Being with Shin every day was more than Lena could have ever dreamed of. Back in the Republic, most everyone she knew was stuck up and shallow. There was her friend Annette whom she got along with, but even Annette had never really understood her. Lena was always the odd one out. ‘Pig lover’ they had called her. Not that she cared about their opinions. She had her morals, and she stuck to them. But still, she longed to be seen for who she truly was.
Shin never called her anything bad, and he always listened intently. When she talked to him and looked into his eyes, it was like looking into bottomless wells. He absorbed everything and never made her feel unimportant.
Lena even loved the little room that they shared together. Even though Shin didn’t have very much stuff, she could still feel his presence. His jacket laid on his bedside still. Lena picked it up to move it, and a crumpled ball of paper fell out of the pocket. Overcome with curiosity, Lena picked it up and smoothed it out. It looked to be a handwritten note.
Give me back my brother, you murderer, or make everyone’s lives better and just die!
A cold, heavy feeling like a ball of ice dropped into Lena’s stomach as she read and reread the note. She had no idea who’d written it. Was this person implying that Shin had killed their brother? How dare they?! Did they even know Shin at all?
As her anger boiled over, her grip on the note tightened until the already wrinkled paper ripped under her nails. She wanted to cry. Her eyes were already starting to feel warm.
The Alban girl looked up to see Shin standing in the doorway. She had grown used to the way he moved silently, constantly sneaking up on her. It didn’t scare her anymore.
“What is this?” Lena asked, holding out the awful note. Her voice shook, betraying the deep level of hurt she felt.
Shin’s eyes narrowed in concern, falling to the paper in her hand. “Oh. That.”
“Who wrote this?” Lena continued. “Who is calling you a murderer, Shin?”
The boy’s red eyes clouded over something dark. He closed the door behind him, probably hoping to keep their conversation from being overheard. “This girl from the Federacy,” Shin answered, keeping his eyes glued to the floor. “Her brother was my comrade. I couldn’t protect him. It was my fault he died.”
He wouldn’t look up at Lena, and that killed her on the inside. She approached him slowly. “Shin, you didn't kill him,” she said softly. “We’re in the middle of a war. That’s just what happens. You can’t protect everyone. That’s not humanly possible.”
Shin just shrugged, and Lena knew he didn’t really believe her. What could she say to make it sink in?
“Please look at me, Shin,” Lena begged.
The red-eyed boy looked up, eyes filled with fresh pain. “What do you want from me, Lena?” he asked.
“Why do you have this?” she asked.
Shin sighed. “It’s a reminder,” he said.
“A reminder of what?” Lena pushed.
“That I need to be better,” Shin answered. “I could have saved him if I’d just been a little bit faster.”
“I know you’re their reaper, Shin, but you can’t keep carrying them all like this,” Lena said firmly. “No human could do that without breaking. Let the dead rest.”
“But they’re not all resting, are they?” Shin countered.
It was Lena’s turn to sigh. “Destroying the Legion doesn’t fall solely on you. I’m here, Shin. Let me share your burden.”
Shin looked to the side and stepped away. “You don’t have to do that,” he said. “My comrades were all my responsibility, and I failed them.”
“That wasn’t your fault,” Lena argued, but she felt like she was just going in circles. Why couldn’t she get through to him. “Is this about what your brother said?
Shin froze, and Lena knew she had struck a nerve. “Just let it go, Lena,” he replied in a strangled voice.
“I can’t,” she admitted. “Not when the person I… the person I love constantly fights as if he has a death wish.”
Something in Shin seemed to break. He slumped over and sat on the bed. “My brother was right about me,” Shin said softly. “I never should have come back after he killed me.”
Lena felt her heart plunge. She slowly crossed the room to Shin and sat next to him on the bed. Underneath that old, white scarf, she could see the scar around his neck from where his own brother had wrapped his hands around and squeezed. A piece of Shin’s soul had died that day, and it didn’t come back with the rest of him.
“The Legion and the Republic are the ones responsible for the deaths of your parents, your brother, and all your comrades. It was never your fault, especially not when you were just a child,” she told him.
Shin squeezed his eyes shut, a few wet tears escaping from the corners. “How can you know that?” he whispered.
“Because I know you, Shin,” Lena replied. “You’re a good, kind-hearted person who takes care of everyone except yourself.”
The red-eyed boy finally looked back up at her again. “I don’t know what to do Lena. I don’t want to want to die. I want to stay here with you, but I can’t just change.”
Lena reached over and squeezed his hand. “That’s ok,” she said. “You’re not going to get better overnight. Nobody could. All I ask is that you let me in. You don’t have to carry it all alone anymore.”
Shin leaned against Lena’s side and dropped his head on her shoulder. “Ok,” he whispered. “I’ll try.”
“Thank you.” Lena brushed the hair away from his forehead and placed a gentle kiss. Shin turned his head and connected their lips together, slow and sweet.
“You’re amazing,” he breathed out. “I love you.”
“I love you too.”