Outlasting The World
From the moment he laid eyes on Kaoru, Ryou knew something was up. There was an odd edge of excitement to him, even more than usual, when they met at the train station (Tokyo to Kamakura, every Sunday, the highlight of their weeks now). He approached quickly, seeking Ryou out rather than hiding in an uncrowded corner and waiting to be found, and when they hugged he held on for as long as he could get away with. Ryou counted to four, cheek resting against the dark wool of Kaoru’s coat, then four again before stepping back. He didn’t want to look clingy, but it did suck, only seeing each other in person once a week. </span>
“Ryou...” Kaoru hesitated, losing momentum but keeping a smile, building up the nerve to say more. “Shall we go back to my house, or somewhere else first?”
”Somewhere else?” Ryou repeated, surprised. “Like where?”
“Well, that movie based on The World... Since we didn’t get to see it last time.”
They’d meant to go a while back, on an awkward day where nothing worked as planned. Instead they’d gotten caught in heavy rain, decided they didn’t want to sit shivering for two hours in wet clothes, and fled home again. They might be amongst The World’s most hardcore fans, but everyone had limits.
“Got directions?” Ryou asked.
Looking pleased with himself, Kaoru held up his phone. Filling the screen was an interactive street map, the same type Ryou had used during their first meeting.
“Lead the way, then.” And it was as simple as that – but a bigger deal than it would be for most people, obviously. Before this, any out-of-the-house plans had been up to Ryou, dragging Kaoru along and hoping for the best. It was a relief to see that phase ending so soon (sooner than he’d expected, honestly, though he’d trusted it wouldn’t last forever). Sometimes it was fine to stay indoors, but not always. Not unless you had something really interesting planned, and they still hadn’t reached that phase.
Kaoru didn’t falter until they stepped into the cinema. It was a grey day, damp autumn leaves plastering the pavements, but inside was busy, groups of people chatting and staring at bright promo posters, being lured towards the warm, cloying scent of caramel popcorn (a vivid contrast to the cold air outside). Ryou wordlessly placed a hand on Kaoru’s lower back, steering him towards the ticket sellers before he could start freaking out.
“Ah, it says they have couple’s discounts...”
“That’s only for romantic stuff, so girls can make their boyfriends take them.”
“I wouldn’t mind seeing something romantic,” Kaoru said. Ryou gave him a long, unimpressed stare. “...But we already chose what we’d see today.”
Since it had been Kaoru’s idea, Ryou let him pay. And pretended not to notice when he slipped the ticket stubs into his pocket, rather than throwing them away. So long as he wasn’t getting weird and hoarding locks of Ryou’s hair or nail clippings, keeping little mementos was nice.
Most people were seeing newer movies, so they had the screen almost to themselves. Once they sat down there was a lapse into silence, not sure what to do while they waited. Ryou fidgeted with the 3D glasses he’d been given, then reached across and put them on Kaoru, sliding the arms carefully through his hair to hook over his ears. That earned a puzzled smile.
“We don’t have to wear them yet...”
“I know. Just wanted to see how they looked.”
They were miles from fashionable, with frames of thick black plastic, but Kaoru still made them appealing, offset by the paler, finer features of his face. He laughed softly, adjusting them. “Then I want to see how you look, too...”
“Nah. We don’t have to wear them yet,” Ryou said, knowing Kaoru wouldn’t be bold enough to put the other pair on him.
They were saved from further silliness as the lights dimmed, and commercials began playing. Ryou wondered if it would be lame to hold hands – but who was he kidding, Kaoru ate up anything lame like that. So he reached out. Kaoru’s hands were always slightly cold, and thin as the rest of him, quick with a controller, delicate as breath whenever he touched Ryou. Somehow that added up to make them sort of perfect. Kaoru smiled, and said something inaudible over the blasting ads for cars and fast food; the sentiment was easy to guess, anyway.
It almost distracted them from the movie. Opening on Mac Anu, the view swept over buildings and canals in dazzling CGI, then showed a cavern where a dark, hulking monster fought to break ice-coated chains, music rumbling ominously. Standard beginning for a fantasy action story.
Familiar sights mixed with new additions, and a few mistakes (which they marked with small, shared glances, because obviously Chaos Gates didn’t work that way). Ryou waited for a particular moment he’d heard about: the cameo of a black-armoured Adept Rogue. Kaoru leaned forward, wide-eyed, then flashed Ryou an excited look that made them both grin (a rare expression on Kaoru’s face, making it ten times better). Later, when two characters shared a steamy kiss, Ryou felt very aware that he was sitting beside someone he’d like to do that to. He swallowed, staring straight ahead with statue-like focus.
There were monsters, fights and epic revelations, all crammed into two hours, with a neatly tied-up ending. Not much like the real crisis Ryou had lived through – he didn’t usually make comparisons, but it was hard to avoid here. Still, he enjoyed it. Sometimes you didn’t want stories to be ruthlessly realistic.
Once the credits rolled, the first thing Kaoru said was, “They showed Haseo!”
“Sure did.” Just in the background, fighting in Lumina Cloth’s arena while the main characters chased each other through the stands. An Easter Egg for players of the MMO.
“Did you know?”
“People told me. I hadn’t seen it before, though.”
“I was careful to avoid spoilers... That was a wonderful surprise.”
Ryou grinned again. It had been fun, seeing his PC up on the screen. As they walked out he linked their arms, to stop the crowds separating them (Kaoru hadn’t shaken his habit of ducking behind Ryou, when other people went past).
“I liked the airships, too... I wish The World really had them.”
“They’d be a lot slower than Chaos Gates.”
“There could be both? Watching the scenery drift below, it would be beautiful if you weren’t in a hurry...”
“Our own private world again?” Ryou asked, teasing, and gave a quiet laugh when Kaoru nodded. “I guess. They should do more with steam bikes, too. Make a new mini-game based on that chase.”
“I’ve never rode one of those.”
“I’d like a real motorbike, one day. You could come for rides on that.” It wasn’t entirely serious, just something he’d thought about. He wanted to see if Kaoru was impressed.
“Aren’t they dangerous?”
“I’d be careful!”
“Well, if it’s you then I’d be okay...” Kaoru conceded, clutching Ryou’s arm a little tighter, and Ryou pretended not to feel a foolish flicker of pride (because let’s face it, he could probably talk Kaoru into riding a tiger; it was no big achievement). They carried on walking, moving into the peaceful neighbourhood where Kaoru lived. Old houses on curving, tree-lined streets, leaves honey-coloured but not falling yet.
“Ryou? If the servers closed... I’m not afraid of that anymore. And I’m not afraid I’d lose you, because of that.”
“You wouldn’t.” He understood that line of thought, though. If all they did was play a game together, caught up in just one thing, it’d be tough to have that taken away, stumbling into a void.
Granted, today’s movie had been about the game, but the next one wouldn’t be. He wanted to see sci-fi, and have nerdy conversations about futuristic stuff; he wanted to see horror, and find out if Kaoru would be stoic or cling onto him, jumping at the shocks. Maybe they could even watch something romantic, someday. Broadening their horizons, outlasting The World.
On impulse, he halted; the street was empty aside from them. Kaoru’s questioning expression melted into a shy, welcoming smile, and Ryou felt like a newly-lit match, a flare of heart-quickening warmth in him even before they kissed. Things were just better when they were close. Everything was.
“I love you, Ryou...” Whispered with the same reverence as always, offering without expecting anything back, not turning the silence that followed into an emptiness. They kissed again, Kaoru’s arms resting around Ryou’s shoulders, fingers curling in his hair. Still delicate and slightly cold, still perfect.
For now, there was silence. Ryou felt himself moving towards something else though, like dawn ripening into a sunrise, like those autumn trees flushed with new colours, then baring themselves leaf by leaf to gentle breezes. Pulled by forces as vital as gravity, rearranging his world. Something a lot like that.
Later on, he sneaked into Kaoru’s coat pocket and took one of the ticket stubs. He wouldn’t mind having a few mementos, too.