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A Little Dreaming

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It's a school assignment that clues Rhyme in on the fact that she's not like the rest of them. 

She likes Shiki and Neku, likes what she remembered of them, likes that Beat likes them and likes that they're all just comfortable around each other. Rhyme's a little younger, yes, but Beat doesn't let her feel small or less important, and it's not about age or grades or even skills for them, anyway. It's about how much they could pour into life, how much they can appreciate the moment and in that regard, Rhyme doesn't lose out to the rest of them. 

But Rhyme stares down at the folded sheet of paper and sighs, quietly. 

Career goals. What is your dream job? What are your plans for life after graduation? Where do you see yourself in five years? 

Rhyme reads the questions over and over until she has them memorized and even then she continues to scan the words, curling one hand around her crown necklace. 

"Career goals, at your age?" her mother finally asks the third time she walks past Rhyme at the dining table. "You're only in middle school." 

Rhyme smiles and gathers up the papers. "You're never too young to dream," she says and gives her mother a peck on the cheek before heading up to her room. 

She shuts the door behind her and leans back against it. Her room is filled with the ambitions of her past; lines of poetry in her own handwriting tucked into the edge of the mirror she barely looks into and handcrafted gothic jewelry hanging down her walls like works of art on their own. She touches them, but they no longer call to her, just bits of paper and metal and stones now. 

"Well," Rhyme says aloud to the silence of her room. "I lost the Game, after all." 

*

Rhyme doesn't tell Beat that she remembers her time as Noise. 

It's nothing really coherent, mostly emotions and instinct that doesn't coalesce into anything as structured as words. It's a different way of being, her entire world no longer bound by the complexity of language or the niceties of logic; she just was, and there was Beat, and there was the overwhelming feeling that he was important, more important than maybe even her own state of being. 

It's easiest to call up that feeling when she closes her eyes. Whether she's sitting in the quiet of her bedroom or standing on the Scramble Crossing, all Rhyme has to do is let her eyes flutter close and her thoughts fall away, and it's like the world opens up to her, quiet little notes that she could leap and hop to if she is smaller and nimbler. But Rhyme's no longer Noise and those crystalline sounds exist frustratingly just out of her reach, and Rhyme's aware that the harder she tries the further they spin away from her, as if she's a stone thrown to water or a single odd note at the end of a beautiful tune. 

So she doesn't have her dreams and she's still barely tuned in to another world and it's neither here nor there. Rhyme opens her eyes after one of those moments to the bright vibrant colors of one of CAT's many wall tags and nibbles on her bottom lip thoughtfully. 

When in doubt, go hunting

*

Neku still takes to wearing his headphones every so often, and Rhyme picks him out by that combination of blue on bright orange. He seems absorbed in his own world of music but as Rhyme slips past the crowd of students, he turns suddenly, meeting her gaze in an instant. 

"Rhyme?" He slips his headphones down around his neck and backtracks to her side. "Is everything okay?" 

Rhyme laughs, and she knows Neku's thinking of Beat and the trouble he can get into. It isn't the first time she's had to hunt out Neku and Shiki because Beat's somehow managed to mangle both their phones, or at least mess around with the settings so much that neither of them can make a call out. 

"No. I just wanted to talk." She peers up at Neku. "Is that okay?" 

Neku nods and she sticks close as they break free of the flood of students and head towards the Statue of Hachiko. It's crowded, as always, but there's a space on the edge of the far wall that's too small for most people and hence just right for Rhyme, and she tucks herself into the small corner, holding her arms out for Neku's school bag. He passes it to her with the telltale rattle of loose pens and markers and Rhyme smiles to herself as Neku leans on the wall next to her. A couple of well-placed glares clear out the giggling girls beside them, and it's as private as they're going to get, out here. 

Rhyme swings her legs back and forth a little, then closes her eyes and breathes. Hachiko's the meeting place in both this world and the other, and Rhyme imagines the clear ringing of pacts being formed, a safe bubble of rightness that protects the pairs of partners from Noise. She smiles softly at the thought and opens her eyes. 

Neku is watching her. 

"Rhyme," Neku says, and she meets his gaze steadily. "If you want me to, I'll tell you what happened. I'll tell you everything that went down, at the very end." 

Rhyme's heart leaps, and her eyes widen despite herself. Neku's the most private of all of them, and she's pieced together enough of the days when she was Noise to know that he's the reason why they're back at all, and that he had paid quite the price for it. 

"Oh." Rhyme leans forward slightly. "Why?" 

Neku touches his headphones lightly. "Because I know what it's like to be kept in the dark, and not get the answers you need." He looks briefly in the direction of the Underpass, then turns back to her. 

Rhyme decides right there and then that she won't ask for Neku's story, if she could help it. She slips to her feet and up on her tiptoes in one smooth movement and throws her arms around Neku in an impulsive hug. Beat would have gone still in shock (because he wouldn't know whether or not to swing his skateboard at Neku's head) so Rhyme makes sure to hold on a little longer for all the times she won't be able to do this, even if Neku's gone a little still himself. 

"Thanks, Neku," she says, and lets go. "If you ever want to talk about it, I'm here, okay?" 

Neku looks down at her, empathy in his eyes, and he isn't like half lost like she is but he's caught in between as well. Rhyme wonders if he'll ask, but it's Neku. He'll only push her if she needs it, and he doesn't push. 

A part of Rhyme takes strength from that, the fact that Neku thinks she's strong enough to do this on her own. 

"Want to look at my new sketches?" Neku asks, breaking the silence.

"Yes!" Rhyme boosts herself back up on the wall and takes Neku's sketchbook into her lap, flipping through the pages and really studying the drawings. She might have lost her own dreams, but it doesn't mean she can't appreciate someone else's.

*

Rhyme's back at Hachiko waiting for Beat to get out from his extra class when the boy swings himself up lightly to sit beside her on the wall. 

"You're like a particularly resilient birdling," he tells her, brushing a lock of silvery hair from his face. "It's quite admirable. If you like birds." 

Rhyme's not like other teenagers, so she's quite forgiving of others' quirks. "Is it because I'm small and cute?" 

He smiles; although it's tempered Rhyme can see the sharp edges in it. "No, although I'll give you that. It's because I can throw you out of the nest and you'll still try to take flight from the ground, broken limbs and all." 

It's not a particularly nice image, but it's real. Rhyme takes a moment to sympathize with the metaphoric little bird, then tilts her head. 

"Well. I don't mind being different." 

Rhyme means it. She likes being able to fall into the other world even if she can't ever catch the perfect harmony of it ever again, being in the Realground now. 

He smiles again, and it's a little gentler. "You can call me Joshua," he says, and Rhyme blinks at him; it's as if he's rebelling all around, with his (definitely not Japanese) name and his silvery hair and unearthly violet eyes. They're not contacts. Rhyme doesn't know how she knows, but she does.

"Difference doesn't equal dissonance," Joshua says, as if he could hear her thoughts. He gives a shrug, hands lifting up in smooth, graceful lines. "And dissonance doesn't always result in cacophony." 

Rhyme blinks again, and then - she can't help it - laughs, quietly. "Let me guess. Harmony is nice, but boring after a while?"

"Exactly." Joshua looks at her, eyes intent. "Well, well."

"Well?" Rhyme echoes. 

"A certain feline has taken quite the liking to you. I dare say he'd take you under his overly ruffly wings as soon as they stop running him to the ground on overtime." Joshua wrinkles his nose delicately. "And my proxy stood outside the Underpass and talked at me for thirty-two minutes straight. He's loud. I can hear him no matter where he is. Now that's cacophony."

Joshua's tone of voice is at odds with his words; he sounds pleased and smug, and maybe it's Rhyme's imagination, that his eyes almost seem to glow. He ducks his head, and when his eyes come back into sight they're almost normal.

"So," he says conversationally, "have you found a dream yet?" 

Rhyme jumps at that, slightly off-kilter at the way Joshua leaps from subject to subject, especially that particular one. "I..." 

She thinks about the notes of poetry on her mirror and the handmade jewelry. She thinks about Shiki and her overwhelming love and enjoyment of fashion, and she can't imagine it for herself. Her eyes flutter close despite herself and she doesn't quite fall into the Noise-instinct of perceiving the world but she can still almost hear the music that's always there. Maybe, maybe she'll do something with music. Or maybe the stage or theatre, to appreciate the words she now has. Something different, something she's never tried before because Beat will be there, no matter what. 

Joshua giggles, and Rhyme comes back to herself. The late afternoon sun is warm on her face, although the wall is refreshingly cool in contrast. 

"Great things begin with a little dreaming." Joshua leaps off the wall and lands like gazelle, sweeping his hair behind one shoulder. "You're something that doesn't belong down here, a disharmony. But it's those odd notes that spark off the most fun. Just look at Neku." 

Rhyme's head snaps up, and she's almost off the wall herself but Joshua waves a hand at her, smiling. 

"I look forward to seeing what you'll bring Shibuya, Rhyme," Joshua says and turns away, and when Rhyme looks again he's gone. 

There's a clammer of questions in Rhyme's head, but there's no one to voice them to so she leans back on her wall-top perch. She has her suspicions on who Joshua really is, but Rhyme keeps the thought to herself. She feels remarkably light and for the moment she simply enjoys that, and then she thinks back on Joshua's words and looks out into the space where Joshua had disappeared. 

"Ah-" it should feel strange, speaking aloud to the air, but Rhyme just smiles, and makes sure she pitches her words clearly. "Thank you, Joshua." 

She's not Neku, but Rhyme thinks Joshua will hear her anyway.