Seki Ray Shiroe could not remember if he had ever had fever dreams before.
Had he been sick as a child and tossed and turned like this? If he had, Terra's Number Five had stolen the memories from him like everything else. He clung to the thin thread of his hatred for that betrayal to steady himself as his mind heaved around him. He clung to memories of Peter Pan, the words familiar from the treasured book even now. What else was there for him to hold onto? He wouldn't have minded clinging to his parents' faces inside his head, but they were blurred and fading. It wasn't fair. He should be back there with them now, still laughing and playing. Not here. Not—
Shiroe opened his eyes. His vision swam like he was flying and the world around him was distant, somewhere below him. That couldn't be Keith Anyan he saw. Oh, yes, it was true, Mother Eliza's marionette was the last thing he remembered seeing before the fever dreams had overtaken him, but that might not have been real, and if it was, then surely Keith would have turned him in to the authorities by now. He would be in Mother's care once again.
"Shiroe," said the older boy who couldn't be Keith Anyan. "You're still unstable." He reached for something. A syringe. "Return to sleep."
Shiroe lurched away from Keith, hitting the wall, leaving streaks of sweat staining it. "Don't do that," he said, "don't do that, Keith Anyan."
Keith paused. The needle of the syringe glinted bright in his hand. "What?"
Shiroe tried to explain. "If you sew me to you I'll be your shadow forever."
"I see." Keith's face was impassive. Of course it was. He was just a doll. "You're still delirious."
"You probably think I'm warning you for your sake!" Shiroe tried to glare at Keith, but he couldn't steady his vision enough. "Or maybe for Mother Eliza's sake. Stupid Keith. It's for me!" Keith said nothing; he only leaned over to push him down. Shiroe fought back, or tried to, but his limbs were so heavy and he couldn't focus on anything. "I want to go to Peter Pan! I can't do that if I'm stuck as your shadow." Strength seeped back into him long enough for him to grab Keith's hand. His grip was slippery with sweat, but for a moment it held.
Time slowed. Shiroe thought that maybe he'd made reality's processor overheat, the way he could do sometimes with electronics to make them vulnerable to his manipulations, and now it was moving at a crawl. But there were no electronics here, not in this little world that consisted of him, Keith Anyan, the needle, and his own burning heat.
Shiroe tried to push Keith away, but he was barely strong enough to hold onto his wrist. He felt his head tip forward, his damp forehead meet Keith's. He breathed out and sensed the heat burning between their faces. Between their mouths.
Keith paused. For a moment, they stood at a threshold. There was something beyond it that neither of them understood, a connection that ran deeper than the threads that bound a shadow to its owner.
Shiroe licked his cracked lips. For a moment, his tongue flickered at Keith's lips as well.
"Ugh," he said. "If I kiss you, I'll be your shadow for sure."
If he kissed Keith—
—he told himself that he would be surrendering to the system. That was why the idea felt like a betrayal. Like something he could never do. There wasn't any other reason.
Peter Pan would never take me again.
As the thought passed through Shiroe's head, strong and clear in the muddle of his fevered thoughts, Keith jerked back, his eyes widening. "Shiroe! You—"
But some great effort had devastated him. Shiroe collapsed back into the bed, surrounded by Keith's clothes, the smell of Keith, the thought of that mouth he couldn't kiss. His own shadow dragged him back into its darkness again. Keith hadn't needed to sew him after all.
Before he woke again, the memory of his face hot against Keith's would have faded into the rest of the fever dreams.
Keith came back to his room because there was nothing else to do. His mission for Mother Eliza was done. He had cleaned his face in odd, stiff motions afterwards, because something—probably sweat from inside his helmet—had beaded on it.
Perhaps some exertion had given him a fever as well. When he looked at the wall against which his bed stood, he could still see Seki Ray Shiroe. When he closed his eyes...
When he closed his eyes, he could feel the heat of a body that was now dust in space. And even if he did something as strange and suspicious as covering his ears, he knew he would still hear it.
Peter Pan would never take me again.
Shiroe's thoughts, bridging the gap between them without even a kiss to carry them.
Yes. There was no question. Keith had worn himself out and was suffering a fever of his own. That was the only explanation for the things he was thinking. For the sudden idea that Shiroe had made himself Keith's shadow despite all his efforts otherwise. For the ridiculous desire to shed that shadow and let this nonsensical Peter Pan have it instead.
Through lips that hadn't been kissed, too low for the station's systems to pick it up, Keith whispered, "I would have gone with you."