Summary: Nothing you do needs to be for anyone other than you, he says. Maybe one day he'll take his own advice. Written for 31 days, June 23, 2008: some girls were just meant to smile. Hei- and Yin-centric, probably a dash of Hei/Yin, and some Hei/Amber. Post-series, and lots of ep 13-14 references. There are a few for ep 25, but only non-spoilers.

things we once had to hold

"Gratitude…"

Hei looked up from his perch in the corner of their room. "What?"

"How do you express it?"

For several weeks now, she'd been asking those sorts of questions. Maybe it was her desire to blend in, maybe it showed an actual growth of emotional capacity. Either way, he was slowly getting used to it.

He found that he wasn't all that surprised or startled by it, really. In fact, he almost expected it.

"You know, Yin, if you want to show that you're happy with something, you could just smile."

"Smile?"

"You know. Smi – " Hei trailed off, looking at her and remembering, and shifted in his seat.

"I think I knew." Sitting against the adjacent wall, she paused, thinking. "Facial expressions."

"Did your parents teach you?"

She nodded.

"When you became Yin, you…forgot?"

Her face was still blank. "They needed me to make expressions, so I did. Nobody did any more, after."

He said nothing.

"It also…felt different."

"The reprogramming," he muttered to himself.

She continued to stare at the opposite wall.

He kind of remembered, anyway. When he first discovered his ability which was highly reminiscent of her, almost suspiciously so. And then, oh, now he was a Contractor, so making these sorts of faces really shouldn't make him feel anything despite the muscle movement. For a while it really didn't at all – but maybe that was just the preconceptions doing the feeling for him.

Or maybe he'd always known, which only served to push the façade's walls up higher. Maybe he deserved it.

Yin didn't.

"If you feel like…expressing emotions now," Hei started to say, "then nothing's stopping you."

Pause.

"I can't remember any more," she said simply.

"How to?"

She gave a short nod.

He had a sudden flash of memory, of briefly dried tear tracks on her face and a finger-propped smile. "But that one time – "

"Didn't count."

He looked at her.

"I can't explain."

"But you said you can't remember expressions, right?"

She paused, as though remembering something faint. "That girl…"

"Girl?" He racked his memory.

"Loud. We went on the train. She said she put cat ears on my head."

An image of that pink-haired girl popped into his mind, the one who worked with that detective and had gone far too often to the same ramen shop as he had, and Hei stiffened internally. Very internally.

"She told me to smile, and did this," Yin said, pushing up both ends of her mouth with her fingers.

Hei blinked.

"It doesn't feel right."

It doesn't look right either, he wanted to say. But he didn't, and remembered how she seemed to struggle that one time with moving her mouth before simply propping up one corner into a pseudo-smile instead.

She couldn't make the expressions when she wanted to mean something. He could, all too easily, especially when it meant nothing.

Silence.

"Back then, he told me something," she said. "'For example, if you smile when you're sad, your sadness will lessen.'"

He assumed the 'he' was that man from her previous life, or maybe her father, or perhaps someone else; who knew who else had been important to her or would say such naïve things.

Hei said nothing.

"When he said that, then, I felt…annoyance?" She drifted off, letting it trail in an almost-question. As though she wasn't sure about it herself, couldn't trust her memories.

There was something odd about this to him, about a girl who didn't know emotions any more but could remember feeling wisps of something in the past, before becoming a Doll. Something odd about how she needed to forcefully and consciously connect the dots, tie everything together. Knit a cloth that had already been woven and folded.

Silence.

"It's not true," he quietly responded.

She looked up and to the right; almost uncannily at him, as though she wasn't seeing nothing, as though she was looking his way.

He thought back, to blue hair and a sleeping face, green hair and laughing cries. He thought about the afterwards, the life with two gaping holes and a constant crackling cue. He thought about the sheepish grins, the amusing persona, and its utter inability to fill in those empty reminders. Not when he smiled, not when he pretended.

"It's not true," he repeated.

She looked down. And did not ask, then what is?

He pushed the memories aside, and tried again. "No one's giving you orders any more, Yin. You live how you want to. Smile when you want to or when you feel like it."

"When I want to?"

"And if you don't want to, or it's too strange, then don't."

She kept looking at him, and he wondered for a moment if her blindness was a lie. "I think I do. But - " and then for several seconds, her face scrunched up as though she was wrestling with tangible indecisiveness.

Hei stood up and took those few steps forward, kneeling in front of her and reaching towards her –

(Stop it, onii-chan, I still remember how! Just because I'm a Contractor now, really, it's not as different as you think – )

- and stopped, fingers centimeters from her face.

"Hei?" She looked up, and he could feel wisps of her breath.

"No, nothing. It doesn't work to have someone else shape your face into the expressions you want." With that, he retracted his hands.

She still seemed to look at him.

He tried again. "Everyone learns them…through watching others. Usually at a young age, but…"

She still looked at him.

"I guess that won't work."

Silence again, and one that stretched a little longer. Hei put his hand on the ground, ready to straighten up and walk away.

"I could 'see' their expressions. I learned them that way."

"How?" he asked, mid-rise.

"She had me…map faces."

Bemusedly, he looked at her before remembering that she couldn't notice.

"Can I…try?"

His eyes snapped up. "With me? But I don't know what that is."

She took it as tacit approval, he supposed, because she then reached out her arms and touched her fingers to his face. There was no groping blindly in the space between, no uncertainty, no miss. And before he had time to think about how effortlessly she'd reached out, the touch registered once more.

It was a strange sensation, Yin's fingertips ghosting over the lines and crevices, first up at the hollows around his eyes, then down around his cheeks; every movement with delicate, deliberate intention. Then slowly down to the corners of his mouth, and he stopped breathing for a moment, as though afraid to interfere.

"That's not a smile," she said, somehow knowing.

"I didn't know you wanted one," he replied, suddenly hyperaware of how his jaw moved around every single syllable.

"Then I can see how to smile." As though it was the most obvious thing.

Ah, so that was what mapping meant.

He gave a soft laugh and tilted his lips gently upwards, the way he naturally, neutrally would when he was still masquerading as Li. Her fingers kept moving with measured pace while tracing every dent and line, and he started to wonder if there were really so many of them there. He obviously knew his face better than anyone else, so having that many unknowns about it was…baffling. Or maybe this whole endeavor was the baffling part.

Hei could still remember the last time someone had gotten this close. Pale green still haunted him wherever he went, after all. Every day back in South America, he'd find more and more strands of that color everywhere; settled on his shoulders, draped over his knife, tucked in the folds of his tent. Everywhere like a little reminder, star-spread bright and vivid and unshakeable, golden little smiles and playful fingers gliding across his face.

(Staring at the sky again? You know, Hei, I heard a rumor that every star up there in that sky is for one of us Contractors. Think you could ever find my star? And you'd better hang onto it if you do! I don't want you ever forgetting me. You won't, right?

Yeah, I know.)

He'd shaken the last of those strands off his person ages ago, the last of them tucked under his vest.

She still haunted him.

He felt something under his lip and gave a small jolt, but then he remembered, and it was only Yin and her fingertips still ghosting and how long had it been already; when had he drifted off into his little fragmented world?

She stopped moving, and he realized that somewhere along the way, the smile had faded off of his face in favor of – what felt like – something more melancholic, a vague and drifting sort of look. "Sorry, Yin."

Her right pointer finger drifted down to his lip, silencing him. She shook her head.

He could only stare.

Then she leaned back, moving away but still facing him. This time, she moved her hands across her own face, the muscles around her mouth twitching in the unsure way that they had done that one night. He watched as she seemed to adjust them with an artist's touch, smoothing over one line and outlining another, replacing the uncertainty with strokes of something more resolute.

And then her hands slipped back down, with not a flourish but a reveal. Upturned lips raised in something soft and ethereal, with traces of his own ghosts and something lightly shining like moonlight.

All the work that goes into one smile, he thought, but still didn't look away.

"I think…that feels right," she said, voice lighter than the usual; and then she let her normal expression slip back a little bit, muting what had just appeared.

These children are changing. Who knows what they'll become.

She looked at him, and in that moment, he truly believed she could see.

"Thank you."

He looked back. "You're my partner, aren't you?"

She nodded.

The ghosts still danced around them both.


--

First of all, for those who know me: Holy, not many parenthesis, not present tense! Yeah, uhm, pretty much. It's the first time in a long time that I've gone and written something…vaguely normal. Ish. Yeah. Warmup for the larger multipart project, I guess. This was a bit difficult, since writing Yin is a long struggle, especially since post-series gives her character room to change and evolve, but then it's hard to gauge how much is too much. Frgh.

Anyway, comments and critiques are great, and thanks to Rae for the beta :D