Actions

Work Header

i am coming home to you, with my own blood in my mouth

Chapter Text

Nezumi wanders down the street aimlessly, feet heavy with thought. In the part of his mind that isn’t preoccupied with where his next step will land, he notes that he can’t recognise the faded streets anymore. It throws him off slightly, the fact that the sight of this city doesn’t evoke any emotion in him anymore.

An emotion approaching regret builds up in his stomach, unable to fill the space left by days of meagre meals. Achieving his goal had meant losing it too, leaving Nezumi drifting, going where the wind takes him. He had lost his anchor, tying him to this land, leaving him free to roam.

He ignores the voice in the back of his head whispering liar and continues plotting out the next few steps his feet will take, wondering where they’ll bring him. In truth, he doesn’t know why he still trusts them, after they carried him away from this place and now, after so long, back again.

A bad track record, truly, but he’s been softened considerably to the concept of second (and third) chances, so he lets them lead and hopes for the best.

(Maybe the best is too ambitious, so he settles for the okay.)

There is another reason for his sudden appearance in these estranged streets, apart from the unreliability of his own two feet. He’d heard things in his travels, news of this city often travelling fast and without hinderance. There had been something stirring inside of the once holy city, and Nezumi had fallen back into an old habit.

Too easily, he thinks, but he throws caution to the wind anyway, hoping that it can land him where his feet can’t.

He walks for a while, barely taking in the changing scenery around him until he’s in a place he does know. It feels smaller, less looming and more eroding as he takes in what once was Lost Town and realizes where he’s headed.

No, not here, something tells him and it’s the same voice that said no, not him, giving Nezumi plenty of excuse to go forth anyway and a solid reason to turn back. He walks, breath fogging slightly in the cold winter air and surrounding him before vanishing. He walks until he isn’t walking anymore, making the neat turn on his heel to face the door of the bakery.

It’s closed and Nezumi recalls the fact that it’s 9pm on a Sunday night with a slightly-faster-than-usual exhale and a foot tap. He had been hungry.

It had been a pointless endeavour anyway, the chances that he could’ve gone in, bought something and then walked out without incident being close to none.

He catches the sigh that threatens to escape his mouth and continues walking.

Nezumi hears the footsteps falling behind him before he sees them, turning his head slightly to take in the sight of a dog, trailing him with curious eyes. He slows, then stops completely, taking in the sight with a dry smile.

“Hello, Inukashi.” He directs towards the dog and not the person coming out of the shadows of a nearby alley. He can see why Inukashi prefers the presence of dogs as the brown coated dog stares up at him with wide, attentive eyes.

They don’t leave.

“It really is you.” A disembodied voice says, hints of awe slipping into the tone. It takes a few moments, a few steps before Inukashi is within sight, standing under the glow of the street lights. They look better than before, the hunger in their frame not yet gone but eroded, filling up the space they occupied better.

Nezumi turns his head to greet them with an insincere smile, then kneels down to pet the dog at his feet.

“Aren’t I a sight for sore eyes.” he comments, focus fully on the dog now. He can’t bring himself to meet Inukashi’s gaze, or at the very least doesn’t want to, glad for the distraction.

Inukashi scoffs, six years of derision and some sinking into their voice. “Hardly.”

“That wounds me, Inukashi. After all these years of our friendship and this is all you have to say?” Nezumi responds in turn.

“Please, the best thing you ever did for me was getting out of my hair.” Inukashi snaps, their tone fitting their harsh words.

“What kind of welcome back is this?” Nezumi shoots back.

The other person remains silent for a few, long moments.

“What are you doing here, Nezumi?”

Their voice is softer than Nezumi has ever heard it, no less cruel and Nezumi thinks ah, that’s it.

That’s what he was waiting for.

He stands up, shaking off the layers of unfamiliarity and hostility as he goes.

“I’ve heard things. There’s something happening in No. 6.” The look he gives Inukashi dares them to tell him he’s wrong, goads them into the fight building up in the air.

Inukashi frowns. “News damn sure travels fast.” Nezumi nods his agreement, silent and waiting on the follow up that is sure to come.

Inukashi looks Nezumi up and down with narrowed eyes, then crosses their arms and scowls.

“A disease, of sorts. Most people say that it’s caused by poison left over from those wasps, which would make sense, since all those big-shot science guys can’t make anything out of it and they could never properly wrap their thick heads around any of that Elyurias stuff.” Inukashi pauses to make sure Nezumi is keeping up. He gives them a nod in return, calm demeanour betraying none of his whirling thoughts.

“I mean, can’t really blame them. I don’t get it either, but whatever. The disease only hits people who used to host the wasp, but it’s pretty random even then. Some people get it, some don’t.”

“What happens to the infected?” Nezumi asks. Inukashi frowns in concentration, moving their hands to their hips.

“They get real tired, throw up a lot. How bad they have it depends on the person, some people recover after a day.” They pause, then they add like an afterthought, “Oh, also, they lose their sight.”

Nezumi gives Inukashi a sharp look at this, who just shrugs in return. It’s not exactly information he’d leave to be told last, but Inukashi seems suspiciously neutral about it.

“Usually, it’s temporary, but like I said, depends. How bad it is depends as well. Disease is a real piece of work.”

Nezumi nods again. “Sounds like hell for the authorities to deal with.” He murmurs absently, still absorbed in his thoughts.

Inukashi laughs dryly. “You have no idea. They call it blinded by ambition on the streets, a fitting name, really. Some say we’ll never get the holy city out of this place, unless we raze it to the ground.”

Nezumi shrugs, mouth pulling downwards slightly in distaste. He didn’t mind the idea before, burning No. 6 to the ground, doesn’t mind it now. Just because the streets are emptier and it feels less looming, doesn’t mean that it’s changed. Then, he considers Inukashi’s use of the word we and smiles slightly. If Inukashi considers themself a part of No. 6, maybe things have changed.

He doesn’t offer any more conversation, still considering the disease. It’s strange, that the repercussions of hosting the wasps would surface after such a long time, but makes sense in a way. Elyurias mirrors nature, as would her children. Slow acting, potent.

Nature reclaims all in the end, and maybe No. 6 needed to be taken.

“So, is that it?” Inukashi’s voice, back to the original harshness, cuts through Nezumi’s thoughts. “Are you gonna fuck off to wherever the hell again?”

Nezumi smiles thinly and wishes his sharp edges could cut him out of this situation.

“Already so eager to get rid of me?” He taunts, watching as Inukashi motions towards the dog, who pads back to their side. He eyes it as it nuzzles Inukashi’s hand and silently laments the short lasted alliance between him and it.

“I’m just wondering if you’re back for good or if you’re going to up and leave us again.”

Nezumi has a retort prepared already but forgets it in favour of zeroing in on Inukashi’s use of the word us. Quietly, he asks “Us?”, tone dangerous.

Inukashi recognizes the danger instantly, and Nezumi swears he can see their hackles rising like a dog at the scent of it.

“It’s been six years, don’t be so surprised when things change.” They almost growl, suddenly on the aggressive, and it only sets Nezumi off more.

“Who is it?” Nezumi asks, voice rising to meet Inukashi’s own level of hostile. He thinks he knows already, wishes he didn’t, and asks anyway.

Inukashi gives him a cutting look, before turning their head and speaking into the night “I’ve been living with Shion for a bit.”

Shion. Nezumi breathes out, then in again, then out, keeping his rhythm. His hands don’t move, his expression doesn’t change and he doesn’t say anything.

Shion.

There is, overall, minimal reaction to hearing that name spoken again, the thing he’s tried to push out of his head for all of the past six years. The realization sinks into him slowly, that Shion is still being, still living and breathing, things he’s tried to ignore for so long.

“If you want to see him,” Inukashi says after a while of Nezumi’s silence, voice holding a warning and something like a plea all at once, “I can lead you there.”

They can lead me there. Nezumi had spent the whole day letting unreliable things lead him. He knows he should say no, that he got what he came here for and it’s time to resume what he had been doing before, whatever the hell that had been.

However, there’s a stronger urge, similar to the thing drawing him back to No. 6, the dangerous thread that stretched out between him and that city, that boy, that memory.

Nezumi nods wordlessly.

Inukashi takes in his response, just as wordless, then turns on their heel and starts walking.

Nezumi follows them and feels a storm brewing.

Chapter Text

Inukashi leads Nezumi through the empty streets of No. 6, familiar like Nezumi never could be with the mechanical layout. They walk in silence up until Inukashi turns into a side street, walking towards the only gate in the street.

They turn to Nezumi abruptly, ill concealed concern crossing their face briefly, before it moulds back into the vaguely hostile mask from before.

“Nezumi. Before you go in, you should know.” They start, hesitating at the end.

Nezumi raises an eyebrow at the unsatisfying sentence, prompting Inukashi to continue with a casual “Yes?”

“Shion has it.”

“It?” Nezumi repeats, the same feeling of knowing and wishing he didn’t settling back in with the finality of a hammer hitting a gavel.

“The disease.” Inukashi says clearly, and the news hits Nezumi with the ceremony of a coronation. “That’s why I’ve been staying with him.”

Something snaps, the flimsy curtains Nezumi had drawn around himself falling to the ground, leaving the spotlight on him.

He wants to say something like why is it always him and maybe why is it always me , but what comes out instead is “How long has it been?” His voice keeps level, breathing steady and heartbeat rhythmic.

Inukashi gives Nezumi a searching look. “Two and a half weeks.”

“How bad is it?” Nezumi asks and it sounds quieter, but he doesn’t know if it actually is or if the walls building around him are dampening the sound, blocking out his surroundings.

“He’s tired. The doctor said he shouldn’t move from his bed too much, and he throws up if he eats anything substantial.” Inukashi rattles off the information with practiced ease and Nezumi takes the brief moments to wonder how much he’s had to recite this, to Shion’s colleagues and friends and whoever else.

Then, that second of speculation fades and he’s back to taking apart the sentence bit by bit, piecing together that the situation is bad .

But, like people always say, it could be worse.

“And his sight?”

Nezumi catches the sigh that forms in Inukashi’s throat before they can.

“Mostly gone. He can only see things clearly if they’re very close to him. Don’t know when or if he’ll recover but, like I said. It depends.”

The bitterness sinking into Inukashi’s tone explains many things, why they were so hostile, beyond reason, when they first saw Nezumi. When Nezumi had asked about the disease. When Nezumi had asked about Shion.

Of course, Nezumi can’t find it in him to care about that. Let them be bitter and angry.

Nezumi thinks he’s slipping, the thread pulling tighter and threatening to cut at his skin, and he swears he can see flashes of a blue sky and feel the wind on his face. The scene swims into view and Nezumi can’t tell if it’s a memory or if it’s happening again, if he’s falling again, until Inukashi breaks through it all.

Shion has the disease, and the thought of Shion coming to the end of his days, after conquering so much , due to a fickle illness takes the breath of out Nezumi’s chest.

Nature can take No. 6, but it can’t have Shion.

“If you leave, I won’t blame you. I won’t tell him you were here either, if that’s what you want.”

The words are awkward and clunky and anybody could tell that Inukashi doesn’t want to be saying them, doesn’t want to be offering Nezumi this thin peace treaty. Nezumi gives them a once over and they’re staring at the gate lock with a furrowed expression, still on the alert for danger.

He could leave, he realizes. Inukashi is offering him an escape and something tells Nezumi they won’t hold it against him if he did go. Solidarity of the unreliable, although Nezumi has to admit he’s much worse than Inukashi in that department.

And even though the voice inside his head is saying turn away and he can feel the wind blowing against his face, he shakes his head and whispers “I want to see him.”

As soon as he says the words, he knows that this is it. He’s received his death sentence, handed over by the image of clouded violet eyes and a lost smile.

Inukashi nods and takes out their key, opening the gate. They don’t look back to make sure Nezumi is following as he closes the gate behind him and follows Inukashi towards their apartment building. Instead of going towards the staircase, Inukashi walks towards a door on the first level and Nezumi finds space underneath the thudding in his ears to be glad. He has a policy of hating stairs and elevators.

Inukashi arrives at the door with Nezumi close behind, and they give him one last look.

He nods, and they slot the key in and push open the door.

The first thing he notices is the voice calling out “Inu? Is that you?”

Something in Inukashi’s face softens as they hear the words and the dog by their feet goes on ahead to where he must be. Nezumi casts them a sidelong glance, and they notice just in time to give him a quick glare.

“Wait here.” They threaten, then stepping out of the short hallway to enter what seems to be the lounge room.

“Hey Shion, I’m home from Karan’s.” Inukashi says calmly, and Nezumi ignores the word home in favour of panicking over the fact that he’s probably standing within six metres of Shion now after six years of careful avoidance.

“Did you return the bowls and everything?” Shion asks, and his voice is close enough for Nezumi to assume that he’s in the living room, one corner away. Too close. Nezumi’s breath catches and doesn’t stop catching, leaving him breathing short, harsh breaths in and out until his head is slightly dizzy.

“Of course I did, I didn’t walk all the way down there to forget what I was sent for in the first place!” Inukashi protests and there’s some indignance in their voice, but mostly fondness and familiarity that Nezumi could never hope to replicate.

“Haha, sorry, of course,” Shion says and his voice is different. Nezumi doesn’t know why he’s surprised, it’s been a long time after all, but he still blanches at hearing how Shion sounds a little heavier with burden (the one Nezumi forced him to carry, probably) but still lighter than Nezumi would expect, considering the circumstances.

He’s strong, Nezumi recalls, drinking the fact down like it’s bitter coffee, sending a jolt to his system and leaving a bad taste in his mouth. He feels more out of place than ever, and wonders if Inukashi would notice if he slipped out the door now.

He’s careless enough to let his elbow brush against the door handle, pushing it down to let it snap up with finality when he draws his arm away in surprise.

Situated around the corner and out of sight, Nezumi can’t see the two of them but he can imagine them both freezing in the spot, Inukashi ready to throttle Nezumi and Shion-

Nezumi can’t bring up the image of what his reaction would be, floating just out of his grasp, and the thought only panics him slightly.

“Inu? Is somebody with you?” Shion asks, voice a shade quieter than before. “If it’s one of my colleagues again please don’t try to kick them out like last time, just because I can’t see doesn’t mean I can’t talk to anybody.”

The words are supposed to be humourous, and they do help towards lighting the atmosphere slightly, but Nezumi can feel that Shion knows something is off. He’s always been perceptive at all the worst times.

“No…” Inukashi murmurs, “somebody else is here to see you.”

Nezumi silently thanks Inukashi for the perfect timing for his entrance, and steps around the corner with a half smirk on his face.

It’s wiped off within seconds, replaced by a stony blank mask. He doesn't know why he bothered to try and keep up appearances at all. He doesn't think he has the right to, not after six years. The neutral pretense is the only expression he can produce near effortlessly, the rest of his energy going towards keeping him standing still.

Shion looks up from where he’s sitting on the couch, squinting in Nezumi’s direction. It’s written all over Shion’s face that Shion can’t see him, can’t recognize him and Nezumi takes in a slight breath and wrestles his composure into compliance because even if Shion is going to be completely readable he isn’t about to follow the man’s bad example.

With a soft swallow, Nezumi crushes the tiny part of his heart that said maybe it’s not true, maybe it’s just a cruel, cruel joke and steps closer.

“Hello Shion,” he says and marvels at how level his voice sounds instead of looking at Shion, fearing the worst.

Whether the worst is that Shion recognizes or whether it’s that he doesn’t, Nezumi can’t tell.

The room is silent and still Nezumi considers the possibility that he stopped time, that he’s safe to move, safe to look. His eyes flicker up from the coffee table he’s trained his thoughts on, long enough to see the look plastered all over Shion’s face.

Nezumi wishes that Shion had the slightest concept of hiding his pain instead of the raw hurting he’s showing now, hanging somewhere in the space between mortified, surprised and downright terrified. With every shift of realization in Shion’s expression Nezumi can see him bleeding out more, turning the surrounding air red and suffocating.

Nezumi doesn’t notice Inukashi leaving until they’re almost out the room, slipping into a side door with a glare sent to Nezumi and a mouthed apology to Shion.

Shion doesn’t even realize they’re gone until the door clicks shut and Nezumi realizes that he wouldn’t of, not with the quiet way Inukashi had been moving.

The reality that Shion still can’t see him sets in again and Nezumi realizes he really needs to sit down.

He stays standing though, and waits.

He waits until the entire room is filled with dark red and it’s covering his eyes and mouth, waits a little past that, until Shion speaks again and all the colour drains out of his world.

“It’s really you?” Shion asks like he’s afraid the seeming illusion will break if he’s too forceful, too forthcoming with the question.

Nezumi catches himself before he nods and discovers how dry his throat is when he attempts to say yes. He swallows a breath and tries again, the words too fragile for his liking.

“Yeah. Hey.”

Nezumi forces himself to look at Shion and prepares for the worst.

Chapter Text

“Nezumi.” Shion says, and it’s breathless, it’s a choked and trapped utterance of a choked and trapped name.

The logical part of his brain tells Nezumi that Shion can’t see him, not from this distance. The other part, and the much louder part, tells him that Shion is cutting him open with that stare, taking him apart under his intense gaze.

A part of him, maybe all of him, begs him to run, senses heightened as his mind screams danger . Fight or flight, the words run in his head and Nezumi thinks that if he tried, if he turned heel and left this house, he would be able to spread wings and fly. The wind in the sky and the adrenaline in his veins will take him out of this city, out of this faded memory.

Even so, he stays still. Shion has always been like this, always able to ground him and pull him in like nothing else, unknowingly or not. Nezumi can’t tear his eyes away from Shion, can’t tear his feet away from this house, can’t tear his heart away from this city.

It’s his first proper look at Shion after all that time and Nezumi takes a moment to just admire , before the dark clouds settle again. His hair is still white and flowing, making Nezumi’s heart skip a beat in the song it’s thrumming. The sickness shows clearly on his features, gaunt and weary and this time Nezumi’s heart skips for a different reason.

He doesn’t notice when Shion does it, but suddenly his eyes are closed and Nezumi thinks he can see Shion’s lip trembling if he looks hard enough. Shion takes in a breath, softly, like it’s unnecessary, like after all of the things he’s been through it’s ridiculous that he still needs to breathe.

He holds it, so Nezumi does too, lungs tightening and neck constricting at the sight.

There’s the barest exhale, then Shion looks up.

“You’re back.”

Shion sounds like he can’t believe it, and Nezumi can’t either. He doesn’t respond, he doesn’t think that Shion had been talking to him.

Shion keeps his eyes closed and stays silent for a while; his silence is almost tangible in the air, tasting of too-sweet glaze and sugar.

Nezumi takes the time to try and steel himself again. In his years of travelling, he had established a rule. He doesn’t think about Shion, doesn’t think about reunion. He doesn’t let himself travel back down that path instead of stepping forward. Always step forward.

However, Nezumi isn’t great at leaving things behind, despite everything. On the rare, extremely rare occasions when he’d let himself imagine, let his heart traitorously hope, he had never seen it like this. This isn’t how it is supposed to go. Shion had once again caught him off guard, unpredictable as always.

“I missed you,” Shion whispers. He manages to fit six years of waiting, of bitter hope and wavering faith into the three words and Nezumi takes a step forward, almost on command.

Shion’s head jolts up at the rustle of fabric and the footstep, eyes still closed. Nezumi stops, his heart beating too fast in his chest as Shion gulps in harsh breaths, trying to fight back the sobs building up in his throat.

“Wait! Wait - don’t…” Shion trails off as his breath catches in his throat again, his shaking hands coming up to cover his face. Nezumi wants to run right there and then, towards Shion, away from Shion.

“Please don’t come closer,” Shion mumbles through his hands and Nezumi’s heart sinks in his chest, he’s ready to turn around and leave and forget this entire encounter happened. “Just - just wait a second, I’m trying -” and Shion’s breath comes softer, barely there, muffled by the part of his hand covering his face. When he speaks next his voice is as quiet, as desperate as the breaths are.

“I’m trying to remember what your face looked like,” Shion whispers as he presses his hands over his eyes. It’s a plea, a prayer - one Nezumi thinks he can’t answer to.

“You don’t remember what I look like,” Nezumi whispers. After six years of being away, six years Nezumi had spent with the image of Shion burned constantly into the back of his mind, Shion can’t remember what his face looks like. He thinks, this can’t be happening and then again, it is happening, and it’s all my fault , and then he stops thinking and instead starts doing. He steps closer to Shion and forcefully ignores the way Shion flinches at his approach, making his way to kneel beside Shion’s makeshift bed.

Shion still has his hands over his eyes, a last layer of defense against Nezumi. An entire six years worth of space between them, all pressed into two shaking hands.

Nezumi’s breath catches and doesn’t come again. Shion is still crying, hiccuping sobs and trembling fingers. Nezumi only notices his own hands shaking when he reaches them up to touch at the side of Shion’s face, reverently and regretfully.

“Please... look at me.” He near-begs, then again, and again. “Please, Shion - look at me.”

Shion pauses. Time pauses.

His hands move away from his face, and purple eyes meet grey.

Nezumi doesn’t move, staring at the way Shion’s eyes are slightly cloudy and bloodshot, staring at the way recognition slowly lights up in them. It feels like a fire, threatening to consume Nezumi with the way Shion’s eyes burn, trying to engulf him.

Shion blinks. “Grey eyes. I could never forget those.” He wipes away the tears still on his face and Nezumi fights the urge to do it himself, to reach out and properly touch Shion after so long. He lets Shion compose himself instead, biding his time.

Shion sighs, his figure relaxing. “You look older.” He murmurs. It takes Nezumi a while to pick up the subtle teasing tone behind the words, aided by the pull of Shion’s mouth at the corners. His surroundings go back to technicolour without Nezumi realizing - his attention too fixed on Shion.

“Have you seen yourself? Not much of a looker either.” Nezumi replies, breathless. He’s too lost in the moment, in this opportunity he’s been granted.

Shion breaks into a proper smile, a slight laugh accompanying it and Nezumi notices it now, the colour of the world around him. The muted purple eyes, the rosy pink cheeks, the snow white hair.

“I’ll admit, I haven’t been seeing much of anything lately.” Shion responds. Nezumi feels a sharp pang but it’s smoothed over by the man’s warm tone. Nezumi wants to say I’m sorry I left , or I’m back now .  

In the end, he says “I missed you too.”

Neither of them get a chance to say anything else as Inukashi opens the door, a box of something in their hands. From the way they enter, eyes scanning the room immediately and greeting on the tip of their tongue, they had intended to diffuse any tension in the room. Nezumi lets himself smile slightly at the thought.

“I brought dinner.” Inukashi announces after thoroughly assessing the situation. “For uh- all three of us.” They set the box down on the table and reveal the neatly stacked containers of takeaway food inside. Nezumi reflects on how long it’s been since he’s had the money, or been in the right place, for takeaway food. Or how long it’s been since he’s been able to eat with anybody.

Or how long it’s been since he’s been able to eat with Shion, specifically.

In a voice more choked than he would like it to be, he murmurs “Thanks.”

Chapter Text

Dinner is deceptively, almost unnervingly, normal. Nezumi has been away for a long, long time, and when he sees how easily Inukashi and Shion bounce off of each other - the routine between them both well practised and long lived -  he feels the time most clearly. Time has never been his friend, and it puts him miles away from the people he used to be closest to, even as he’s in the same room as them.

Although he thinks this, he knows that the blame does not belong there. The passage of time, with all the damage it has wrought, is not the main perpetrator of the crime. It had been Nezumi, and Nezumi alone, who put this gap between himself and here, the hours of distance and kilometres of time his own doing, his own downfall.

And while it does take some of the flavour out of his food, the intimacy between Inukashi and Shion also gives him the gliding, freeing realization that they had been okay without him. While he hadn’t ever said it out loud, the fear that he would one day return to this city and find the life he left behind in tatters, all because he hadn’t been there to hold it together, had been visceral. Gripping. Entrancing. Nezumi does not make a habit out of lying to himself; he knows he is a prideful person. The height of this pride, perhaps, being assuming that life here would not– could not go on without him, but this fear had stolen his sleep nonetheless, sweeping away his rest like the many other fears that shadowed him, all around the topic of the city he had left behind.

Like meeting Shion, like seeing No. 6 fall, like leaving Shion, knowing that the world lived on without Nezumi comes bittersweet, comes as a reassurance and a regret.

He does not make eye contact with Shion the entire dinner. Some of those fears are alive in him still. Some of his nightmares manifest, in the shape of a man who almost forgot Nezumi’s face.

He offers to help Inukashi with the washing up afterwards to escape the confrontation and they accept after some convincing, seemingly unwilling to allow Nezumi to slip into the routine that they and Shion have built. It is an understandable hesitation, and Nezumi is more resigned than angry at them for it.

They work together side by side in silence. Neither Nezumi nor Inukashi are very fond of silence, so the atmosphere is peculiar, setting Nezumi on edge. He feels the need to escape rising up in him again, the warning signals in his head turning his vision red. He manages to quell this feeling, with all the discipline he has etched into his bones, long enough to finish drying the dishes.

Long enough for Inukashi to overcome the silence between them and ask “So, are you staying?”

Their tone is sensibly hostile and Nezumi is nearing exhaustion, tired of it, tired of being treated like the stranger that he has become.

His mouth pulls into a frown despite all the resistance he puts up, and he answers with a curt “You seem very keen to see me go.”

Inukashi laughs dryly. “No shit. Shion is too nice to tell you, so I have to do it. If you really think you can just sneak back here after six years and everything will be sunshine and blue skies then you’re even more of a fool than I thought.”

Despite all the indignance that rises up in him at the words, he knows they’re right. Nezumi had not planned on coming back here. He had not planned on coming back to Shion. He has no idea how he is going to proceed, no idea where to place his next step. The tightrope he walks on has begun to sway and he is closer to losing his balance with every moment he spends in this place, and still there is a part of him that tells him to stay. Begs him to stay.

He allows this part of him more of a podium than it deserves, more than is good for him.

“Hello? We’re having a conversation here?”

Inukashi, straight to the point as always, cuts through his inner turmoil efficiently, refreshingly. Nezumi thinks he’s had far too much time to himself to brood for far too long. He blinks and pulls together all of his willpower, attempting to break this bad habit of his.

Without second thought, he says “I’m staying.”

“No you’re not.”

“What?”

Inukashi’s voice is low, their eyes fixed on Nezumi with all the strength of a clamp. Nezumi can’t look away from their grave expression even if he had wanted to.

“You’ve always been like this, walking into somebody’s life and bringing nothing but trouble and then just leaving again. What if you run off after a week? Am I supposed to clean up after you again?”

Dogs are loyal, protective, devoted. When Inukashi questions whether they can guarantee Nezumi’s loyalty, they are really asking do I need to keep Shion safe from you?

Inukashi has always known Nezumi is dangerous, but there is something about being considered a threat that topples the walls of thick skin Nezumi has built.

“If you’re just going to run away again, then get out now.”

The words are cold on his skin, cold with anger and desperation and he considers them for an eternity, already falling back into his tendencies. He had come here, come back without a plan or any idea of how to proceed. He is out of his depth, unprepared for a situation he had spent so long dreaming about, in the wrong place at the wrong time.

He wants to lash back out at Inukashi and storm out, but he also wants to see this through to the end. Accept the responsibility for his decisions. He picks his way along the tightrope, picking his words slowly and softly. “Just for tonight. Please.”

Inukashi looks like they had been expecting more of a fight, suddenly unsure of what to say. Nezumi feels the exhaustion sink into him, making his thoughts heavier and he says again “One night, and I’ll be out of your hair.”

The two of them, beggars alike, speak best in deals and trades. Inukashi considers this offer and considers it satisfactory, nodding at Nezumi.

“Just for tonight,” they confirm and their tone is warmer, gentler, like they had remembered who it is they are dealing with. A small act of kindness. Inukashi had grown up with kindness as their most protected ware after money, and Nezumi recognizes the gesture for the meaning it has.

He thinks and doesn’t say I missed you too, asshole, as Inukashi walks out of the small kitchen. After pausing to just let the blood in his veins run, let his breath regularize and his heart rest, he follows them out.

They are nowhere to be seen but Shion sits on the couch, alone and larger than life. Looking directly at him still knocks the wind out of Nezumi’s chest so he averts his gaze, the way Shion shines still too harsh for his unaccustomed eyes.

He sees Shion raise his head from the corner of his eye, looking in Nezumi’s general direction and pinning him with those purple eyes. He says something and the gap between them must still stretch out because the words only reach Nezumi aeons later.

“Are you leaving?”

Nezumi wishes Shion had asked if he was staying instead. Unfortunately the world has never been too partial to fulfilling his wishes, so instead, he stands, trapped in the headlights of Shion’s gaze that shouldn’t even be fixed on him with this kind of accuracy, faced with a question he can’t answer.

Shion takes his silence as agreement. “You are, aren’t you?”

The will to run away washes over him again, wave against wave against wave. He doesn’t think it’ll ever leave him, no matter how much wandering he does. The wind runs in him, leading him across the globe, untrappable and unstoppable but he has spent a long time being lost, and he finds that he wants to be found.

The wind builds up in him, escaping as a vocalized “I’m staying. I promise,” and swirling around the room with the direction of a falling leaf. The storm inside of him quells spectacularly, and he had not braced himself enough for the landing from the currents.

He promises.

Nezumi hates them, but he still promises. The tightrope falls away and Nezumi does not mind, after all, all of his flying and floating will always return him to the ground, to where he is grounded. All wilderness can be tamed, can be coexisted with, and Nezumi will curb the nature running in his veins. He will learn to live in harmony with it the way he will learn to live in harmony with Shion, with Inukashi, with the ghost of No. 6 that haunts his heart.

Nezumi is a force of nature, a force to be reckoned with. He fights with everything he has, with tooth and claw and desperation and determination. He has torn down No. 6, negotiated with a god, walked away from the only person he has ever loved; in the face of these, staying is trivial. Staying is nothing. Staying is everything.

Shion has an expression of wonder on his face, tempered with doubt. Nezumi bridges the space between them, tired of doubt and uncertainty and hesitation.

“Shion,” he says, now standing in front of the man. Shion’s eyes focus, staring directly at Nezumi and for once, he doesn’t want to shy away.

“You promise?” Shion asks. His voice is soaring, set in flight by hope and expectation.

“I promise.” The words come easily, not weighing on his tongue like they usually would.

Shion closes his eyes and smiles, a slow, aching one that sets feelings in motion that Nezumi hasn’t felt in a long time. It’s a greeting, signifying hello , signifying a new start and an old familiarity. For once, his feet do not itch with their lack of direction.

Chapter Text

Years of living on the road, living in the in-between, means for Nezumi sleep comes unreliably, and restless when it does strike him. He’s out of the bed early, long before the sun rises and even longer before Shion is awake. Shion had moved back into his bedroom with the help of Inukashi; Nezumi had hovered at the edges, entertaining brief fantasies of sweeping Shion off his feet and carrying him into the bedroom. It had been a long time since he let himself indulge things like that, the small, silly imaginings that always leave his chest tight and breath short.

With Shion and Inukashi in their respective bedrooms, Nezumi had slept on the couch. Shion had protested and Nezumi hadn’t had the heart to tell him that on the road, he had slept on far worse. The concerns had been waved off, aided by a snarky comment from Inukashi, and Nezumi had laid claim to the relatively luxurious couch.

It occurs to him now that during the half-hearted argument Shion had intended for Nezumi to sleep in his bed, if not the couch. The intimacy hits him a little too hard, because Shion always lives at a pace of his own and Nezumi, for all his wanderlust and agitation, can’t always keep up.

That is Shion, always running ahead of Nezumi. Waltzing into his life with the force of a hurricane and taking him along in the havoc until Nezumi can’t decide whether it’s terrifying, exhilarating or something else entirely.

He can see the sun begin to rise. It’s a peculiar feeling, the realization that he might be watching the sun rise from the same place tomorrow. He’s seen so many sunrises in his life, the backdrop ever-changing, and it’s comforting to think that the sun rises even on the remains of No. 6.

It’s not fair to call this city the remains of anything, however. In the conversations after dinner, after Nezumi and Shion had finally rediscovered each other, they had talked and talked about the gaps between them. Shion is working on a restoration project, taking the skeleton of the holy city and bringing it back to life. Six years had left Shion with a city revived at the end. At the conclusion of his six years, Nezumi had just been more confused.

The sun is clear of the horizon now and in front of him, the city glitters. Everything is slowly coming to life and Nezumi isn’t sure what he had expected from the population of No. 6 after the events so long ago, but he feels something he might call contentment at seeing how people are going on. Regardless of sudden epidemics, regardless of the dark history burnt into the ground, people are going on.

It’s high time for Nezumi to start to do that, he thinks.

The door behind him swings open and Nezumi jumps slightly, pivoting on his feet on instinct to face the sound. Shion, standing in the doorway with a cane in hand, squints at Nezumi.

“You’re still here,” Shion says, trying not to sound breathless. It doesn’t work. Nezumi has spent long enough looking over his shoulder that he recognizes panic when he sees it, and the implications sting a little even if he has nobody to blame but himself.

He says “Good morning,” instead of saying of course I am , or I promised because those words are a little too heavy for this delicate morning quiet.

Shion steps out into the morning light. He is silent, eyes on the sunrise even though he probably can’t see anything and all Nezumi can do is wait.

When Shion does speak, there’s a smile on his face. “It is a good morning,” He says it like he had just decided that and Nezumi might agree. The smile on Shion’s face is sparking a strange emotion in him; nothing so cliché as heart-pounding or fluttering, no loss of breath or fever of passion. The feeling is something altogether more placid, the happiness on Shion’s face making him sink back into his skin. He’d set his shoulder back in place once, and it had been between swears and harsh breaths that he had realized he could feel the blood rushing back into his fingers, the capacity to move his hand returning that had been lost in the searing pain of the injury.

Seeing Shion again, seeing Shion happy and at peace feels like that. Like a dislocated bone had just clicked back into place and the haze of pain is lifting, leaving Nezumi free to feel sensations that he had almost forgotten.

“I was considering moving,” Shion says, the words sliding into the silence of the morning easily. “After I got over this.” Nezumi’s breath catches at the sheer belief in Shion’s tone but he thinks he can understand. Shion has been through so much, to be taken down by that which he had tamed seems frivolous.

“Will you?” Nezumi prompts. He isn’t sure why he asked that and not why , but it doesn’t matter because Shion answers both questions anyway.

“I don’t know. Part of it was because of you, you know—” and Shion sounds recklessly fond, “—I thought a change of scenery could help with all the missing. Sometimes I felt like I would never be able to get away from you, or what happened, while I still lived here. The disease seemed to emphasize that.” He goes silent.

“And… I think I’ve done enough here.”

Nezumi wonders if he has. It had been a heavy burden that he had left with him, Nezumi reflects with guilt. He hasn’t had the chance to explore the city yet, so he can’t judge whether it has really changed. He had used to believe it was unsalvageable. Even when he had left he had believed it, that the foundation the creators of the Holy City had set was just too firm.

Still, if it could be saved, if anybody could save it, it’d be Shion.

“There’s a lot to see out there.” Is all Nezumi ends up offering Shion, in the end. He’s not quite sure where this conversation is going; certainly, he hadn’t expected to return and have Shion talk of leaving so soon.

Shion turns to him and his eyes are bright despite the blurriness in them, like the sun breaking through the clouds.

“I’d like to see it all.”

Nezumi, always expecting the worst (because the worst has always happened), says “And if you can’t see it?”

He snaps the words with a bitterness he had been trying so hard to quell, bitterness at how unfair it is that Shion is the one that Elyurias chooses to claim when if it should be anyone, it should be Nezumi. It’s selfish, but Nezumi has no illusions about his virtues. Shion doesn’t deserve to have No. 6 haunt him. Nezumi has lived that life, and he knows how heavy the weight of the ghost of a city can be. Nezumi doesn’t deserve to come back to the consequences of what he had begun, so carelessly thrown in his face like this.

Shion doesn’t react to the venom laced into his tone. He just smiles and Nezumi’s heart returns to where it belongs in his chest as Shion says “Then you’ll just have to show me.”

It’s amazing. Shion, so impossible, so stubborn and so brilliant, stating the words like they are a simple conclusion. Nezumi isn’t sure if he had missed this, how Shion can take problems that take up the world to Nezumi and twist them into bright, manageable, idealistic terms. He’s rediscovering Shion, all the infuriating parts and all the breathtaking parts and sleeping on it has only made Nezumi sure that he wants to spend—maybe the rest of his life is a little too monumental for him at the moment so he settles with as long as he can, rediscovering Shion.

He laughs. “Demanding, aren’t you?” He teases and Shion’s grin gets that bit brighter and Nezumi has forgotten how blazing Shion can be, is very grateful that he can remember now.

“You owe me!” Shion huffs, petulant and delighted all at once. Nezumi reaches over a hand and ruffles Shion’s hair. It’s as soft as Nezumi remembers, still starkly white and wavy. It’s the first time they’ve touched each other in six years.

“You can stay with us,” Shion says, hand reaching up to pull Nezumi’s hand away. Their fingers find each other and then they’re holding hands, something so mundane and fleetingly romantic and so unlike them that Nezumi almost laughs again. “I talked with Inukashi about it just then. They’re okay with it.”

Nezumi pretends to consider the offer, but he’s already had his mind made up since he first woke up.

“I don’t think I will.” He says, unsure how to deliver the words. Shion’s face falls immediately and Nezumi is grateful for their intertwined fingers because he can squeeze down on Shion’s hand and feel how Shion squeezes back, desperate and trembling.

“I’m not leaving, don’t worry.” Nezumi continues, gentle now that the first leap of faith has been taken. “I might get my own place, find a job. I won’t go too far.”

Shion’s iron grip lessens at those words. Nezumi isn’t concerned because he sees the understanding in his eyes. The six years apart can’t simply be put aside by the two of them, even if they want it to be. Just like how time had seeped between them and driven them apart, it’ll take time for them to come together again. Nezumi doesn’t mind that. He’ll move into some tiny apartment because he never knows what to do with too much space, and he’ll appraise the city that Shion has built and he’ll visit Shion and build a routine and remember how to live in one place again.

The six years he had spent away, the time he had placed between him and the person he loved, those years had been necessary. Just like them, the time it takes for him and Shion to heal will also be necessary.

And at the end of it, they’ll be fine. He has been surer of fewer things in his life.

“I can help you find a place,” Shion says, “And I think my mum could use some help in the bakery.”

He gazes out into the streets of No. 6. The winds inside of him run through them, exploring and twisting down streets and around buildings, and they say this will do .