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The Little Mirror

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Neku had been the one to give her the little mirror.

Ever since she came back to the RG, Shiki found her eyes straying to mirrors all the time. When she walked past them in clothing stores, her eyes would linger on the full-sized mirrors longer than necessary, her steps slowing down to a stop. Once, she would have stayed in front of one of those mirrors until dark if Neku hadn't waved a hand in front of her, breaking her out of her trance. He joked about her absentmindedness right after, but the concern in his eyes was hard to miss.

Shiki would stare at herself in the mirror as she undressed for the shower, the running water forgotten as her appearance kept her spellbound. She would touch her fingers to her face, running her hands across her chin, her cheeks, her nose, memorizing her face with her fingers, afraid that what she saw would disappear in the very next moment. She hadn't realized how much her appearance meant to her until she thought it was fine to lose her identity, but even when she looked not a thing like herself, she hadn't discarded her own name.

Shiki. Her name was Shiki, she would say to the mirror, watching in dread as her reflection slowly became clouded from the steam. She would trace her name across the corner of the mirror over and over again, like a broken charm. The letters always disappeared afterward.

She wasn't looking in the mirror to check up on her makeup or to straighten her clothes like everyone else did. Looking in the mirror had become a necessity.

In front of the others, she tried to be perky and outgoing, like how she had been in the UG when she first discovered she had Eri's appearance. During that week of her life, her appearance had been false, but not everything had been false. She knew she was fooling no one though, especially not Neku. He had seen her at her worst during that one week. She didn't know how it happened--it felt like just now that she had been poking at Neku to get him to open up more and to stop ignoring people--and now he was the one anchoring her. How had their roles reversed so easily?

The Neku she had met during the third week was nothing like the Neku she had met at the very beginning. She barely knew him. She hadn't been there during those two weeks when he had struggled and lost and gained new trust. When she found out that his new entry fee had been her, she didn't quite know what to think. He had transformed from that frustrating boy who thought it was all right to kill her to this understanding person who knew what the bonds between Partners, between friends meant. She hadn't even been there to see it. Sometimes, she was envious of Beat who had been able to accompany Neku all throughout those three weeks.

In comparison, she hadn't grown at all.

When they went out for ramen, Neku fiddled around with her cellphone. There wasn't anything on there that she didn't want him to see--he'd met Eri in real life already. When he handed her cellphone back to her, the photo of Eri and herself stared back at her, their smiling faces so bright and carefree. She wondered once again if it was time to change the photo. She'd be reminded of the UG much less that way, of the time when that photo had been the only thing she thought she had left of her old identity, which was silly, because as physical things went, there still had been Mr. Mew. As she moved to put away her cellphone, her fingers brushed past something odd on the back.

She turned her cellphone over, her breath hitching when she saw the little mirror Neku had stuck on her cell.

The little mirror was in the shape of a cat. It was barely an inch either way and not very thick at all, with tiny little black lines outlining the edges of the mirror. When she peered into it, she could see her large brown eyes, and if she tilted her cellphone, she could see more. Her round lenses, her thick, brown hair, her conservative turtleneck she wore today...

"What is this, Neku?" she asked, never breaking her gaze.

Neku reached over and covered the mirror, his hand so warm in proximity.

"Duh, it's a tiny little mirror," he said as if that was the most obvious thing in the world, and it was, but that wasn't what she had meant.

"I thought you'd like it," he added.

She nodded and looked back down at her phone, wondering if she should tug her hand out from beneath his. She wanted to look at that mirror again.

He placed his other hand over the phone too, keeping her hand place.

"Shiki, I discarded my headphones. One day, you'll be able to discard this too."

She gulped and managed to tear her eyes away from his hands that concealed that alluring little mirror. His voice had been so serious, so concerned. She lifted her gaze, caught by his deep blue eyes. Her gaze trailed up to that wild orange hair unrestrained by those headphones he had never been without in the UG.

She watched as his lips quirked up and felt him as he removed her hands from the cellphone. He lifted the phone up in the air to peer at himself in the little mirror, one eye squinting to get a better look.

Shiki giggled at the sight.

She didn't entirely understand what he had meant then, but she soon found out later. Her cellphone was never far from her, and whenever she felt anxious, she'd touch the cellphone, knowing that the mirror was there. That thought alone calmed her down. It helped her through her nervousness when the new school year started and when other people praised her work. She still found it hard to believe at times that they were really praising her for her, but when she touched her cellphone, she'd remember Neku and his belief in her.

Sometimes, she questioned what Neku's intentions were. Wasn't it bad for her to develop a dependence like this? Neku should know intimately how deadly a dependence like this could be. But she supposed it was still a step forward, for she no longer stopped in front of those mirrors in department stores, nor was she caught by the mirrors in bathrooms. All she needed was her little mirror.

Neku had told her that one day, she'd be able to discard the little mirror. She hadn't been able to do so yet. Shiki mulled over this as she waited in Neku's bedroom while Neku himself was downstairs, having been stopped by his mother. Left alone, curiosity got hold of Shiki. When she was investigating his room, she noticed that Neku had a stack of fashion magazines stuck in the corner of his shelf--they were strangely bulky--and couldn't resist pulling one out. The magazines were crammed so tightly that she had to wiggle the magazine left and right.

She smiled triumphantly when she finally got the magazine out, but her triumph was short-lived. Her eyes widened as the magazines all fell out. She hastily tried to catch them to no avail, and after they all fell, little, clear balls with brightly colored caps tumbled out from behind.

Shiki inched forward, pushing the magazines away. She picked up one of the capsules and popped the cap off.

Inside was another little mirror, this one in the shape of a frog.

Curious, she opened the other capsules and found more little frog mirrors, some little dog mirrors, and some little bunny mirrors too. Her little cat mirror was one of a kind. She imagined Neku standing in front of the capsule machine, putting in coin after coin, twisting that little metal knob, hoping that he'd finally get the little cat mirror that he had thought she'd like.

And she didn't just like it. She loved it. She loved it because it was from Neku.

She smiled as she tore open the plastic wrapping of one of the little mirrors. She picked up Neku's cellphone, flipped it over, and stuck the little mirror on the back.

Now, they matched.

When Neku came back with a tray full of snacks and drinks, Shiki waited eagerly for him to notice the little mirror on the back of his cellphone. It took a while, but his reaction didn't disappoint.

"So you found them," he said sheepishly. If he had really wanted to hide those capsules from her, hiding them behind fashion magazines was his first mistake.

He then took another look at the little mirror on the back of his cellphone.

"A frog for me, of all animals??" he asked incredulously.

Shiki couldn't stop herself from bursting out in laughter at his expression.