one of a couple of requests written for people on livejournal. not really a pairing fic, but definitely some not-so-sub subtext. don't worry, she's aged up a lot

Loose Soul

How someone like her was Erased so early in the Game would always be a mystery to him. But then he'd catch a glimpse of that soft, yet radiant smile and he'd remember that it was only because of her self-sacrifice. She was made of the stuff Angels were, he was certain of that fact.

With every passing day, she grew more and more beautiful, inside and out. Now, nearing twenty years old, she had blossomed into a lovely young woman. She was the last one still centered in Shibuya-minus Joshua, of course. Neku had made a name for himself in the art world, though he still called his mentor every other week or so. Shiki and Eri had become quite the jetsetters, always in New York or Italy for some fashion show or other.

She was still as close as ever to her brother, but they had grown independent of each other, definitely for the best. Besides, if Beat had any idea of the thoughts that his little sister evoked, Sanae Hanekoma was sure he would find himself short one or more pairs of limbs.

Rhyme was content enough with her life-her brother had long ago accepted a skateboarding contract and moved away. She still lived at home, taking a few college courses and working part time. But she visited WildKat almost daily for a cup of hot cocoa. She never could drink coffee-she loved the smell and the taste, but claimed that the caffeine made her too jittery. Sanae never would have thought that he'd ever see more of Raimu Bito than Joshua or Neku.

He took every opportunity to watch her without even realizing himself that he was doing it. She usually came by after her classes to work on her assignments, or to relax after work on the weekends. The low armchair closest to the counter was her customary seat, and that's where she was now. A simple pair of jeans were on her legs, which were curled in the chair, propping up her notebook as she wrote. Her frame was still petite, practically swimming in the red hoodie that must have once belonged to Beat. She certainly wasn't the tomboy she had been as a child, but she'd never be too overtly feminine.

He watched her out of the corner of his eye from his seat at the nearby table. He was certainly paying more attention to her than his sketch, which was turning out to be a small woman who looked far too familiar.

She sighed lightly as she leaned over to check her textbook lying open on the coffee table next to her chair. Blue eyes glanced up, meeting his for a second that seemed to last for an eternity. He focused on his drawing, the back of his neck feeling uncomfortably warm. It was a sensation that he'd become intimately familiar with in recent times.

The only sound in the café was the sound of his pen on the paper. He was acutely aware of the fact that she was no longer writing or flipping through her textbook.

"How are things on the Higher Plane?"

It took every last ounce of Sanae's self-control to not spit out his mouthful of coffee. He settled for choking on it and dissolved into a fit of coughing. She stood and moved over to him, touching his shoulder in concern.

Sanae was not an easy man to catch off guard. He prided himself in his ability to read people, often even knowing their next move before they did. But of all the things she might have said in that moment, that was certainly the last one he was expecting. After clearing his throat and letting out one last cough, he looked up at her, eyebrow raised. "Beg pardon?"

Rhyme's soft, yet still somewhat androgynous features were pulled into a frown, somewhat unsure of herself. She clasped her hands behind her back. "The Higher Plane. That's where you're from, right?" She paused, but when the elder man said nothing, she continued nervously. "I over heard Neku talking about it once and sort of pieced the rest of it together."

The Angel didn't even bother hiding his astonishment. He'd have to get on Neku's case for talking to Josh so openly when anyone-


He rose to his feet and looked over his sunglasses, eyes intent on the small woman. "Rhyme, how much d'you remember?" There was no specification, no clarification on what she might remember. If she did, she would know. If she didn't, than he would come across as a very strange and slightly creepy man. Like that was headline news.

She returned his stare unflinchingly. "Everything."

A low whistle escaped his lips of its own accord. "Looks like we underestimated you. How come you never said anything?"

Blue eyes fluttered to the ground, almost as if she was ashamed. "Shiki and my brother... After a couple of weeks, they... forgot. Even Neku pretended that he didn't remember. It was just easier to pretend that I didn't either."

Neku... The boy certainly had been a special case. An exception to most-if not all of the Rules. Prolonged direct contact with the Composer would have driven most people insane because of His high frequency-and the fact that He was an insufferable git. But Neku had come out stronger for it. If Joshua hadn't returned them all to the Real Ground, the Higher Plane would have snatched Neku up in a heartbeat.

Sanae retrieved her hot chocolate from the coffee table and handed it to her, then gestured for her to take a seat at the table. "So how'd you figure he was just pretending?" he asked before sitting back down.

Rhyme's soft smile returned and she took the offered seat across from him. "It's pretty easy to tell when he talks to people that no one else can see. The boy that comes in here a lot-Neku's second partner really seems to enjoy harassing him."

So, she could still see the Underground. He nodded and took a slow sip of his coffee. That didn't surprise him-it was generally commonplace for those who retained more than faint memories of the Game. She didn't seem to make the connection of exactly who Joshua was-probably best for all parties involved. Even when a player remembered the Underground, the memories of the Composer were manually removed for security reasons. Neku, again, was a... special case.

"I never got to thank you." Her quiet voice interrupted his thoughts. "For saving Beat." Again, her gaze fell downwards, focusing on the cup wrapped in both of her small hands. "For saving me."

His forehead creased in a light frown, the lines betraying his age. "What do you mean?"

"Back in the first Game. With the shark Noise. When I was Erased. Beat should have been gone too, but you stepped in and saved us. I'm pretty sure that must have been against the Rules, but you did it anyway." She finally looked back up at him, blue eyes shining. "Thank you."

Eyebrows arched high above his sunglasses. "You remember that?" He hadn't realized she would retain her memories of when she was trapped in her Noise form. Reforming loose Soul was not an ability he used often, for obvious reasons. He still wasn't entirely sure of all of the ramifications of the procedure, but he had assumed that the memories would be lost once she had returned to her human form. Perhaps hers and Beat's devotion to each other...?

He made a mental note to research it further at some other time.

Rhyme smiled and nodded, idly spinning the cup in her hands. "That was when I was first sure there was something special about you. The others didn't seem to think too much on it, but I did. And hearing Neku talk to that boy about a 'Higher Plane'... I figured that was what it must be."

Sanae leaned back in his seat, regarding the young woman in front of him. "Rhyme... I'd be lying if I said I wasn't impressed right now." In all of his years as the Producer, dealing with Players, Reapers, and Composers, no one had ever figured it out on their own before. With all of his interactions, there was subtle Imprinting, directing them to not think on him too much, to not wonder why he knew what he did or what he was-but somehow, she'd seen past that.

A moment passed, and Rhyme's smile turned mischievous. "It also doesn't help that you haven't physically changed one bit in years."

Sanae laughed.