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Star Child

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Himari had never been the type to have recurring dreams, or if she was, she could never remember her dreams to know it. But the dreams she had been having as of late were vivid and memorable, and they almost always featured a pair of little boys, one with red hair and one with blue hair. They were surrounded by stars and they seemed happy – but for some reason, they were silent. Neither child could speak. The two of them were tailed by four adorable little penguins. Those boys – they seemed familiar, somehow. When she was with them, it felt as though she had finally arrived home after being away for years. Often they would take her by the hand and show her breath-taking sights – planets, nebulas where stars were born, galaxies. It was mesmerizing, and she would often wake in tears. She had taken to calling the pair her "little star children."

Occasionally however, only one of the boys came to her in her dreams - the little red-haired one. She wasn't sure why some days he visited her dreams alone, but she felt like he wanted something. When the two boys were together they both seemed cheerful enough, but when this child came to her alone, she couldn't help but notice how lonely his eyes were or how sadly he smiled at her. It was such a forlorn expression that it was hard for her not to start crying on the spot. Normally he would take her by the hand and the dream would progress like it did when both brothers were there, but one day…

"Where's your friend?" She finally asked on one of his solo visits, though she knew he couldn't answer her. The child looked around uncertainly, but if his expression was anything to go by her question had made him even more unhappy. His mouth curled into a little frown and he looked down at the ground, and she instantly felt bad for asking. Suddenly she couldn't help herself anymore, and she reached out for him. He looked somewhat startled when she knelt down and pulled him into a hug, but his surprise didn't last long. He wrapped his small arms around her and clung to her, burying his face against her shoulder. "Are you lonely because he's gone? Don't worry." She stroked his hair comfortingly. "He'll be back soon. He's always back by my next dream." It was true, the two of them never stayed separated long, and it was only rarely when she dreamt of this boy alone. The two of them would be reunited in her next dream as always, she was sure of it.

She felt him shaking his head 'no.' So, that wasn't the problem then? "I see…hm…" For a while she just held him silently, deep in thought. If that wasn't the problem, what could it be? It would have been easier if she could have just asked him, but he couldn't answer her. She tried to think up a yes or no question to ask, but it wasn't to be. The boy was suddenly torn from her arms as an obnoxious buzzing sound filled her ears – the sound of her alarm clock. She yawned and opened her eyes. It was time to get ready for school. But throughout the day, she couldn't get the red-headed star child out of her mind.

Himari was right. When she next dreamt of the star-children about a week later, they were back together and happy as ever. Or so she thought, initially. They had gone to a planet with low gravity and the three of them were having fun bouncing around and chasing each other. It was especially amusing to watch their little penguins trip all over each other and fall in slow motion. The larger black penguin was hopping about and flapping her wings, achieving an almost-flight which the other three began trying to imitate with disastrous results. But now that Himari was paying attention, she couldn't help but notice that something was off with the red-haired boy. Even while he was playing, the way he looked at her and his demeanor…he seemed sad, somehow. Though he was laughing and tackling his blue-haired counterpart, she couldn't help but wonder if something was wrong. Did he always look that way, and she was just now realizing it? She found herself almost wishing to have another solo dream with him, just so that she could make sure he was all right. She didn't want to ask in front of his friend (or were they brothers?) Even if it was just a dream and she was putting too much thought into it, it didn't seem right, somehow. She didn't want to ask in front of the blue-haired boy. So for the time being, she held her silence.

As luck would have it though, the next time she fell into that familiar dream world, it was just the red-haired boy again. Himari supposed that it was just her mind, guiding her dreams the way she subconsciously wanted them to go. She was grateful for it –it had been almost a week and a half since she had seen either of them, and that entire time, she had found her mind drifting to the red-haired one. She was worried about him. Which was silly and ridiculous, it was just a dream after all. Neither of those boys or their penguins existed, so why should she care so much? But the thought of them being just a dream was like a knife in her heart…it hurt. Those little star children felt so real when she was with them, they were her little star children – through their shared adventures, they had become like brothers to her. So of course she was going to worry about their well being, even if they weren't real.

Today the dream's setting was set on a Saturn-like planet, and the boy was sitting by himself on the ring of the planet, kicking his feet back and forth over the edge. He leaned back on his arms when he heard her approaching and smiled up at her. She smiled back and took a seat next to him. The view was amazing – there were so many stars and she could see quite a few planets in their orbit around the sun. No matter how many times she had these ethereal dreams of the heavens, they never ceased to amaze her.

"Your brother couldn't make it today?" Himari asked him and he shrugged – but she could have sworn he looked almost a little…disappointed? By what, that his brother wasn't there? But last time she had asked, he had denied that was the problem. "Well, that's okay. I like playing with you both, but I also like it like this too." She waved her hand between them, indicating she meant when it was just the two of them. He stared at her, like he was surprised. "Actually, I've wanted to talk to you…" The boy nodded for her to go on.

"It's just that, whenever it's just the two of us, you look so sad. At first I thought it was because the blue-haired boy wasn't with you, but even when the both of you are playing together, I started to notice it too… And I was just wondering why. I mean, I know you can't answer me…" Himari sighed. It would be so much easier if he could talk to her. "But I just want to make sure everything is okay. I'm worried about you, all right? I know this is just a dream, but I hate seeing you unhappy."

The red-haired boy hopped to his feet (nearly losing his balance off the side of the ring. Luckily, the whole "low-gravity" thing worked in his favor) and shook his head vigorously, waving his hands as if to say "you're misunderstanding!" He closed the small gap between them, and this time it was his turn to give her a hug. Since she was sitting down, he could easily wrap his arms around her shoulders. He brushed his lips over her forehead and then let go of her. He pointed at himself and smiled reassuringly – like he was trying to tell her he wasn't sad at all. Himari wasn't convinced. She gave him a skeptical look. "If something is wrong, you shouldn't try and hide it." He nodded, sitting back down, but didn't make any motion for her to continue the conversation. Figuring this out was going to be tough. Other than the fact that the boy seemed lonely, it looked like he didn't like her mentioning his brother while the blue-haired boy wasn't present. Odd. She decided to change the conversation for the time being.

"Is this Saturn?" Himari asked him, looking around at the planets near her that she could see. The red-head nodded affirmation. "Wow, this is closer to home than we normally get! Usually you boys take me so far out, but it's kind of exciting to see the solar system from here!" Off in the distance, glowing a little brighter than the distant stars, she could make out something that looked like a blue planet. "Look over there. I think that's Earth. It looks so tiny from out here!" It felt so surreal. "You should come visit some time, I think you would like it." She suggested with a smile. There were some beautiful planets out in space (or at least in her dreams), but nothing compared to Earth. The boy gazed at Earth with a thoughtful look on his face.

Suddenly, the edges of their little world started to darken around them, and Himari could sense that the dream was coming to an end. So fast? She reached out and grabbed his hand, giving it a little squeeze. "I have to go now, it looks like. I'll see you again soon." He nodded and squeezed back, and all too soon she was back in her room, staring up at the ceiling.

After that, her dreams progressed as normal. The two boys showed up from time to time and went on their normal adventures. One night they had gone to a planet with a series of underground caves and gone exploring. She had been frightened that they might end up meeting some hostile alien in there. It seemed her anxiousness had been shared with at least one of the penguins; the one with the pink bow was hiding her face against one of the other penguins. She picked the bird up and gave her a comforting hug. Luckily for both her and the penguin, nothing like that happened. But they did find a wonderful cavern filled with crystals and lit by the glow of some molten lava that was running through like a stream. In another dream, they had gone to a small planet entirely filled with ice and they had slid across the surface like they were skating. The penguins had been especially graceful in that dream.

It was an entire month before she had another solo dream with the red-haired boy, but when she did, it proved to be worth the wait. Because the first thing she noticed about the dream was that he was standing there, looking nervous…in her house. The boy was here with her, on Earth.

"Ahh!" Himari squealed with delight, clasping both his hands with her own and causing him to blush. "I can't believe you took me advice! You're really here with me!" She ignored the nagging reality that this was all a dream. The boy smiled and he looked so genuinely happy that she wrapped him in a hug and jumped up and down with him excitedly. He looked a little overwhelmed by all the attention he was getting (his blush was spreading across his face) but seemed pleased. "Oh, but since I was the one who told you to come here, I have to show you around now, right? I can't let you think I told you to come to a boring planet. Is this your first time on Earth?"

The boy just made a face and gave a little, non-committal shrug. Himari wasn't sure what that was about, but she wasn't going to dwell on it. Today was going to be a fun day and she had to hurry before she woke up. It was a shame that the boy's brother couldn't be there with them today, but she kept the thought to herself, not wanting to upset the red-head. "Well, let's see. What should we do first?" She practically dragged him out of the house with her, but he seemed excited himself.

The one nice thing about being in a dream was that they were operating on dream-time. Things that ordinarily would have taken hours to reach were easily accessible to them. Their first stop was an amusement park – she wanted to show him the most fun things about Earth and it didn't get much more fun than that. The world was strangely empty besides the two of them, but that meant no waiting in line. So she had taken him on all the rides – the roller coasters that she normally was too afraid to go on, the ferris wheel, the merry-go-round (instead of horses, they rode on the backs of giant penguins.) When they were done with that, she bought ice cream for the both of them and they headed to the nearby aquarium – she thought he would appreciate that, considering the penguins. She took him on a little guided tour and told him about all the types of animals. They stopped at the penguin exhibit, Himari leaned against the railing and the boy pressed against the glass. "And these are Earth penguins! They look a little different than the ones you're used to, huh?" The boys' penguins were actually cuter, though strange looking by Earth's standards. "Ah…you know, maybe I should have taken you to the zoo instead." She said absent-mindedly, watching the penguins swim around. "I only showed you aquatic animals, but there's a lot more to see." She glanced down at the red-head and noticed he was staring at her. When he noticed her looking, he quickly turned away to look at the penguins again.

"We've never seen an animal on any of the planets we've been to. Well, besides your penguins." She said thoughtfully, as they headed home – or rather, her home. "It must get lonely out there without any other life." The boy shook his head, but Himari knew that if it were her, she would be lonely out there.

It was dark when they reached her house, but instead of going in, they sat outside together. Himari sat down near the large pig statue in their yard, and the red-head sat on the head of the giraffe slide. They were both looking up at the sky.

"Well, I know it's not much compared to what you're used to seeing, but this is how the stars look from Earth." Himari told him. The stars looked unusually bright, and the crescent moon was overhead. "I wish I could remember the constellations. I would show them to you. But I'm bad at remembering them." She laughed. Even if she could remember them, she'd have trouble picking them out in the sky. "But sometimes I like to make up my own. Mm, let's see if I can find them tonight." She scanned the stars and found a round cluster of stars with a skinny line of stars leading out from under it. "I always thought that one over there looks kind of like a tree. Do you think so?" She pointed at it and saw the boy following her gaze, nodding with a smile.

"And that one looks like a butterfly, and that one looks kind of like a flower if you squint. And ah, look over there, Kan-chan! That one looks like a sea otter, just like y…" Himari trailed off, putting a hand to her mouth. Slowly she looked from the sky over to the boy and saw him staring at her - his eyes were huge and it looked like he was shaking. All of a sudden, she felt dizzy. "Kan-chan..? Why did I call you that…?" Everything felt surreal, more so than usual.

"Kan-chan…" Himari repeated again, getting a taste for the name on her lips. And abruptly, it was like someone had shined a light on the darkest recesses of her mind. Memories came flooding back into her consciousness, none of them lasting more than a few seconds each, but each one precious. Memories of a childhood she didn't remember – meeting the blue-haired boy, being adopted, meeting the red-head for the first time when he was adopted, growing up together. Family meals, family squabbles, family trips to the aquarium or the beach. She saw both the boys when they were older, both quite handsome in their own ways. But most of all, she saw the way the red-head had come to care for her. While all the other memories had a familiar feel to them, these memories felt like something new. She remembered the gentle way he spoke to her and the kind look in his eyes every time he glanced her way, always, even when they were children. She remembered his growing desperation when she got sick (she had been sick?) and his need to find a way to save her and his descent into despair. It seemed she had tried to save him from it – but that's where her memory cut off.

Himari felt a hand on her shoulder and blinked heavily, her mind swimming. It was the boy …Kanba…had come to stand next to her. His large green eyes were full of concern. The expression looked so familiar, now that she had her memories back. How many times had he looked at her in the past with that very same expression on his face? "Kan-chan…" Tears streaked down her cheek and she grabbed hold of him and clung to him, burying her face against his hair. "Kan-chan, it's you. Why didn't I remember before now? How could I have forgotten you?" After all he had done for her, forgetting him was the worst sort of betrayal. "I'm so sorry, Kan-chan. I'm so sorry." She sobbed.

"…Himari…" She was surprised to hear her name being called. "Himari. I know you can't hear me, but please don't cry. It's not your fault." She wasn't sure why, after all this time, she could suddenly hear him again. Did it have to do with her memories being restored? Hearing his voice for the first time in ages did nothing to slow her tears. "I'm happy that you have a good life now, Himari. I love you. I love you so much more than you'll ever know… So please, just live and be happy. It was my one and only wish. Don't feel guilty."

There was a catch in his voice and when Himari looked at his face again, she could see there were tears in his eyes. With a shaky hand, she reached out and brushed away one that had escaped. "I hear you. I c-can finally hear you, Kan-chan…" She said softly. He tensed up in her arms and looked up at her in surprise. She smiled through her own tears and ruffled his hair lightly. "It's been so long since I've heard that voice. It's been forever since I've even thought about you…Why didn't I remember until now?"

"It's not your fault…" Kanba repeated urgently. He hated to see her cry. "It's better this way, really. Shouma and I wanted you to live a normal life. Wouldn't it be painful to remember? Maybe your dreams were blocking our voices to protect you. I was okay with that though. I don't want you to be sad, Himari. I don't want you to have regrets. As long as I could still see you, I was happy."

"T-that's not true, Kan-chan. You were hurting… I could tell." Kanba didn't have to say anything; even without words, she had been able to tell something was wrong. He looked away from her. "You were lonely all this time?" There was a long pause.

"…Yeah…" Kanba finally admitted sheepishly, still not meeting her gaze. She was surprised that he actually admitted it – she remembered how stubborn he could be. "I…I really miss you. I miss seeing you every day. I miss our normal life together. But…" He looked up at her. "I don't regret it! I would have traded anything for you to live a normal life!" He practically shouted. It was something he obviously felt strongly about. "So…no matter what I feel…it's not important to me. It was worth it." He finished quietly.

"But it is important. You gave up so much for me, Kan-chan. You gave up a lot more for me than I deserved." He shook his head and was about to say something, but she tapped her finger to his lips. "No, really. You shouldn't have done that – you shouldn't have sacrificed your own life for me. I couldn't even thank you for what you've done, I didn't remember you until now. Here you were, you were hurting so badly and I didn't know why."

Kanba grimaced – he looked pained by her words. "It's not your fault. It had to be this way, Himari. Because I don't exist in this world. It can't be helped – to save you, you had to live in a new reality, and it required a sacrifice. It's natural that you wouldn't be able to remember someone who doesn't exist in your reality, right?"

He frowned, and when he spoke again, his voice was laced with remorse. "I shouldn't have come here. I was the one who told Shouma it was a bad idea to come to your dreams originally, but… I just wanted to see you so much. And now look. I reawakened some memories by accident, and I've caused you needless suffering. I'm sorry, Himari. I've failed you again."

"...I swear, Kan-chan, you have the most thick-headed ideas sometimes!" Himari pulled him close again. She hated to see him sad. "How can you think that? I'm not suffering. I'm happy I get to see you again!" She kissed him on top of his head. "I just feel bad that I wasn't able to see why you were so unhappy all those times - if anything, I made you suffer, right?" Kanba shook his head 'no' vigorously.

"So you're okay with this? It doesn't hurt you to know the truth?" Kanba asked quietly.

"Of course it hurts. My two brothers, the people who were closest to me, died and I didn't even know about it until now. Kan-chan sacrificed himself for me, and I didn't know about that until now either. It hurts that we don't live in the same world anymore. But...the happiness I get from being able to see you again, and to be able to give you a hug, and to remember.. Kan-chan, that outweighs the bad." Every word of it was true - Himari felt that way from the bottom of her heart.

"I'm...glad." Kanba mumbled. "I'm glad you want to remember. ...Because I actually didn't want you to forget again. I guess that was selfish of me." Himari shook her head. She felt tears prickling at her eyes again and quickly brushed them away.

"I'm sure Shouma will be happy too, when I tell him about this." He added.

"Oh! Speaking of Sho-chan, I've been wondering, why is it that sometimes he's not with us? Like today..." Himari wasn't sure whether or not she should ask, but Kanba had brought him up first, so she figured it was safe to proceed.

"He likes to go visit Oginome-san's dreams sometimes." Kanba grinned. "I'm not sure how much you remember about them, but they had just started to fall in love before, well...the incident."

"O-oh!" Himari did remember that, now that Kanba mentioned it. She turned a little red. She was glad that Shouma was still visiting her, but felt a pang of sadness that they would never be together now. She wondered what Ringo thought of the dreams, she'd have to ask her about them the next time she saw her. "But there are days when I don't dream about either of you, so couldn't he just go visit then?"

"He could, but..." Kanba scratched the back of his neck and fidgetted, "well, sometimes I like to visit you on my own. I guess I could tell Shouma to start visiting Oginome-san on the days we don't visit you, though."

"Ah, no no, that's okay!" Himari didn't want him to think she didn't enjoy their one-on-one time. "I was just wondering, is all. But I like spending time with you too. Like today! I had a lot of fun with you, even before we were able to talk to each other."

As if on cue, the world around them started to get brighter, and Himari realized unhappily that she was going to wake up in a few minutes. She squeezed Kanba a little tighter to her.

"I had fun with you too, Himari." Kanba seemed to have realized it was nearing the end too, "I hope you'll remember all this when you wake up."

"I will. There's no way I could forget, Kan-chan." The dream world crumbled around them.

"See you again soon. I'll let Shouma know what happened tonight, and I'll bring him with me next time. Bye, Himari. I love you." And with that, the boy disappeared from her arms.

Himari opened her eyes, the sight of her bedroom's ceiling letting her know that she was no longer dreaming. "I love you too," she murmured and sat up in bed.

Her mind whirled with the dream from last night, trying to remember all the details. She had promised she wouldn't forget, after all. The dream wouldn't be that hard to remember - it had been so vivid. That little boy, he had turned out to be her brother from another life. Both those little boys, actually. Was it true?

"Kan-chan..." Himari wasn't sure what to think. It made perfect sense in her dream, but thinking about it in real life was pretty out there.

...It probably wasn't true. She was an only child and she had always wanted a brother or a sister, she just never realized that she had wanted siblings so bad that she would have recurring dreams about the topic. Still, it was nice to think about having brothers who loved her and would protect her. Her hand ran over the scar on her forehead lightly. If only it were true - even though she knew it was just a dream, she still felt so much love whenever she thought about the boys in her dream.

Himari got out of bed, still lost in thought. She stifled a yawn, today was a weekend so she'd have some free time. As she headed to the bathroom to get ready for the day, her eyes landed on her teddy bear, which was sitting on her dresser. Right next to it was the note she had found in its stomach, a few months back. That note...

Her heart nearly stopped when she remembered what it said. She rushed over to read it again. There, in childish scrawl, it said,

"We love you. From your brothers."

She had cried when she found that note, though she hadn't known why at the time. And now she found herself in tears once again.

"They were real. I remember now...they were real. We were a family." Himari felt ashamed for having doubted the dream, for having doubted Kan-chan and Sho-chan were really her brothers.

"I'm so sorry. But from now on, we'll all be a family again. Even if I can only see you in my dreams. Please wait for me, we're not seperated permanently. Some day we'll all be together again, and it won't just be while I'm dreaming."

Himari kissed the note and set it down. She looked forward to the next time she fell asleep.