"You know", Ren says to him one evening, "this really is a beautiful place. I mean. Ugly things happen here, but it's so wonderful. Would be. Well."
He was not used to thinking of Mugenjou in those terms; he has always believed the only beauty in it was (Kazuki) in those who lived there. "You mean the place itself, don't you."
"Of course." Ren swings her feet back and forth over the edge of the balcony. "What else would I mean?"
Toshiki is familiar with the strange properties of what passes for reality, here. He knows what Ren is, and what this has meant to her. He cannot see her smile without knowing that she has felt a longing that will never be furfilled; her world has borders she cannot cross.
She continues, "It's like a whole world in itself. There's nothing that can't happen here. Sometimes I wonder how people can stand it, outside, knowing that nothing will ever change."
He once spent years living in an agony of despair, of wanting, of insatiable desire that he would not, could not, give voice to. He envies Ren for her open words. She had never made a secret of her desires.
Once, she asked if she could kiss him. Stunned by the request, he could not muster the words to refuse her. When she pulled away, she nodded, like a scientist who had just proved a least-favorite hypothesis. "That was ... nice," she said, but it obviously had done little for her.
Toshiki wondered why she had asked.
"I know what you mean," he says. "I've been outside. It's - different. There's something missing." He always felt the edge of Mugenjou as a lesseining of an imperceptible weight; a shift in the ki of the world. What was strange was that he could not tell the difference, looking back. It was never there until you stepped inside.
Ren bit her lip. "That's not it," she said. "That's not it at all. Not something missing outside. We have something special, in here."
He almost asks her what the difference is, but checks himself.
"And they have things we don't, too. It's a big world. But it's like, since we're so small, we got all the reality that has to cover a whole universe, all squeezed in a few kilometers. And it's bursting at the seams. It folds the whole other universe around it." Ren attempts to demonstrate this concept by gestures, frustratedly. "Bigger inside than out. Not just space."
Ren is not graceful. She moves like a sparrow, always with too much energy, always, now that she is taller, a little more than she expected. She is not clumsy, but there is the sense of someone wearing a body slightly too large for them.
Toshiki wonders when he began to notice that. He has made a habit of watching people, but only to determine whether they are a threat, and he knows she would never threaten him. Perhaps it is a sign of friendship. The idea tastes odd.
He used to watch Kazuki, from time to time, never allowing himself too much for fear he would become accustomed to the sight. Kazuki was graceful. Kazuki's smile caught his heart and condemned him to a hollow life, knowing he would always be second-best. Ren's smile is nothing but a smile, but he likes to see it, just the same.
Ren drops her hands and looks down at the street, two stories below. It looks far closer than it should. "I don't know how to explain it."
"This place," he suggests carefully, "has additional qualities of existance. The outside world is not deficient in them, because it lacks the ability to have them. Like an extra dimension."
"Exactly." Ren nods. "That's one way to put it. Or like the difference between a black-and-white photograph, and one in color."
Toshiki holds out a hand and rests it, not without trepidation, on her shoulder. She makes no move to pull away. "I always knew it was a big world out there," she says. "But until I met Kazuki, I never wanted to leave. No matter how bad it got inside, I knew there was something special here. And when I found out about - what that really was - " She breaks off.
"That's what it's like on the outside," he says. "It's peaceful enough. But there's still something missing." He does not know whether he considers the omission significant, or whether someone without obligations would. Certainly, there is a richness and prosperity there that so many in Mugenjou long for without understanding. But to live inside Mugenjou is to be part of a continuous miracle. For Ren, and those like her, that miracle is a necessity of life.
She's someone to talk to. Their friendship is a careful thing, built on the hollows of things left unsaid.
It's not important. There is nothing important between them. That is why he treasures her.
She has never forgiven him. She didn't care. It had not occured to her that there was anything to forgive.
"So you see," she says. "Even if they made it for terrible reasons. Mugenjou is a beautiful place."