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for you, i'd rewrite the universe

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"As small as a world and as large as alone. For whatever we lose (like a you or a me) it’s always ourselves we find in the sea."

— E.E. Cummings

          DAY 1

The first thing Sara notices about the place is that it is completely white. Eerily white. From the walls to the floor and the furniture around her, white. Staring at it now as she sits in front of a glass barrier, as if some sort of suspected criminal, she wonders if the white will eventually dull, staining with time so that it no longer shines as brilliantly. As it is now, her eyes feel blinded by the colour. She can feel herself getting sick of it by the minute, the thick, unignorable feeling of regret beginning to simmer in the depths of her mind. What this was was an escape, not a refuge, after all. The brightness of the room is a far cry from the darkness of that night, the sound of a gun, the image of a man lying on the ground, the incessant ringing in her ears even as she ran far, far away from it all until her legs shook and fell to the ground, mind numb and chest closing in.

She breathes. In and out. Behind closed eyelids, the white of the room doesn't show so she stays like that as she empties out the memory. Slowly, calmly, she reminds herself that she is no longer there. That here, things could get better; that here all she needs to do is breathe, breathe, breathe. It’s the same routine she knows very well, she’ll get over it soon.

The sound of a metal door rings into the almost empty room and at the other side of the glass barrier walks in a woman with green hair. Her glasses perch low on her rather large round eyes, inquiring and analysing. She approaches Sara with a sort of dignity she'll never be able to see in herself that contrasts with the way she fidgets with her white coat. In one hand, holds a red leather notebook. She sits down and begins to speak.

"Hi, I'm Sucrose. I'm the head of this program. I'd just like to run some things by you and reiterate the plans we stated on the flyer, is that alright?"

Her voice is quite timid although she holds herself with pride, chin up, back straight. Without looking, she opens the leather notebook and uncaps the pen clipped onto it. 

Sara nods as an answer.

Sucrose bites the side of her lip, "Good. Well, this is Operation: Artificial Soulmates. Our goal is to form a soulmate bond between two Unfated specimens through constant and concentrated proximity. That being said, while our team will work towards that goal to the best of our abilities, this does not guarantee a cure to your Soulmate Link Deficiency. This program is simply research towards what could be a cure. Do you understand this?"

Sucrose has her head tilted towards Sara, an eyebrow raised to encourage her to speak so she says, "Yes."

It's a quiet, half-hearted affirmation but it is the most she can bring herself to say.

"Alright," Sucrose grins, "Your part in this program is to be our test subject. To check the progress for this program, your vitals will be closely monitored and will be linked to a device we've called a Bond Meter. This Bond Meter will monitor how closely yours and your partner's bodies are acting like a regular Soulmate link. You will also have bi-monthly physical examinations to ensure the quality of our work. This program will last for a year and you will be able to make any demands to make your stay more comfortable. Do you have any further questions?"

Sara folds her arms into herself. "Who is my… partner?" She wasn't sure what to call it.

"Her name is Sangonomiya Kokomi. Aged twenty-three. Diagnosed with Soulmate Link Deficiency just like you. She came earlier today and has already been briefed. You'll meet her once this is over."

She isn't sure why she asked. It was strange to think that someone else had come into this bizarre program expecting to come out with a soulmate. The heavy expectation that came with it burdened Sara all of the sudden, an anxious feeling rising in her chest just at the thought of meeting this girl. 

It wasn't as though she didn't believe any of this was possible. It could very well happen. They could be the one in a million chance. The outlier. But Sara's lived all her life being on the other side of luck, that she's learned not to take her chances. Not even for a second will she get her hopes up.

"Do you really think this is all possible?" she asks, voice small like a meek child. The glass barrier stood as a physical reminder of her and Sucrose's differences. If anyone was gonna be able to come out of this unscathed, it was Sucrose. She had to know that.

The scientist bites her lip, evening out her notebook and putting down the pen. She looks at Sara, making sure their eyes are meeting. With how small her stature appeared to be, she seemed a lot bigger than she was.

"I understand that the odds are stacked against you, Sara. If I were in your shoes, I would not feel very hopeful either."

It felt kind of a kick to the shin to hear someone think for Sara. They would never understand, as cliché as that sounds, what the Unfated feels. Not when they have marks on their skin, not when they're whole and don't have a black hole inside of them, taking in everything in its wake and leaving nothing behind. It was patronizing to even imagine what it was like for her. 

"But that very hope is vital to the success of this program. You must believe that it will happen, even with the slimmest of chances."

Sara exhales in disbelief. "Really? Because it sounds like it'll take a miracle for that to happen."

"Then I will make that miracle happen. We both will."

She says it with a sort of conviction that is hard to ignore, the determination in her eyes too blinding to look away from. It felt like a gravitational pull, getting sucked in by her resolve and when Sara looked around, she had nothing to hold onto.

So she lets go.

"Okay," she says, nodding. She pushes the nagging feeling of uncertainty in her chest until it disappears, no doubt to resurface once again at another time. 

When she steps into the room where she'd be staying in for a year, she sees two beds at opposite sides of the room.

At one side, it is mostly empty; two pillows and a blanket, modest and basic. On the other, sits a girl with long pink hair. She had her blue eyes focused on a book she held with two hands. Beside her is a stack of more books precariously sitting on the bed. It is the only inconsistency, the only colour in an otherwise barrenly white room.

When she looks up their eyes meet. Sara's breath hitches.

"Hello," the girl greeted. "You must be Kujou Sara."

She holds a certain magical air. Even as she stares at her, her eyes look like they are somewhere else, closed off, away from this world. It feels separating, like she's being pushed away before she even asks to get in. 

Sara walks into the room mechanically, taking her seat on the other bed and awkwardly leaning against the edge to talk to the other girl. She had no idea how to respond.

Hi, I'm Sara. I'm supposed to be your soulmate.

"Yes," she says instead, "T-That's me."

Kokomi simply smiles at her, nodding as she continues to read her book, leaving Sara alone to settle down.

The bed creaks under her when she sets her weight on it, making her subconscious of the sounds she was making in the otherwise silent room. Kokomi barely made any noise save for the sound of pages turning. She sits down on her bed, glances back to Kokomi on the other side and traces the space in between them. They quite a ways away considering this whole program needed them to be at close proximity. Was it just courtesy?

"Hey," she calls, the hair at the back of her neck standing as Kokomi sets her attention towards her again. "Do you want to push the beds together?"

Instead of a response, Kokomi laughs at her and it makes Sara laugh, too. She goes back to reading her book, silent once again. Suddenly the space between their beds feels a lot more distant than it really is.

          DAY 17

A loud bang sounds into the room followed by a ringing in her ears. Sara's sight is compromised but is still functional and it shows the dark expanse of a hallway lit only by the moon miles away from them. It gives it an ominous glow, harrowing and foreboding. Sara can't feel her legs but she knows they are shaking, her entire body is shaking, terrified of what she had done.

Oh god, what had she done?

For minutes she stood frozen in her spot, hands still clasped together as she held the gun in her hand, mind numb. The silence that came after was eerie and paralyzing. Sara could only stare at the floor below her as it began to turn red, blood pooling as it oozed out of the body that lay still on the floor, pale and lifeless.

This was her doing. Even as she staggered back when she regained consciousness, brain screaming at her to deny, deny, deny, she could not bring herself to do it. Not when the evidence was lying right in front of her.

Even in her head, the memory was clear. It started with the sound of a door shooting open, loud footsteps accompanied with an even louder voice approaching Sara in her room. She didn't think much of it at the time, but she grabbed a gun her father left at the house, hiding it behind her back as her father stormed into the room, eyes red, chest heaving, face flushed. She was obviously smaller than the man but that night she was cowering under him, the difference between their strength far too large, far too unnerving to be able to brush it off like she usually did. He continued to shout at her about something Sara can't even remember, most of the memory repressed as an attempt to bounce back from it. Yet, it still haunts her in her sleep, still chills her to the bone every time someone so much as raises their voice at her. 

She wakes up with a sharp inhale, relieved to see the view of the facility in front of her as she focuses on her breathing. Her heart beating loudly in her ears reminiscent of the ringing she heard that night, so she attempts to drown it out. Breathe, respress the memory yet again until it inevitably finds its way to the forefront of her brain like it so often did. Sara thinks that she'll never truly get rid of it, like a curse she casted upon herself, she'd hold its weight for all of eternity. It is her punishment, her penalty for the sin she commited that night. 

It is definitely still nighttime, although how far into it, she wasn't sure. The lights automatically turned off when it was time to sleep and it was almost pitch black inside the room. Sara leans back into the white sheets, clutching a hand against her heart as, slowly, her breathing steadied. She’s quite used to nursing herself back to being okay on nights like this. Nights were mostly like this. 

She closes her eyes (inhale), sees the image of her father shouting at her in one second and lying bloodied up on the floor in the next, sees herself screaming in horror as she dropped the gun, the only response in her mind to run, run far away and hide, and opens them (exhale).

Her breathing goes back to normal, her heart no longer beating in her ears, so she sits up to fix her pillows, preparing herself to go back to sleep, if she could.

"Are you alright now?"

The voice comes from the other side of the room, timid and inquiring. Kokomi is sitting on her bed with a book in her hand using a small lamp next to her as a light. In the weeks Sara's spent with her, she learned that Kokomi definitely made use of the "any demands you have, the facility will provide" rule with any and all things, including books and any small miscellaneous trinkets Sara's not sure what its use was. Whatever the case, Kokomi's side of the room was steadily becoming more and more filled whilst Sara's felt more and more cramped. That was only partially Kokomi's fault, though. It was hard to feel at home when the person who shared that home barely talked to her.

Still, she’s talking to her now, despite the unruly circumstances. Sara hadn't anticipated that she'd be sharing rooms with the other person in the program but that was more of a miscalculation on her part more than anything. The thing is, she's not sure how to deal with it.

"I—um," she stutters, voice still laiden with sleep. "Yeah. I guess so."

Kokomi briefly sets her book down and says, "That's… good."

Robotically, Sara pulls the covers closer to her.

"I think I'm gonna try to get some more sleep."

Kokomi doesn't respond, only fidgets with her book, unsure whether to keep it on her lap or on her bed.

"Well, good night then," Sara says, already about to face the other way when Kokomi interrupts.

"Was that the first time you've woken yourself up from a nightmare?" 

Sara freezes in place, turns her head to Kokomi and blinks. 

"A nightmare?" she asks in lieu of a response.

Panic begins to fill Kokomi's eyes. "Oh, I don't mean to pry, it's just—That happens a lot. You—you talk in your sleep and fidget around but you never wake. I admit I'm a bit… concerned."

Sara puts down the covers and faces Kokomi. "I—"

The words don't exactly come out easily. For one, she's a bit tired. It's late and neither of them should really be awake right now, a conversation like this would've been best done when the sun was up. But it's the most Kokomi has spoken to her since they came to the facility, so she tries.

"No, I've—I've woken up before. I'm kind of… used to it? As you've said, it happens often but I guess some days it hits hard enough that I have to shake myself out of it."

Kokomi hums, taking in the information slowly. Sara's not sure how much she knows. Kokomi told her she talks in her sleep but the exact words, she doesn't know. 

"Is it hard going back to sleep then? Aren't you scared?"

She's not sure why she's suddenly interested in Sara with how she's practically been ignoring her these past few weeks. But her tone is kind, not demeaning. Kokomi has this sort of dreamlike air that makes it hard to imagine that she'd ever do anything deceitful. Granted, Sara didn't know her too well. But, really, she did not have much left to lose.

"I always am," she admits. The darkness of the room helps to dilute the shame she felt.

On the other side of the room, Kokomi moves to grab a different book. It was thinner this time, probably not more than thirty pages. She opens it up to the first page and asks, "Do you want me to read to you?"

Sara's eyebrows shoot open in surprise, not sure what to make of the question. Kokomi looks quite eager, leaning forward and inching closer to the edge of her bed to close the distance between them as much as possible. 

"My… mother used to do it for me as a child. It could help? Only if you want, of course."

Sara looks up at Kokoki then, tilting her head as she stares back. It was the first time she let herself look at the other girl, truly look at her, no holds barred. She was, indeed, quite beautiful. Even as her hair fell haphazardly at her shoulders, face tired, clothes wrinkled. Kokomi felt especially far away from her even as she sat not three meters away from her. It dawned on her that this was a girl she did not know anything about. Only that her name was Kokomi and that they were both here to become each other's soulmates.

A fellow Unfated extending a hand of kindness, of comfort, if only for a brief second, just before she sleeps. The feeling was strange, exponentially different to the pity people on the street gave her when they did not see marks on her skin. It did not feel as patronizing or condescending. It felt genuine and warm, unfamiliar yet welcome. It felt good.

"Okay," she says simply, keeping her thoughts to herself. There was no need to become so sentimental. They barely knew each other, after all.

Even as a stranger, Kokomi's voice was able to lull her back to sleep, a timbre so sweet and delicate, she could only fall into it. This time, there were no nightmares.

          DAY 45

Things don't unfold as easily as Sara thought they would. Getting used to living in the facility is a slow build, difficult to grasp any sense of familiarity when there is nothing here to keep her on the ground. It is just as she expected, if she were being honest. Even when she first saw the flyer to this program that one unbearably slow sunset and decided that she would volunteer, she didn't think much of it. She would gain a place to stay after months of hiding and running away. She'd be given a bed to sleep in and food to eat. That was all she was after, not the miracle Sucrose promised her. Even after weeks of staying here, there were no starstruck looks, no skipping heartbeats, no fireworks. It was predictably mundane and for Sara, that was okay.

Kokomi is kind but closed-off, opting to stay to herself and spend the days scouring through the towers of books she asks for daily. Sara very rarely catches her look her way, completely unattached to the present and somewhere off by herself. And Sara didn't mind. Not at all. Joining the program was a means to survive for her, but to Kokomi it seemed more like a chore. Like a nuisance. Like she was stripped of everything she held close and then locked away at the bottom of a dark pit, nowhere to run away to, no one to run away from. But she is too kind to say anything to Sara, choosing to let her down slowly, delicately. Any effort Sara did to become at least a little bit more familiar with each other, shunned away with a distant smile. It was obvious that there was no getting through to her.

This fact was easy to accept for Sara. The Unfated knows very well to never have high expectations lest they fall very, very disappointed. This was no different to any other situation in her life.

For Sucrose, on the other hand, it was frustrating.

They were in the middle of their physical examinations when Sucrose looked down at her with a scowl, scribbling something in her leather notebook. Even with the glass in between them, the stare is intimidating, guilt-inducing. It makes Sara squirm, looking up at Sucrose but not seeing her, instead seeing the face of the man who had looked at her the same way her entire life, with disappointment and dismay. Her hands subconsciously fall to her back and it feels like she's doused in cold water when she realises there's no gun to grab.

"I understand that there can be difficulty in getting along with each other, but it does not help that neither of you are putting in the effort to do so." 

There is contempt in her voice even as she attempts to cover it up with a smooth, calm timbre. Sara's used to spotting even the slightest bit of anger. Sucrose's tells were quite similar to her father's; the tapping of her feet, her crossed arms. It was hard not to see the parallels even as she tried so desperately to forget all of them.

"I'm sorry," she settles, back to her old habit. There was nothing else she thought of to say.

Sucrose shakes her head and all Sara can see is her father doing the same thing.

"It's alright. I expected it wouldn't be too easy but—it's been a month, more than a month, and your bond meter is stagnant. If there is no progress in the next week or so, we might have to discuss terminating the entire program."

At that, Sara sits up, her heart sinking in her chest. 

"No," she says, "That can't happen. I don't want to—," go back there, she wants to say, but the words don't fall out of her mouth. Even here, everything reminds her of that night, she can't escape it, but going back, running away from everything again, she can't do it. Not anymore lest her body completely self-destruct.

"I'll admit that it's been difficult to convince certain members of the team to fully go through with this program especially with such odds. Your cooperation is vital for us to continue doing our research, Sara. I hope you understand this."

Sara looks up, "I'll—I'll do better. I promise."

Sucrose flips her notebook to another page and rips it out, handing the paper to Sara through a small hole in the glass.

"These are a set of questions that might help both of you get to know each other better. I expect things to change soon, alright?"

When Sara retreats back into the room, she finds Kokomi eating cereal on their dining table, one hand holding a small book. She hesitates for a second when she approaches Kokomi. She always seemed so far off, the distance between them seemed especially difficult to traverse through. 

But she had to do something. Her survival depends on it. 

Sara coughs as she approaches the table quietly, gaining Kokomi's attention easily as she pulls out a chair and sits down. Kokomi actually sets her book down.

"How was the examination?" she asks, polite as always.

Sara bites her lip as she sets down the piece of paper in between them, not exactly offering it to Kokomi but hinting at it.

"Fine," she answers, "You?"

Kokomi shrugs,  "Well enough, I guess."

That was probably a lie. Sucrose probably said the same stuff to Kokomi about the Bond Meter. What was strange was that she seemed completely unbothered by it.

"Sucrose says we should do better," she starts, hands fidgeting towards the piece of paper. "That we could stand to be a bit more… open?"

She isn’t sure exactly what to say. She didn't even know if Kokomi even wanted to put in the effort considering she hasn't done anything to say otherwise. Convincing her to do it seemed impossible.

"Really?" Kokomi asks, "What'd she suggest we do then?"

It was the perfect opportunity to present the piece of paper, so she did. It was almost as if Kokomi read her mind. 

"It's a little exercise," Sara explains as Kokomi takes the paper, "We could take turns in asking questions?"

Kokomi raises an eyebrow as she reads through the paper. "Will it work?"

Sara shrugs, leaning on the table as she says, "It wouldn't hurt to try."

Kokomi looks up at her with a discerning stare, hands still gripping onto the piece of paper, mulling it over carefully. Eventually, she lets go.

"Good point," she says. "You first."

Kokomi hands the paper over to Sara, the sound of it shuffling the only noise to fill the room. When she grabs it she reads the first question she sets her eyes on.

"What is your most treasured memory?"

Kokomi looks up to think, face morphing into a smile when she recalls an answer.

"My mother reading me The Little Mermaid," she responds, "I was convinced that I'd grow a tail and move into the sea."

It’s the second time Kokomi ever mentioned her mother. She was probably another part of the perfect life that was taken away from her. She can almost imagine the melancholy of remembering her in her chest. Kokomi was smiling but she looked rather sad.

"My turn," she says, forgoing any further explanation, and grabs the paper from Sara's hand. "Is there something that you’ve dreamed of doing for a long time? Why haven’t you done it?"

Sara wants to tell her that it's cheating that she gets to ask two questions but she lets it slide. She thinks up an answer, not wanting to dwell on it too deeply lest she remember something she'd rather not (she always ended up remembering anyway).

"I've always wanted to go on a road trip to see the countryside. Living in the city makes you wonder what it's like there," she says, picturing the vast blue sky. "I might just stay there for a few days."

Kokomi leans forward, "And why haven't you done it?"

Flashes of a man locking the door, the view of a car driving away from the upstairs window, the sound of footsteps coming back in the late hours of the night come into her mind.

"Never had the time," she lies as she breathes. If Kokomi wanted to keep to herself, Sara won't open up, either.

When Kokomi hands her the paper again, she scans the rest of the text to find a question. The entire conversation is stilted and awkward, but it's happening and for now, it'll be enough. Little by little, it'll happen if it'll happen at all.

She closes in on a sentence, looks up at Kokomi and asks, "If you could change anything about the way you were raised, what would it be?"

It's a risky question, one that is borderline intrusive. Considering how distant Kokomi's been with her, it wouldn't be surprising if she simply refused to answer. But she wants to test her limits, wants to see how far she could push until Kokomi pushed back, shattering her calm facade. It was playing dirty, but it wasn't like the Unfated dealt with anything less.

Kokomi sucks in a breath and shakes her head. "You know what, this is a bad idea."

And then she's off, retreating back to her bed and burying herself in her books, not once looking back at Sara who gaped at the sight of her leaving. There was no push, no bite back, instead she pulled away, withdrew from the shock and sheltered herself away as defense. It seemed like it was all she knew to do.

Sara goes back to her side of the room, folding the piece of paper that held the questions and stares at Kokomi's back as she contemplates what to do with it. From here, she was not sure what kind of face Kokomi was making, but she could make out the slightest quiver in her shoulders, the faintest sound of a sharp inhale.

Sara hid the paper beneath her pillow. Perhaps she'd save for another day.

          DAY 67

It was the sound of hurried footsteps that woke her up that morning.

She blinks the sleep out of her eyes as she sits up, groggily stretching her back as she turns towards the other side of the room. What she's gotten used to seeing was Kokomi already awake, head in a book or maybe even holding a snack. But what she saw that day was a group of people frantically tending to the girl on the bed. She looks almost lifeless, skin pale, eyes closed, no sign of her chest rising and falling. She knows the image far too well that when she plants her feet on the ground to cross to the other side of the room, she freezes in shock, her own breathing compromised. She could only watch as the doctors transported Kokomi onto another bed, hurriedly wheeling her away before Sara could even reach out to stop them.


The familiar image of Sucrose comes into view but her vision is blurring, chest heaving as she struggles to breathe. She sees blood on the floor again, the sound of a gunshot, the ringing in her ear. They intrude her mind like an unwanted guest, protruding and pompous. She tries to block them out again. Why here, why now?

"Sara," Sucrose calls again.

She doesn’t see how it happens, but the scientist ends up on the floor, crouching in front of her to be at eye-level. She speaks but the words go in and out of Sara's ears, her voice being drowned out by the same incessant ringing. 

She doesn't know how much time has passed when it all stops. She's back at the facility again, breathing even, vision cleared. Sucrose is peeringly worriedly in front of her, picking the leather of her notebook nervously. 

"Sucrose," Sara breathes. She looks over her shoulder to find Kokomi's bed still empty.

"Where's Kokomi?" she asks immediately.

"Oh, don't worry about that," she waves her  hand.

"Where is Kokomi?" she repeats, eyes piercing the scientist. She flinches back at her aggression, tilting her head as to what could've been the cause. Sara can feel her head spin.

"She's been taken away to be resuscitated," she answers, "She was having a withdrawal episode. It happens to the Unfated because our bodies are not created to survive without a soulmate. Without that missing piece, our bodies spasm and self-destruct."

Sara's eyes widened, "So, she's dead?"

Sucrose shakes her head, "Not exactly. These withdrawal episodes are cause for some panic but they are not fatal. They are more like reminders, warnings of what is to come. She'll be resuscitated and brought back here."

Sara's hands begin to shake. What is to come, Sucrose says. How perfectly foreboding.

"Does that mean she'll—"

"Kokomi's body will endure for however long she has left. But expect that these episodes will happen more often now that they've started."

What was left of Sucrose's impromptu lecture fell on deaf ears as Sara's hearing began to drown her out. She couldn't help it. All she could see was Kokomi's paling body being taken away in a hurry, the sight bringing far too many memories than she'd like. She wondered just how long until that happened to her.

When Kokomi arrives back, it's almost as if nothing happened. She goes back to her side of the room, opening up a book and reading it just where she left off. The mundanity of it all, like a harsh slap on Sara's cheek.

"Kokomi," Sara called, voice uneven. She's standing in front of Kokomi's bed with her fists closed. "Please let me help you."

Kokomi looks up at her curiously, setting down  her book and says, "Sara, I'm alright—"

"Please," Sara fights back the tears, "I don't know—How do I even—Kokomi, you're dying. We're both dying. And we're doing nothing about it even though there's a chance that we can."

She's already sobbing quietly, unable to keep it in. Her chest aches as she remembers this morning, feeling it close in when she remembers that night. And she wants to run away again but she stays here. It is a cry for help.

"A chance," Kokomi points out, "Not a guarantee."

"Nothing is guaranteed for us, Nothing ever will, don't you get it?" she snaps, her cheeks hot with tears.

Kokomi bites her lip. "Of course I get it. I know damn well what it's like, don't think for a second that I don't."

"Then help me," Sara exhales, "Let me help you. Please, I can't see that again. I can't see anyone die again."

Sara's breath hitches. 

Kokomi moves closer to the edge of her bed, pushing aside the books that were in the way and takes Sara's arms.

"Let's get you back in your bed first, okay?"

She moves her gingerly, aware of just how fragile things were for Sara. She sets her down on her bed and wipes away her tears, letting out a small reassuring smile. When she begins to walk away, Sara pulls her back.

"Wait," she says.

Kokomi looks back at her with expectant eyes, it makes Sara let go of her immediately. But Kokomi doesn't move away.

"The questions," Sara manages to get out, swallowing. "We should finish them."

Kokomi blinks at her as she faces her again, eyes inquisiting. Do you really mean it?

Sara's gaze doesn't falter, not even for a second. So, Kokomi bends.

"Alright," she says, settling herself on the bed. "You first."

Sara exhales as she nods, turning back to grab the paper from under her pillow. She's calmer now.

"If a crystal ball could tell you the truth about yourself—," she stops to take a breath, "—your life, the future or anything else, what would you want to know?"

She half-expects Kokomi to give her another shallow answer, maybe dodge the hard question, turn back and pretend nothing happened. But she stays quiet to think it over, avoiding eye contact, shy all of the sudden. Her pink locks cover one of her eyes as she looks down in contemplation, shadows casted onto her eyes. It takes a while, but Sara is patient, anticipating. She wants to know more about her, wants to know if she'll ever let her know more about her.

"I'd wanna know why I ended up like this," she answers finally, "There are a billion people in the world, and yet I'm the Unfated. I'm a part of the outlier. Why couldn't it have been that I was just… normal?"

It's a lot more honest than what Sara expected. It is vague but genuine, like she wanted to open up but was still scared to. 

"Well, I guess you'd understand," Kokomi continues, nudging her side. At last, she makes eye contact. "We're in the same boat. This… dictator universe—," she shrugs, "—wanted us out. And we don't even get an explanation as to why."

Dictator universe was definitely one way to put it.

"Okay, my turn," Kokomi grins, attempting to alleviate the atmosphere. Sara still feels cold.

Kokomi turns to the paper and back at Sara slowly, like she was unsure. She places it down and leans forward, choosing to throw all self-control out the window. 

"What is your most terrible memory?" she asks.

Sara exhales.

She knows what her answer is. She relives it in her head every night, unable to escape from it. She's sure Kokomi knows as well, seeing and hearing her every night, she can't blame her for being curious. 

She squeezes her eyes shut. She'll rip it off, just like a bandaid.

"My father was a hitman," she says, "It wasn't the safest of jobs but it put food on the table and for us that was enough. It would always put us in danger, even at home, so we'd move around a lot every now and then."

Sara brings her knees to her chest to rest her chin. "One day he came home, probably drunk, screaming at me about something I don't even remember."

She sees his furious eyes, his red neck, the gun in his pocket, too close to his hand for comfort.

"He hides a gun in one of our drawers just in case something happens. I took it and when he got too close and I-I—"

Her entire body shakes as she recalls the memory, the bang, the blood, the goddamn ringing. It doesn’t stop, even until now, she can still hear it.

"Sara," Kokomi stops her, placing a palm on her shaking hand. She keeps it there until Sara stops.

"It's your turn to ask me something," she says and hands over the paper

The sound of the paper rustling between their hands is soothing compared to what rang distantly in her ears. She inhales as she takes in the questions, eyes scanning to find one she found interesting. Kokomi's hand is still resting on her own, like a light and easy weight, grounding. 

"Tell your partner something about them that you like already," she settles, squeezing her hand.

It isn't a question but it was on the paper. Kokomi didn't seem to mind, looking away immediately to think up an answer. When she turns back, a smile blooms on her face.

"I like that you're patient, that you're here actually trying to make this work," she says, stroking her knuckles with her thumb. 

She moves closer, eyes turning up to meet Sara's, silent and kind. Her stare is something she can't ever describe, to be in the direct line of it is unnerving. But she is smiling. She has that same whimsical air that seems to never disappear, only disappeared this morning, so Sara doesn't look away. She doesn't flinch, she simply stares back, eyes wondering, waiting. What do we have here?

"I like that somehow, out of everyone in the world, even if we have just met, by being here, you're kind of the only one that understands me."

And the thought of it is calming. Like being put back to sleep, the sound of a soft voice lulling her into the dark.

"Because the dictator universe willed us to be," Sara reminds her and she laughs, bright and loud, into the white walls of the room and they bounce back. 

"Yeah," she shakes her head as she chuckles, "Exactly."

They continue to go through the list of questions one by one, taking turns like a push and pull. It came so easily, time passed by overhead without them noticing it at all. 

It was a rough beginning, barely passable as a strong foundation, a single misstep could cause the entire thing to collapse in on itself, but it was the start. The start of building, of molding, of trusting, of holding. They talk mindlessly, simultaneously unbeknownst of the things to come and unbearably aware of it. 

And in that white room, sprouted a bond, weak and barely noticeable, between two souls that were not meant to meet, entwined only by choice, not woven into the stars. Unfated still but bound together.

"I could grow fond of many things, but, how particular my fondness of you. How fervent, how violent, how gentle."

Savannah Brown

          DAY 100

A light sparks into the room then burns aflame when set against the candle. Kokomi's expert hands are handling it, eyes focused on the lighter with a certain precision Sara can find only in her. But that doesn't mean much considering Sara doesn't know too many people.

They're sitting in the dark at their dining table, faces lit only by the candles. Below them, sits a shortcake, modest and dainty. Almost in place with how prestine it looked against the already white floors and walls. It's another one of Kokomi's many, many demands that Sara's learned to stop questioning ever since the thirtieth (she's kept count) book that's been sent here. 

Sara pulls the strap of her two-sizes-too-big-for-her dress so that it sits loosely on her shoulder even though she's sure it's only a matter of time until it falls again. She's not sure if the reason she's uncomfortable is that it doesn't fit her frame but rather that she's not accustomed to wearing such garments. It was far too bold, too flashy for someone like Sara who wasn't even able to attend her senior year prom because she had to tend to her father's wounds and was afraid that any dress she'd purchase to wear would be stained with blood. Kokomi, on the other hand, looks as perfect as ever, the white cocktail dress fitting perfectly on her like a glove. She's sure it isn't her size either, both of them didn't expect the facility to provide them with dresses that fit when they first said the demand (well, when Kokomi said the demand. Sara was predictably lukewarm to the idea), but she's wearing it like it is. Her straps have been tied to fit her slightly smaller body and the waist has been clipped at the back. Sara could honestly do the same alterations to her own dress, could probably ask Kokomi to do it for her had she not been so embarrassed about it. She wasn't too enthusiastic about the whole thing anyway.

"Okay!" Kokomi exclaims once the candles are all lit, placing the lighter on the table (was that another demand?) and clasping her hands together.

"Okay?" Sara parrots, stupidly.

Kokomi ignores her and instead says, "Happy one hundred days, Sara!"

It's kind of hard to see her in the dark but she's close enough to the candles that she glows golden. She has a large smile on her face, the one that stretches to her eyes, contagious. It makes Sara smile, ever so slightly, just the curl of the ends of her lips as she stares at the scene laid before her. She can't help it.

"Happy one hundred days, Kokomi," she says back.

Kokomi claps once and says, "Let's blow out the candles. On three?"

Sara nods.

"One, two—"

The candles blow out, smoke filling the air just as quickly as the dark does. On the other side of the table, Kokomi laughs.

"Okay," she says, "Let me get the lights."

Sara fixes her sleeve once again, her skin turning red because of the fabric that rubs back and forth.

When Kokomi returns, she returns with the sound of an unfamiliar song, some jazzy tune with too many notes, too many flourishes, Sara's head would spin if she tried to understand it. Behind Kokomi, she sees a radio with a glowing red button. Another demand. That's far too many, even for her.

"What are you doing?" Sara asks, a laugh escaping her even as she tries to conceal it. 

Kokomi isn't coming back to sit down. Instead she's swaying her hips, eyes closed, arms raised freely, her entire body moving with music. 

Sara only stares at her, entranced. There was something about seeing someone so carefree at a place like this, for the people they are. The Unfated had no business losing themselves to the music.

But Kokomi was. She looked kind of silly, dancing by herself like that even if there was music in the background. But even if Sara were to burst out laughing, she's certain Kokomi would pay no attention to it. She would just continue to live in her own world, detached and in bliss, not in the white walls of the facility. Not the Unfated. Sara thought she'd stay like that forever until she opened her eyes once again, body still swaying with the song playing but this time with a hand reaching out to her.

"Come here," she says, her world suddenly open, "Dance with me."

Sara could've said some sort of denial. A rejection. An excuse; the cake should be eaten, I have two left feet, we'd look silly, but nothing comes out. Instead her feet move on their own, drawn to Kokomi like a fly to a light, and before she knows it, she's holding her hand, letting herself be pulled into Kokomi's world, infinite and harmonious. 

Another track plays in the background, some other jaz piece Sara isn't familiar with. Her movements are not nearly as graceful as her partner's but she dances. Her cheeks burn red, but she dances. Kokomi guides her with the music, a smile on her face, reassuring and gentle, one that makes Sara close her eyes and roll her head back, gone to this world. She's under a blue sky with Kokomi, feet dancing on the wind, no ground to keep them down. 

Sara knows it'll all end. The music will stop playing, their hands will break away, their feet will tire down. But for now, she'll allow herself to get lost in this, even if it is an illusion. She'll keep the memory hidden for a rainy day, come back to hear the sounds of their carefree laughter to remind herself that she was once this happy. 

The universe goes by overhead, the world moving beneath them. But in this space, they dance like they have all the time in the world. 

          DAY 106

When Sara wakes, she feels like her lungs are on fire.

Her breath hitches as she sits up abruptly, throat closing in on itself as she tries to breathe. She clutches her blanket, bringing it closer to her chest as she heaves. She coughs but it feels more like a breath of fresh air, finally being able to breathe even as she coughs. 

She sits back when the coughing stops, only a dull ache on her chest remains. She brings her hand to her heart, counting the times it beats (one, two, three, four…) and sighs. When she turns to her side, she sees Kokomi fast asleep on her side of the room although the lights are already open. It must've been the break of day.

"Ah, so you've come to."

Sucrose comes in with her notebook in tow, a rare sight for Sara to see her full body and without a glass barrier in between.

"What happened?" Sara asks, though she has a feeling she already knows the answer.

Sucrose brings her hands together, sitting straight. "You had an episode. Kokomi found you convulsing in your sleep so she immediately called for help. You're lucky you were only down for three minutes."

Sara could laugh. Lucky isn't exactly the right term to use when it comes to people like her.

"I thought I was supposed to get better here," she accuses, angry all of the sudden, the ache in her chest beginning to burn.

Sucrose merely shakes her head. "We did not guarantee a cure. This is simply r—"

"Research, yes, I know," she interjects.

She looks away from Sucrose, holding herself as she begins to shudder. Trying to think about last night is like drawing a blank, but even if she remembered, she's not sure if she'd like to keep the memory. She was resuscitated, she doesn't remember, but she was. She was dead for three minutes. She was dead, not dying, like she got used to being but dead. The inevitable end of the Unfated passing over her too quickly before she could even blink. Her breathing begins to pick up again as she thinks about the finality of it all, how it could've ended right then and there. She knew it could happen at any second, hell she saw it nearly happen to Kokomi once, but she didn't really know. Not until it happened to her. Not until death faced her head on like an old friend she does not remember and she merely turned away from its call.

"I don't understand," she breathes, "Were we—were we not making progress?"

Sara turns to Sucrose again, an exasperated look on her face, desperate and questioning. 

"Your Bond Meter has been growing steadily. However, this amount of progress did not do anything to diminish your illness or any of its symptoms. But episodes like this are normal. In fact, I suspect that you'll be experiencing it a lot more frequently from now on—"

"No," she nearly shouts, "No," she says, this time quieter. "I don't—I'm not dying again."

She says it like she has a choice. Like she fought to open her eyes again after those long, grueling three minutes of being out. It is the only thought she clutches onto.

She sees Sucrose scribble something down in her notebook and slams it shut. She flinches at the noise.

"Your vitals are now stable, Sara," Sucrose tells her, "You should probably get more rest."

With that, the scientist retreats, leaving Sara entirely to herself. Her breathing is still unstable but she isn't hyperventilating. Her heartbeat is erratic but she sits back onto her bed as an attempt to calm herself down. Even if she wants to sleep, she can't exactly just do it. It was nothing like being awoken from a nightmare. 

"Did it feel like you were drowning?" 

It's Kokomi's voice that comes as she concentrates to breathe. When Sara turns towards her, she's still lying on her bed, leaning on her side. She's looking at Sara with a tilt in her head.

"When you woke up just now, did it feel that way?" she asks.

She's speaking quietly but the room is small enough that she can hear her even on the other side.

"I thought you were asleep."

"Just answer the question."

Sara shakes her head. "No."

Kokomi frowns. "Oh."

Sara turns back to look in front of her, surprised to find that her breathing was back to normal, her heartbeat a slow and steady rhythm of drums. She’s finally at ease.

"That's what it felt like to me," Kokomi speaks even as Sara doesn't respond anymore. "It felt like I couldn't keep my head above water, like I was drowning and there was an anchor weighing me down. I could see the light up top but I couldn't reach it. I keep thinking that’s where I’ll end up eventually, underwater."

Kokomi isn't looking at her either. She has her eyes glued to the ceiling above them, the same shade of white she sees everyday and everywhere. 

"It felt like my lungs were full of smoke and I couldn't breathe," she answers, finally. "I thought that I was—"

"Dying?" Kokomi guesses, "My mother used to feel that way every time, too."

There is a certain coldness to her voice, distant and reminiscent. Although, Sara's sure they aren't fond memories, only painful ones that she'll probably never be able to get rid of. Kokomi's not even looking at her, eyes looking like they aren't even here, head in the clouds. It feels a lot like how she was when they first got here.

"She used to wake up in the middle of the night screaming. I would try to calm her down, give her water, hold her hand, anything. But the withdrawal attacks only got worse and every time—every time I thought to myself this is it. This is the part where she leaves."

It almost feels like Sara wasn't supposed to hear any of this. There was always this invisible wall between them whenever she talked to Kokomi, one she built up brick and only grew taller with everyone that came too close. But now it felt as if Kokomi was opening a door and letting her in, slowly, carefully, open and honest. Sara didn't know if she deserved it.

"But it was nothing like that when it actually happened," Kokomi continues, face blank. "She went in her sleep, can you believe that?"

Sara's not sure if she's supposed to respond so she stays quiet, letting Kokomi choose whether or not to say any more. She doesn't even know what to say.

"I like to think that it was peaceful," she says, looking down, "That it didn't hurt anymore. Like she was no longer struggling to find air in the black of the ocean, but just—falling into it. Like a wave washing over. She went through a lifetime of pain so when time came, all she had to do was—let go."

Sara sits up slowly, an itch to come closer growing in her feet like a gravitational pull. 

"They threw everything at her, you know? But my mother she—she took all of it in its stride and actually flourished."

Kokomi finally turns to her when she says, "She actually lived, Sara. Us humans, we're built to survive only if we have companions, but my mother, she didn't need anyone. She gave me everything I needed without my father. She was so strong and beautiful and kind."

Even from across the room, Sara can see the tears starting to pool in her eyes.

"Her only fault was that she couldn't see that herself," she says, voice starting to strain, "She bought into this artificial soulmate bullshit and tried to find someone who loved her even without a mark. And when she thought she found him, he left. He left her and left me with her, too."

Kokomi bites her lip as she struggles to keep her tears in, her throat aching as she continues, "I didn't know my father but I've hated him all my life. I hated what he did to my mother. I hated what he did to me. I hated the fact that he gave my mother the world and took it all back with him. I hate him. I hate him."

Kokomi's face flares up in anger even as she continues to let out soft sobs, hands coming up to wipe her cheeks, fighting through the tears. Sara is still on her bed, hands gripping the sheets as she can only stare at Kokomi, a tug at the back of her throat to say something but nothing comes out.

"But he wasn't my mother's soulmate. He wasn't ever gonna be my mother's soulmate, even if she believed he was. It was stupid, but she believed."

Kokomi holds herself, curling her fingers at her sides as she calms herself down.

"And now I'm here," Kokomi says incredulously, "In this ridiculous facility trying to prove that the thing my mother chased after is actually possible. That the thing that killed her could actually save me."

Kokomi laughs in disbelief, "I know there's a huge chance that it won't and that I'll probably end up just like my mother. But—"

She turns to Sara, face falling and eyes going sad as she says, "I can't help but wonder if it could've saved her."

She turns silent after that, probably mulling over the fallen debris of the wall she just broke down to let all of that out. Now she stands in front of a hole in the wall, facing Sara directly and Sara's still not sure if she's allowed to look in.

"You must be tired, I'm gonna let you go to sleep," Kokomi says before Sara can say anything. She turns around before Sara can protest.

She sits there in silence, staring at Kokomi's back, feeling as if it were better if she could just walk over there and do something.

So, she stands up, carefully walking to the other side. The wall is still there, towering over her but she does not stop. She reaches in, letting Kokomi choose whether to let her in or not, and places a hand on Kokomi's shoulder.

When Kokomi turns back, her face is wet with tears, eyes red, neck straining. Her breath hitches as she sits up and wraps her arms around Sara, sobbing into her shoulder. Sara can only place a hand on her head, holding her close. Kokomi is silent even as she cries but Sara knows that she is hurt. Hurt enough that she can't even scream.

"It's okay," Sara shushes, "You're oka—"

Sara's breath hitches. It's then that she realises that her throat is closing in, her face feels hot, and there are tears beginning to fall from her eyes. It is a different kind of ache to what she felt during the withdrawal attack. It feels like she's being drained out, at a complete loss of everything. She can only watch as everything goes down in front of her, no control at all.

There is nothing she can do, such is the role of the Unfated. But she pulls Kokomi tighter, hides her face in the crook of her neck, and holds her close. Slowly, the pain seeps away. It never disappears, only falls back, dulls. The weight of it all perpetually sits at Sara's back, but it doesn't feel as heavy anymore. 

When Sara pulls away, she finds that she's finally on the other side of the wall.

          DAY 143

Slowly, gently, Sara learns more about Kokomi than she thought she would. They fell into it naturally, she didn't even realise it was happening. A back and forth they shared, a bridge of trust. The white walls were trapping, were suffocating on bad days, but they turned them into a sanctuary. In here, they shared a bond not a lot of people could understand. It wasn't that they were soulmates, no, this far too quiet, too gentle to be as cosmic as something like that. It was understanding, it was building, a gradual pace of coming in and coming together, whole and unraveled. 

Kokomi was no longer the girl with the perfect life, stripped away of everything she had to be shut down in this facility. Yes, she had her entire life taken away from her, but that life wasn't as happy as Sara originally thought. Kokomi held as heavy a weight as Sara did, she was just good at hiding it. 

But she never did lose that air of magic she seemed to hold, even when she first met her, quiet and distant. Kokomi's world was vast and uncharted, one that Sara will probably never have the privilege to traverse completely. But there are moments that Kokomi lets her in. Takes her hand in hers, sits her down, offers her a drink and says, "Stay here for a while."

This is one of those moments. Kokomi's hands are busy sewing a shirt, the tools another one of her unexplainable demands. Sara's sitting opposite her on her bed, idly playing with the portion of Kokomi's blanket she'd laid on her legs when she offhandedly mentioned she was getting cold. It’s probably late but the lights are still on so they haven't gone to bed. Instead, Kokomi invited her to her side of the room to just talk although Sara didn't know what to say. She opted to simply watch Kokomi as she continued with her ministrations, using a red thread to pull together the fabric she held. It is cathartic, quiet, exactly the sort of thing Sara could fall asleep to. And it was all too easy to fall asleep with Kokomi.

"You know my mother used to tell me different stories of soulmates," Kokomi says, eyes still focused on the shirt. It's the first disturbance to the silence they've held but it is not at all jarring, only grounding, like the natural continuation Sara did not know she was anticipating.

"She did a lot of research but she also read a lot of fiction. Alternate realities. Places where soulmates manifested in different ways, not just with marks."

She finishes up and cuts the red thread, keeping a long string to hold and examine. Her eyes have the same distant stare Sara can't decipher for the life of her. But then she looks up, presenting a small smile to her and says, "Come here."

So, Sara does. She meets with Kokomi in the middle of the bed and watches as she stretches the red thread in between them. 

"Give me your hand."

Kokomi takes the thread and wraps it around Sara's pinky, gently tying it in a knot and letting go.

"In other worlds, soulmates are linked together with what they call 'A Red String of Fate'."

She wraps the thread around her own pinky and ties it together, holding her finger up to show her.

"Only the soulmate pair can see it. It can stretch them far away—," Kokomi pulls the thread, "—and bring them back together," she moves it back.

"It can tangle and it can unravel."

She turns back to grab something behind her but Sara is too focused on the thread. It's the only thing that's holding them together, the only tangible object that could prove that they're connected. It's only a thread, thin and fragile, but it is there. Kokomi tied it together, but it is there and it is real and if this is the only way they can be linked then why shouldn't Sara believe in it?"

"But it can also be cut."

Sara doesn't see the pair of scissors that cut the thread until it's done, separated once again. It feels a lot like a sharp inhale of breath, piercing and painful. A sudden weight on her chest she couldn't lift even for a second.

"A soulmate bond as fragile as the thread that holds it," Kokomi looks at the part of the string still tied to her finger and then turns to Sara.

"Can't they just tie it again?" Sara asks, her voice with a hint of desperation. 

Kokomi almost gawks at her, blinking as she looks at the thread tied on Sara's finger then to her face. And then she laughs, small and short, merely an exhale, as she shakes her head in disbelief.

"I guess they could," Kokomi says.

She takes the string in between them and ties it back together, turning it into a pretty bow. She's close enough to Sara that she can count how many eyelashes she has. The proximity makes her blush, shy even after such a shameless display, but she does not move away. Only stares at Kokomi who notices her eyes on her, her gaze slowly falling from her eyes and then to her lips.

Their Red String of Fate hangs light in between them. A soulmate bond as fragile as the threat that holds it, Sara reminds herself. It's the reason why she does not move any further, the loose bow Kokomi tied together unraveling as she retracted her body and settled at the other end of Kokomi's bed, distant once again.

But then, Kokomi inches forward, slowly, reaching a hand to grab ahold of hers, the grip so soft, Sara could simply pull away if she wanted to. But she doesn't and she lets Kokomi intertwine their fingers, the red string getting tangled in the mess of it all. A small, quiet gesture, one Sara can hold closely to her chest, keep it safe with her to remember on another day. In between them, the red string is cut, no bond, no mark. But they keep still just like that, despite it all. A Red String of Fate for the Unfated.

          DAY 178

Sara waits at the talking booth with jitters in her feet, excitement and anxiety pooling at the pit of her stomach. She'd gone in to do her bi-monthly physical examinations today and was having a good feeling. It's not everyday that she feels this confident, especially not when she's so used to having the odds stacked against her. There will always be a level of uncertainty at the back of her mind, some days it is more apparent than others. But today she sits in front of the glass pane with anticipation, feet tapping on the ground, hands sealed on the white counter. In her mind, she counts down the seconds that pass, each more exhilarating than the last. 

Finally, like suddenly being able to breathe after being held underwater, Sucrose comes into the room with her notebook in hand.

"Sara," she greets her as she sits, eyeing her down with a slight curl on her lips. "You seem chipper."

Is it really all that obvious? Sara brings her hands to her face, subconscious all of the sudden. 

"Sorry, I just—"

"No need to apologise," Sucrose commands, "Chipper is a good thing. All things considered."

It's a lot like a pull back down onto Earth when Sara didn't even realise she was flying off. Oh right, she thinks to herself, you're here for a reason.

"So?" she says instead of letting the conversation go in that direction. "How am I?"

She's never been this straightforward with Sucrose, had always been too scared to ask or too shy to demand. She expects the worst because she's been given the worst every time. She's not sure why this time it feels as if things might turn out differently.

"You're perfect," Sucrose tells her, and it's a lot like a weight being lifted off of her shoulders. "Vitals are great. Healthy as you can be."

That's baseline. It's good, especially for her. She was terminally ill, even if today she didn't feel like it.

"And the bond?" she asks, can no longer hold it in. It's the only thing that's been on her mind all day.

Sucrose pauses, setting down her notebook.

"It's on an incline," she says, "A lot better than it has and there hasn't been any drops. I think—I think this is a good sign, Sara."

It's not like Sucrose to be emotional, if this could count as her being emotional. She's always particularly cynical, making sure that they know that things could always go wrong and what they expect might not be what actually happens, save for that one time she talked with her the first day she got her. But that was when Sara needed convincing. This time, she was already on board, still unsure, but committed. There was no way out after all.

"That's—," Sara breathes, "That's great, Sucrose."

Finally, a smile stretches on Sucrose's face. "It is."

She leaves after a while, letting Sara go back into the room so that she could share the news with Kokomi. There's a certain skip in her step as she walks back through the white hallway, a smile she fails to fight off on her lips. She enters the room once again and she finds Kokomi on her bed holding a book in her hands.

"Kokomi," she calls, settling herself on her bed. "I'm good. We're good."

Kokomi places the book down and looks up at Sara with a reserved smile.

"That's wonderful, Sara," she says weakly.

Sara's face falls at her response. She seems distant, unsure, anxious. All the things Sara was when she first got here. This wasn't Kokomi.

"Is something wrong?" Sara asks.

Kokomi doesn't respond immediately and instead reaches to hold her hand, squeezing it tight. 

She looks up at Sara with a stare that she's not sure how to read. Her eyes are tired, kind and beautiful, but tired. And her gaze is analysing, asking. She's holding something back, but what, Sara can't tell.

"Do you really think we can pull this off?" Kokomi asks.

The question catches Sara off-guard although she knows in herself that it's been on her mind ever since she got here. Artificial soulmates barely seemed like it was plausible. Even when someone like her, who had nothing left to lose, had only this to hold onto. She couldn't spare every bit of hope she had left into this, always left a little piece of doubt for good measure. If things went south, which could always happen, even now, the repercussions would be devastating.

"Kokomi, I—," don't know? Yes? Maybe? She can't get herself to think. She'd practically skipped all the way back into the room after her physical exam, high off of good news and now the slightest bit of negativity made all of that crumble down. This hope was too fragile, too unreliable to completely hold onto. 

"Kokomi, I don't think we're soulmates," she continues, "Not now. Even with the incline it still seems impossible," she responds.

Kokomi chuckles and shakes her head, "You're… probably right."

There's a certain sadness to her voice, somewhat disappointed. She doesn't look up at Sara just yet, choosing to turn to the side to gather her thoughts.

"But… I still want to believe that we can," Kokomi says, eyes still to her side, "Heck, maybe I actually do."

Kokomi lets go of her hand and brings her knees to her chest. It makes her look smaller than she really is. Vulnerable.

"I want to believe we can, too," Sara responds, moving closer, placing a hand on her knee, comforting and kind.

Kokomi smiles at her, bright and beautiful. She was always bright and beautiful.

"If it doesn't, I want you to know, it was worth trying," she says.

Sara's not sure why Kokomi sounds so sad even as she smiles. But she nods, squeezing her knee to reassure her. It wasn't like her to think of the end.

If they had their way, their bond meter would rise and then never fall down. They'd leave the facility and have the marks to prove it. They'd live together, finally whole. Their souls would've warped and broken down just to fit next to each other and they would remember all of this as a happy memory. 

But if they didn't, and they still could, Sara thinks that it wouldn't be the worst thing in the world. Soulmates lived completely different lives from the Unfated, but she guesses what they have now isn't too far of a stretch. It wouldn't be perfect, but it would be theirs, plain and simple. The bond they built together, unsteady and unwhole, was all that they could have, after all.  

"You make this worth it," Kokomi tells her. And it's exactly what Sara thinks as well.

          DAY 200 

This time around there are no candles to blow, no cake to cut, no long dresses to wear. Instead, Kokomi calls Sara over at the end of the day, a glint in her eyes as she grins at her, no doubt a scheme in her mind. But Sara walks over to Kokomi’s side of the room anyway, knowing all of this. 

When Sara reaches Kokomi’s bed, she brings her hands out from behind her revealing two markers.

“Sucrose complained that I asked for too much stuff on our last milestone so, I only asked her for these this time,” she gestures to the markers and hands one to Sara. 

She grabs it and asks, “What are these for?”

Kokomi smiles at her in the slightly dim lighting of the white room. They were supposed to be asleep. 

“Last time you told me that we can’t possibly be soulmates,” she starts, “You told me that you were still convinced that all of this was impossible and, you know what, I think you’re right. There’s nothing that tells us otherwise. But, even if we aren’t, I don’t care.”

Kokomi grabs her wrist and pulls her hand onto her lap, uncapping the marker she held by biting it off. At the base of Sara’s thumb, she draws half a heart.

“But if you still need something to remind you of that, here it is.”

Kokomi lets go of her hand so that Sara could hold it up to see. She can see the ink staining her skin, in no sense a perfect drawing. If Sara were to wipe her thumb over it, it would smudge if not be erased completely. But it stays there for now, in that moment, a small dot drawn by Kokomi herself. 

An artificial mark for artificial soulmates.

Sara uncaps her marker and draws an identical half heart on the same place as her’s on Kokomi’s hand, but she doesn’t let go of her hand. Instead she looks up at Kokomi, sees the dim light reflected in her bright eyes, a stare so sincere, so kind. Sara can’t help but be drawn into it.

So she lets herself fall, pulling Kokomi towards her just so she could be closer, and closer, and closer, until the distance between them is only a breath away.

When they kiss, it’s Sara that moves first, the movement only but a timid press of the lips. She’s not really sure what she’s doing, only that it feels right. She can feel Kokomi smile against her, her hands moving to slot into the spaces in between Sara’s fingers, holding her with a tight squeeze.

It is quiet. There are no sirens, no fireworks. No fanfare for the Unfated. But it is whole and it is gentle and it is warm. It is all Sara and Kokomi will ever have, but it is enough. They are enough.

When morning comes, Sara is still on the spot next to Kokomi. Their marks are already gone, only an ink stain on the bed to prove that it was once there. But when Sara turns to Kokomi’s sleeping figure, unknowingly breathtaking, Sara chooses to stay where she is, locks her hands in Kokomi’s, and goes back to sleep. If there were ever a place where she’d call home, this would be it.

          DAY 236

It isn't Sucrose that comes to check on them this time.

On the other side of the glass is a blue-haired man wearing a mask that covers most of his face. His beaming red eyes stare at Sara with a heated gaze, one that causes Sara to freeze over. His mischievous grin contradicts the seemingly proper, clean-cut suit that he wears and the lab coat over it. The barrier in between them feels a lot more thin than usual.

“Kujou Sara,” he states in lieu of a greeting, eyes directed straight at the girl he calls. “Aged twenty-four, diagnosed with Soulmate Link Deficiency.”

He stares her down the longer Sara takes to respond, an eyebrow raised as a chuckle escapes his sly grin, mocking. Sara flinches as he moves to rest his chin in his palm.

He blinks at her twice, tilting his head curiously.

“Is it true that you came here voluntarily?” he asks.

Sara’s throat feels dry as she opens her mouth to speak, words barely able to croak out, “Yes.”

It is a single word answer because she can’t bring herself to speak, a certain fear looming at the back of her reminiscent of that night where her ears rang until she couldn’t hear. She shudders at the thought, hands itching to grab onto something, anything, just so she can stop feeling like the space around her is crashing and she’s coming down with it. Not again, not here.

“Suicidal?” he asks, and the mundanity of his tone catches Sara before she drops.

“Excuse me?” she refutes, voice rather quiet for how provoked she felt.

The man leans back, casual and open, almost baring his neck as he stretches, all the while still keeping eye contact. For a second, Sara zeroes in on the space in between his eyes, focused and calculating. She wasn’t as good of a shot as her father but at point blank range, she could pull it off.

“That’s the only explanation as to why anyone would come here,” he explains, “Willingly, such as yourself did.”

She shakes the sound of the gunshot out of her head. She was not that person.

"Is that your reason?" she shoots back.

The man actually laughs at that, the sound encasing the entire room, loud and boastful. When he looks back towards Sara, his stare makes him look almost deranged.

"Good one," he praises, leaning forward again, "But no. They call me Dottore. I'm sort of the boss around here."

Having a name to match his face doesn't help to humanize him, his smile is still too sickeningly sweet for Sara to not be on guard. He looks like he was plotting something.

"Really? Over Sucrose?" 

Dottore cracks his neck. "That young woman likes to have a bit more of a hands-on approach with our projects. But I have the high ground. A better view of the whole picture, if you will. She merely works within my domain, under my orders."

Sara curls her fingers against her waist, clutching onto her skin to remind that she's still here. She's here and there's a glass pane in between Dottore and her and she doesn't have a real reason to start running away even though all her limbs are screaming at her to do so.

"So," he clears his throat. "Why are you here, Kujou Sara?"

Sara looks around her, everything in the same white shade she's gotten used to seeing, not a stain in sight. There's nothing here that's any more remarkable than she is. The place is still foreign even after months of being here. 

"Sangonomiya Kokomi was sent here against her will but as time passed, she said she realised that she wanted a chance to live. Normally, like the Fated did, as she said," he gestures vaguely at the space in front of him. "Bit pretentious for my taste but she was genuine. You, however, do not seem like the type to wax poetic."

She feels a sting in her chest as he mentions Kokomi. She remembers that Kokomi was sent here before she was, but she couldn't remember what she looked like when she came back. Did she feel just as violated, as distraught as Sara did while in this seat? Was Dottore telling the truth, that that was her answer? She couldn't tell.

All she feels is a certain protective want to encase Kokomi to herself. To keep her away from this man, to keep her away from here.

"I'm only here for Kokomi," Sara responds. "Nothing else."

Dottore raises his eyebrow, "Oh? Is that an artificial bond forming I see?"

Sara doesn't respond. He doesn't deserve her words.

"So, the miracle is happening," he chuckles, "Or, the fantasy, I should say. We all know it's only a matter of time until this all goes down in flames."

Sara agrees. It's what she's been saying all this time so there's no reason for her to argue. But there's an ache in her chest, one that pushes her to fight back, prove this man wrong. To turn to the world and conquer it with Kokomi, no marks to prove their bond but only their intertwined hands. She couldn't think of anything else.

"You may be right," Sara says, voice no longer in the shaky tone she started with, “But that doesn’t matter now. Not with us.”

Dottore only smirks at this, Sara piquing his interest. If she could, she'd shatter the glass that divides them and punch the smile off his face.

"Is that so?" he challenges.

When Dottore stares her down this time, Sara doesn't falter. She no longer shakes, standing her ground. Her stare, a silent provocation. Try me, it says, I won't let you win.

"Well then," Dottore eases out, sliding his chair back as she says, "Prove me wrong, Kujou Sara."

In that moment, something sparks in the pit of Sara’s stomach and ignites a flame, passionate yet stable. Even as she sits alone, Dottore’s figure long gone as the door slams shut, she stares at the empty chair he sat in. The feeling grows loud but not violent. It is controlled, gathered, determined. Sara is calm, even in anger.

When she stands, she goes back into the room without looking back. If all of this was really meant to go down in flames, then she will go down with it but she will not burn. If this is what the Unfated faces, then she will face it head on. Her resolve sits heavy like a burden on her chest, but she will carry it, arms shaking and back aching. She will carry it to the very end of all of this and whatever comes after it.

"Blot out the moon. Pull down the stars. Love in the dark, for we're for the dark. So soon, so soon."

Jean Rhys

          DAY 254

The universe, Sara decides, is unkind. It's like a friend she cannot bring herself to trust, far too mysterious and oblique, that even if she gets to know it better, all she is faced with is an endless black. To reach into it is to fall straight into darkness. To ask for its help, a fool's errand. To trust it, complete suicide.

It is the Unfated that knows this firsthand, being born into a space where their souls are never whole. The other half replaced by a fatal yearning that will never exhaust leaving a gaping hole of empty.

Sara knows this. She's known this all too well her entire life; a dictator universe, they called it. She has blood on her hands to prove it. And yet, there is no other feeling that rises in her chest other than anger when faced by the truth of it all.

"What's happening to her?" she asks, whether to Sucrose or to the universe, she's not sure. 

The scientist sits still on the other side of the glass, her poker face undeterred. She's calm as she rests her arms on the small counter in front of her, placing down that damn notebook of hers. Normally, Sara didn't mind how isolating it felt to talk to someone through a glass screen, but she's never felt more like a prisoner now than ever.

"I will be blunt," Sucrose starts, taking a breath. And Sara wants to kick and scream because this should not be hard for the scientist because it was hard for her. "Sangonomiya Kokomi is undergoing the final stages of Soulmate Link Deficiency. Her losing feeling in her legs means that she is getting closer to death. We suspect that she won't be able to walk by the end of the week."

And there it is, like a shadow looming behind her, foreboding and inescapable. The dictator is sitting proud on its throne and is laughing at her.

"Is there nothing you can do?"

It is a desperate attempt at grasping at straws, a mere cut in the armoured body. But she asks because what else does the Unfated do?

"Soulmate Link Deficiency does not have a cure. Even in this facility, we can only make her comfortable until she goes. This program is merely research, it wasn't a fool-proof plan to—"

"You said you'd make a miracle happen," she accuses. And it is harsh and it is mean. But that is everything the world has given her, it will make no difference if she gives it back.

"I'm sorry," Sucrose says, dejected. "There is nothing we can do."

There is no realisation. No feeling of it sinking in. No epiphany. There is only affirmation. Because in her heart, the doubt she was clinging onto was the only thing keeping her there and having that stripped away from her felt like death itself.

She can't face Kokomi the next time she sees her. The white room doesn't provide many spaces to lay her attention on, but she stares at the blank for a while. It is the most she can do at present, the powerlessness of it all getting the best of her. Kokomi sits next to her, legs hanging off the bed, feet still swinging back and forth like she always did. If she focuses, she can pretend it is a normal day at the facility. There are still no certainties, just questions. That was a lot better than having to face reality.

"Don't worry about me, Sara," Kokomi tells her, linking their arms together, resting her chin on her shoulder. "I don't need legs underwater."

It is shameful that it's Kokomi comforting her and not the other way around. But as she turns to the girl, a small reassuring smile on her face, she can't help the sob that escapes her lips, defeated.

She closes her eyes and pulls Kokomi close as she rests her temple on her head. And feeling this safe is the only consolation the universe lets her have.

          DAY 279

Sara knew all of this was bound to happen someday. It was, as cruel as it sounds, the only fate she was promised. No matching marks, not timers, no red string of fate to cut and then tie together again. No. It was only this. It was only ever this.

Sara sets herself down on her bed as they guide Kokomi into her wheelchair, only looking through her peripherals because the sight was agonizing enough to make her own legs weak. Like they shared the same pain only she's sure Kokomi has it much harder.

Not that she acts that way. The girl simply rolls towards her after they leave the two of them alone again. She grabs ahold of her hand and looks up at her.

"It's not that bad," Kokomi insists, "I'll just have to get used to it."

Sara knows she's lying. She doesn't think she is, but Sara knows because what exactly was she getting used to? The unfairness of it all? The way she didn't even have a choice about anything in the first place? Kokomi knew all of that already. She's lived like this her entire life, what was left there to endure? What else could there be to torture Kokomi?

"How could you say that?" Sara asks, the strain of her voice from her throat closing up. "Kokomi, you'll never be able to walk again, how could you say that?"

Sara brings Kokomi's hand closer to her chest, her grip tightening.

"You don't deserve any of this. You don't deserve to—"

The words falter. The gravity of it all holds a weight that's far too heavy for Sara to lift that she can't bring herself to face it. She knew it was coming. She knew it was an inevitability and not an option. What she didn't know is that she was denying it all this time. That she thought that here in this facility, there was a safety blanket from the universe and that they, for the first time, at last, were invincible. That the Unfated did not need destiny because they had no bounds, no set path but only tools to carve their own. That they had a chance. A small sliver of hope that they could cling onto and keep for however long they need.

But this, this was not hope. This was loss. This was fate.

This was their fate.

Sara lets go of Kokomi's hand, holding herself instead to fight off the fear that laid heavy on her shoulders. She couldn't bring herself to look up.

"Are you scared of it?" Kokomi asks, delicate and kind.

It was like she could see right through her. Like she knew her inside and out. The irony of it too coincidental, all Sara felt was numb. She can no longer pretend that that wasn't true. Not when the world decided to present her with everything that proved it was otherwise. 

But still, Sara will lay herself bare, cut her own body open even if she bleeds. It does not hurt, after all. Not with Kokomi.

"Yes," she responds. How could she not?

Kokomi's lips form a thin line. "Me too. I'm—I'm terrified, Sara."

The laugh that comes out of Kokomi is not a happy one. No, it was far from it. It was deception. It was her own form of the denial Sara didn't know she held and it overflowed right into Sara's chest, the ache a slow and searing pain.

Kokomi never looked like this. This girl in front of her was a fragile shell of a person that was once full of wonder and love, she almost burst at the seams because of it. The universe took away her Kokomi and replaced her with an empty vessel, defeated at last.

How much time has the universe already robbed of them? How long ago was it that Kokomi's soul started to vanish and all Sara did to cope with it was to pretend it wasn't happening? How much time did they have left?

The universe, cold and malevolent to its core, answers that it was foolish to think that they had any time at all in the first place.

          DAY 307

When it comes, as it eventually would, without doubt and without escape, it feels almost like falling asleep, fast and painless, she didn't even realise she was already gone.

"Sara," Kokomi calls her, voice weak like a thin line, a thread just barely hanging on a tapestry she could not see from where she lied. But it is sweet and it is comforting. It is everything Kokomi is and if Sara could, she'd hide the sound in the empty crevices of her heart, keep it for herself because no one else says her name like that, like wanting, like needing. It compels a need to lock it into memory. A sound so fragile, she's afraid she'll never hear it again.

She turns towards the sound as if she will hear it better, if only a little. They're lying in the dark, a single lamp at the corner of the room, the only light they have, a somber glow that barely ghosts over Kokomi's figure. She doesn't see the way Kokomi's chest slowly hitches or the way she clutches her heart. 

"Kokomi?" she responds, quietly, afraid to break the delicate balance of the room. Her voice is a far cry from Kokomi's soft cadence, but Sara's long since learned that she's only ever going to meet Kokomi in the middle of two completely different sides of the same line but never overlap. But when it comes to people like Sara, they take whatever they can with the little time they have. Kokomi does, too.

"Do you want to push the beds together?"

Kokomi says it with a smile. Sara doesn't see it, but she hears it, has heard it far too many times, she can hear the difference from the way she heard it the first time to when she did it now. The contrast is minimal yet jarring, only able to hear it in passing. She fixates on it for a moment, wondering if she can actually pinpoint what the difference was.

But then her vision clears, her eyes gradually getting used to the dark, and she sees that Kokomi is looking at her. She's smiling at her, small and quiet. Her heart, so full of love, cracks. She expects her next breath to be a broken one, but all that comes out is a laugh.

It is a small effort for her to bring her bed towards Kokomi's and she eventually settles next to her, lying face up. The only thing she sees is the dark. 

"Sara," Kokomi says again, and it is a relief because Sara never wants to forget the way it sounds. 

"Will you," she breathes, "Will you tell me a story?"

Sara feels her heart sink. "Kokomi—"

"Please," she says, her voice barely above a whisper, "I want to go to sleep."

There's a sharp pain in her chest that she attempts to suppress, making her throat close up. She turns to Kokomi and she sees that she isn't looking at her. She's merely facing forward, a serene expression on her face as she closes her eyes and breathes.

"Okay," she says despite herself. "What story do you want me to tell you?"

In slow, small movements, small enough Sara doesn't feel it yet, Kokomi inches her hand closer to Sara's.

"Anything," Kokomi says, "I just want to hear your voice."

She is too transparent, too painfully honest that Sara starts to wonder what she did to be able to see her like this. It doesn't feel like she's worth it.

Sara looks up again, lying in silence just to take a pause. She can hear Kokomi breathing, the sound like firewood crackling, peaceful if only for a second, faint and warm. At that moment, Sara decides, everything stops just for them. The chaos, the ache, the joy, the hope, all of it vanishes and turns into background noise. In this space are only them. It is the only greed she allows herself to have.

"I only have one good memory of my dad," she begins, scared that her voice just might break but it doesn't.

"He woke me up one day at around four in the morning. The sun wasn't out yet so I thought it was still nighttime. He dragged me to the car and drove me to see the sunrise. It was someplace far from the city. Some place we could actually see the sky."

She can still see it overhead, the stars going out one by one and a brilliant light coming up on the horizon.

"We were so close, I thought I could reach the sun," Sara says, an empty chuckle escaping her lips, "It was the first and last time that I looked over to my dad and thought, "Maybe, things will get better"." 

The image in her head is a faceless man holding a bright smile, the azuring sky behind him.

"But it was beautiful," Sara breathes, suppressing the anxiety building in her chest as she shakes away the memory.

"It was beautiful," she repeats, mostly for herself. And the memory is hidden once again.

When it comes, it comes without warning.

Beside her, Kokomi smiles, "What a nice memory," she says. "Makes me feel like I can see the sun, even in here."

She still has the same whimsical air she always holds, Sara briefly believes that all will be alright, just as she thought that day in the morning sun.

Kokomi's breath hitches and the fantasy is shattered. Alarmed, Sara almost sits up to look at her as she says, "Kokomi—"

"No," Kokomi asserts, a cough escaping her, "No, Sara, just—stay. Stay here with me."

Sara can feel tears start to well up in her eyes but they do not fall. Not when Kokomi reaches a hand towards hers, a soft and delicate touch that is all too comforting and all too warm that all Sara can muster up to do is wrap her own hand around it. Her grip, tight and desperate, a small whisper that asks please do not let go, not yet, not now.

"Okay," she replies, "I'll stay."

When it comes, it does not feel like it has. It feels as simple as walking, as reading, as loving. She doesn't realise she's there until after she crosses the line.

"Imagine we're not even here," Kokomi says, her breathing starting to thin, "Imagine we're—we're at a grassfield."

When it comes, for a moment she is set aflame but not burning. She is a bright and brilliant blaze until in one second she flickers and burns out.

"You said you wanted to go to the countryside, right? Well, that's where you are. You're lying in a grassfield and when you look up all you can see is the sky."

Sara closes her eyes to imagine it, the infinite blue. There are no clouds to cover it, no burdens in her chest, no ache in her heart.

"I'm still lying beside you and I'm smiling at you because I'm happy and I-I turn towards you and kiss you just because I can. There are no soulmates. No evil dictator universe. Just you and me. Just us."

Her voice is fading away so Sara tightens her grip just to make sure she's still there. Kokomi squeezes back.

"Sara?" she calls, and it sounds a lot like a sob. 

"I wish," her breath hitches, "I wish I could've been your soulmate."

It's only then that Sara realises that there are tears streaming down her cheeks, a quiet cry coming out of her lips.

"What are you saying?" Sara asks, "You already are."

When it comes, she lets it happen. She follows Kokomi into it, hands intertwined, the unlikely sound of two heartbeats in sync in their minds, thumping until they no longer can until finally, the silence washes over them like a wave.