Author's Note: I suddenly got the idea for this fic after consuming half a bowl of chocolate ice cream, so if there's anyone I should thank for my inspiration it's the good people of Ben & Jerry's. (Although they're also responsible for adding extra calories to my diet :-) No, seriously: I'm not sure if this is any good at all, but you might as well just read it and tell me. I just thought it would be interesting to put Miyu in the life of the average adolescent and force Larva into the role of… well, I'm not really sure yet. Either 1) a family man, 2) an obscenely rich lord or 3) a wild bachelor (loaded with cash, of course). Anyone who wants to vote on it is welcome to do so. No, wait, scratch that. I demand at least someone to vote! (That way I don't get the blame if it turns out to be a sucky idea… ;-)

Anyways, enjoy the story and review if you feel like it. (Voting is not, however, optional. It's a simple case of do or die…)

~ Calliope ~

PS: (I just can't resist) This story looks a lot better read at minimum size. (Especially since spelling mistakes aren't as easily seen then…)

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"As I was going up the stair
I met a man who wasn't there
He wasn't there again today
I wish, I wish he'd stay away."
- Hughes Mearns, The Psychoed

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Chapter I:

Happiness is for the Living

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A swift slice, a few moment's drinking, a quick rearrangement of the body and it was done. Yamano Miyu raised a slender hand and carelessly wiped the corners of her mouth, gazing at the pale, motionless body of the boy on the bench. He was young, no older than eighteen or nineteen, and casually handsome, with a mess of black curls and bright blue eyes. He wore a green and yellow college jacket and a silver locket around his neck. The locket contained a curl of golden blonde hair - probably given to him by a sister, mother or girlfriend; somebody who will mourn him now that he's dead, Miyu thought, with a vague uneasiness. For a moment she stood perfectly still, a thoughtful and grave look in her golden eyes; the uneasy feeling eventually gave way to sadness and pity - for the boy and for herself. At least he would live the eternal dream in peace: she, on the other hand, was cursed with immortality - cursed and damned

"Miyu?" The soft voice, mildly tinged with concern, was accompanied by a pair of arms that came out of the shadows and drew her into the folds of a dark cloak. "Anything wrong?"

Miyu sighed and relaxed in the comfort of Larva's embrace, closing her eyes and resting her head against his chest, enfolded by the warmth of the cloak. "Yes." She whispered to herself, so that he wouldn't hear her. "Yes… Everything is wrong, Larva. My whole life is wrong." Out loud, she assured him that everything was fine. But her voice lacked conviction, and she knew Larva didn't really believe her. But he didn't comment; he just stood there, in silence - waiting for her to move, for her to talk to him. Miyu sighed again. Although she felt safe and, strangely, peaceful in the protective harbor of her Shimobe's arms, she knew that Larva only comforted her out of duty - or maybe even out of habit. His voice was soft, but empty - gentle and yet cold. He had removed his white ivory mask and the face underneath his black hood was, as always, breathtakingly beautiful - but expressionless, as if it was carved out of marble. His exquisite crimson eyes seemed distant, surveying the star-smattered sky above; his hair, silky soft and an unearthly pale blue, shifted in a mild wind. All that beauty, and yet it contains no life, Miyu thought, almost bitterly. Just dead beauty… "Larva?"

"Mmm?" Larva looked down, his eyes tracing the worry lines on Miyu's supposedly youthful face. Miyu hesitated before glancing up at him, her golden eyes intense. "Are you happy?"

Larva seemed mildly confused at first, but when he realized she was completely serious he turned his gaze on the sky, contemplating the question carefully. "What does happiness mean to you, Miyu? A Shinma's happiness is not like the simple emotion humans feel…" He explained thoughtfully, his voice vague and dream-like. It almost seemed as if he was avoiding the question.

"But are you happy?" Miyu insisted, her golden eyes locking on his crimson ones. Larva returned her gaze steadily and then smiled, briefly. "Do you want me to lie to you, Miyu? Or are you demanding the truth?"

Miyu's answer was perfectly firm. "Tell me the truth, Larva. Just this once, tell me the real truth." Larva smiled again; but this time it was a deeply sorrowful smile, wrought heavily with torment and pain. "No." He said, calmly and quietly. "I am not happy. I have not been truly happy for a long, long time. I don't even remember what it feels like any more…"

Miyu shut her eyes tightly, trying to shut out the cold suffering she had seen in his eyes - trying to shut out the harsh bitterness in his voice. But after all, I was the one who asked for the truth. She nodded, trying to be as calm as he seemed to be. "Thank you. That's all I needed to know."

Larva turned silently, and together they walked down the empty street, disappearing into the night.

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Larva looked down at the sleeping form cradled in his arms, so deceptively fragile-looking and inhumanly lovely. Miyu stirred lightly, giving the faintest of uneasy sighs. Her hand twitched and Larva reached for it instinctively, holding onto it until she fell back into peaceful slumber. He couldn't help noticing the difference in their intertwined fingers: her hand, with its slender fingers and pale peach skin and his, claw-like and deathly white. Beauty and the beast, he thought wryly, although he knew he was far from beastly by human standards. But what was the point of being handsome if one was damned? What is beauty worth in hell? Miyu stirred again, her face suddenly darkening with the apparition of some unknown nightmare. Larva smoothed back her dark chocolate brown hair, knowing it was useless to try to comfort her while she was asleep; but still feeling as if he should at least try. For Miyu's sake, I would do anything, he realized, gazing at the sleeping Guardian. But why? It was not really out of affection, and not really out of duty. It wasn't even because he was forced to, as it used to be. Then out of what? Love? The word came unbidden and Larva easily discarded it. Ridiculous. The emotion had been long ago erased from his system: it was now just a shadow, a vague memory. Miyu was his responsibility, his one purpose in life. He would protect her until the very end - and beyond that too, if need be. Again, Miyu stirred: but this time her hand jerked forcefully and a faint, almost frightened moan escaped her parted lips. Larva watched her movements with his brow furrowed in worry. This seemed beyond the measure of everyday nightmares - it wasn't often that he saw Miyu express anything like fear or discomfort. He sighed, and the ivory mask covering his face stretched the sigh into a strange, hollow echo. Larva absently stroked the satin-smooth skin of Miyu's cheek, his gaze bent on the dark, spindly trees surrounding them. The entire sky was a deep crimson, looking as if it was oozing blood down the branches of the trees. Larva secretly disliked this place; but it was Miyu's so-called "home", and she was thoroughly attached to it. Larva just couldn't help feel depressed here - there were no scents, no sounds, no light… Night-time in Tokyo was so much more enjoyable, with its sharpened scents and ever-changing sounds. The times that he and Miyu spent the night roaming the city were the only times Larva ever felt truly alive.

Well, not truly alive. But almost.

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Miyu knew she was dreaming, but even in her dream she was afraid. A voice was taunting her from the darkness; a lilting, sly female voice, telling her the same things over and over… "Did you really think he would tell you he was happy? Why? Because of you?" The voice laughed shrilly, and the laugh reverberated in the darkness. "Honestly, Miyu, think a little. Once you die, he's free to go… And that's all he wants. He's just waiting for you to croak."

Miyu wanted to speak, to say something, but her voice was suddenly gone. A tall, cloaked figure stepped out of the darkness and surveyed her in cold amusement, shaking his head so that his blue hair shifted. "She's right, you know…" Larva said, smiling the cruelest smile Miyu had ever seen. It sent shivers down her spine. "I am just waiting for you to slip up and die. Do you really think I stay around because you want me to?" The dream-Larva walked away, laughing, and another form took his place. It was a young girl with a tall, willowy build, long dark hair and flinty emerald green eyes. Her ears were distinctively pointy, and her mouth held a confident, taunting smile. "I know you hate me right now, Miyu," she said apologetically, "but I'm really just doing this for your own good."

Miyu once again tried to speak, tried to tell the silly girl to go away - but her mouth, as well as her voice, had disappeared. "Oh no you don't," the girl warned her in a singsong voice, wagging her finger. "You have to listen to me. Do you know what I am, Miyu?" The girl paused for dramatic effect before saying, in a voice suddenly radiating with power, "I am a jinn. Not just any jinn, however - I am Auris, the jinn of lost dreams. I can show you a world where you are nothing but a happy teenager living a perfectly ordinary mortal life…" Auris walked slowly towards her, her emerald eyes slowly mesmerizing her. "That's what you want, isn't it?" The jinn whispered, this time in a perfectly sincere, sympathetic voice. "You want to live."

Miyu suddenly found her voice again, but she wasn't sure on what to say. A deep sorrowful ache filled her, and she was almost on the verge of tears. "All you have to do is agree," Auris said kindly, "and I can give it to you. I can give you the life you've always dreamed of… Temporarily, of course. Then you can decide whether or not to keep it." Auris spread her hands generously. "No catch, no nothing. You have given the eternal dream to so many people - just let me give it to you. Don't you want to taste mortality one last time?"

Auris could tell Miyu was breaking down, but she needed one last push. She waved her arm and a part of the nearby darkness transformed into what looked like a large window. "Here, come and I'll show you," she said, gesturing for Miyu to come closer. Miyu hesitated but finally came and stood beside the jinn, both of them watching the window like a giant television screen. The window flickered and the image of two happy people appeared; one was a woman very similar to Miyu, the other was a handsome man with a comfortable, relaxed smile and a twinkle in his eyes. "Those are your parents. Your mother is a history teacher - although she's also an excellent cook - and your father owns his own computer software company…"

Auris commented on every image, while Miyu fixed her eyes on the screen, transfixed by what she saw. "That's your school… your best friends - you have five in total, and you've all known each other your whole lives… Your current boyfriend - incredibly enough, he's an incredible athlete and finds time to study; he's also very cute, I might add… That's your home, and the local high school…"

Finally, after flashing many more images, the window went blank and Auris turned to Miyu. "Well? What's it going to be? This is a once in a lifetime offer, Miyu - take it or leave it…" Miyu was about to agree, but then she was suddenly reminded of something. "But what about Larva?" She asked doubtfully. "What'll happen to him?"

Auris shrugged. "I'll visit him, too, if you like. I'll explain everything - and maybe even give him back his lost dream." She paused. "Well? Do you agree or not?"

Miyu hesitated, closed her eyes, took a deep breath… And nodded. "Yes. I agree."

Auris smiled, her eyes glittering. "Excellent… And don't worry," she added, smiling wider, "you won't regret it."

"Yet."

~ ¤ ~

Larva hadn't intended to fall asleep - he hadn't even been tired - but somehow or other, he found himself in the vast darkness of unconsciousness. Only this time, he wasn't alone.

She stood somewhere in front of his dream-self, right where he could see her. He tried to say something, or move - but his body refused to respond, and his voice was suddenly gone. Miyu smiled and, suddenly, it wasn't Miyu any more. It was a girl he had never seen before - tall and very slender, with peaked ears and dark hair that almost reached her ankles. She was shaking her head in mock amusement, her emerald eyes glittering. "Really, I don't understand it. She has to spend the rest of eternity with you, and she calls herself damned." The girl smiled mischievously. "Personally, I wouldn't mind being damned if I had you for company."

Larva didn't glare, exactly - he never glared - but his crimson eyes still managed to convey his emotions clearly, smoldering with pure anger and boring a searing hole through the girl's smirk. Larva never needed words to be intimidating. The girl looked startled and then relaxed, shrugging. "Okay, hate me if you want to. But it would be a waste of energy. Especially since I'm about to do you an enormous favor." She smiled again, this time with renewed confidence. "In case you didn't notice, I'm not exactly human. I just happen to be a genie - although I prefer the term "jinn"."

If she expected Larva to seem impressed, she was seriously disappointed. The look on his face clearly said "So what?". The jinn, however, just raised an eyebrow and shrugged casually. "Miyu was a lot more friendly to me, you know. But maybe it's just a girl thing." Now it was Larva's turn to arch an eyebrow. Miyu? What does Miyu have to do with this? He wondered, eyeing the jinn suspiciously. He realized that this was no ordinary dream - the annoying jinn-girl was somehow manipulating what happened in his unconsciousness.

"That's right - I paid your companion a visit a few hours ago. Oh, don't worry," she said hastily, seeing Larva's eyes starting to narrow dangerously, "she's just fine." When Larva was obviously not convinced, the jinn swept her arm sideways and a giant window appeared nearby. "Want me to prove it to you?" She gestured for him to look into the window and Larva suddenly saw a familiar figure - Miyu - walking down a sunlit corridor with a group of young girls, all chatting gaily. The "window" zoomed in on Miyu's face, and Larva saw - for the first time ever - her golden eyes shining with laughter, and a free and easy look on her face. He was still suspicious, but a sudden pang of strong emotion got rid of the suspicion and replaced it with… with… what? Sadness? Envy?

The jinn was watching him, a pitying expression on her face. "She wanted to experience life the way mortal girls do. She's happy now, Larva. She has parents, a pet, friends… and even a boyfriend." The jinn let the last word hang in the air significantly. Larva ignored her, still watching the screen. His face was completely blank and expressionless, even when a young boy joined the group of girls and put his arm around Miyu's shoulders. Miyu didn't even seem to mind - she just gave him a smile of pure, simple affection, her face lighting up. One of the girls smiled slyly and said something Larva couldn't hear; but he clearly saw Miyu blushing, much to the boy's evident amusement.

"This isn't what's happening right now," the jinn explained carefully, "but it will come to pass within a day or two."

The jinn's earlier words echoed in his mind - "She's happy now, Larva… She wanted to experience life…" But Miyu was the Guardian. What would happen now to all the stray Shinma, and the mortals who just happened to stray into their paths? The jinn seemed to have read his mind, because she shook her head impatiently. "Don't you get it? If Miyu's in an alternate reality, her place in this reality is temporarily frozen. The rest of the world moves on, but Tokyo is frozen in time until you return." The jinn looked incredibly pleased with herself. "It took a lot of magic to fix that up, I can tell you." She smiled and, seeing Larva still transfixed to the window, waved it away just in time to see the boy and Miyu walk off somewhere, arm in arm. When the window melted away, Larva reluctantly turned back to the jinn. He still couldn't speak - probably thanks to the jinn - but it was evident what he was thinking: Now what?

"As a jinn, I'm supposed to grant wishes. But since I'm the jinn of lost dreams, I don't really do that. I just give people the chance to experience whatever they most desire - their one lost dream. Only for about a week, though. Then they choose whether or not to stay in the dream-reality." Larva found this extremely hard to believe, but he was interested in spite of himself.

"What do you want more than anything?" The jinn girl asked, tilting her head. Larva suddenly realized that she had given him his voice back, but he didn't really feel like answering. If she really could read his mind, she'd know anyway. The jinn pretended to think. "Hm… Most people want money, or power… Or just someone to love. But your wish goes deeper than that, doesn't it?" She turned her eyes upwards thoughtfully, still pretending to think. "Obviously, you don't want immortal youth… Or beauty… You've got plenty of that already," she added, grinning. "Oh, I give up!" The jinn-girl threw up her hands in mock surrender. "You have to tell me what you want, or else I can't give it to you. Go on, just say it. What is your lost dream?"

Larva still wasn't going to say it, although he knew perfectly well what it was. The one thing he wanted above all others… His one greatest wish - the only thing that could make him happy…

The jinn-girl was the one who finally broke the silence - she was the one who finally said it out loud, what he had been thinking all along.

"Freedom," she said, in a quiet whisper that somehow managed to sound incredibly sharp and clear. "It's all you want - all you've ever wanted. Freedom." She raised her arms and spun around, as if she had suddenly transformed into a tall, dancing butterfly. Her silk clothing spun in many shades of blue and purple and green, spangled with gold. She kept spinning, and suddenly everything seemed to explode with color and joy and song. "There's so much of the world to see," the jinn-girl shouted joyously, breathlessly, still whirling in a cloud of color, "and you haven't seen any of it yet! To breathe, to live, to do whatever you want to whenever you want to - that is what freedom is!" She suddenly stopped spinning and laughed. "And I can give it to you. All you have to do is want it!"

Her eyes were sparkling, and all of Larva's suspicions suddenly vanished. He did want it - he wanted it so badly that a strong ache seized him, sudden and acute. "All you have to is agree," the jinn said, "and it's yours. Go on, just say yes. It can't hurt you."

Larva was about to agree - but for the one last, lingering doubt still hung in his mind. He shook his head slowly, sadly. "Happiness is only for the living," he whispered, suddenly reminded of what he really was.

"If happiness is for the living, then why don't you live? Who says the undead can't have some fun now and then?" The jinn-girl said it so lightly that Larva couldn't help cracking the tiniest of smiles. The jinn clutched her forehead dramatically and pretended to faint. "Is that a smile I see? Wow, the ice man is finally starting to thaw out!" Then she straightened up, looking serious. "Does that mean you agree?"

Larva nodded. "Yes. I agree."

Auris smiled widely and spread her arms. "One life of freedom, coming up!"

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