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I Will Always Wait For You

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Shion stood by the open window, watching the billowing curtains as they danced in the gentle spring breeze. Three years, that’s how long it had been since the last time he had gazed into those soft, grey eyes. Three, long years, filled to the brim with decisions and labor, late nights and early mornings, with hardly a second’s peace to contemplate just how excruciating each new day really was when they stacked up into mountains of time between the two of them. Red eyes slipped shut, and he breathed in the scent of earthy tones and baked goods that swirled around him, drowning out the pain in his chest.

What he wouldn’t give to replace the soft caress of the wind on his cheek, the fingerlike stroke of it running through his hair, for the harsh words and haughty smirk of the one person he’d ever truly loved. Even with the inconsistencies, the incompatibility, the huge gap between the two of them that seemed to yawn and stretch and grow each new day; that connection was there, a thin string that spanned the distance and kept them together, kept his eyes looking out across the horizon, waiting for that image to reverse, for Nezumi to grow larger, not smaller in the dying light of day.

Eyes opened again and regarded the world, the way the city stretched out toward the wall they’d only recently managed to break down in full, allowing the two worlds, so much like night and day, to blend together. It was still rough around the edges, still difficult to calm the two sides who knew so little of how to adjust to this newness they’d spent their whole lives sneering at, both for similar, albeit silly reasons; but they were chipping away at prejudices, shaking off the shackles that kept even the most elite of them chained in ways they never could have imagined. The one side demanded equality, the other, to maintain their peace of mind. In the end, both were fighting for dignity, though neither would admit the other deserved it.

Placing a hand on the window frame, he cast one last glance at the cloudless sky, before turning his back on the expanse of blue. A sharp, hot pain twisted inside of him as he wondered if Nezumi was looking up at that same sky, if he’d found whatever it was he thought he needed, if he was on his way home. A promise, a vow for reunion. If there was one thing he did not doubt, it was that Nezumi would find him some day, that they would cross paths again, and again, if necessary, until the day came that there wouldn’t have to be another vow to return, because no one would need leave the other’s side. Until then, his window was always open, always welcoming the stranger he’d wait a lifetime to see once more.


 

Lightning flashed across the sky, wind whipping the thin curtains that never really did much to keep the sun at bay, as thunder rumbled somewhere in the distance. Shion turned off the bedside lamp, listening to the storm that crashed through whatever was left of the city once called No. 6, a place that four years later still remained nameless, other than being referred to as just that name.

The window, as always, was opened, letting in the chill of early Autumn air; the caress of cool, swirling winds ruffling his hair as he pulled his blanket tightly around his frame. If it got any colder at night, he’d have to shut the invitation once more, waiting out the frigid winter months until the spring graced them with calmer temperatures.

In such instances, he made sure to never lock the window, just in case a wandering stranger should appear in the dead of night and wish to seek solace behind the thin glass frame. He’d never deny him that much, even at times he felt bitter with resentment for being left alone for so long. What would be the point then, waiting all of that time only to turn away the one he wanted to see the most?

A large, thundering gust shook the wooden building, rattling underneath closed doors and vibrating up the walls. The scent of wet earth floated in after, and all at once, the sound of rain beating the little patio outside drowned out the usual nighttime sounds of bugs buzzing around, and the feint whisper of his mother’s breath somewhere off in another room of their house.

He rolled over in bed, nuzzling deeper beneath the thick, woolen sheets. There had been a time when cold nights meant he’d had to snuggle a little closer to another person for warmth, lest the chill of living submerged below ground sink deep inside of his bones. Now, he had the luxury of adding another hand-knit blanket to his bed to keep out that same chill; though luxury seemed each day to sound more and more like misfortune, and felt a little more depressing than it probably should.

A creak of floorboards made him sit up in bed, eyes scanning the darkness slowly. Inside of his chest, his heart thrummed wildly against his rib cage, threatening to break bones and run away into the night. Nothing seemed amiss, not the shape of the dresser that housed what few spare garments he’d collected over time, out of necessity more than want, after all, he’d managed just fine for months with what little he had before; nor the small table in the corner, where he sometimes took his work home and sat for hours, figuring out ways to give just enough to everyone, without taking or asking for too much in return.

Not even the looming shape of bookcases that spanned the remaining free space, a collection of his very favorites Nezumi had left behind, with more added every so often, though only through encounters with Inukashi whenever Shion asked it of the smaller boy. Everything was the same as always, cramped and cozy, never more than was needed, just how Nezumi had taught him was best.

Eyes dropped down to his lap, hands folded neatly together, one cupping the other in much the same way they had when he’d slapped the other boy for keeping things from him. The only difference this time, was that he didn’t feel the throb that stung the skin of his palm all the little places it collided with the other’s cheek. He squeezed harder, fingernails digging into the pale skin. All he felt was the pulse in his thumb gently beginning to die down, the caged bird inside of him contented back to a listless flutter; weighted wings growing heavier in his despair.

“Your majesty is asking for trouble, leaving the window open during a storm. Didn’t you learn the first time some wild creature broke in that it isn’t safe to be so utterly vulnerable while you’re about to go to sleep?”

The melodic murmur of that voice he knew so well drew his gaze back to the billowing curtains, and a figure he’d seen playing out behind his eyelids like a living daydream stepped out of the shadows, moonlight casting itself over his dripping wet frame. In the dim light, it was hard to see his face, but from the soft caress of his words, Shion knew a gentle smile curled those lips, and that those grey eyes sat half lidded, almost sleepily, regarding him with hesitation and, perhaps, slight longing.

“Nezumi,” the name dropped from his lips like a sigh. Time seemed to slow down, neither of them moving from the place they found themselves glued to, unable to bridge the small distance that spanned tauntingly outward, much like the passage of the previous four years since they’d said goodbye.

Questions, too scared of knowing what answer would follow them to dare being asked aloud, swam through his mind at a dizzying rate. Was he allowed to run to him now? Did the other still feel the same way he did when he’d left? How much larger was that gap betwixt them, after he’d remained behind, and Nezumi had seen more of what the world had to offer? Would he ever be able to catch up? And finally, was this hello, or just another goodbye?

Nezumi broke the spell that had befallen them, taking a large step forward, effectively speeding time up. “Shion,” he breathed his greeting, hands stuffed inside pockets to keep the other from noticing the way they shook.

It was all the invitation he needed, just a small gesture that spoke volumes, even while it still managed to remain completely uninviting should it not be reciprocated. Shion was up, off the bed, letting the thick blankets pool on the floor as he came to stand close enough to Nezumi that the moonlight made his eyes glow like molten silver. “Your clothes are wet, you should take them off before you get sick. I have something you can borrow, until they’ve dried some.”

Nezumi smirked, giving the shorter boy a once over and cocking his head to the side. “You’re not as short as last time, but you still look like a scrawny girl. What, can’t find a decent meal, even when your mama cooks such good bread?”

Shion laughed, the sound foreign to his ears after months of not doing so. Warmth spread its way through his middle, up his throat, painting the chilly air with tiny puffs of swirly vapors. Stepping around the other, he slid open the top drawer of his dresser, and pulled out a short sleeved shirt and a comfy pair of pants. Setting them down on the table, he wandered out of the room in search of a towel.

When he got back, Nezumi was already changed into the dry clothes. He handed off the towel, watching the other blot his face and scrub his hair. “Are you hungry at all? I can get you something from downstairs.”

Nezumi hummed in slight amusement. “I’m fine, I brought food with me.”

Shion nodded, wrapping his arms around himself as a gust of icy wind whipped through the room. “Guess I can close the window now, there’s no need to keep it open for the night.”

“Is it always,” he asked lightly, setting the damp towel over the back of a little chair so it could dry. Where his wet clothes had gone were anyone's guess, and Shion didn’t ask.

Pulling the curtains shut, he rested his forehead upon the cool glass. “Until it gets too cold. But it’s never locked.”

“You’re foolish as ever,” Nezumi mused.

Swallowing hard, Shion faced the other, eyes blazing. “I told you I’d be waiting, I didn’t want you to think I wasn’t going to keep my promise. I’d wait forever, if I had to.”

Nezumi smiled softly. “It’s late.”

“Not that late,” Shion retorted, though it came out a little more panicked than he’d intended. Four years, they had so much catching up to do, what place did sleep have in all of it? Surely there were far better ways to spend their time, and he couldn’t help but feel a twinge of doubt that everything was really just a dream he’d wake up from, that none of it was real. The only way to know for certain was to avoid falling asleep at all costs.

Nezumi rolled his eyes, reaching out a hand for Shion to take. “I’m tired, its been a long day for me,” he murmured softly. When Shion hesitated longer than he liked, he took a step forward, closing the distance until their breath mingled and their body heat teased one another. “Or I can sleep, you can just stand there all night, if you’d prefer.” He turned to leave, but Shion grabbed his arm, fingers digging into the hard muscle painfully.

“Wait,” he whispered, eyes searching for some hint of reluctance. Finding none, he pushed himself gently against the other, forehead bent down to rest on his shoulder. The body pressed nicely to him neither recoiled, nor did it bend to his touch. Just remained a solid foundation with which he could lean into, ever so softly, enjoying the scent that he craved and the warmth they could share. “Alright,” he relented, pulling back and releasing his deathlike grip.

Nezumi climbed into the bed first, scooting closer to the wall to allow Shion room to join him. He did so reluctantly, slipping beneath the sheets that should prove more than enough to warm the two of them together. Hands reached out in the darkness, pulling each other closer until their legs tangled together and their heads touched lightly, Nezumi’s arm snaking around his waist while his own hand came to rest gently on the other’s cheek.

“Goodnight, Shion,” he breathed, the scent of cinnamon rich on his breath.

Shion leaned his own mouth closer and caught the taste on his tongue, relishing the flavor of rainwater and spice. Nezumi kissed him back slowly, pulling back far sooner than he would have liked. “Goodnight, Nezumi,” he whispered, eyes slipping shut as the warmth and comfort pulled him down into the throes of blissful sleep.

In the morning, the bed was vacant, the discarded blankets now gently tucked around his person. He sat up in bed, rubbing his eyes with the heels of his hands, swiping the remaining bits of sleep from his skin. If it was all just a dream, it was a cruel one, because he never even got to say goodbye. Glancing at the closed window, he caught sight of water pooled on the floor, and the curtains he’d remembered closing where pulled open, just enough for a body to slip through them.

The towel was still hanging on the back of his desk chair, slightly wrinkled and stained from use. He rose to his feet, padding across the cold, hard floor, ripping the cloth up and burying his nose in it to breathe in its scent. Cinnamon, rain, dirt, and something he’d always attributed to Nezumi greeted him, ripping a strangled cry from his throat. It wasn’t just a dream, which meant he’d been left behind again, just like the first time a wounded animal found its way in during a storm and changed his life overnight.

Tears burned behind his eyes, but he held them back, desperate to maintain composure he sorely lacked. Even with the calming scent that enveloped him, it took a few minutes before he felt able to pull away from the bunched up cloth, throwing it down on top of the puddle to mop it up. His eyes scanned the bed, wondering just how long the other waited before he slipped out, and why he’d bothered showing up if he was just going to leave again.

The tip of something white poked out from underneath the pillow, and he dove upon the mattress, snatching it up and unfolding the crisp pieces. Two sentences. That was all that he got, just two little lines of explanation, after four years of utter silence. Clutching the paper to his chest, he grit his teeth, eyes slipping shut to ingrain the words to memory.

I just needed to see you. I promise we’ll meet again.

 

Chapter Text

It had taken the better part of two full years to walk his way across the land, ending at a place he’d never had the pleasure of laying eyes on; the ocean. Along the way, he’d stopped in small villages, learning things from the people there about a life outside the six major man made civilizations. Some were just like his home in the West Block, where a person had to keep their guard up at all times, never trusting another human without an immediate plan of escape. Others, though he couldn’t place why, seemed softer somehow; with rolling green hills and strange animals he’d never seen before, the children running around with smiles, the people all carefree. If ever he were to take Shion away from No. 6, this would be a place he’d hope to take him.

In turn, it took another two years time to walk back, following the setting sun at a leisurely pace, much like the one he’d set out with. In a small village surrounded by dry, red rocks, and fragrant, spiny bushes, Hamlet grew too weak to continue living a nomadic lifestyle. The mouse died shortly thereafter, and Nezumi wrapped the tiny body in pieces of cloth, making a promise to bury him back somewhere in the West Block, whenever he could return. Like with all things, tragedy struck again sooner than he’d have liked, and Cravat passed one chilly night in Winter, though from cold or age, he’d never know.

The final leg of the journey was a little lonelier than he’d thought it would be, and he made up his mind then and there to stop off in No. 6, even if only just in passing. Thoughts of Shion were never far from his mind, so by the time he saw the glint of lights on the horizon, saw the familiar looming dome shape that made his stomach twist in anger and a sneer to settle over his features, he knew his feet would never be able to pass by without wandering the streets and keeping up his end of the promise.

Lightning flashed across the sky, the rumbling sound of thunder following not long after. Wind whipped around him, icy cold as he hurried along the silent street, burying his face inside his superfiber cloth for warmth. Nothing much seemed to have changed inside the city, aside from the fact the wall had been taken down. Most of the West Block was the same as well, though the buildings that were destroyed had been rebuilt, and it did give off a cleaner, less putrid scent. He didn’t look inside his old residence, and made a point to remain unnoticed by anyone that might recognize him. This wasn’t a permanent visit, just something his soul craved.

Rain splattered on the stone street, first a slight trickle, then a barrage of drops, pelting him hard on all sides. It didn’t take long before he was soaked, shivering hard against the ice that sank into his exposed skin. The sign on the door to the Bakery made him almost sigh in relief, and he made to go to it, when he noticed a billowing of cloth high above, large glass doors opened wide and inviting.

A smirk found its way to his face, and he scaled the side quietly, landing on the little porch with a soft thud. Thunder boomed behind him, the angry patter of rain drowning out all sounds from inside the house. It was dark, but his eyes still caught the curve of a body laying on the bed, the shock of white hair peeking out from the top. Swallowing hard, he stepped inside the room, floorboards groaning under his weight.

In one, swift motion, his cloak was around him, and he pressed into the shadows, watching the other sit up with a jolt to scan the room. Bright red eyes overlooked his hiding place, glancing from corner to corner, before a defeated sigh escaped downturned lips. Nezumi’s breath caught in his throat, and he balled his shaking hands, slipping them safely into the wet leather jacket. A terrible ache ripped through him, and he contemplated slipping away unnoticed, but something deeper won out, and he opened his mouth to speak.

***

Early morning light trickled through the large window, splaying across his cheek like a gentle caress. Grey eyes opened immediately, caught off guard by the hint of a smile that still managed to pull at Shion’s lips, even when he was lost so thoroughly in sleep. Time was up, he needed to leave before the pale creature began to stir, before things grew even more complicated, before awkward goodbyes.

Slipping from the sheets, he shuffled quietly about the room, gathering his belongings and scribbling down a note. It wasn’t fair, leaving like that, but neither was leaving without some kind of acknowledgment. Gently, he tucked the page beneath his end of the pillow, removing the heavy blankets from the floor, and placing them over the sleeping prince. Brushing his lips across white locks, he made his leave, as silently as how he’d entered.



Nezumi stood along the shoreline, staring out at the churning grey waves, spray as white and wild as Shion’s hair. A bark of laughter escaped his lips, cold water rushing his bare feet as toes dug into the soft sand. Nine months, that’s how long it had taken to follow the sun the opposite direction, all the way until he couldn’t walk any more. It amused him slightly, that had he walked this same direction before, he would have returned to Shion all the sooner; even with his numerous stops and the occasional detours around towering walls, so much like the ones he’d rejoiced in their fall around the parasitic state that was No. 6.

Sun still blazed high in the sky, even as it dipped its way behind fluffy grey clouds. After having walked both directions across the land, he wondered briefly where it was he would aim for next; if there was somewhere else he’d yet to see, or if this time spent traveling the expanse of barren wasteland had really all been for naught. In the end, he was no wiser for it, no freer from his crushing thoughts that seemed to grow darker in each new day’s light. Perhaps all he really was good for was focusing on his hatred and the destruction of No. 6, and now that it was over, he could waste away with nothing but his memories to keep him sated.

Somehow, that didn’t feel quite right. Surely there was more to life for him than toppling the evil that had robbed him so terribly when he was young. Thoughts strayed back where they always seemed to, feeling himself waver once more in his ability to keep the past where it should be, focusing solely on the present. Shion deserved more than a wayward lifestyle, deserved more than Nezumi could ever hope to offer. Sure, the airhead might never complain, but who truly felt satisfied with someone so despondent and malcontent. Until he figured out what more there was to him, he would never be able to settle himself one place. If he ever found whatever it was he was looking for.

Turning his back on the rippling sea, he trekked back across the silky sand, pausing momentarily to bend down and pick up a swirling rock. White and purple spiraled together, little peaks and ridges splayed outward across the surface. Inside the shell was smooth and sparkling, hints of pink and blue glinting in the light. A smile curled his lips, and he tucked the thing into his bag, knowing a certain white haired individual who would adore something so simple, yet somehow so romantic.

The journey back across dry desert land proved harder as summer gave way to cool Autumn nights. Nezumi had to stop off in a small village in the middle of nowhere, offering his services in exchange for extra rations, and an ultra thin, yet remarkably warm piece of cloth to keep him warmer through the winter. Nights spent sleeping beneath the great expanse of sky may have been breathtaking, but the barren land in the dead of night dropped to temperatures far worse than he’d normally experienced. Death came calling for those who weren’t careful, and he refused to die in the middle of nowhere, without ever fulfilling his second promise.

***

Spring came with light sprinklings of rain, the budding bushes scattered across the red landscape fragrant with new life. He’d followed the sunrise back across vestiges of time, noting all the little familiar places he’d passed when they were still new in his mind. Even with the similarities in red rock and pocked earth, Nezumi could tell the distance between him and Shion just by scanning the land around him. Sure enough, as he climbed to the top of a large hill, he greeted the sight seconds before his eyes actually landed on his destination.

No. 6 spread out like a blemish on the land, rolling hills and trees giving off artificial beauty against the orange hued sky. By tomorrow evening, he knew those streets would welcome him once more, wondering momentarily if that window would still be inviting him in. Their last meeting hadn’t gone quite as he’d imagined it would, so he could understand if Shion felt too hurt to keep waiting around. It would be the smart decision, in any case, the logical one, something he would do. Shion wasn’t like him, though, which was the biggest part of his allure.

The flat expanse of land overlooking the valley below was as good a place as any to make his camp, so he started a meager fire, and watched as the sun dipped below the horizon, the twinkling lights of the city casting a ringed glow over itself like a halo. It was strange irony, he thought, that something so evil could look so inviting, after years of wandering desert lands and finding nothing of merit. Of course, the greatest appeal lay inside the place; perhaps the only actual reason he made sure his feet stuck their path. Were it not for Shion, he’d never need return, for what would be the point in going back when he had nothing worthwhile?

The stars shone a little brighter that night, and come the dawn, he continued the long walk back to the edges of the West Block, then through the place the wall no longer existed. Walking so freely across what once was a protective barrier meant to keep out the unwanted caused a smirk to work its way onto his lips. It used to prove rather difficult to sneak inside, and now any filthy heathen could slip by unnoticed, wreaking who knows what kinds of havoc on the unsuspecting place. Things really had changed quite a bit, though he doubted it was much improved, even with Shion being so compassionate.

As expected, the journey through town took until after dark. A shiver of anticipation ran up his spine at the sight of those silly glass doors propped open, always inviting, beckoning him near. Scaling the side of the house was easy as climbing up a couple of stairs, especially after he’d had to scale a few tall cliffs that lay directly in his path of the ocean. Going around just wasn’t his style.

The sun had already set behind the hills, painting the night with shadows of smoky grey, but the room beyond was awash in the gentle orange glow of lantern light. Shion was laying on his stomach upon the bed, elbows propped, hands cupping his face, while red eyes skimmed across the well worn pages of what looked like one of Nezumi’s old books. It was hard to tell which one, as it was mostly at an inconvenient angle, but the fact that he’d collected so many over the years didn’t help the matter much.

Laying there, reading in the dim light that way, brought back memories of living together all those years ago. A terrible ache spread outward from his chest, the coils of something dark closing around his heart. At first he wasn’t sure what to do, how to approach the boy that suddenly seemed so far out of his grasp. This world, this person here, was so very different from him, and he felt like an intruder, mucking things up for the sake of his own selfishness.

Shion might not think life without him was worthwhile, but the boy seemed to be getting along just fine. Who was he to disturb this silence, knowing all too well that whatever happiness his presence brought would only turn to bitterness come morning when he left once more.

His chance for escape ended when Shion’s eyes left the page, landing on his silhouette standing out on the balcony, bathed in moonlight. A sigh escaped his lips, and he closed the book, setting it gingerly down upon the nightstand before slipping from the bed. Wrapping bare arms around himself, he closed the distance between them at a leisurely pace. “Chilly night,” he mused, stepping across the threshold and shivering slightly.

Nezumi found the will to move his tongue, roused from his state of momentary stupefaction by Shion’s inability to think about his own self foremost. “We should go inside, then,” he replied, voice a gentle murmur, betraying no hint of his raging emotions.

Shion smiled, eyes crinkling in the corners. “Okay,” he said, reaching out a hand to grasp the other by the arm. Another smile lit up his features upon contact, and he hummed happily in his throat, dragging Nezumi gently into the room.

“You’re reading by lantern night,” he stated the obvious.

Shion closed the widows with a soft click, turning his way with solemn features. “I am. It reminds me of a better time. Makes it not feel so lonely here.”

Nezumi nodded, though his stomach clenched horribly at the thought. Shifting his weight from foot to foot, Shion chewed his lip, clearly wanting to say something, but not quite finding the nerve. “You know, you’re still terrible at hiding your thoughts. Just out with it already.” His voice took on a reprimanding tone, which seemed to be all the push the other needed.

“Why didn’t you say goodbye last time, why did you have to leave before I woke up?”

Because I wouldn’t be able to go with you looking at me that way, he thought, I couldn't bear to see that sadness etched into your skin.

“I wanted to get an early start, you like to sleep in,” Nezumi lied.

Shion wrung his hands. “Are you leaving again tomorrow?”

Yes.

"The truth, or what you want to hear,” he asked, watching the way those red eyes brimmed with tears he knew the other was too stubborn to let fall.

Shion laughed, the sound hollow. “I’d prefer the truth,” he mumbled.

Nezumi sighed, pulling his bag from his shoulder and setting it on the floor. “You shouldn't ask questions you don’t actually want to know the answer to,” he relented.

Brows came together, lower lip pouting outward rather childishly. “Why do you have to leave after only one night, why can’t you stay longer,” Shion whined.

Because then I'd never leave you, and you'd hate me after the bitterness you've caused drowned the both of us.

“I could just stay away, if you’d prefer,” he challenged, feeling horrible when Shion’s face fell. Sighing again, he succumbed to the other's will, holding his arms open wide. “Can’t I at least get another awkwardly stiff hug before you barrage me with questions?”

The pale boy only hesitated for a moment, before he slammed into him so hard the air forcefully vacated his lungs. Burying his face into the opening of Nezumi's jacket, warm breath tickled the skin below as Shion spoke. “I didn’t think you’d be back so soon. I’m glad, don’t get me wrong, but I’d feared you’d wait another four years, like we were stuck on a loop or something.”

Nezumi chuckled, allowing his arms to return the tight embrace. “That’s just how long it took me to walk across the land, it wasn’t planned or anything.”

“Where will you go next?” Shion’s muffled voice sent a shiver down his spine.

“I’m not really sure, I’ve gone two directions now. Perhaps one of the remaining ones,” he mused.

Shion pulled back, just enough to stare into the other’s eyes. “Can’t I come this next time? I’ve kept my promise. Almost six whole years of making sure everything runs smoothly, I’m sure the city would be fine if I’m gone.”

Nezumi frowned. “Can you honestly say you’ve done everything you can to fix the mess that was left behind?”

Shion stiffened slightly, before a groan escaped his lips. “It’s not fair. I don’t want to live my life this way. I want to be with you. Wherever you go, I want to be by your side. If you can’t be made to stay, then let me come with. Please, Nezumi. I can’t keep hoping you’ll come back, terrified that you won't. I don’t know what I’d do if I had to realize the last time I saw you was really the last time-“

Nezumi cut him off with a warm kiss, cupping his cheek gently. Shion relaxed against him, slipping arms up to wrap around his neck. Pulling back, he hummed quietly. “Life isn’t fair, Shion. We take the cards we’re dealt, and play whatever hand we’re able. Your place is here, and I’m still finding mine. We're just two ships passing in the night. Make the most of what you can right here and now.” He rested his forehead against the other’s, noses almost touching.

Shion nodded almost imperceptibly, swallowing hard and closing his eyes. “Alright,” he mumbled.

Nezumi smiled. “Good, then no more questions for tonight.”

Stepping back, he shrugged off his coat, setting it down beside his bag. Shion watched him as he took a seat on the bed, red eyes dancing in the soft flicker of lantern light. Pulling out the tucked strands of hair from his usual updo, it fell down past his shoulders with a delicate shake of the head, grazing his chest.

Shion smiled softly, tilting his head to the side. “You’re wearing my shirt.”

Slipping off his shoes, Nezumi hummed in amusement. “It’s nice when it gets too hot out. I can give it back, if you’d like.”

“It suits you. Keep it.”

Climbing onto the mattress, their limbs tangled together, Shion resting his head gently on the other’s chest. He wrapped his arm around Nezumi’s waist, fingers working their way beneath the shirt fabric to delicately stroke the sensitive skin of his side and lower back. His own arms encircled the smaller boy, one hand gripping the bicep across his chest, while the other twisted long fingers through silky hair.

Shion let out a contented sigh. “Tell me about the places you’ve seen.” The soft hum of his voice was already slurred lightly, thick with sleep.

Nezumi closed his eyes. The scent of lavender and fresh baked bread enveloped his senses, the hints of a smile curling his lips. “There isn’t much difference from what you can see when you look out beyond the city, but some places have green, and others aren’t so dry as here. I found that it may look peaceful underwater, but predatory things still lurk in the depths, and picking up beautifully colored rocks don’t signal the end of the world. The ocean is vast and unforgiving, you can tell by the way the waves crash into the shore, like it wants to reclaim the land that it lost, aching to drag it back under.”

A gentle whine escaped the other’s lips, and when he craned his neck slightly, he could see that Shion’s eyes were closed, the steady rise and fall of his chest pressing softly into Nezumi's side. He stroked the white locks beneath his hand, enjoying the feel as they slipped through his fingers. Shion nuzzled his face a little closer, hand curling itself around the bone on his hip.

He wondered again about this life he led, whether or not revenge really was all that he was made from. Was there really no purpose to this life, nothing to be had but survival and, ultimately, death? Why did he breathe, what kept him alive, kept him motivated and moving ever onward? Would he ever find whatever it was he was searching for?

The answers all seemed slightly out of reach, like the last chapter of the book was torn out, leaving you to wonder how it ended. There was something else inside of him, more than revenge, but he couldn’t quite place the name. Something akin to longing, but rippled throughout with fears and doubts. His hand reached up high to grasp at that feeling, catching nothing but cool night air.

Come the morning he would continue on his journey, searching for the answer to the great riddle inside of himself. Was he empty now, or was this what it felt like to be full? Somehow a mix of the two had come to pass, not quite sated, but unable to know what it was that might satisfy the burning in his chest. He wouldn’t give up, not until he named that thing and found a new purpose for himself. If that meant a lifetime of wandering, he’d make sure no piece of land was untouched by his soul.

Chapter Text

Shion knew the bed was empty even before he opened his eyes. It was too much to hope that Nezumi would be standing on the balcony again, sipping another cup of coffee, waiting for a proper goodbye. He didn’t kid himself into thinking it was likely, so when his eyes finally took in the surrounding space, his heart only broke a little when it turned up vacant of all save him. Searching the rest of the house wouldn’t be necessary either, Nezumi’s belongings were gone as well, so he hadn’t bothered to wait.

Slipping his hands beneath the pillow, he searched in vain for another hurried goodbye. The last scribbled note had worn down along the seam from all of the times he’d felt anxiety begin to clutch his insides, and needed the promised words to quell the ache in his chest. It still sat in the drawer of his desk, tucked away and safe, ready for the next bought of sorrow to overcome him. All he managed to find underneath was the cooler side of the fabric, and a growing sense of dread.

He couldn’t have just dreamt the whole thing, surely dreams were less lifelike than that. He’d had many before, so he felt like an expert on the subject by this point; this was no longing induced fantasy. The skin beneath his fingers had been real, he’d assured as much when he grabbed hold and felt the warmth. Dreams weren’t warm, only living things gave off a heat signature. There must be another explanation.

Rising from the bed, he padded quietly across the floor, throwing open the large windows and stepping out onto the little balcony. Gentle spring breeze met him, tickling his face with feather light touches. The city was already abuzz with people going to and fro, ready to start their days, eager to keep moving forward.

Six years later, and the people of No. 6 were beginning to adapt to changes with a new sense of determination. If he listened hard enough, he caught the thrum of new life echoing through the once clogged veins of their town. This is what a city should be, a living creature that rose or fell along with its people’s hopes and sorrows, luck or misfortune. They were alive, and it was alive, so they would continue their steady progression, much the way all human civilization did.

Karan was down in the garden she’d made, planting the new strawberries she’d use in her sweets and desserts. She still enjoyed trips to the market in West Block, the prices were always better, even though the quality was mediocre at times; but nothing beat homegrown fruit on top of a warm piece of cheesecake, fresh out of the oven. Her garden yielded other produce, but she took the most pride in her strawberry plants.

Lili could be seen to his left, setting out the bakery’s sign, signaling the start of a new work day. The eleven year old still enjoyed helping out Karan whenever she could, especially when she was rewarded with cake or pie. Work had been good for Karan, so the extra hand was greatly appreciated, and Lili got hands on experience with baking, which sparked a dream of culinary school when she was old enough to attend.

Nezumi's words floated through his mind as he stepped away from the balcony, ready to face the day head on. A new object sat atop the book on his nightstand, and he picked up the strange shell, spinning it around in his hand, admiring its simplistic beauty. Deep purples and chalky whites swirled around the bumpy exterior, the interior smooth and sparkly like the surface of a gem. Tucked inside, out of sight, was a little piece of paper.

A smile crossed his face, and he held the shell up to his ear, wondering if it was true that you could hear the ocean if you listened hard enough. The sound of blood rushing through his body was the true melody, but if he held his breath, closed his eyes tight, the swell of water rushed to greet him, grey and sonorous, just like Nezumi.

I couldn’t bring you along, so I brought the ocean to you. Listen close, can you hear it?

I can.



Shion hefted the final box into his small flat, setting it down on the floor to wipe the sweat from his brow. It had been a long few months, but he’d finally made up his mind, moving out of the bakery house and into his own place. It had crossed his mind numerous times over the past six years, ‘what if Nezumi never returns to me because he doesn’t know where I’ve gone to?’ It was absurd, of course, but the fear had been immobilizing at the time, so he’d clung to the past with all his might, terrified to change lest he lose Nezumi in the process.

Make the most of what you can right here and now.

It wasn’t until Nezumi had said those words that he’d realized he’d been putting off living for the future in order to remain in the past. That part of him was gone now, six years dead and buried. If he couldn’t look forward, could expand and grow for fear of changing beyond recognition, then what hope did he have to ever catch up to Nezumi in the first place? He wanted to be equals, he’d said as much, yet he kept himself stunted, prevented necessary growth, and clung helplessly to a fickle wanton desire that had already passed him by.

The next time Nezumi graced him with his presence, he was going to captivate him, force the other to stay just by being. Why he ever thought sixteen year old Shion was worthy of someone so hypnotizing was beyond him, but he refused now to make the same mistake a fourth time. As a twenty two year old man, it was time for a life of his own, time to mature and develop into someone worthwhile. If that meant leaving the comfort of his mother’s house, stripping himself of familiar things, and allowing himself to expand ever outward, then so be it. He would do everything in his power to truly become the person Nezumi deserved.

The shell he’d been given was placed in the widow of his room, another invitation for a wandering soul. His new flat was only a short stroll away from his mother’s bakery, but that was more for convenience than anything else. He could probably move to the West Block and be fine, though the rural lifestyle was undoubtedly less preferred than real electricity and a never ending supply of hot running water. He was changing, not giving up simple luxuries to prove he could manage. After all, he had lived six or so months without them, that was proof enough.

Unpacking his things proved more of a chore than packing them was to begin with. Throwing everything he owned into boxes and walking them down the street was a piece of cake. Relocating the whole of his life’s belongings into a new little home proved to him just how frivolous he had allowed himself to become. It wasn’t long before the trash pile was larger than the keep pile was, and it felt strangely uplifting to remove the clutter that he hadn’t known was there.

Of his books, he kept them all, turning the spare room into a miniature library he hoped would one day rival, if not entirely beat out, Nezumi’s. One could never say a book was frivolous, because even once read, it remained an escape to return to; on nights when the wind rattled the doors, and longing for something familiar sank deep into his chest. It didn’t hurt that the majority of his collection had indeed belonged to the grey eyed wanderer, though he’d made it a point to complete unfinished collections, or add entirely new ones whenever the chance arose.

And so, Shion sank into his new life, remaining an irreplaceable member of the restructural committee, and a voice of reason amidst clouded judgement. In his spare time, whenever he found some, he read books to further broaden his awareness, learning things about himself he never knew existed. A love for tragedy, an acceptance of the futile, the ability to let go. In all of his changes, he never once wavered in his kindness, deeming it a strength, even as Nezumi saw it a weakness. He would never allow himself to stoop so low as to only care about his own wellbeing, and would immediately forsake his own comfort if it meant comfort for the many.

Time passed, winter came again. It was always the hardest, those days his mind associated most with the other, occasionally waking up from a dream of the past, only to find, with sinking clarity, that the future was still uncharted. He didn’t know where each new day would lead him, but it didn’t hold the same kind of crushing anxiety it might once have had.

Shion was slowly becoming comfortable in his loneliness, forgoing the term for something less depressing and more up lifting. Call it what you will, he felt empowered by the ability to stand tall amidst a sea of doubts, never letting it drag him down to the point of breaking. He was, after all, a changed man, no longer fearing a life spent by himself; which was a flagrant contrast to the nights he curled himself into a ball and cried himself to sleep, terrified of the endless unknown and what it might leave him with.

It was a subtle change, but the first time he had to double take his reflection in the mirror, he’d stared back at his own strange face for a good five minutes, stupid smile playing happily on his lips. It never occurred to him before how defeated he’d let himself look, until the exact opposite was the only thing he saw. It was no wonder his mother had asked him to quit the committee all those years before, he’d gotten so used to locking sadness into his skin, he couldn’t remember what it looked liked to be at ease with oneself. He wondered briefly if that was part of the reason Nezumi couldn’t bear to stay, but shook the toxic thoughts from his head. Nezumi was living for himself, he wouldn’t make decisions based on anyone else.

***

It was a cool night in December when he unlocked his door, pausing in the doorway to assess the strange sensation in the room. Something felt off, different than he had left it, and he wasn’t quite sure why. Nothing looked amiss, each thing the exact place it was before, and he would know, his memory was uncanny for things such as misplacement or slight disturbances.

No one but himself and Karan had a key to enter, so it was silly to think someone might have broken in. Against his former promises, he left his windows locked, only opening them whenever the need actually arose. It was in no way a slight against the other, he’d just allowed himself to grow past his childish idea that no harm could come from his carelessness; the thought that Nezumi might be slightly proud certainly didn’t hurt, either.

No, it was something about the atmosphere inside the house that caused the shiver to run down his spine, and left gooseflesh rippling over his skin. A breath of icy chill tingled his neck, and for a moment, he wondered if this was something people experienced before a major life event; something cataclysmic and world shaking, that would uproot his very ideals and turn everything on its head. He dismissed it for silliness, closing the door and locking both locks, just for added protection.

Shuffling about the room, he removed his jacket, placing it on the coat rack next to the door. His keys he set into the bowl on the counter, removing his shoes and setting them beside the other pairs that awaited him should they be needed. A long day such as the one he’d had deserved a nice hot shower, so he removed his shirt, uncaring that he was standing in the middle of the living room, since no one was around to witness.

Flicking on the light switch in the small washroom, he paused in shock as the sound of amused laughter drifted up to his ears, causing his heart to hammer wildly in his chest. It was soft, like a spring breeze, touched with an air of obnoxious superiority, and a hint of wild longing. Eyes slipped shut, too terrified of who he wouldn't see standing there to turn around with them already open.

“You’ve filled out nicely, guess you learned how to actually eat.”

Snapping them open, he spun around and gaped at the man slung over the chair in his library like a lazy cat, book propped open in his lap, legs draped over the armrest like it was the most comfortable position in the world. A little smirk pulled one side of his mouth upward, eyes half lidded and glittering with amusement.

In the bright light of the lamp at his side, Nezumi's subtle changes over the years became more apparent. His face had remained delicate, but the angle of his cheekbones had risen slightly, the curve of his jaw becoming a little more pronounced. He might still be able to pass as a woman on the stage, but the young boy who could fool anyone with his beauty was now a breathtakingly stunning adult.

It took a moment to find his voice, swallowing the lump already fully formed in his throat. “How,” he managed to ask, though it was less than he’d wanted to say.

Nezumi stretched long arms above his head, twisting his back slightly until there was an audible pop. “I tried the usual place, but I guess someone decided to grow up and leave the nest. Your mother was kind enough to lend me a key and point me the right direction.”

Shion nodded. “Oh,” he replied lamely, still too dumbfounded to think clearly.

Nezumi rolled his eyes, abandoning the book on a little table. He rose to his feet with fluidity only he could manage, looking even more like a beautiful work of art as he stood, hip cocked, arms folded across his chest. “Is that all the welcome I get, and after coming back to you so soon. I’m hurt, Shion.” He pouted out his lip in mock offense, drawing his stormy gaze away with a turn of his head, chin lifting slightly in defiance.

Shion took a hesitant step closer, mind still wrapping around the idea of Nezumi standing inside his little apartment. He’d dreamt of this moment, of course, many times before. Still, the reality of the situation felt strange, seeing a foreign object in this new version of things he had created for himself, like a little chrysalis, protective and safe and happy. He wasn’t prepared for it so suddenly, hadn’t grown into a place of longing quite yet.

“It’s only been six months,” he mumbled, wincing the moment the words left his mouth.

Nezumi blinked at him in genuine surprise, dropping his cocky pose as a frown creased his brow. “I apologize, your highness. I’ll just leave then, come back at some later time. Didn’t realize I wouldn’t be missed.” He maintained a level voice, but Shion noticed the hurt that flashed across his eyes.

Something about Nezumi was different, changed in a way he couldn’t quite put his finger on, more so than just his physical appearance. Titling his head to the side, he analyzed the other with slightly narrowed eyes. Realization hit him like a punch to the gut, and he gasped like he’d actually been struck, hand flying up to cover his mouth in surprise. “You’re finally back, for good this time,” he breathed, feeling a chill of anticipation course through his veins.

Nezumi frowned even lower, if it were possible, mouth forming a thin line. “I don’t know yet, I was going to see how things went before I made up my mind.”

“What changed,” he asked, sucking his lower lip into his mouth to worry it between his teeth.

Nezumi cocked a brow. “I could ask you the same question,” he replied haughtily.

Ignoring the clear jab meant to sting his pride, Shion smiled genuinely in return. “I decided living in the past wasn’t getting me anywhere closer to you, so I needed to accept how things were, and learn to be okay with what I can get here and now.”

“How very mature of you,” he sniffed.

Shion shook his head and laughed. “Not at all, I’m still quite terrible at moving forward. But it’s bearable, more so than before. If we’re only ever going to be passing ships in the night, I at least want to leave an impression, something that’ll stick forever, so you’ll never be able to forget me.”

Nezumi closed his eyes and swallowed, the ball in his throat bobbing low. When he opened them again, they shone with such vulnerability that it took Shion’s breath away. “You already have, Shion,” he murmured, pools of smoky grey sparkling, before solidifying once more into cold steel.

He took another step closer, searching wildly for an answer. “I don’t understand,” he finally admitted, afraid of being brushed off, but too desperate to know more to pretend he grasped the meaning.

Nezumi raked a hand through his hair, somehow managing to avoid ruining the meticulous look. “You put the shell in your window. So I would see it?”

Shion smiled sadly, giving a stiff nod. “Something like that. I didn’t want you to look too hard, or give up and stop looking.”

Humming in amusement, he shook his head. “Only you would worry about something so trivial. Did you honestly believe I’d notice you moved and just turn around and go? That I wouldn’t just ask your mother about it?” His voice was warm like honey; gentle like a caress against Shion's cheek.

“I wanted to be safe,” Shion mumbled feebly. It was pretty silly. If anyone could find him, it was Nezumi. He’d send his robot out to look, if he wanted to know that badly. Still, it felt like a proactive move, and at least it was doing something.

Nezumi crossed the distance between them, stopping close enough to reach out and grasp. “That’s what I mean. You think about everyone else, not only yourself. I’d never think of something like that, it wouldn’t even cross my mind. I’m selfish, and I don’t think of anything, other than my own needs. I never did before, and then you came along. I found that shell, and I thought, Shion would like this. I wasn't concidering me, I was considering you. And then I realized I'd been doing it, couldn't stop myself from continuing to do so.”

Shion stared up into cold grey eyes, watching the ripple of various emotions flicker past. It reminded him of the ocean he’d imagined before, churning waves beating against a surf-tormented shore; violent, yet somehow captivating at the same time. “And that’s… bad,” he asked hesitantly.

Nezumi released a hiss of air through his teeth, face growing slightly red in frustration. “I mean that you’ve changed me, for better or worse, you’ve already left an impression, and you didn’t need to grow up or mature any to do it, because it started that very first day. You taught me that living people are warm, that kindness isn’t always a weakness, and some people are worth dying to protect.” Reaching out a hand, he cupped Shion’s face. “There’s something more to me than just revenge, and that thing… it’s you.”

Shion smiled, placing a hand over Nezumi’s, leaning into the warmth. “Is that a love confession,” he asked, eyes flicking back and forth, searching for some kind of confirmation in the other’s gaze.

Nezumi chuckled, the sound a light and airy breeze. “As close to one as you’ll ever get,” he murmured, look growing sultry, voice thick with desire.

Shion closed the gap between their bodies, wrapping arms around Nezumi’s middle and burying his face deep into the crook of the taller man’s neck. He breathed in the scent of sweet spice, and sweat, humming happily. “Does this mean you found what you were looking for finally?”

Nezumi returned the embrace, fingers dancing intoxicating movements over Shion’s bare skin, causing him to shiver. “I have.”

“And?”

“You realize you’re half naked, right?”

Shion pulled back just enough to frown. “I’m well aware. Answer the question.”

Bending forward ever so slightly, Nezumi pecked him lightly on the nose. “I’ve found my purpose.”

“And,” he asked impatiently, squeezing the other tightly to show his distress.

Nezumi rolled his eyes. “Why must you ask questions you know the answers to?”

Shion pouted out his lower lip. “I’d like to hear you say it.”

“Keep waiting, majesty,” he growled, struggling to break free of their embrace, only to find that Shion’s grip was far better than it was at the age of sixteen. The smaller boy held on tight, determination setting into his features.  Nezumi's look turned stoic, body going rigid and unyielding.

"Ne-zu-mi,” Shion whined, drawing the name out into three separate syllables, earning an exasperated sigh in return.

“I’ll stay.”

"Because," he coaxed.

Taking a deep breath through his nose, he released it out of his mouth like a cool wave that tickled Shion’s cheeks. “Because, even though you’re an utter pain, completely hopeless, without a single clue in that airhead brain of yours; I couldn’t possibly imagine my life without you in it. You have succeeded in worming your way into my very essence, so much so that I ache whenever we’re apart. There, are you satisfied now?”

Shion hummed happily. “Almost. What is your purpose in life?”

With another roll of his eyes, Nezumi crushed Shion’s head into his chest. “Probably to make sure no one kills you for being so obnoxious and annoying all of the time,” he mused, only releasing his grip after several muffled cries of surrender.

Shion pulled back gasping, a grin brightening up his now pink face. “Okay, I’m good now. I’m going to go shower, it’s been a long day.” He rose up slightly to brush a kiss across the other’s mouth.

Turning to leave, a hand clutched his arm, spinning him back around quickly and drawing him close. Warm lips pressing against his own, hard and urgent, a stark contrast to the usual gentle kisses they’d shared before. Another hand tangled into his hair, cupping the back of his head, keeping him upright when his knees went wobbly and his eyes crossed pleasantly, mind going foggy. Nezumi released him after a beat, satisfied smirk on his face.

“Have a good shower,” he crooned, picking up the book and plopping back into the chair to read.

Shion took in the sight of him there, then sighed contentedly, and walked away. Never in his life did something look so right and whole as Nezumi did, curled up with a book, existing within reach.