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Chapter Text

Suffocation, is what Shion strived to be rid of. The all too well-known feeling crept up on him persistently, while baking, taking a shower, in bed at night—it could drive a person mad, the person in this situation being Shion of course.

Between his mother’s fatal death and his father’s mysterious departure, Shion was left reeling. He had Safu of course, and she even offered Shion a room in her house until he was back on his feet again, but he declined. He knew he was being silly, and that she was only trying to help, but her pity vexed him. Shion assured himself that he could do this on his own, he’d regrettably sell his mother’s bakery and purchase a small apartment without Safu’s sympathy. It was wasteful to feel bad for those perfectly fine.

So when his childhood friend had phoned Shion and said she’d been accepted into a wonderful school, “really a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity” she’d called it, he congratulated her. Told her to go chase her dreams. Because how could he not, that’s what friends were for, right? And even as she tip-toed around him, like he was made of glass, asking the inevitable “But Shion what about you? I can’t leave you,” he told her she was being stupid, that he’d be okay and really, he found a suitable apartment in the area and even a job at a local retail store stocking.

Safu promised him Skype calls every weekend—the man chuckled dryly at that, like hell she would withhold her word—but he smiled anyway, telling her she’d be missed. With one final wish of good luck from him, Safu ended the call, off to bigger and better things, without Shion.

The white-headed boy tossed his phone onto his bed, then after a bit of pacing, tossed himself as well onto the small twin-size, his feet just at the edge. His brain was clouded and fuzzy as of recent events, and his sleep-deprived body pestered him, begging for rest. But the rest Shion needed could not be provided by slumber, as nightmares were as equally suffocating—if not even more—than being conscious. He knew he needed to leave, he couldn’t stand being in the quiet town any longer, he needed freedom. Freedom from the waves that pulled him under.

Shion needed to breathe again.

With a plan taking form in his head, the man allowed himself to slip unconscious, hopeful for a change.


He hadn’t told anyone of his idea as of yet, well, anyone meaning Safu. It’s not like he could’ve confided in his parents, and he didn’t come into contact with anybody else really.

No one gives a damn about what I do.

Shion mulled over the thought. It was true, he was practically invisible to the world. It was his own fault he supposed, but he never felt the need to have had a genuine friendship with anyone other than Safu. She never had a lot of friends either, so it worked well for the two of them.

Shion did a once-over on his room. You’d think that if you were to go on a permanent vacation, to never come back to your hometown again, you would take all of your possessions with you. But it seemed to be the opposite with Shion, only necessities and some pleasurable items had been packed away neatly in his suitcase. For example, his trusty copy of Molecular Biology of the Cell had obviously been put on the top of the pile in his suitcase, (of course he’d memorized the book inside and out but for nostalgia’s sake he’d packed it) and it would be a lie to say the man hadn’t brought some of his other favorite textbooks.

Shion looked in his suitcase for what would be the last time until he reached his destination, and filled with determination, zipped it. He dragged his luggage off his bed, and made his way over to his bureau, picking up the plane ticket and shoving it in his coat pocket. He turned toward the door to exit, but took a double-take. If it weren’t for the familiar folded up piece of paper sticking out from under a book on his bookshelf that caught his eye, Shion would have been out of his apartment already.

He recited the words before even taking the crumpled paper in his hands and unfolding it, having read it over and over without end.

I won’t be back, I’m sorry.

I’m sorry. What a load of shit that was. Shion could remember countless nights of torture, questioning Why? Why did his father leave him? Was his son really that much of a disappointment? More importantly, how could he leave the most caring and wonderful woman in the world, especially in a time of need?

It had been two years ago; his mother’s cancer had been diagnosed. It had been two years ago, Shion found the note on his bedside table. It had been two years ago, everything went downhill in his life.

Shion glared at the faded letters his father had the audacity to write those years ago, the letters that had obsessed him for innumerable hours, flipping the note over and back, over and back, holding it up against sunlight, scrutinizing it into late hours until his eyes burned, mindset on maybe, just maybe, the next time he grazed over the page new letters would appear.

Just kidding, I’ll be back in the morning.

Shion had hoped for this outcome for far too long.

Once his mother had closed her eyes for the last time, the realization had come like a slap in the face, the stinging sensation never really fading away.
But that had been five months ago—his mother’s death that is—and Shion was a volcano filled to the brim with rage, just waiting to erupt.

Shion grasped the note firmly with both hands on either side, and tugged. The thin, fuzzing paper ripped with ease, and the man didn’t stop ripping, a little of the lava spewing with each shred that floated to the floor.
He laughed a hollow laugh, wondering how he possibly shed tears over the blasted thing years ago.
With one final smug look to the mess of paper on the floor of his apartment, Shion turned to the door, and left.

Chapter Text

Shion’s head craned upwards towards the tall buildings; skyscrapers, that’s what people called them. Shion had never seen a skyscraper before—in person that is—instead, rolling hills, mountains, those were what the man had come to call skyscrapers.

But no, this was the city, loud, dirty, crowded, and full of towering structures. Nothing like Lost Town’s quiet and reserved atmosphere. Some enjoy the peacefulness of the little town, but some, like Shion, would do just about anything to be free of the deafening silence. Long story short, city life was a welcome change for the man.

He’d only been there for two days, day one consisted of the purchasing of an apartment, and day two saw Shion sprawled on his bed, sleeping off the jet lag. But today he’d decided he should explore his new home, and maybe look for some “help wanted” posters if he wished to stay in in the city.

Shion eyed the small bookshop warily, not even sure if the building was still in use. He had come across the building by chance, was about to give up the job hunt when he spotted it. If derelict wasn’t the adjective used to describe the store, then Shion hadn’t the slightest idea what one may use instead. The worn door appeared out of place, like someone had kicked it and it came off its hinges a touch, or it just hadn’t been installed the correct way. Vines crept up the side of the building like it would a backyard fence, with leaves of bright green over-lapping each other.

What seemed most unusual though, considering the shop's run-down shape, was how tall it was. It gave the impression to be three stories, and while that was not infrequent for the city full of tall structures, Shion found it abnormal for the building’s neglected state.

The man swiveled his head around, taking in the surroundings of his maybe-future-job. An alley resided on the left of the shop, barren except for a few suspicious cardboard boxes and some leafy vines on the brick walls. He turned again, noticing several other apartments adjacent to the bookstore and across from it. This part of the city looked scarce, and there was more room left in-between each apartment than in the denser, more-populated sections of the city. Few people walked the streets or sat on the porch-steps of their apartments, shooting odd looks to the young man with the hair as white as snow and snake-like scar, scanning and analyzing their homes like it was a research paper being corrected by a professor.

Shion mildly debated his options—which were very few mind you. He could either head back to the direction of his apartment, scouting out for more employment opportunities, or take his chances here, and possibly receive an application for a job.

He knew if looked for employment on the walk back to his apartment he most likely wouldn’t have any luck, so he shrugged and concluded that location wasn’t everything, and would not be the determining factor.

Taking one last glance behind him, the man opened the paint-chipped door, and stepped inside.

It was dimly lit, but not aggravatingly so, it appeared like a nice cozy place to nurse a book and some steamy latte. Novels of many colors and qualities stacked high in piles and over-flowed bookshelves as easily as a river would levees on a stormy day. The smell of fresh parchment flooded his senses, and Shion sighed a breath of relief. This was home.

Well, what used to be home for Shion. The small store looked like it belonged in Lost Town, its ambience similar in ways of humbleness. The man was surprised to feel as contented as he did in the place that reminded him so much of his hometown. He felt at ease as he stepped further into the shop, walking over the doormat that read “Welcome home.”

Unlike the city surrounding the minute building, the shop was empty besides the employee at the counter with a customer.
The worker looked up from the register and smiled.

“Good evening, I’ll be with you in just a minute.” Shion nodded, returning the smile.

He didn’t need any assistance in searching for books, wasn’t looking to buy anything as it was a job he wanted, so he stuck ‘round the front shelves, not wishing to be rude by walking away.

Shion walked down an aisle close to the front counter, running his fingers along the spines of the worn books. He stopped at a purple novel with fraying edges, and took the book out casually, pretending he was interested. It seemed the shop wasn’t as empty as he thought it to be.

A stranger stood in front of him, tall with broad shoulders, and long hair pulled back into a loose bun. Navy strands too short for the hair knot framed the man’s face, and they jostled slightly as he reached out to grasp a book. Shion could only see the profile of the man, but he could already tell he was beautiful.

Sensing he was being watched, the stranger turned to face the onlooker with narrowed eyes and a book in his hand.

Beautiful, it appeared, was the biggest understatement to have ever come across Shion’s mind. His features were sharp, jaw chiseled and strong, cheekbones high and clearly visible on his face. Shion was vaguely reminded of Safu’s appearance, but he dismissed the thought quickly. His thin, pale pink lips were spread into a frown, and Shion wanted to touch them to see if they really were as soft as they looked. When the man blinked, long, dark lashes splayed out, lightly dusting his under-eye area. Shion had never seen someone so stunning before in his life.

“Hi. I’m Shion.” The white-haired man extended his hand out towards the other immediately, Crimson eyes meeting silver ones on instinct. Shion didn’t regret regarding the steely orbs one bit, even if they sent shivers down his spine.

The stranger cautiously took the hand in front of him. “Nezumi.”

Shion smiled, tested the name, said it aloud, liked the way it felt on his tongue. It felt right.

Nezumi pulled away from the handshake (much to Shion’s disappointment) and narrowed his eyes once more, the sharpness of his gaze slicing through Shion with ease. The smaller of the two suddenly became very aware of his intent stare on the other, so he quickly dropped his gaze to the book in the Nezumi’s hand. Long, pale fingers wrapped around it, and he couldn’t help staring at them before looking to the volume.

“Have you read Dracula before?” Shion nodded to the book Nezumi held. The taller man glanced sideways at it.

“Yes, a couple of times actually.” He spoke fluidly and clearly, like there was a purpose, like what he said had some profound meaning behind it. In the short moments of Shion speaking to the man, he knew he would never hear him stutter, never speak with insecurity.

Nezumi pointed to the worn hardcover in Shion’s arm. “Have you read Shakespeare before?”

The white-haired man brought the manuscript in front of his eyes to see what he had grabbed, blushing slightly. He had only taken it off the shelf to look busy, and not like he was aimlessly wandering about.

“No, not at all.” Macbeth. Of course he’d heard of Macbeth before, he just never had the chance to pick it up. Or the desire, really.

“I figured it would be difficult, I’m not used to reading plays.” Shion flipped through the book quickly, eyes skimming the pages.

“It is for some people.” Shion could feel Nezumi’s gaze on him, and he looked up, hoping to catch his eye. He frowned, seeing as he was sorely mistaken, and watched Nezumi pluck off a piece of lint from his sweater, a surprisingly hard expression residing on his face.

“Is it difficult for you?” Shion kept his gaze on the man in front of him.

He thought there was a reason for Nezumi’s solid looks—maybe the lint extermination had been a struggle (it could have been really stuck on there, you never know)—but now, as Shion stared at the man across from him as he looked up, the same firm mien inhabiting his features, he was convinced it was his face in its natural state. A frown forever gracing the man’s gorgeous appearance.

Nezumi eyed him, lips parting to reply.

The employee couldn’t have picked a better time to interrupt, a call ringing out through the small shop, stopping Nezumi’s response.

“Sir? I can help you now if you’d like.”

The employee from the register was calling Shion, being polite and doing his job, asking if he needed help. Shion felt like an ass for wanting to ignore the worker completely to keep his conversation going with Nezumi. He turned to said man.

“Sorry, I’ll be right back.” Shion smiled.
He turned on his heel and walked out of the aisle, rounding a corner, and strode up to the register.

“I apologize for the wait; how can I help you?” The worker was a plump man, quipped with a red bow tie and a flat cap. The corners of his eyes crinkled when he smiled, and he brought a hand up to scratch his thin brown beard running along his chin. The name tag on his shirt read Rikiga.

“I was hoping to receive an application to work, you have a “now hiring” sign on your window.” Shion nodded in the direction of the sign.

“Of course, let me grab you one from the back.” The man pointed a thumb behind him and shuffled through the open doorway on his left.

Shion turned away from the counter, rounded a corner and walked into the aisle he had just came out of. He thought Nezumi would be there, long fingers flipping pages quietly, getting a head start on the Bram Stoker classic. He thought wrong.
Shion walked down to the end of the aisle and poked his head out, checking the surrounding aisles. No sign of Nezumi. The store suddenly seemed a whole lot emptier with the man gone.

He let out a subconscious sigh, and retraced his steps, back to the front counter.


“Here you are sir,” Rikiga gave him a cheery smile, handing over the paper, “and there’s no rush on it, by the way.”

Shion nodded, eyes already flitting through the sheet.

“Oh sir, would you like to check that book out?” The man pointed to the book tucked in Shion’s arm. He had forgotten he was carrying it. Shion brought the novel to his eyes, biting his bottom lip in thought.

“You know what, I think I will, actually.”

Chapter Text

Shion returned to the bookstore once more, and on the third trip he started as a full-time worker, stocking shelves, cleaning, and working the register while Rikiga ate lunch. Business was slow compared to the shops in the center of the city, but wages were promised to be decent and if he were to be perfectly honest, Shion enjoyed working in the humble shop—he was enjoying his first day at least—which he now knew to be Rikiga’s. Shion had not seen Nezumi the first two days he had come, but on the third day, when he began working, the man graced the store with his presence once again.

Shion buried his nose into his elbow, and for the fifth time, sneezed. When was the last time someone had dusted these shelves? Obviously, it had not been recently. He silently cursed as he felt another sneeze rising to the surface.

The front bell rang, and Shion looked in the direction of it on instinct, knowing the shelf was blocking his view to the door.

Rikiga’s voice welcomed the customer in, the same welcome he’d heard all day. It was either a, “Good morning,” or a “Good afternoon,” or a “Good evening,” followed by a “Could I help you?” It was a “Good evening” this time. Checking his watch, Shion noticed his shift would be done soon.

“No thank you, just browsing.” He knew that voice, had heard it three days ago. It was a deep voice, smooth, like it had been coated in honey. He wanted to hear more of it. Shion kept his head pointed in the direction of the door, unmoving.

“Oh, it’s you.” The sentence came out as a sigh, and Shion turned to meet the owner of the rich voice. His hair was in a ponytail today, Shion remarked, and he wore a black leather jacket with cargo pants. One pant leg was tucked in a boot, while the other was left untucked.

“Why do you say that as if it’s a bad thing?” Shion gave a pointed look to the man. “And you practically vanished two days ago, what was that for?”

Nezumi scrutinized Shion as if he were a bug, something to be swatted away. “I don’t recall you asking me to stay.” He pushed a rebel strand of his navy-locks behind an ear, “What do you want from me?”

Shion held his gaze, silver eyes narrowing dangerously across from him.

“Who said I wanted something of you?” Shion turned back to the sill in front of him, and continued wiping it down.

“Well you’re talking to me.”

“Do you instinctively assume that everyone who speaks to you is using you for their own desires?”

“It’s human nature. Don’t act like a saint.”

“It’s human nature to expect the worst from people?”

He either hadn’t heard him or chose to ignore him as he walked pashed Shion, deeper into the aisle, stopping a few feet down from him. Shion suspected the latter.

“I work here now.”

“Do you?” Nezumi examined the various titles, finger grazing the spines.

“Yes, I just started today.”

“That much is obvious. You’re not very good at cleaning, these shelves are disgusting.”

“I haven’t gotten to that section yet.”

“Clearly.” Nezumi swiped a finger along the shelf and raised it, pointer-finger coated in dust, further proving his point. Shion walked over to the man, and began cleaning the shelf he was at. “Happy?”

“While you’re up there, could you hand me something by Shakespeare?” Shion squatted, wiping the lower levels of the shelf. “Anything, really. I ended up borrowing Macbeth, and I quite liked it.”

Nezumi leaned over the crouched man to get to the shelf, hand fluttering over the different volumes. He picked out a red novel. “I knew you wanted something of me.”

Shion chose to ignore the remark as he stood up and dusted off his pants. Nezumi handed him the book. “The Tragedy of Hamlet?”

“Glad you can read, considering you do work in a library.”

“Ha ha, very funny.” Shion rolled his eyes.

The pair stood in silence. Shion dug the toe part of his shoe into the ground. Nezumi stood for a second more, then turned abruptly, walking away. “Wait!”

Nezumi stopped at the end of the aisle and slowly turned back around.

“Are you leaving?”

The man shoved his hands into the pockets of his jacket. “You’re very observant, you know that?”

Shion chewed his lip, “Would you wanna grab coffee with me? Or tea? I like both, but pick whichever you prefer. Not right now of course, my shift isn’t over but, ah, tomorrow maybe? I get out at six.”

Silence ensued. Nezumi’s eyes were gunmetal slits.

The man had not expected that. He wanted to get coffee with Nezumi out of all people? Why him? All he had done was criticize his cleaning and give him a Shakespeare recommendation. Shion had to have been pulling his leg. Hilarious. How old was he anyway?

From behind he appeared elderly, with his thin frame and white hair. White hair. Nezumi scoffed internally. What were kids doing these days? But the more he studied Shion, the more he was unsure about his dye theory. His eyebrows were white, and so were his eyelashes. It couldn’t have been dye. If it was, the kid had gone to some extensive measures to convince people it was natural.

What wasn’t natural though? His eyes. Crimson and bright. They were contacts, you couldn’t tell Nezumi otherwise. It was an odd color to choose though, if you were picking out contacts. Maybe useful if you were going to be Dracula for Halloween. That’s probably what the kid was going for.

Dracula with a scar though? A light pink one resided high on Shion’s cheek but below his eye. It sat atop the skin, and wrapped around his neck and disappeared under the collar of his shirt. Nezumi wondered where it stopped.

Besides the marred skin of the scar, Shion’s face looked smooth. No freckles or blemishes or wrinkles. He looked youthful. Nezumi figured they were around the same age.

“Tea would be preferable.” He wasn’t sure why he was accepting the offer. The offer from this annoying kid who seemed to ramble a little too much for Nezumi’s taste.

“Great!” Shion gave him a warm smile, “So just come tomorrow then. Anytime you feel like it is fine, I mean it is a library, I’m sure you could read while you wait. We’ll leave by six, okay?”

Scratch that. Nezumi was not a fan of rambling at all. Redundant words meant wasted time. He convinced himself that he had nothing better to do. Yes, that was it.

The navy-haired man twisted his hands in his pockets, uncomfortable prickles from having not moved them in such a time shooting through his fingers, and continued walking, away from Shion.

“See you tomorrow!” Shion called out.

Nezumi didn’t turn back around, “Yeah.”

When the bell hanging on the door chimed at five-fifty, Shion knew it was Nezumi.

He had planned his outfit today—a blue sweater with some black jeans—something that was rare for Shion to do. Surprisingly, Nezumi had agreed to get tea with him. The long silence it took for him to decide though had Shion uneasy. He figured he was a nuisance to the taller man, so he had to blink a couple of times when he’d accepted, unsure if his ears were deceiving him.

Tea. Nezumi had said he preferred tea.

Where could they go to buy some? Shion hadn’t lived in the city for long, only five days, and getting tea had not been top on his list of things-to-do-in-the-city. He suddenly felt extremely imprudent. The white-haired man prayed Nezumi knew some shops.

Shion emerged from the aisle, empty cardboard box in hand—he had been stocking some empty shelves—looking for a certain rat. He saw him sitting in a red armchair in the corner near the register, looking invested in the novel in his lap.

Shion dropped the box on the counter, and padded over to where Nezumi sat. He grabbed the book from the man, and raised it towards his eyes.

“A Tale of Two Cities. Never read it before.”

Nezumi let out a huff, “You should. It also wouldn’t be bad if you learned some manners.” He snatched the book back from Shion.

“Are you ready to leave, your majesty? Or shall I fetch your coat first?” Nezumi sneered.

“I need to tell Rikiga I’m heading out. And actually, since you offered, it would be great if you fetched my coat for me. It’s the burgundy one on the rack.” Shion vaguely gestured to the far wall, then turned before Nezumi could refuse. Was the man always this sardonic?

The chilly fall air nipped at Shion’s fingers, and he burrowed his hands in his pockets as the pair began walking. Walking to, Shion did not know.

“Nezumi wait.” Shion stopped, and he watched as the man in front of him turned around. “I don’t know where a teashop is.”

He quirked his brow up at the statement, and let his mouth fall into a smirk.

“You asked me out, having no destination in mind?”

“I wouldn’t say I asked you out.”

“Oh?” Nezumi’s leer grew, “So what do you call this, then?” His eyes bore into Shion’s. It was amusing, making fun of the kid. His face clearly stated what he was thinking, brows furrowing when frustrated, eyes wide when caught off guard.

“I don’t know what to call this! All I want to do is get tea with you, do you have to make fun of me for it?” Avoiding Nezumi’s eyes, Shion looked to the lamppost on the right of him, arms crossed.

Nezumi dropped the smirk, mask returning to replace it. Shion was easily riled up, he remarked. “Well, you’re in luck, your majesty. I happen to know a few places.”

Nezumi turned back around, and continued walking up the sidewalk, leaving Shion to play catch up.

The shop was warm, a great relief to Shion as he rubbed his hands together, happy to be out of the fall chill.

It was large, too. Much larger than the bookstore he’d met Nezumi at. He shot a curious look to him, a shop this excessive seeming out of place for his liking. Shion could tell he enjoyed the simplicity of the bookstore, so why would he pick this place to go?

As if reading his mind, Nezumi answered, “Only the best for his majesty.”

Shion took out his wallet, “It better not be expensive, cause I’m paying for you as well.”

At this, Nezumi scowled. “Why, do you think me incapable? I’m sure you’re aware, but it’s rude to assume.”

“It’s you who’s doing the assuming, I’m just trying to be nice. I did ask you to come with me tonight.” Nezumi was rude, difficult, mocking, and dramatic. Why did he ask him to go with him tonight again?

“Yeah, well, thanks for your generous offer but, I’ll pay for myself.” The navy-haired man pushed past him, walking deeper into the shop.

“For a shop this grand you’d think they’d have comfier seating.” Shion adjusted himself in the booth. From afar, the benches looked plush and heavenly. When sitting on it, it felt like a rock.

“The owners don’t care if the seating sucks, they know people will come back for the tea.” Nezumi stirred his drink, pale fingers moving elegantly, and blew on it. Everything he did, it seemed, was graceful. Shion wondered if he danced. Ballet, Shion knew people had to be nimble to do.

“How do you know that, are you an owner?” He didn’t know why he was being argumentative, maybe he felt like he had to be, around Nezumi.

“Deductive reasoning, the store owners are too cheap. Look at how busy this place is,” Nezumi swung his arm, gesturing to the mass of people that was the line, “Why would they spend money on it? Better to save.”

“Maybe if they got better seating, more people would come in, meaning more money.”

“Would you go into a teashop, just cause you heard the seating was nice?” Nezumi looked straight into Shion’s eyes, pointing his stirrer at him.

“That’s what I thought.”

The two sat in silence. It wasn’t uncomfortable, but Shion liked it better when they were talking. And he didn’t know why either. It seemed whenever they spoke it was something up for debate, something to fight about. Shion didn’t mind that. He wanted to talk to Nezumi, liked when they quarreled pointlessly. He felt strangely drawn to the man, a feeling that couldn’t be explained in words.

“Oh, I forgot to mention, I’m halfway through Hamlet.” Shion said.


“Shakespeare is kind of difficult, and very much different.”

“Different compared to what?”

“Different compared to what I’d usually read.”

"And what would that be?"

“Depends what mood I’m in, but the most recent book I’ve read was Mycelium Running.”

Nezumi gaped at him, similar to a fish out of water. Then, suddenly, as if he’d just heard the funniest thing in the world, burst out laughing. Someone should’ve told Shion he was a comedian, because he’d probably be making a lot more money than he was now.

Though it was extremely aggravating, (Nezumi was laughing at him) he wanted to hear more of it. It was a loud laugh, something Shion never expected to come out of Nezumi’s mouth, it was probably the rarest sound Shion would ever hear. The silent man’s cheeks dusted a light pink.

Nezumi wiped fake tears off the corner of his eye with a finger.

“Let me get this straight, you read about mushrooms, for fun?” He looked at Shion incredulously.

“Well how they decontaminate areas of waste, to be specific. Why is that funny?” Shion crossed his arms, brows knitting together. “I majored in ecology, I find this stuff interesting.”

“Majored? Correct me if I’m wrong, but you don’t look over twenty. You already graduated?”

“I’m twenty-one actually. And, no, I dropped out.”

Nezumi narrowed his eyes at Shion. Dropped out? He didn’t seem like the type to just “drop out.” I mean Jesus Christ the kid read about plants for enjoyment. If he really liked studying that much, what could have led him to withdraw?

“Oh…haha,” Shion let out a nervous chuckle, “I just didn’t have enough money to continue.” That was…part of the truth.