She'd lived for two years with the half-empty feeling, as though she'd lost something important – the most important thing in the world to her. Her memories were returned, of course, but something else was gone forever.
Lose the Game, and forfeit your Fee. That was the price. By some miracle, she had survived – but what she had given up, she would never have again.
Usually, it didn't bother her. She kept smiling, looking towards the future, words as practical, cheery, and optimistic as ever. But sometimes, when she was alone in the dark, and her brother was asleep in the next room, she lay awake with that empty feeling, and struggled to remember her dreams.
She would often get up, and wander Shibuya, in those nights when she couldn't sleep; such was the case tonight, and she stood under the full moon and let the breeze tease her blonde hair, longer now, but still kept short. She closed her eyes, letting the ebb and flow of Shibuya wash over her. It was when she opened them again that she saw… him.
She'd only seen him a few times, and her memories of most of them were blurred – the memories from her time as a Noise were erratic, sporadic, and unclear – but she would know him anywhere… and she knew who he was perfectly well. He, too, stood as if attempting to forget, head held high, hands resting lightly on his hips, the wind playing with his silvery-blonde hair.
She stalked up to him, but he didn't even turn to her as he asked, "Come to confront me about your problems?"
She stopped, her eyes narrowing at him. "How could you?" she asked.
This time, he did turn to her, grey eyes kind and sad. "How could I what?" he asked.
She opened her mouth, but paused. She didn't even really know what she was trying to say – she'd changed a lot, in two years. She was acting more like Shiki would, than herself. She shook her head. "Everything," she said. "They trusted you. Neku trusted you. Everyone trusted you. How could you?"
His small smirk would have meant amusement on any other face, on any other night, but this smirk didn't change his eyes.
"Is this about trust? Or is this about your own regrets? About that empty place inside that you simply cannot seem to fill?"
"I…!" She closed her eyes, feeling the hollowness inside her. "How…?"
"You forget," he said, and some of his smugness returned. "I held your heart and your Soul in my hands. I freed it from the Pin and rekindled that small spark into life, re-crafted your body and laid you back in this RealGround. I know you better than you know yourself, Rhyme." His hands cupped in front of him as if he held something small and precious.
"I've lived half a life because of you," she said, angry, hurt, but she somehow remembered in her soul what her mind couldn't – the feeling of warm, gentle, caring hands slowly molding her back into form, re-sculpting her life from the battered scraps that had been left.
"I can't break the rules of my own Game. When you were Erased, your Fee was gone forever. If it hadn't been for quick thinking, and your brother's love, you wouldn't be living any life at all." He shook his head. "You sacrificed yourself to save him. Was I to ignore that sacrifice? Was I to ignore the sacrifices your brother made to have you back?"
She closed her eyes. His words rang true, but it didn't stop the tears that were threatening to form.
"Beat could have moved on," she whispered. "Everything that I had before is now gone."
He laughed, sadly, mockingly. "And what does Beat have, I wonder? If you were gone, what would he have? Besides – there was more than one reason you had to return."
She glared. "And what were your other reasons?"
"First, because Hanekoma asked me to." He shook his head. "Second, because you carried Beat's fee… and the rules are absolute. When a Player wins, their fee is returned, whole and undamaged. You cannot remember a person if you have been Erased from existence."
She wanted to shout and scream, demand from him an answer – did he even give a crap about the people he was supposed to protect? If the Game was meant to do good for the world, how could its creator be so callous and cruel?
"Who do you think you are?" she demanded, fists clenching in a ball. "You made the Game! You made the rules! You can't… you can't just..."
He placed his hand on her shoulder. "Do you really want to be dead, Rhyme?" he asked, his free hand cuping her chin and forcing her to meet his gaze. "You say your brother could live without you, but you cannot live without the dreams you lost. You have no concept of the value of your life."
She blinked. In that moment, she could see it – absolute certainty, and the darkness of this seemingly young man's incredibly long life. She saw plots and plans, unfolding and coming to fruition, some a hundred years old that were still dormant, waiting for the right time. She also saw sadness, the intense sadness of a person who desperately wished for the world's salvation, and was constantly left with the imperfection of human beings, constantly disappointed at every turn, even and especially when the actions that disappointed him were his own.
He let go, and she let her eyes fall.
"I have that concept. Given to me was the duty to judge men, to decide who will be able to make the world a better place. To purge the dead and dying of their sins that when they earn their second chance, they will awake changed men."
She couldn't help but go back to looking at him, that sad, ironic smile as he looked up at the sky, turned in profile to her once more.
"I've watched the dreams of human beings be shattered, one by one; I've watched those humans crumble and fall, and I've watched them rise again from the ashes. Your dreams may be gone, but your life remains. What you do with that gift now… it is up to you."
He returned his gaze to her, his hands slipping inside his pockets again. He looked like nothing more than a disheveled artist, an out-of-work college student living off of ramen and dreams. And perhaps, she thought in wonder, that was what he was – she'd thought him a god among men, and he was, but those eyes had been filled with regret and the battle between hope and despair. He was no perfect being – mistakes, yes, he'd made them and dealt with their consequences.
Had he been human once, she wondered? Beat had told her of their quest to topple the Composer and take his position. Had this silver-haired teen done the same? Had he struggled to take for himself what had become his, only to realize that in finding what he'd searched for, he'd lost everything he wanted? Because, she realized, the Composer couldn't afford family. He didn't have time for friendships, and caring about people could become a weakness to someone who routinely had to make difficult decisions for the greater good.
And yet here he was, on a windy night in Shibuya, allowing himself to be seen and to give comfort and advice. Had it been coincidence? But no, she thought to herself, as the old saying went, there was no coincidence… only fate. And if anyone were a master of fate, it was this person in front of her.
She felt her heart break and her eyes flooded with tears as she realized how selfishly, how childishly she'd been acting.
"Do you understand?" he asked. "You can find yourself a new dream to hold onto. Your brother could never find someone to replace you if he looked for a thousand years."
She fell to her knees, and he was by her side, hands on her shoulders once more. A thumb wiped away her tears, and then he held her to him.
"There, there," he said. "It's alright. Sometimes, learning a lesson must be hard, so that the lesson gets across. I'm sorry. I'm sorry…"
She shook her head, throwing her arms around him and burying her face in his shirt.
"No, no, don't be," she said, allowing herself to smile her first real smile in two years. "It's alright. I understand… you and I are so much alike. It'll be alright, I promise."
He'd lost the ability to cry a long time ago, or so he'd thought, but he felt his eyes become misty again, as he patted her on the back. It wasn't often that someone was able to teach him a lesson, but he looked up into the sky and smiled, and thanked the one who had convinced him to let this girl stay. Perhaps his benefactor knew what he was doing, after all.
He held her a little more tightly.
Yes, he thought, I was right to save this one. She is special…
And she simply smiled as she realized what one of her new dreams was to be…