And for this warmth --

Sleep over, Natsumi had said. My parents will be glad to have one of my friends over to stay. We can stay up and watch anime and talk and . . .

Sometimes Rena thinks that her soul is full of dolls, that she herself is a doll that is learning how to move to a new set of rhythms, learning a new set of phrases to answer her owner with.

It's warm here in the darkness, curled against Natsumi in the puddle of blankets. Natsumi's hair is soft against her face. The television is soundless now, the volume turned off, but images flicker across the screen, bright and quick and gone again.


who should I thank?

Natsumi never had a younger sister before, but she finds the patterns easy enough to fall into. It's what Ban-chan and Gin-chan and all their friends give her, after all, and she passes it on in turn to the new girl with the wide shadowed eyes and the careful, hesitant way of moving.

You look after your younger sister. You take care of her. You try to make her smile.

It's what she's learned. It's what she does.


I turn to you

It's strange to Rena not to be afraid, strange not to be alone, strange not to have her doll to hold. This vivid, ordinary life is the different thing, the abnormality. She had grown so used to cards and angels and old stone and commands and death that to come out of it into life again is a miracle. A resurrection, as much as the one that Toshiki was given.

How -- how is it possible that she can learn to care again, to love . . .


and hold you

"It's all right," Natsumi says, and she gathers the other girl against her. Cheek against wet cheek, body against body, an arm around her shoulders, a hand to hold onto, another person in the nest of blankets. "It's all right," she repeats, the words meaningless, but the tone gentle, and the act of saying the words everything. "It's all right, Rena, it's going to be all right . . ."


in the darkness.

Because to care again means the possibility of loss, the certainty of death, and having to live with other people. Dolls are safer. Dolls won't hurt you. Dolls can be dressed and made pretty and sent out onto the streets and . . .


Take my hand

"I'm here, Rena-chan, it's all right . . ."


and wait

Being brought back to life is easy. Learning to live again is hard.



"I'm here."


the sun rises

But not impossible, no, not impossible, because step by step she is walking back into life and learning to care again and even if she cries, that is living too, and even if she makes mistakes, they laugh with her and she can try again, and . . .


and there is light

. . . and coffee warms the soul.


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