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Dreaming of Redemption

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It's only when she's by herself does she allow her self to think about it.

Ten days after she's released from hospital, six after Sebumi gets his sight back, and Saya sits in her bedroom and wishes the moon to move. She wishes it so hard she feels the beginning of a migraine - because if she could will something so impossibly still towards motion, she might be able to piece together her life with Satoshi.

Life.

Life's a funny thing. Especially when, in retrospect, you may have been living one that wasn't even yours. A life that was sprinkled with snap decisions and piggy backs, Shibuya 109 on a Saturday afternoon and purikura with someone who always just out of frame. Events - dates - that didn't seem real, because all she'd planned to do that Saturday was read up on Russian cosmonauts and had ended up in a Starbucks with a tall, fair boy who's smile never reached his eyes.

Her eyes pull to her wardrobe before they can fill with tears, and she can spy a puff of pink amongst the grey and black and the headache that's always (always) there threatens to overtake her again.

"Better to sleep," she mutters to no one. Or everyone - to all those people she was without her even knowing.

---

Twenty-two days after she's released, three after Sebumi finally said more to her than her name wrapped in tired tones, and Saya begins to read her diaries. The story they tell is like two different girls - four, actually; seven, maybe - who all seemed to be dating a puff of smoke in a sensible cardigan.

She reads about the time she first brought Satoshi home to meet her Grandmother - Awkward. Lefty broke a teacup. Grandma doesn't know what to do with him. Found pink hair clip in bed. Put in rubbish, Grandma pulled it out and told me I "looked nice" when I dressed up.

There's the mentions of the blackouts - I woke in his bed again. Stomach hurting. - the migraines - Right in the front. Doctor tells me not to worry, drink more tea. My teeth seem to hurt. - and attempts to work everything out - Found a camera inside of my globe. Nothing on tape but static. - and she decides again that it's better to sleep.

She dreams of red sheep and gyoza, half-memories and a bald idiot who seemed to say her name like it was the only thing left to say.

---

They're made to see the police psychiatrist, but he doesn't know what to do with them. It's the impossible list of things in their case files, and the impossible answers they give to questions like "tell me about Ninomae" - answered in perfect unison, the doctor notes, despite being apart.

Toma stops talking through session two, Sebumi roughly ten minutes in to the first, and they're left with a lasting impression of Dr. Nakatani's shaking head against the midday sun shining through the white room's window.

He stamps them "clear for work" and off they go, continuing on the same pattern of dancing around the things they want to say, until Nonomura drags them to a bar midway through a Thursday as a bonding exercise.

It's obvious at the end of her third beer that Toma doesn't drink much - her head, on the table, a hand holding chopsticks pushed into Sebumi's okonomiyaki signals the end of the night.

"Well. She'll need to be taken home," Nonomura begins, patting his chest after putting his wallet away, and it's like he's pulled a Ninomae because he seems to vanish before Sebumi's eyes.

Leaving him with a very drunk, very unmovable Toma.

"Toma…" he hisses under his breath, deciding to poke her with a clean pair of chopsticks in a defensive strategy to get her on her feet.

"Stop uhhhttt," and she almost falls of the stool in a very ungraceful, very sudden move. His response is quick, catching her before she falls too far, the smell of the beer and lunchtime garlic almost overwhelming. Except -

Her eyes are closed and her mouth's turned downwards. He rarely saw her smile anymore, and that fact seems to follow him around all day and well into the night - amongst his fitful sleep, where he sees Chii pulling her down into the dark and he wishes more than anything he'd been able to the see the bastard die with his own eyes.

"Oi," he says to her, and he almost jumps out of his skin as she wraps her arms around his neck, her cast walloping him in the ear and a small noise of contentment leaving her lips.

It's about here he realises that all the little things he'd been doing those past weeks - leaving her a cutlet last Tuesday, letting them catch a cab from Tawaracho to Asakusa, fixing the wheel on her suitcase without her knowing - the little things, that he didn't really know he was doing, were all engineered by his subconscious to make her smile again.

Get married. Start a family.

Sempai's voice hollows in to his head, and Sebumi feels tired of standing up so straight all the time. Tired of pretending not to care. Tired of not living properly, and he wonders briefly if that's why this impossible woman had come to him.

He pulls Toma onto his back and they begin the long, cold walk back to hers, her face buried into his neck so firmly that he almost misses her say it.

"Sebumi-san."

"What."

"Thank you."

---

"He's smart."

"Who?"

"The old man."

He smirked. "Hardly."

"Hey. Are you deliberately contrary?"

"Maybe."

"Sebumi-san!"

"Toma." Finishing his mouthful, he covers the almost empty container and slides it across the desk towards her.

"Poison." she scowls, opening it to find a single dumpling nestled in a mess of ginger and soy sauce.

"I'm not that quick, or smart."

There's a silence. Sebumi watches her from across the desk, and his heart almost jumps into his throat.

Finally, she's smiling.

---

Things start get better, and Unsolved Cases begins to return to normal. Slowly, and Nonomura's pouring over baby catalogues and divorce papers when Saya finds the figurine in her desk. Hidden, deliberately, judging from the position - halfway between a half-empty bento and a packet of O'Zacks.

It's beautiful for its size - carved, and hand painted, and it only takes her a moment to recognise the white-draped woman.

"Athena," she breathes, and she tucks it into the hidden pocket at the back of her suitcase where she keeps her family's photo safe.

---

Sebumi's drunk and on her doorstep, then in her room before she even knows it. Her grandmother's asleep below her room, and he smells like beer, or sake (ginger? And soy ramen?) and she narrows her eyes as he tries to navigate around the pile of this year's New Scientist and last year's Sweet.

"I should have known your room would be a pigsty," Sebumi growls. He plops down next to the magazines, throwing his paper bag that seems more crinkled than usual down on Ueno Juri's face and causing the magazine tower to topple in a mini avalanche.

They fan across the floor and almost reach her slippered feet. It's like a modern art tableaux of all those girls she was learning about through her diaries - the girls who were living her life for her, who were living a life constructed and engineered and she has to close her eyes to stop the throbbing from overtaking again.

She's getting better at shaking the darkness away, she thinks, and she sets her mouth in a line to scowl at the man now one with the floor in front of her.

"No-one asked you here, jerk."

"No-one asked me here, jerk."

She's about to run over and smother his face in a pillow when he opens his mouth again - "Did you love him?"

There's no answer to that, and her knees give out from under her, crashing her onto her bed with such force it hurts her tailbone. "What?"

"You must of," he slurs, his back now flat against the floor, "like I loved Mirei-chan, or like I thought I did."

"Sebumi-san…" The danger threatens to come into her voice, but it's pulled back by her curiosity. She stays silent as he seems to be putting together what he's trying to tell her, through the most words she's ever heard him speak in succession.

"I didn't love her, you see, because it was just a thing. A thing, y'know?" He hiccups. "It's a cliche to get drunk, but it's two hundred days since Shimura died and we never slept together."

She can't help herself. "You and Shimura, huh?"

"Mirei-chan and I, fish face. We almost did, this one time, but Shimura called her handphone and it was like a sign. I don't believe in signs, Fishy, but I believe in fate."

Another pile of magazines began their slow slide towards their brothers and sisters as Sebumi pulled himself up off the ground, eventually succeeding into a tired slump that was topped with a chest-shaking sigh.

"He didn't love you, Toma. Because he didn't understand you. You're too hard to understand I thought, but then I got you completely and I couldn't see anything in the hospital but - I saw you...there."

Saya swallows, her heart beating in her ribcage like a hammer. "'There'? You're not making any sense like usual. You were blind, idiot, where could you see me?"

She knows it's coming, but she still has an almost visceral reaction to the words that were echoed inside her own brain -

"I saw you in my dreams."

She looks to the ceiling to avoid that look he gave her - the one, she thought irrationally, that seemed like he could see in to her soul - and to gather the courage to utter her reply.

"I saw you, too." Because it's the only thing she can say, and Satoshi's black hand seems to finally unwrap from around her heart.

The clock clicks over to 3am, and his eyes slide to hers.

They're getting better at silence. It used to hang in the air, charged with animosity and awkwardness, where now it's just - there. Like a blanket, like words were unnecessary, like they could understand each other, like one of those pulp books Grandma read and left in Saya's room as "a reminder to find romance".

She can hear her grandmother now, foraging below them for a glass of water, and Sebumi falls back down to the floor in a spectacularly drunk fashion.

Things that made perfect sense scared her more than those that didn't, and as he lets out a snore that breaks the silence, she lays down on her bed and doesn't dream at all.

---

If you had of told her she would have woken up to her Grandmother feeding Sebumi porridge and tea, Saya probably would have punched you in the face.

It was 7:23am, and there he was like nothing had happened only hours before. Chewing and nodding as her Grandmother asked him every question but "why were you in my granddaughter's room?", and Saya doesn't know what to do but sit down with a half-scowl (because the whole one didn't kick in until after third breakfast anyway).

Finally, she hisses at him when her Grandmother gets up to make some more tea.

"Hey! Go to your own house!"

He chews and gives her a smile. It throws her for a moment, because it's dripping in happy contentment at her obvious uncomfortableness, so she kicks him in the shins under the table.

The silence is there again, except this time it's fittingly interrupted by her grandmother's happy prattling - so Saya picks up the book on Greek Goddesses she'd bought the day before at Kinokuniya and begins to read, completely aware of Sebumi watching her every move.

---

The figurine is sandwiched between a book on cellular reconstruction and a gyoza plush.

She digs out the goddess book from her suitcase, and pours over it until she finds an image similar to the tiny, intricate one in her hand.

"Aceso," Saya smiles, and puts her with her sister in the hidden pocket of her suitcase.

---

It starts to become a thing. Every Saturday evening, he'd turn up with food, and they'd sit in her room just to keep each other company. The silence, that they'd both decided to embrace, sat comfortably between them and became a welcome reprieve from their bickering during the week that only seemed to tire them out.

"Toma," he finally says, putting his chopsticks cross the top of his cup. He's in plain clothes - a pair of jeans and a SIT t-shirt, Converse sneakers in black and white on his feet and she feels like she's watching the Sebumi - the Takeru - that could have rescued the Other Her from Satoshi's left-handed grip.

This airy-fairy stuff, she inwardly berates herself. This pink and beige outlook on life never helped anymore, and she forces a "yes?" out before he looks at her even stranger.

"Did you love him?" It hits harder, because he's sober, so she tells him to fuck off and attempts to leave the room.

He grabs her before she can, this alternate Takeru who's clinging to her present self and she suddenly feels so discombobulated there's nothing to do but kiss him in an attempt to draw one of her other pink-and-beige selves with two beautifully manicured hands and smooth wrists to try and meet him halfway.

They break apart and she hates what she sees in his eyes. It's something like desire and reservation, and she hates that she wants to kiss him again and again until there's nothing left in her memories but his hand in hers. But most of all - the thing that scares her so much her toes feel cold - she hates that a throwaway kiss in the dark of her bedroom with a man she wasn't meant to even like felt more real than the thousands of times she'd been with Satoshi.

"I can't love anyone," she coughs out, clutching her cast and her breath coming fast as the cool, disconnected, emotional wasteland of a person she'd constructed after the accident seems to unravel onto the floor.

There's a stab of pain in her forehead, and she scrunches up her face in an attempt to stop the thoughts that seemed to be finally bursting through the dark and bubbling to the surface. She's tired, and she knows he is too, and he's holding her arms in such a way that she couldn't escape if she tried - but that if she'd asked, he'd have let her go without a word.

He would give her the gift of a choice.

"Toma," he says, his voice barely loud enough to register - but in one word, he seemed to tell her everything she needed to pull her eyes up to meet his.

You're safe. You're fine.

"I don't know where he ends and I begin."

"I do." Guiding her towards the bed, they sit side-by-side with their arms touching. He's not much taller than her, but broad and wiry. Like a man who's masculine and non-threatening and safe and beautiful, and she lets herself lean into him, firmly, to give him the cue to continue.

"I know that you're difficult and nasty. I know you're messy, unkempt. That you're brilliant in ways I could never be. That you're kind, even if you don't think so, that pink isn't your colour but navy blue makes your skin almost glow."

He's looking forward, towards her window, and she leans in a little more. He's warm and solid as she crosses her arms, and she can feel him breathing against her back.

"I know how to make you happy - if I feed you, or find some ridiculous condiments to mix with some ridiculous food, or leave a trail for you to follow, or label something as mine so you can steal it and think you're being crafty."

"Fruit basket," she says, and he puts his arm around her shoulders. She can feel him shaking, a little, and she is too - but they let the blanket of 2am allow them to be as bold as they can manage because they both know they won't talk of this tomorrow.

"I know you miss your family, and that you're confused about Satoshi. I know he hurt you, in ways you can't work out. I know he took from you something you can't quite place, and that you think you're broken and you'll never be fixed. I know you don't cry often, but you want to, and…I know you want to trust me, and you do, but you're not sure why because I drive you up the wall."

"Obtuse."

"Annoying."

They both smile. Saya feels a moment of triumph that she was able to bring a grin to his tired face, and she smugly snuggles into him.

There's a pause, and he stiffens. She's worried that she's gone too far and she holds her breath - until he tightens his arm around her and puts his mouth against her hair in a moment of out-of-character bravery, and she almost purrs from contentment.

Because it feels like home, and she doesn't know what else to do but try to embrace it in an attempt to make the throbbing in her head cease.

"I know you make me a better person, that you make me a little less useless." He laughs a little, and his breath tickles her cheek. "And I know that when I'm with you in this room, you don't dream of him. Because I don't want you to, because he's dead and his SPEC has gone with him. Your memories are yours, and mine are mine. And Mirei's are hers and Nonomura's are his. And it's my responsibility to help you create new ones. Good ones, and simple ones."

"Ones that are all mine." Saya swallows, nervously, then utters it: "ours."

"Yeah."

"Huh. I've never heard you speak this much. Do you need a lie-down?"

He sighs, smiling. "You have to kill the mood, don't you?"

"Gloomy idiot." Saya wriggles into his chest further. "We can just stay here for a bit, can't we?"

"Until I can't handle your smell anymore."

"Okay."

It's only when she hears him breathing solidly that she closes her eyes, and they fall asleep next to a body pillow with Esaki Leo's face on it.

---

He's gone when she wakes up.

Her suitcase is next to her bed, and she pulls it closer to dig out her family's photo and the tiny figurines.

"Athena," she whispers, "Aceso."

Saya thinks briefly that she should be surprised when she pulls the third sister out. That she should be surprised her head didn't ache anymore, and that she didn't dream last night of red sheep and beige cardigan'd boys, but of the solar system and perfect physics and milk-dunked dumplings - but she's not.

Two and a bit months after she's released and three weeks since he'd turned up drunk on her doorstep, she holds Aphrodite up to the Sunday morning to admire the handiwork of her partner.

"Bald jerk."

She smiles - for herself and every single Saya that made their appearances in her diaries - and she can't help but feel hesitantly, beautifully, whole again.