Somewhere, sometime, in a world without demons, a child is born. His tufty hair is stark white and he is crying, but not for the womb of his mother. No, his tears are for the little brother he can only remember.
His childhood is nice enough. His family is not rich but he has never needed much, something tells him that he has never had much. His mother is kind and warm and loving. His father, though not the most present due to his work, loves them both all the same.
But Sanemi has never been more than content. He feels so empty and he does not know where his brother is, or why he is not there, but he knows that when his brother is with him he will be whole.
He is sure his parents know he is searching for someone, but despite their efforts, his mother fails to conceive again.
When he is old enough to understand words, his mother sits him down and explains the nature of the world they live in: that everybody has memories of the single most important person in their past life.
He might have fears based on traumatic experiences or a preference for certain foods or temperatures, but they are no more than familiar inclinations.
But one person, the single most valuable person in their whole world will never be forgotten. And until they are reunited, both will live in search of the person they remember. If the two don’t meet in one world, or if they continue to be each other’s most important person, they will remember each other once again in their next life.
Sanemi wants to say, "I know. I see him every night."
But he does not. His mother, who has been by his side for every nightmare he wakes up sobbing from, understands very well.
A year goes by, then two. He is ten and still, his brother is nowhere to be seen.
He is ten and one half, and his mother excitedly announces that she's finally pregnant. He is even more excited than her and can hardly sleep that night.
Eight months pass and he is eleven. His mother, teary-eyed and devastated, shoulders hunched and eyes averted, tells him the baby is gone.
She's small and weak, and small and weak are things dangerous men look for as they hide in alleys. Small and weak are easy targets for desperate men.
He doesn't understand. Not really. He is too young and the words are jumbled in his head but one thing is clear: Genya isn't coming.
He doesn't eat for a week, and when he sees his mother, stomach flat again, he doesn't know whether to vomit or cry.
One night he wonders, 'is this how Mu!<h%r0 felt?' Before freezing. What was the name that appeared in his head as fast as it vanished? Try as he might, the memory will not return.
At 14 Sanemi kills himself and is born again.
He has two siblings in this life, one older and one younger. He is pretty sure he has always been the oldest sibling. It's nice. It is easy to make his brother angry, and his brother knows he likes Ohagi best but always takes extra, but at the end of the day, he is grateful for his brother.
He's starting high school (he's never been to high school before and it is strange.) And his mother tells them she's pregnant again.
She doesn't know if it is a boy or a girl, or anything about the baby at all. She's found out only that morning, but Sanemi knows.
Something in him tells him he must protect his mother, to not let anything happen to her again. He doesn't know what the worries stuck in his head mean, but he trusts them and sticks by her side so obsessively that she asks him about it. He has no answer.
And nothing happens. His mother is fine and one afternoon, in the middle of class, he gets a call saying his mother is in the hospital.
He leaves school immediately, (he knocks over a chair and runs over at least three students) and is deaf to the annoyed shouting of his teacher (who gives up when he is out of sight because she is not paid nearly enough to care).
He knows he is driving too fast as he races to the hospital, but it's his mother, and it's Genya, and the hospital is so close. He can see it, and he is so focused on it that he doesn't see the car right in front of him.
He doesn't remember much of what happens next. A loud crash, and shouting. Black. Then he's moving but he’s not controlling it and the light is too bright but he cannot move, cannot see until he wakes up again with his brother standing above him.
His eyes are huge with panic, and he's shouting something, but Sanemi can't hear him. Or he isn't listening.
Sanemi opens his mouth, but his breath is weak and he cannot form a sound. Somehow he manages to get his voice out enough to whisper, "Mom?"
His brother crumples. In relief? "She's fine. The baby is fine."
Sanemi nods in thanks. His mother wasn't the only one to notice his anticipation.
His brother must have understood what Sanemi was hoping for because he squeezes Sanemi's hand and leaves.
Craning his neck, Sanemi sees the white sheets tangled around his limbs and the machinery on his left beeping at a pace that sounds normal. He’s obviously in a hospital bed. His attempt at moving that revealed his splinted leg was a clue too.
The door opens up again, his brother accompanied by his mother in a wheelchair. Her eyes have exhausted bags beneath them, and he feels bad making her leave to see him (how long ago was she in labor? How long was he unconscious?) but he freezes when he sees the figure in her arms.
'Mom,' he wants to say, but all that comes out is "...Genya."
She understands though. She's understood since she saw his face at her news nine months ago. She's never met the person in her memories. She admitted once that she doubts she ever will.
But Sanemi will. Sanemi can because he is right there .
So she allows her baby to be lifted into Sanemi's arms. Moving his arms hurts like hell, and he is so very tired, but he can't wait another minute.
In his arms is his little brother that he has been searching for for years. This is not a memory he's had before, Sanemi realizes with a shock. He remembers little of Genya younger than an early toddler learning to walk in the cramped space of their room, far away from their father.
The baby in his arms is small and pudgy and nothing like his amazing little brother. But as he stares, the way his mouth moves and the shape of his eyes is unmistakable.
It's overwhelming, and he can’t stop the tears from coming. They blur his vision so badly he can hardly see his brother. But he can feel him, his warm, breathing, living brother.
“Gen...ya.” He chokes out. He forces out another sob. He can barely breathe, but he is so happy. His brother is here. His brother is alive. He draws him closer to his chest until he can tip his head down and gently, so gently, rest it on Genya’s forehead. He stays like that for a few minutes at least. His mother is next to him, her palm resting on him, grounding him, even if just a little bit. His brother is talking to the doctor about something.
But then something is wrong and he really can’t breathe at all and the doctor is shouting and Genya is gone. He wants his brother but when he reaches out, the hand holding his is someone else’s. It's comforting, he supposes, but his last thoughts are of Genya when everything goes dark again.
This time he’s leaving his brother. How will Genya feel, growing up with him gone but remembered? How would he feel having proof that their lives intersected for so little time when he was too young to remember?
But there is nothing he can do, and he stays like that for too long. He cannot move, cannot see, cannot feel anything at all. But after a while, even that vanishes too.
(Despite the impossibility of it, Genya would remember, just faintly, the presence of his brother. In the achingly short period of their reunion, their older brother had managed to take a photo of the two. Genya would look at it every day.)
In Sanemi's fourth life, he is killed by his father before he even has the chance to find his brother. His mother watches, miserable, but too afraid to step in.
(When Sanemi is gone, his father makes her clean the mess. She too will eventually be murdered by her husband. She will remember her son in the next life, but never finds him. All she can do is wish for his happiness.)
The next time, something is different. Sanemi still remembers Genya, definitely. But those memories are fading.
He's woken up multiple times as of late, gasping for air as he bites back screams, the sight of Genya crumbling away fresh in his mind.
What terrifies him, even more, is the fact that he can't remember why his brother was gone. What happened? What the hell was he doing that let his brother leave like that? He barely looked 16. What the hell kind of brother was he?
He wants to sob, but something tells him to keep quiet, to not let his parents hear. He doesn't understand why he is so afraid, but he keeps silent regardless.
He likes to trace lines upon his skin where something is supposed to be. Scars, he supposes, as he runs along deeply ingrained lines all across his chest.
Maybe he was an amazing warrior! That thought fills him with pride, and he puffs out his chest.
The dream he has the next night leaves him shaking. In his dreams, he saw his brother, which isn't particularly uncommon. But the look on his face won’t leave Sanemi’s mind. He looked hurt and miserable, and Sanemi is coming to coming to the realization that it was probably his fault.
It was his fault. He hurt his brother. He made him look like that.
Sanemi’s breaths are forcing themselves out faster than he can keep up and some of them are catching on sobs. The sheets drag on his skin and he curls into himself to make it go away. But it doesn't, and he is trying so hard to be quiet which only makes it harder to breathe.
His thoughts are suddenly falling from his mouth in a quiet stream. It is slowing his breathing though, so he stays that way, huddled in bed, whispering “I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’m sorry.”
Nobody answers, and he continues until he passes out again.
This particular life goes, for the most part, quite well for Sanemi.
Genya never appeared, but he graduated high school, which he had never done before. He moves on to college.
In that time he's been asked out on a handful of occasions, which never fails to surprise him.
But he always says no. The chance that he'll fall in love with one of them and forget Genya terrifies him more than he wants to admit.
College goes by fast. He meets a few friends that felt familiar somehow and landed a decent office job early enough.
The suit he has to wear feels tight and weird on his skin, but he deals.
His life is fine.
Until one day when he is walking to work. There's a family in front of him, a couple and their child. He doesn't know this family; he has never seen them before.
But something in him is screaming at him and his body is moving like he's been possessed.
He reaches out and the mother has enough time to ask him what the hell he thinks he's doing before their child turns around and he was right and-
"Nii- chan !" He cries, and the mother's attention immediately moves back to her son.
Sanemi is on his knees and Genya is in his arms before he knows what is happening.
His memories are coming back too, and he doesn’t try to stop his tears. Genya doesn't either.
At some point, they both begin gasping out apologies, wondering why the other would ever want to apologize.
Genya whispers his worst fear: "I was afraid I would never meet you."
Sanemi whispers his own: "I thought I would meet you, but you wouldn't know who I was."
Genya's parents clearly don't know what to do. This has happened before, plenty of times. But Sanemi isn't their family, so arrangements are tentative. If Genya wasn't so dead set on seeing his brother, they probably would just pretend it never happened.
But luckily enough, Sanemi finds an apartment not far from their home, and after awkward negotiations, Genya's parents have tentatively agreed to let their son visit after school and on weekends.
It’s all he has ever hoped for, and when he hears the news, he bursts into tears. Genya’s mother waits patiently on the phone the entire time.
The next few nights he takes the time to cook the nicest meals he can. When he comes to their door, arms heaped with food, they look more than a little surprised.
But he wants to win over their favor. (And make Genya as strong as possible. He doesn't have to become a great warrior, but Sanemi doesn't know how else to support him. He will try to learn. One day.)
After a few years, Sanemi is even given their spare bedroom as a Christmas gift, and he takes even longer to compose himself. He is still blubbering by the time they return to opening gifts.
In this life, they are not siblings, not even related. Sanemi does not experience his childhood alongside his brother; he grew up alone. But Genya will not. And that is all he has ever wanted.