author's note: This is a collection of missing scenes leading up to a twist on the canon at the end. One of my best friends got me into this, and surprise! now I'm addicted. This'll be Jinta/Menma because I cannot get enough of them, and will eventually end up hovering very closely around the T rating, so fair warning. :) Thanks for reading, and hope you enjoy!
(music: The Naked and Famous- "No Way")
The best part of construction work is that it stays with you. He builds stuff out of nothing, makes base materials transform into something greater, and comes home sore at the end of the day, legs and arms pulsing. It's not like staying home, where his bed and blankets, games and computer keep him quiet company.
Here, it's loud. Sometimes he wears ear muffs it's so loud. His crew is building a road and a bridge, and when Jinta upends his water bottle over his face, he shivers with relief. All his muscles are taut, he's sweating even though the night air is cool, and all he can think of is a single, massive firework.
His shift supervisor clocks him out at the end of his hours, signs off on his paystub, and Jinta walks home tired but satisfied. This is all yen bringing him closer to his goal, closer to granting Menma's wish.
And she wants him to grant it.
He kicks a rock on the sidewalk half-heartedly. You lose your mom and your first crush as young as he did, you learn every therapy trick in the book. Jinta's had a legion of child psychiatrists listing out the signs of stressors, making him memorize coping strategies and breathing techniques so that he moves towards his goals, or makes positive life choices instead of holing up like he has.
He can recite their words like song lyrics- after a while, it all becomes a part of him.
But no coping technique or meditative exercise has made Menma go away. And he knows it won't, not when she's so real that he can touch her, not when, sometimes, it feels like all he wants to do is touch her.
"Jintan!" A familiar voice calls out over the bridge, a pale hand waving madly. "Hey, Jintan!"
He looks up from kicking the rock. Menma is standing, barefoot as always, near a bench in the middle of the bridge. He brushes some of the construction dirt off of his pants and tries hard not to make he what he was doing look obvious. "Oh, hey. You're out kind of late."
Menma sticks out her tongue. "I could say the same to you. Where have you been?"
"Around, you know." He shrugs. "Are you going somewhere?"
She mirrors his shrug right back at him. "I got lonely staying at home, so I thought I'd walk you back."
At first he's flattered. He feels the smile creeping onto his face before he realizes what she just said. Menma is not supposed to know about his job doing manual labor. She's supposed to think that he's still in school. "Oh, thanks." He rubs the back of his head, grasping wildly for an excuse. He's lied to tons of therapists; why is it so hard to lie to her? "I guess I was a little late tonight."
They walk in silence for a while, Jinta's hands stuffed into his pockets.
"I like this place." Menma says.
"This whole city. But you know what I really like? The way the stars line up over it." She clasps her hands behind her back and approaches the railing. "It almost looks like there's two cities, one in the sky and one on earth. When I was little, I used to think heaven was like that, like a mirror except everything in it was better."
"Do you still think so?" Jinta asks, standing next to her.
Menma squeezes her lips together. "I don't know. I think heaven should be better, but wouldn't it be sad if it were a mirror without all the people you loved? Living here without Mom, or Dad, or Sa-kun, or, well..." Her voice drops off and her face gets tinged with pink. "I wouldn't want to live in a place without the Super Peace Busters, either!"
Jinta laughs, soft. "I don't know what heaven is supposed to be anymore."
Because sometimes it feels like heaven is standing next to her again like this, the wind blowing her hair so that it taps gently on his back. Because it doesn't seem possible that waking up on the couch and seeing her on his bed, half-covered by a blanket, should make him feel so happy. Because heaven is supposed to be peaceful, and all this is anything but.
And he loves it.
"I think it's supposed to be what makes you happy." Menma hums, and hoists herself onto the railing. "Does that sound right?"
At first Jinta thinks that she's just going to sit and swing her legs over the edge- which would be bad enough- but no, she stands up and starts to walk, arms held out to the side for balance.
"Menma, don't!" Jinta rushes out, hand reaching for her arm. One slip, one false step and she's gone.
"Jintan?" She looks at him and cocks her head, and in that moment, her foot misses the next post to step on, and she falls.
It's like all his nightmares at once. One therapist said that because he didn't actually see Menma die, his nightmares twist in on themselves, inventing more and more horrible scenarios. It's like how you're always more afraid of the monsters you don't see in horror films compared to the ones you do. The human imagination is a powerful, dangerous thing.
And right now, all he can see is Menma tumbling over herself, plummeting into the river below.
He leaps up just as she loses balance and pulls her into him, and they landed in a heap on the sidewalk. He can still hear the river churning beneath them, a constant reminder of a past in which he was not quick enough or knew enough of where she'd gone to save her.
"Jintan, your heart is going so fast." Menma's legs are tangled up in his and her face is pressed into his chest. He'd whacked his head and scraped his hands up on the concrete, and the fall backwards knocked the wind out of him, but he's still here. She's still here. "Are you okay?"
He doesn't realize how tight he's holding her until she tries to get up and his arms don't let her. "Don't," he swallows, "please don't do that. Not here. Actually, not anywhere ever, because I don't think I can deal with this again."
His voice comes out hoarse and he hates it.
He's tries to get better about this, to not let it bother him, but it's no use. Menma may be a ghost or a figment of his imagination, or one more symptom of his finally losing it and going full crazy, but he still can't stand to see her hurt.
"Sorry." She murmurs into his shoulder, and he feels the dull throb of bruises forming on his back. It's a strange combination: Menma's soft skin on his chest versus the hard concrete at his back, how warm she is compared to the coolness of the stone they fell on. He's caught between two places, like always. "I just wanted to see if I could find the line between that heaven and earth, you know, the place where the two cities come together. I thought that if I could find it then maybe we could all go there, so we could see each other and no one would be lonely."
He breathes out, eyes shut, nose pressed into her hair. It smells like flowers. "That sounds nice."
But loneliness is one more part of this that he's learned to accept, and it's not something you can solve with a nice thought. It's not something that any of them can solve.
Jinta wills his arms to his sides. Stupid, trying to save her. It won't change anything. He lifts his head up, neck aching, and is nose to nose with Menma. "Oh."
Her blue eyes go wide and her lips part.
This is a dream, he tells himself, a long, tragic, dumb dream and eventually he's going to wake up and be worse off than before. If seeing her is addictive, then being able to touch her is like the final nail in his coffin. He pushes a strand of hair back from her face and then leans back when he notices his hand is trembling. "Sorry."
Gingerly, they stand up and brush the dust off their clothes. At least now it's less obvious that he was at a construction site, though he still really wants to take a shower when he gets home.
"Will you help me play Nokemon tonight?" Menma asks, hopefully. "I'm almost ready to take on the Supreme Five."
Jinta laughs. "If you got that far on your own, then I don't think you really need my help."
"Ah, but Jintan, the last Arcade Leader is really, really tough and without the Blister Pin I can't do the cave to get to the Nokemon League." She tries to pout, but it misses the mark because she smiles bashfully halfway through. "Do you remember how I used to have you do the puzzles in the caves all the time for me?"
"I'm so sure that you could do them on your own."
They're on his street, and above them, streetlights buzz and night birds go home to find their roosts. It's late, but not so late that everyone's asleep yet. Lights are on in windows and Jinta can hear the sounds of kids playing music as they finish up their homeworks, televisions recapping the day's news, parents putting little kids to sleep, and people taking their recycling out. It's a different side to his neighborhood, a calmer place. He's always liked this place better at night.
Menma huffs and dashes ahead to his front door. "No I can't!"
And even though his legs are sore from walking all those wheelbarrows of gravel over at the site, he runs after her, laughing and telling her that of course she can, and they stumble into his house discussing which Arcade Leader is the best in Gold and possible strategies for Menma's party against the Supreme Five. And Jinta knows that there is a place Menma is supposed to be that is different from the place she is, but for the moment, he's alright with her being stuck between them.
Because finally, he's in a place where he's not alone.