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"It's nice," Rei said grudgingly. "You've done a lot to make it more cheerful."

Miku could tell what she was really thinking: the apartment was too small and cramped, gloomy in winter and too hot in summer. The landlord was probably negligent and unreliable. And what had Miku been thinking anyway, moving to this place in the middle of nowhere when she could have stayed with Rei?

"It's not as nice as your house," she acknowledged. "I still miss living there, you know. But I couldn't keep relying on you for everything. I had to try being independent."

Rei made a noncommittal sound and wandered over to look at Miku's shelves, her books about photography. "Do you still bother with any of this?"

"Sometimes," Miku said, then sighed and shook her head. "Not as much as I'd like. I was going to make a scrapbook for Miu, but I never seem to have the time."

Rei wandered back to the table for a sip of her tea, then over to the small window, though the view was half-obscured by trees and not that interesting to begin with. She seemed restless, as if she wanted to leave. Or thought Miku wanted her to.

"I just wish there was more I could do to help you," she said finally, folding her arms. "I wish you'd let me do more. I know it's not what you want, but Yuu and I were supposed to make sure you were okay."

"You never promised. You never even met - "

"I don't have to make a promise to feel responsible!" Rei protested, then shook her head, waving away the rest of the conversation before it could happen. "I don't want to make you feel reliant. I understand. Why do you think I moved in with Yuu so fast? My parents would have let me live at home as long as I liked, but I wanted my own life."

She came back to the table and dropped into her seat, picking up her teacup. "Honestly, I think I relied on you more than the other way around," she said with a smile that only seemed a little forced. "My new assistant has nothing on you."

Miku smiled back, relieved at the break in tension. "I am sorry you had to find a replacement at such short notice. And I'm sorry you had to move out of the house, too."

Rei shrugged, feigning nonchalance. "I wouldn't have wanted to live there much longer anyway," she admitted. "It was always supposed to be our house, me and Yuu. If you'd stayed, I might have made it work, but I think there were too many memories there. I needed a clean start as well. I just wish..."

What she wished, Miku never found out, because at that moment a piercing wail sounded from the bedroom. Rei lifted her head. "Is that her?" she said, as if Miku might have several babies stashed around the apartment in various closets and drawers.

Miku nodded. She could feel herself smiling, wider than she had all day. "Wait a minute while I see what she's crying about. Then I'll bring her out so you can meet her."

She came back a few minutes later, and it was all worth it, to see Rei's face light up when she saw Miu. Miku drew out her chair so she could sit with Miu on her lap, and Miu and Rei gazed at each other with equal interest.

"She takes a little while to get used to new people," Miku said, "or I'd let you hold her now."

"Oh, don't," Rei said in alarm. "I'd drop her, or - hurt her, or something."

"No, you wouldn't."

Miu leaned forward and made a grabbing motion towards Rei. Rei, with a doubtful look at Miku, held out her hand and let Miu seize hold of her finger. Miu grew still, and although Miku couldn't see her face from behind, she knew the solemn way Miu had of looking at people, as if someone much older and wiser was behind her eyes, figuring everything out. She wondered what Miu saw in Rei, and if it was different from the things Miku herself had seen. Did she see the horrors of the Manor of Sleep, or the burden of grief Rei still carried for Yuu, and if so, did she understand them? Would the second-hand memories follow her into her childhood, or vanish like all the dreams of infancy?

"I want to ask you something," Miku said softly. "Not for me, for her."

Rei looked up at her, eyes troubled. "What is it?"

So Miku told her. When she was finished, Rei looked even more concerned, not less, but she agreed.

They talked about other things after that. About Kei, about Rei's new assistant; about the friends Miku was making in her new home, and her hopes for the future. Sometimes the conversation drifted towards the past, but one or other of them would always steer it away again. There were things in the past that lay behind a curtain, and neither of them felt comfortable drawing it aside now.

After a while, it was time to feed Miu and start on her own dinner, and Rei said she should probably get going anyway, since it was a long drive back. At the door she gave Miku a quick, fierce hug, and whispered, "I really do miss you, you know."

Miku didn't answer, but only because she didn't trust her voice. But it was better, she told herself, as she shut the door and put on the chain-lock, and listened to Rei's footsteps receding down the passage. It was better this way. She'd made the right choice.

"Don't worry," she whispered, picking Miu up and carrying her over to the kitchen space. "She'll be back again soon. She promised she'd come back and see you." She said it several times, rocking Miu in her arms, reassuring them both.

The sunlight only fell into Hisoka's courtyard garden for a short time every day. For the little while she'd lingered, Miku had liked to sit there on the step, face upturned, with her eyes closed and a smile playing about her lips. Now she was gone, and Miu didn't care much for the light shining in her eyes, but for that half an hour she always made sure to sit there, trying to feel closer to her mother.

No one had said anything about her going home yet. She'd spoken briefly to Sachi on the phone, but it had been understood she'd be staying here for a while. She supposed pretty soon she'd have to clear out of Hisoka's shop and go back to her normal life, but as long as they let her stay, she'd make the most of it.

It was in that half an hour, when the sun was high enough to look down over the rooftops, that Hisoka came through and said someone was there asking for Miu. She assumed it was Sachi, or maybe someone from the modelling company, but instead Hisoka brought forward a woman she'd never seen before.

"Hi," the woman said self-consciously. "I'm Rei. You won't remember me, but I was a friend of your mother's."

Miu wasn't sure how to answer that. After a moment, Rei said, "Mind if I sit with you?"

"Sure," Miu said with a shrug, because she couldn't exactly ask someone to go away and wait for half an hour while she sat in the garden doing nothing.

Rei stepped forward and lowered herself onto the warm boards, looking around the garden, at the well, the ferns, the green moss. "This is nice," she said, which Miu thought was a pretty inane thing to say.

"You said you knew my mother," she said flatly.

"Right. Yes. I heard she'd - Hisoka said she was gone. I'm sorry."

Miu said nothing again. To this woman, her mother had been dead for years. It wasn't the same grief for the two of them. They had nothing in common.

"I always wished I could have gotten to know you," Rei said, twisting the strap of the bag she was holding. "But you had a life of your own, with a family I didn't know, and I... I wasn't sure you'd want some stranger hanging around, talking about things you don't even remember. Miku said she didn't want to dwell on the past. She didn't want that for you."

The water in the basin rippled, sending waves of light up the opposite wall. Somewhere a magpie chattered. You could just hear the sounds of people in the street at the front of the house.

"But she did ask me to do one thing," Rei said, twisting the strap of the bag so hard her fingers turned white. "I'm a photographer, and she asked me to make this kind of..." Abruptly she lowered her head and reached into the bag, drawing out a big book with a decorative pattern on the cover. "It's like a scrapbook, or a memory book, so you'd know more about your early life, if you wanted to."

She held out the book. Miu took it, a little reluctant. It filled her head with a clamour she didn't want to dig into with a stranger watching.

"Well," Rei said, with forced heartiness, "that's what I wanted to give you. I'm going to go and talk to Hisoka for a bit - I'll be in the front, if you want to..." She gestured vaguely, and a moment later Miu was alone with the book.

She didn't want to open it. Chasing after her mother's shadow had never gotten her anywhere good, and she was afraid to find something that might spoil her memory of the time they'd had together. But curiosity won out, and she opened the book with a quick gesture, as if to intimidate it into showing her something good.

It must have worked. In the photograph, her mother stood by a window looking out, sunlight and leaf-shadows falling over her face. They gave her a dappled, faded look. She held a baby Miu in her arms; Miu had reached out to press a hand to the glass, and Miku had her face close to the top of Miu's head, gazing in the same direction. One fingertip was lightly touching the spot just beside Miu's hand, as if pointing to something only they could see. The feeling of the picture was warm, and safe, and somehow truer than any of the things that lingering echo of her mother had said in the last few days, thinking they were what Miu wanted to hear.

She turned more pages. Pictures of herself and her mother in a small apartment, walking in a park, visiting a shrine for the Shichi-Go-San festival - Miu almost remembered that one, a vague memory of crowds she couldn't see past, a bulky kimono she kept trying to wriggle out of. There were notes stuck onto some of the pages, folded into neat little origami envelopes, but she didn't read them just yet. She just looked at the pictures, drinking in the images of a time she could barely recall.

She reached the end just as the sun was disappearing behind the rooftop. She closed her eyes and tilted her head back, drinking in the vanishing warmth.

It was supposed to be an album about her and her mother, and it meant a lot to her. But there was a third person in it, out of sight, and the photographer's feeling's were printed across it as clearly as the images that could be seen by ordinary people.

Miku had thought she was alone, that only one person could ever truly understand her, and that thought had driven her into the darkness.

Miu wasn't going to make the same mistake.

Hugging the scrapbook to her chest, she got up and went back inside, hoping Rei would still be there.