never owned a pet before but sometimes he would try to play with the bunnies in his mother's garden. They hopped away as soon as Junno got near, though, and he had stopped trying to coax them soon after. His father owned two horses, both chestnut browns and the size of a coach, but his father told him he was too young to go near them yet. One day he would ride on one just like his father and the barefooted boy would ride alongside him. If he wanted to. Junno would have to bring more apples that day.

"You think so?" the boy laughed, clearly pleased, as the cat let out a yawn that emphasized her sharp teeth and scratched at her murky fur with her hindleg. "She just comes for a good scratch now and then. See? There she goes. Everything comes with a price."

Junno watched the cat strut back into the forest, disappearing between leaves and shrubs. He thought about Angus and his fib. How his mom believed he was standing in front of a shop window the entire time.

"But you two are friends," Junno blurted as the boy rolled back onto the grass, eyes staring up at the sky.

"Friendship has a price too, idot," the boy laughed and Junno knew he didn't mean the insult. The boy glanced at him briefly. "You don't know it yet, but it does," he said, for a moment sounding much older than he was.

"I can pay you in smiles," Junno offered and the boy laughed again. Smile number twenty-three.

"Don't need them. I'll take the apples instead, thanks."

Junno's smile nearly slipped off his face. He managed to put it back together somehow, when the boy started whistling a broken tune, his barefeet thumping lightly at the grass in an unsteady rhythm he couldn't follow. He laid down beside the boy, his elbow knocking into the others and tried to numb the pain in his chest as the boy pointed to a bird taking flight.

He wondered if the price of friendship was caring too much.

And if it indeed was, then why did it hurt so much, when it was all just pretend?

-

One day, when his mother was busy selecting vases and tableware to impress the guests coming over tomorrow evening -which Junno found rather strange since, wouldn't the all food hide the plates anyway? wouldn't everyone be too busy eating to notice? adults were so strange- Junno managed to escape from her attention once again and was walking through the woods to hand the barefooted boy his apple when he heard unfamiliar voices break the usual silence of the trees.

He turned around to see a group of boys. Most of them had barefeet just like his own barefooted friend and the ones that didn't wore torn, scuffed up shoes. Their clothes were torn too and covered in dirt. One of the boys carried a tree branch like a makeshift cane and repeatedly dug its tip into the ground.

Junno recognised these boys. They were the boys he had seen many days ago, throwing rocks at the pigeons and chasing after his friend. Rotten oranges, his mother had called them. Junno didn't think they were rotten, but their faces weren't friendly. Not one of them was smiling.

"What do we have here?" the one with the tree banch sneered.

Junno looked around him and smiled. "Lots of wood."

One of the boys snorted a laugh and the cane boy told him to shut up.

"What are you doing here? You're an uptown boy, ain't ya?"

Junno didn't know what an uptown boy was, but he did know that he lived near the upper side of town where the hill sloped down and maybe that's what the cane boy meant. Junno nodded.

"Thought so," cane boy smirked and walked closer, stopping a few feet away from Junno. He lifted his cane and the rest of the boys came forward, too, surrounding Junno in a loose circle. "So what are you doing here, uptown boy? Getting your hands dirty for the first time?"

Junno had gotten his hands dirty many times before: fingerpainting at the shcool house, helping his grandma in the garden, digging in the ground for odd shaped rocks with his friend who had told him this was his secret place.

"I'm collecting some pinecones for an art project," he said slowly, counting five boys in total, and added, "My father told me I would find some nice ones here. He's looking for some further inside the trees."

A pair of boys rustled and began to mutter to themselves in urgent whispers. Again, the cane boy snapped at them to shut up and squinted back at Junno.

"We're looking for someone. A friend of ours. Have ya seen him?" he asked roughly and Junno knew it was a lie. But it was okay; he knew how to play pretend, too.

Clenching his fist and keeping his face calm and neutral, he smiled and said, "I haven't. Maybe if you give me a name? I might know him."

The cane boy barked a laugh and a few others joined along. Junno beamed back.

"Alright then. If you can't help us there, uptown boy, you can give us whatever you're carrying."

"But his dad!" one of the boys interjected.

"We'll be fast," replied the cane boy and as the circle closed around him, Junno thought the boys weren't rotten at all.

They were just mean.

-

A splash.

The giant was late.

He threw another rock into the stream, growing impatient and feeling his tummy ache.

They were supposed to climb the tall tree today, but now there wasn't enough time. If Junno didn't trip through the forest in five more minutes, he was never going to talk-

A rustle.

"About time," he yelled, suppressing the smile that was beginning to grow naturally whenever Junno appeared, and swirled around. "Taking your sweet time, weren't y--what happened?"

Dropping the rocks, he stumbled forward towards the giant who plopped himself on the grass and looked up at him with a sorrowful pout.

"They took your apple," Junno said, voice laced with apology, and he wanted to smack him for ignoring his question. The sleeves of Junno's shirt were torn, showing the collage of scrapes and cuts decorating his long arms. There was dirt smudged along his jawline and his shoes were gone, his huge feet curling into the grass. He had never seen Junno's bare feet before. It was odd. Wrong.

"What happened?" he asked again, an unpleasant feeling flaming up inside him. He plucked a twig from Junno's messy hair and tossed it aside as hard as he could. Someone did this to him and he wanted to know who. Why? Junno never did anything wrong. He always smiled, even when he was called names or shooed away. Hurting him was like hurting a newborn pup. It was cruel.

"They said they were your friends. They were looking for you," Junno finally answered and he bristled, yanking handfuls of grass one after another. He knew what this was about, the orphanage boys and their little gang; he had whisked away some of their loot the other day. "I didn't tell them about this place. They don't know you're here."

"Thanks," he said quitely, a part of him already knowing that Junno hadn't told them a thing. He examined the red, jagged lines of scratches near Junno's chin and carefully reached an arm across and wiped the dirt off his face with a fallen leaf. He wished he had an army, a crew of some sort. Wished he could chase after the orphanage boys and get revenge, punch everyone of them until they apologised. He wished he could bring Junno's smile back.

Junno gently pulled the leaf away and he let his hand drop back to the ground.

"I'm really sorry about the apple," Junno repeated, face downcast and nervous, as if he expected that would make him feel any better. Junno was so stupid sometimes. An idiot. A giant idiot.

"S'okay," he grumbled. "I don't need it."

"I'll bring you two tomorrow."

"Don't. I don't want them."

"But-"

"Friends don't have to bring apples, stupid!" he shouted and threw fistfuls of grass in Junno's stupid, stunned face.

He ordered Junno to keep quiet while he plucked bits of grass and leaves out of his hair again. In the ensuing silence, Junno's smile was like a blaring siren, obnoxious and louder than he had ever seen before. He wanted to freeze it like that forever.

-

His mother was nearly shocked into tears when she saw him, stroking his face and asking what had happened to her dear, sweet boy and hugging him close to her chest, all the perfume making Junno slightly dizzy.

"I'm okay, mother. I promise. I was tree-climbing," he said, the permanent smile on his face only growing wider. "When I reached the top, my shoes fell off somewhere, and when I was climbing down to get them, I fell. It was a short fall. Promise!"

Truthfully, his ankle was feeling a bit sore and his chin tingled - but Junno was good at playing pretend. He wouldn't have to play anymore, though, because he had made friend. A real friend. Someone who liked him for more than just cookies and apples.

Something big and happy swelled inside him when he thought of the barefooted boy, and he felt like a caterpillar that had just grown its wings.

It was a special sort of happiness.

-

The next time he had a chance to go to the creek, it had been days and Junno had been extra persistent, pleading nonstop and beaming at his parents with overflowing eagerness and then moping in a dramatic display of drooping shoulders and maybe even a sniffle or two, to finally be allowed to go to town, this time with his father. It turned out that his father was just as easily distracted as his mother, eyes fixing on waist watches and maroon coloured neck scarves.

Junno skipped through the woods, his heart racing like a horse carriage. Click-clop, click-clop. Thud-thump, thud-thump.

He wondered how his friend had been. If he had missed him. Junno had certainly missed him for sure. He had told his grandma about him, about his new friend who ate entire chunks of bread like a chipmunk and didn't like to lose. His new friend who was smaller than Junno but stronger in so many ways, who loved cats and red apples and got upset seeing Junno hurt. He had told his grandma everything except his name, which Junno didn't know himself.

That didn't matter anymore, though, because name or not, they were friends.

"Hi!" Junno said, smiling as he broke through the trees and saw his friend as he usually was, swinging his feet in the stream. His friend whipped around, smiling back as he saw Junno approach - and then stilled, his eyebrows coming together and his teeth nibbling at his lower lip like a baby bunny.

"Wait here," he said, pointing to a patch of grass and Junno, having no clue as to what was going on, sat down, crossing his legs obediently. "Good," his friend said before running off to the nearby bush the cat had slinked out of a couple days ago. It felt so long ago. It felt like ages since he had sat in the creek, secluded from the world and laughing and playing with his barefooted friend.

His friend returned shortly, carrying something in his shirt and not meeting his eyes as he stood in front of him.

"Here," his friend muttered and dropped the corners of his shirt. Four green apples tumbled right into Junno's lap. "From Kazuya. It's a present."

His head feeling stuffed with cotton candy, Junno lifted a shiny green apple, a shade or two lighter than the grass he sat on, and stared at his wonky reflection on the waxy surface. Apple Junno looked equally dazed.

"Who's Kazuya?" he asked the apple.

There was no reply.

Junno looked up at his friend and waited for him to look back.

Finally, he heard his friend mutter something that sounded suspiciously like so stupid under his breath and met his gaze at last. Sharp eyes softened by trust. "I'm Kazuya," he snapped, plopping himself in front of Junno like a sack of rice. "Now eat it already, you idiot."

Kazuya.

Junno nodded dumbly and sank his teeth into the apple, the sour tang sweetened by the blush that dusted Kazuya's cheeks.

Kazuya.

Junno munched on the apple and swallowed. "I like Kazuya," he said, feeling the weight of the name on his tongue for the first time, feeling all the corners and turns and peeks and dips roll off the edges of his lips and into the creek that was their secret and theirs alone. "I like Kazuya," he repeated.

"Shut up," Kazuya said, his face flaming and toes squirming as he looked anywhere but at Junno.

"Okay, Kazuya," Junno replied and took another tangy bite. Kazuya glanced at him from the corners of his eyes and darted his tongue out to wet his lips.

"I'm sorry I couldn't get the red ones. I know you like them."

Junno shook his head emphatically and chewed faster so he could speak.

"I like Kazuya more," he said, an uncontrollable smile skating across his face. There was no pretend anymore; this was the truth. He liked Kazuya more than red apples or green apples or even grape flavoured lollies. Kazuya was his favourite.

"You're so stupid," Kazuya said and rolled onto his back, hiding his face behind his arms. Junno could see a sliver of teeth between the cracks of his small fingers. "Stop saying my name. It sounds weird."

Junno beamed and dropped an apple onto his flat belly. Kazuya peeked an inquisitive look at him from between his fingers and Junno vividly remembered the boy in the barrel.

"An apple a day keeps the doctor away, Kazuya," he said and his smile only grew impossibly wider when Kazuya groaned.

He really liked Kazuya.

-

"Junnosuke, darling, don't eat so fast. It's unbecoming."

"Nonsense! Let him eat. He's a growing boy after all," his father rebounded and Junno devoured another slice of fish as his mother sighed. The faster he ate, the faster he could sleep and the faster tomorrow would come and he could see Kazuya again. Kazuya. The name kept bouncing in his head like a rubber ball, echoing with every bounce.

"Mother, isn't Kazuya a pretty name?" he asked, kicking his feet erratically underneath the table top where they were hidden by the crochet linen table cloth. He just couldn't stop. It was like the time the doctor had come for a check up and struck Junno right on his knee, his foot swinging forward without his control.

"Yes, very pretty Junnosuke. You've asked us that several times in the past minutes," his mother sighed, cutting a delicate slice of fish with a silver knife. "Who is this Kazuya, darling?"

"My friend." Junno beamed and jumped from down from his chair. "I'm done!" he called and then sprinted up to his room with buzzing energy.

Tucked into bed, he didn't fall asleep right away. He stared out his window where the stars twinkled like his grandma's diamond earrings -an anniversary gift from grandpa, she had told him with a fond smile- and a crescent moon cut through the night sky. He wondered if Kazuya knew about the man who lived there, who ate moon cheese and disappeared as the sun climbed back, perhaps afraid of getting burnt. His eyes finally drooping shut, Junno silently wished the man in the moon to watch over Kazuya while he slept.

-

Kazuya grinned as he looked down behind him. "You're so slow!" he called and swung himself onto a branch, watching Junno's foot slip.

"Leaf me alone," Junno whined as he fell back onto the cushion of grass and Kazuya muffled his snicker with a loud groan. He liked his friend, he really did, but there were some things he just couldn't admit.

"You're so corny," he shouted and latched onto a branch just above his head, ready to lift himself up.

"Acorny?"

Kazuya threw a pinecone at him, laughing at the way Junno laughed, even when the pinecone hit the top of his head. Kazuya had always had good aim.

"Ka-zu-yaaa," Junno called at his back, stretching his name like an elastic band. "Let's play something else. I can't climb as well as you."

Kazuya smirked, collecting the praise and storing it away. There were only a few things he could beat Junno at and really, he would have liked to play 'who can reach the tree top the fastest' all the time if it meant he could win everyday.

"You can't give up so easily," he said seriously. He had never given up in his life. It wasn't an option considering he wouldn't be here, playing and laughing, if he had. He grabbed a branch and then another, the tree bark rough in his hands, and finally landed softly onto the grass with a twirl. It was nice, seeing Junno's eyes widen in awe.

"Kazuya, you're like a monkey."

Kazuya kicked his shin. He had only seen a money once before, in a picture book, and the hairy ball of gangly limbs wasn't appealing. He wouldn't have minded having a tail though, one that could curl and tug bananas off trees.

"Junno, you're like a giant," he parroted, not expecting Junno to rail against him because he never did. That had infuriated Kazuya at first because it didn't make sense. If someone hurt you, you hurt them back. That was how the world worked, didn't it? Even Junno's. But even then, the only weapon Junno ever fought back with was a smile, a huge dazzling smile that was almost scary in the way it was so fearless. In the way it made Kazuya recoil with an ache in his chest.

At the moment, however, Junno's smile wasn't to be seen and he stared at Kazuya with his lips slightly hanging apart.

"W-what?" Kazuya asked, nervously kneading his elbow joint. Maybe Junno really hated giants and this was it, the moment he would finally snap back. Kazuya's tummy somersaulted uneasily because he hadn't meant to hurt Junno. He had just been teasing the way he had seen friends do and hey, they were friends, too, weren't they? Kazuya had never had a real one before, someone who didn't steal his food or hide behind his back while watching him get into trouble. He didn't want to make Junno upset; rather, he wanted to make him smile even when his face hurt from all the stretching.

"That's the first time you've said my name," Junno said slowly, his lips beginning to quirk.

Kazuya blinked. And then felt the heat in his face rise up until the tips of his ears were aflame.

"Your name is stupid, just like you," he sputtered and kicked at Junno's other shin. He was never saying Junno's name again, even if it felt nice to finally say it out loud. It was embarrassing for a reason he couldn't figure out. It just was.

And Junno's huge smile made it all the worse, like it always did.

"I think your name is pretty, just like you," Junno said. "Kazuya."

Dirty, pest, brat, rotten.

No one had ever called Kazuya pretty before.

"Shut up. Boys can't be pretty," he shouted and turned away, running to the stream to cool down his face.

"Kazuya. Say my name again, Kazuya," Junno called to him and Kazuya swore, seeing his reflection steadily darken with colour.

"Shut up!"

"Kazuya."

"Shut up! I won't say it." He squeezed his eyes shut and clenched his fists at his sides, battling the syllables that were climbing to escape and keeping them locked up in his throat. He heard footsteps behind him.

"Kazuya."

Against his better judgement, he opened his eyes just a crack to get a peek and -

- the lock broke open.

"Junnosuke," he said at last, his fingers unclenching and his entire body coming undone. "Junno."

It came out quiet and almost garbled but there was the brightest smile Kazuya had ever seen floating in the water and he knew Junno had heard it. His own traiterous lips began to curve up and he sighed to himself. Maybe giving up - giving in to this special happiness was okay. Maybe it would make him stronger. He already felt as if he could run laps around the entire forest, empty belly or not.

-

"I think you should give her a name," Junno said, watching the cat curl under and around Kazuya's skinny legs. He had tried to play with her, but it was obvious Kazuya was her favourite. Junno understood that; Kazuya was his favourite, too.

"She already has one," Kazuya replied, his small hands stroking her tail.

"She does?"

"Nyan-nyan the cat!" Kazuya chirped and Junno laughed. He watched Kazuya's eyes squint in delight much like the cat's, his joy resounding like a purr throughout his limbs, quaking uncontrollably. His crooked nose rubbed circles behind Nyan-nyan's ear. Junno had once asked Kazuya what had happened to his nose and all Kazuya had told him was that it had broken long ago, so long ago that he didn't quite remember anymore. Junno hadn't minded; he liked Kazuya's bumpy nose as much as the gap between Kazuya's front teeth.

"She's not mine, though," Kazuya said as Nyan-nyan, now satisfied with all the scratches and cuddles, stalked away, her grey tail swaying behind her. "She belongs to the world."

Junno didn't like to see that look on Kazuya's face. It reminded him of the barefooted boy, the boy in the barrel who said he was a stray. If he could, Junno would take Kazuya home, lure him with apples and treats so that he'd follow Junno back to his grandma's garden, where Kazuya could name all the bunnies, and then up to Junno's room where they could count the stars together. Junno would warn him about the dust bunnies but Kazuya would crawl under his bed anyway and then pop back up, coughing with his hair sprinkled with snowy dust. Junno would say to him, told you so and Kazuya would whack him with his pillow and tell him to shut up. They'd eat crackers together and pretend they were eating moon cheese.

If he could, Junno would keep Kazuya forever.

"You belong to me though, right?" Junno asked.

Kazuya twirled a fluffy dandelion between his fingers.

"Only if you belong to me, too," he mumbled.

Junno's heart swelled as he laughed. "I have for the longest time. You didn't want me." It didn't hurt to say it, because he knew Kazuya wanted him now and that made up for everything.

Kazuya whipped his head towards him, his face crumpled in outrage. "Shut up! We're friends now, okay." Short, warm fingers suddenly closed around Junno's hand. "See?" Kazuya asked, his face glowing apple red. "We're friends."

Junno beamed. "I like Kazuya."

A cloud of dandelion fluff blew into his face. Kazuya's hand didn't shift.

-

He was being tugged through town again, his mother now on a hunt for shawls and coats now that the days were shortening and the sun felt cooler. Maybe the man in the moon had given the sun a talking to, the kind his father gave him when Junno was running down the stairs too hard and fast.

He saw a woollen blanket, warm and red, as they entered a shop and Junno pulled out the apple in his pocket to see if the colours matched. They did. He wanted that blanket. He'd work hard and save all his gift coins to buy this blanket for Kazuya who was too thin to not feel the growing cold down to his bones.

"Mother," he said, tugging on her purple gown, "does the orphanage have blankets? Warm, fluffy ones? Like this red one?"

"Of course not, Junnosuke," his mother replied with a tsk. "Rotten children don't have such nice things. Nice things are only for good little boys."

Uptown boys, Junno remembered with a frown and let go of his mother's dress, the soft fabric smoothing out without a single a wrinkle.

"They're not rotten, Mother," he said, hurt for a reason he couldn't express. He was old enough to know that telling her would only bring more hurt. His hand knocked into a coat stand to his right and the apple tumbled out of his grip and onto the wooden floor.

"Junnosuke, let it be. It's dirty. I'll get you another one."

Junno bent down and picked up the apple anyway.

"It's just dirt, Mother. It washes off, see?" he said and wiped the apple with his sleeve, it's red skin gleaming under the dim lights of the shop. "It's a little bruised, but it's still sweet."

Junno took a bite just to prove it - and indeed, it was just as good an apple as any he had tasted before.

-

Side-stepping tree roots and fallen branches, Junno made his way through the forest, his birthday present clutched carefully to his chest. His mother had boughten it for him, hoping that his fixation would cease after he had the real thing in his hands. He was ecstatic and grateful but he knew his mother would be disappointed; his fixation had shifted long ago.

"I brought something," Junno called as he walked into the creek. Kazuya was no where to be seen but a rustle in the leaves had him suspicious. He looked up into a nearby a tree and asked, "Kazuya, want to see my birthday present?"

He grinned when Kazuya peeked his head out of a clump of oranging leaves, his eyebrows curling in curiousity and his steps light and swift as he climbed down. He really was just like a monkey. Except much cuter than the one he had seen at the zoo.

"You got it!" Kazuya shouted in surprise and then, when Junno set the gift on the ground, making sure that it sat in a soft depression in the grass so it didn't roll away, he mumbled quietly, "I didn't know it was your birthday. Sorry."

Junno watched him shuffle and play with his ragged shirt -brown and too large for even Junno to wear- and smiled reassuringly. "It was yesterday. I wish you were there to share my cake. Grandma made it."

Kazuya grinned. "We can share apples instead."

"Apple sauce!"

Kazuya laughed and nodded his head. "I love apple sauce," he said and folded onto the ground, singing criss cross apple sauce. "It's what the school house kids always sing," Kazuya explained before craning his neck down to examine the gift, his eyes wide and his nose nearly touching the glass. "Don't you wonder how they got it in there?"

Junno sat himself opposite to Kazuya.

"Dust people!"

"What are those?" Kazuya asked warily and Junno laughed.

"They're tiny, Kazuya. Tinier than an apple seed."

Kazuya snorted. "They don't exist, dummy."

"I exist," Junno reasoned.

"But you're a giant. A big ol' giant with a big ol' heart," Kazuya sang and oh how Junno loved his voice. He could feel his big ol' heart inflate against his ribs. "I want to be a dust pirate!" Kazuya suddenly shouted.

Junno leaned closer and tapped the bottle that sat between them with his finger. Tat-tat.

"This is our ship," he said, imagining him and Kazuya standing underneath the tiny sails, wearing bandanas and eyepatches and living off a barrel of red and green apples. "We'll sail away together, just the two of us."

Kazuya lifted his head, his eyes disappearing above a face-splitting smile. Smile number five hundred.

"I'm going to be the captain!"

"Okay," Junno agreed, the image of Kazuya wearing an oversized pirate hat with a large pink feather coming to him easily. Kazuya would make a great captain. "Who will I be?"

"My first mate, of course! Every captain needs a first mate."

Kazuya nodded seriously and Junno didn't think he'd ever felt this happy before. Around Kazuya, the happiness kept growing endlessly, with no horizon in sight. Around Kazuya, he was always lost at sea.

"Arr, Cap'n!" he said with a toothy grin and watched Kazuya topple over with a laugh that made his entire body, down to his dark eyelashes and dirt-filled nails, tremble with joy.

Being lost at sea wasn't so bad, he thought. They were Junno's Kazuya and Kazuya's Junno. They'd always have their ship.

They'd get lost together.



-End-
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