I don't ever want to talk that way again,
I don't want to know people like that anymore.
As if there was an obligation,
As if I owed you something.
Black me out.
A little girl?
Shion frowned, staring at the small, slight figure standing before him, desperately clutching a bloodied arm. The child's body swayed like they were about to be blown away by the wind, delicate, fragile. No, not quite -- those eyes glinted silver like the flash of a blade, sharp and brutal.
Those eyes stared up at him from behind black hair that fell heavily over a soft pale face.
As Shion was slammed up against the wall, the shorter child pressing close to him, growling a command to remain still and silent, no, it’s a little boy -- he didn’t feel much fear. There was something in those eyes, a certain light, a certain darkness. He felt calm, he wanted to help this child, heal him, give him a place to rest his broken body.
“Do you always leave yourself wide open?”
Wide open window, wide open arms, wide open heart.
“But you’re so short, and look like a girl, and you were about to fall over.”
And your grey eyes, so strange, so unique and beautiful. They drew me in.
Shion jumped, glancing over to where Nezumi was sprawled on the couch, holding a book. His voice was always so rough, yet smooth. He was a person of contrasts, eyes light and dark, form slight yet strong.
“Go bathe. You’re all sweaty from your fever.”
His fever had broken not long ago, gone along with the pigment in his hair and eyes, leaving behind the red snake coiled around his body. It was true, even the snake was caked in dry sweat. He blushed slightly.
“And you’re not getting the bed to yourself tonight.” Nezumi warned, “Get used to sharing it. I was gracious last night only because your fever was making you toss and turn in your sleep.”
Sharing a bed?
Shion hadn’t shared a bed with someone since the days when he’d crawl into bed with his mother after a nightmare, scared and shivering, with her warm arms around him. It’d been a long time since he’d slept with someone at his side.
Nezumi fixed him with a stare, watching him collect some clean clothes that had been lent to him, along with a towel. He could feel those eyes boring into his back, eyes that had seen so much of the world, and so much of Shion.
"Don't touch me."
I'm not. I want to though, I want to touch your dark, flowing hair. Your soft skin. Your delicate hands.
I won't touch you, so long as you don't want me to. I'll keep my hands to myself.
“I remember you looked like an adorable little girl.”
Shion’s voice was soft and reminiscent, full of nostalgia. It came from behind a large towering stack of books -- Shion had been organizing them all afternoon, painstakingly ordering them by author and dusting off old, forgotten volumes. He’d been adamant in his ability to complete the task, despite Nezumi’s insistence that it would take well over a hundred years to clean this ramshackle rat nest.
“Hm?” Nezumi glanced up from the soup he was stirring, meeting Shion’s eyes as he rose up from behind his fortress of books.
“I told you so, back then. You were so short and small, and your hair was so long.” Shion smiled gently, “It’s still so long. Have you ever thought about cutting it?”
Natural, long, flowing on the wind as he stood among the trees. Let it grow, free, a child of the forest -- fire, heat.
The steam rising from the soup was making his skin grow hot, so he lidded it quickly, leaving it to cook the rest of the way. He once again glanced up to meet Shion’s strange gaze. Shion always looked at him in such a strange, unidentifiable way. Nezumi had at first thought it was look of discomfort, then wondered if it was curiosity -- then presumed it could be lust, but that didn’t quite fit either. Nothing quit fit that peculiar gaze, nothing identified the thoughts in Shion's mind.
“Well, you still look like a girl sometimes.” Shion grinned, “Not that that’s a bad thing.”
“Oh?” Very few people considered Nezumi’s androgynous looks to be a bad thing. The hollering men in the pit below the stage, when he’d dance in flowing dresses and they could forget that Eve was only Eve part of the time, certainly enjoyed his long hair. Others were entranced by it, when he brushed the long locks from his eyes as he haggled prices at the market. And others, others like to grab it, pull --
“It suits you.” Shion shrugged, blowing dust off of a book sitting on top of one of the piles, “I like it.”
“Well if my prince deems it sightly enough for his tastes,” Nezumi lifted the lid of the pot once again, checking its contents. It was almost ready. “I guess I must keep it at this length.”
He almost flinched when Shion appeared at his side, it was unnerving that the boy could sneak around him undetected like that. It wasn’t that the blundering ex-elite was skilled at stealth, it was that Nezumi had grown too comfortable in his presence. His guard was down, he was growing vulnerable. It was dangerous. This dangerous creature reaching out for him, and yet he let those pale fingers thread through his bangs, gentle as can be. Nezumi remained frozen, watching his movements guardedly.
“Is dinner ready?” Shion asked, eyes not meeting his, fixed higher to watch the light glimmer off of each pitch black strand of hair twisting through his hand.
“Almost.” He grunted, exhaling slowly, while Shion inhaled the sweet and sharp smells of the soup.
He finally untangled his fingers from Nezumi's hair, “It smells delicious.”
Nezumi carefully poured two bowls, serving Shion’s with twitching fingers. His body was alive with nerves and instincts, run, run, run. He was drawn in, the hook had been planted in him long ago, that cold night four years ago. There was no running, not unless he could sever the string that tied them together.
“You elites really do walk through the world blind and dumb.” Nezumi sighed, but Shion just shook his head. That look, unidentifiable. Stop looking at me.
“I know there’s a lot of the world I don’t understand, but I’m not blind to things right in front of me.”
“You lived your entire life in No. 6.” Nezumi pointed out plainly, but knew that even Shion had been aware that all was not well in the holy city.
Shion smiled tenderly, “I can see you.”
You can’t see me.
“And I saw you that night.”
You didn’t see me.
“Four years ago?”
“I’m not blind to you.”
You can’t see me.
"Can I touch you?"
Why do you want to? Your hands, drifting close... you aren't one of those who wants to take my body, own me, taste what I dangle in front of them but never let them devour, so why do you want to touch me, Shion?
You want to hold, comfort, experience... you want to understand. You can't understand me by touching me. Why do you want to?
Shion was almost glad when he realized how antagonistic and volatile Nezumi and Inukashi’s relationship was. He truly hated himself for the thought, but the idea of someone being around for those four years when he couldn’t... made his stomach do strange things. It was awful and selfish and he loathed the idea of Nezumi being alone just as much -- but jealousy still crept up on him in those moments when Inukashi spoke of their mutual friend.
He’d never been a jealous person, not in those rare occasions when boys would ask Safu out, or when Safu admitted she had a crush on Daigo in their class when they were ten. This was something new to him, just like everything else in the world.
Inukashi had known Nezumi for those four years Shion couldn’t, four years he’d never get back. Four years stolen from him.
“What was he like?”
Inukashi frowned, “Same as he always is.”
“I mean… did he struggle? When did you meet him? Has he been ok?”
“Listen, I don’t know what kinda relationship you think me and that dirty rat have, but I aint exactly his confidante. He’s always been the same cold, closed off monster, acting like he’s king of the world.”
Shion sighed, glancing away, “I just want… I want to know about who he is. He’s always talking about how little I know, but won’t help me understand.”
“See? Cold, closed off monster.”
“But that’s not who he is.” He shook his head, frowning at the soft dirt of the ground, “I know it’s not. You know it too.”
“Maybe you see more than I do.” Inukashi shrugged, “But as far as I’m concerned, he’s just a scruffy rat who doesn’t know his place.”
“What a precious treasure we’ve found here…” A hand came reaching out, inches from Nezumi’s face. “Come play with us and we’ll call it even.”
As he swiftly reacted and slammed into the man, taking him down with ease, he wondered idly if he’d have taken him up on the offer three or four years ago. If he would have traded his body for Shion’s safety, his fighting skills not quite match for going against two adults. If he’d met Shion again at a different time, when he was still struggling to learn how to live in the dirty, people filled slums when all he’d known prior were wild forests, burning fire, corpse mountains, and echoing caves.
He pulled Shion away, knowing the pimps wouldn’t stay down for long.
The kid had a long way to go in learning the ropes of West Block, but Nezumi would be there to aid him from the sidelines. He couldn’t coddle him, but he wouldn’t let him take the long road in surviving, he wouldn’t leave him to discover the block’s cruelty alone.
No one was there to help Nezumi when he first crawled out of the sewer four years ago, out into the barren wasteland and ravenous slums. He’d left behind Rou, Gran, a burning village -- there were no guides. Just him and all the other rats.
Shion's breath was heavy at his side, gasping for air as they ran. They ran, hand in hand, through dusty alleyways and crowded streets, dodging bustling travelers and market goers, until they reached the end of the market district and picked their way out into the desert hills where their little bunker hole in the ground was nestled.
“So it’s always like that.” Shion whispered, eyes far away. “It’s so different from No. 6... so dangerous.”
“No. 6 is far more dangerous than the West Block ever could be.” Nezumi said concretely, kicking a rock as they walked.
“It’s savage here! Bodies in the streets, prostitutes, pimps, thieves…”
“The entire world is savage, No. 6 just covers its savagery up better.”
West Block was a body propped up on a street corner, No. 6 was a mountain of bodies hidden in the basement. West Block was prostitutes and pimps, No. 6 was government officials with repressed desires and brutal tastes. West Block had thieves, but No. 6 would always take whatever it wanted.
“Did you grow up out here?” Shion asked quietly. That question had been rephrased over and over again, was the bunker your home? West Block? Is this where you were born?
“I grew here.” He said simply, staring back out over the decrepit land, “But I wasn’t born here.”
The pond was cool to the touch, water gently lapping at his skin. He placed his other foot in it’s depths. He could hear the pond singing, a sweet, refreshing tune. The songs of water always sounded so different from the other voices of the Mao forest. The whispering of the trees, calls of the birds -- water sang loudly and unafraid.
Hot, heat, burning, fire.
No one was singing.
Everyone was screaming.
The forest was screaming.
‘That scar on your back, so alluring…’ a voice rough in his ear, ‘...you’ve been through a lot, haven’t you.’
Nezumi woke suddenly, sweat beading on his temples. Shion’s arm was wrapped around his waist, as the boy’s limbs sometimes did as they slept. He’d long gotten used to finding himself pulled tight in an unconscious embrace in the night.
Now, he did all he could to disentangle himself, not wishing to wake him with his shuddering and his sweat.
“Ne’umi?” Shion’s groggy voice came from under the blanket, “Wha’ wrong?”
“Nothing. Go back to sleep.”
“I heard you crying out--”
“Go back to sleep, Shion.”
Shion blinked, “If something’s wrong…”
“Why can’t you ever leave things alone?” Nezumi snapped, “You always have to push. Nothing’s wrong. Go to sleep.”
“I’m sick of this. I’m sick of you always pushing.”
“You told me I was blind and dumb, maybe I just want to know.” Shion whispered.
You don’t want to. You don’t want to know. I don’t want you to know… for all I taunt you, urging you to open your eyes to the evils of the world, I don’t want you to know. I don’t want you to know me. And I don’t want you to change.
“My mother…” Shion continued, “When I had nightmares, I’d climb into bed with her and she’d rub my back until I fell asleep. Do you want me to rub your back?”
Nezumi’s back burnt, hot and itchy. Without touching them, he could feel his scars, tingling and screaming as loud as the forest had.
“Ok.” Shion didn’t push.
Nezumi closed his eyes and lay back down, exhaling. He brushed his loose hair out of his eyes, feeling the tips tickle his exposed collarbones peeking out his wide necked shirt. Shion shifted beside him, turning so he faced him with his bright red eyes, so like the albino rats Nezumi had raised over the years.
“She’d brush my hair to comfort me sometimes too.” Shion added softly, breath tickling Nezumi’s neck. “Would you like me to?”
Nezumi knew there was a hairbrush sitting on the small table next to the bed, and knew Shion was looking at it. He closed his eyes, rolling over, ignoring him.
Shion reached over him and plucked the brush up, and Nezumi felt it’s coarse bristles run through his hair with one experimental swipe, “Shion…”
“Tell me if it bothers you.”
Nezumi remained silent, as Shion ran the brush through his hair once more. He couldn’t deny that it felt good. His scalp tingled as the bristles massaged his sensitive skin, each stroke brought him closer and closer to a state of relaxation.
Slowly, the tension ebbed from his body. Shion motioned for him to move so he could access the other side of his head, and he complied slowly, sitting up ever so slightly so that Shion could wrap his arms around him and brush the hair behind his ear.
Shion’s shoulder supported him as he leaned back, body limp, anxiety draining out of him. He could feel the steady rise and fall of the boy’s breath, as he brushed his hair with every bit of duty and care.
“What did you dream of?” Shion asked in a breath.
“Nothing.” Don’t make me think about it.
“Sometimes it’s good to talk about it.”
“That’s what you say to people who can afford therapy.”
If I let this damned dam break, not even a professional could put me back together.
“Talking is therapy.”
“Leave it, Shion.” He sighed, eyes sliding shut once more. The brushing continued. He could almost feel the touch of sleep, more than the touch of fire or man, and let himself drift away under Shion’s hand.
"I just thought that sometimes you move really elegantly." Shion murmured, "Sometimes your gestures are really captivating. I couldn't help but stare."
Shion watched Nezumi read, exotic eyes fluttering around the page quickly. He was always in awe at how fast the boy could read, for someone who’d had no formal education in the way that Shion was used to.
“Did you go to school?” Shion asked quietly, not meaning to disturb him.
“How’d you learn to read?”
“My parents taught me.”
“So you were home schooled?”
“There were no schools.”
Nezumi’s eyes never left his book.
While Shion had spent his days sitting behind a desk, Nezumi had been running for his life from the same officials Shion had trusted to protect him and his mother. They’d both been learning different lessons.
“What did you do, after you left my house that night for years ago?”’
“To West Block?”
“Did you have relatives living here?”
“Did you know anyone here?”
Twelve years old, with no home, no family.
Shion remembered how scared he’d felt, when he had his privileges revoked and was evicted from Chronos -- punished for aiding that lost child -- and how little remorse he’d felt. His punishment for giving Nezumi a chance to escape into this wasteland with no one to hold his hand, was still a kinder and gentler future than Nezumi’s new chance at life had been. An elite’s punishment was a better life than a rat’s salvation.
Who are we?
Sleeping together side by side at night, two different people now in the same bed. Who are we?
"I’m not interested in picking up woman."
“That would be a waste of good labour that could be put to better use.” A better use, huh. “I've actually been thinking about it ever since I first saw you on that stage.” Have you, now? Your eyes followed my movements, and saw something that could seduce? “You could rake in as much money as you want. It should be a piece of cake for you to sweet-talk those bored stiffs into showering you with money.” My voice like honey, luring men in. I have to make them want to pay me for it, want to give rather than take. Take, taking whatever they want. “What do you think? It'll pay way more than that shabby hut of a playhouse."
"Are you telling me to take customers? Has the alcohol gotten to your brain, old man?" Nezumi spat, feeling Shion’s body become tense.
"Don't try to play cool with me. God knows where you've come from and where you've been― a wandering actor like you has probably had experience with it anyway. It's no use pretending you're an innocent―"
Shion exploded at his side, lashing out with such blind fury that Nezumi was frozen in shock, and for a second, Nezumi was afraid of him. The anger, the absolute rage, this was a man out of control, reacting purely on the anger flowing through him.
“How dare you say something so degrading! Apologize! Apologize to him!” Shion shouted, choking Rikiga with hands that had never taken a life. “How dare you…”
“Shion, knock it off.” Nezumi managed to get out, completely at a loss as to what to do. No one had ever defended his honour before.
“How can you say such horrible things, you shameless -- shame on you--” Shion spat, ignoring or perhaps simply not hearing.
“P- please, I’m sorry-- please-- I--” Rikiga gasped and gagged, struggling in vain under the boy’s strangling hands.
“Shion, enough .”
Nezumi grabbed him, pulling him off the older man with a jerk. Shion was trembling in his grasp, still gasping in fury.
Slowly he started to calm down, while Rikiga recovered his feeble breath, hands at his red and bruised throat.
"Why aren't you angry?" Shion’s voice cracked, as he turned to face Nezumi. His crimson eyes were wide and wet, “He said such horrible things…”
"Angry? If I let a joke like that get to me every time, I'd be going mad all year round. I'm used to it. It's no big deal." He frowned, surely Shion had seen the way people look at him. Even if the boy hadn’t seen him on stage as Eve, he must’ve been aware of the effect he had on people. The prostitute, the pimps, the people at the market, now Rikiga. Sex was profitable, sex appeal was profitable.
“Idiot? What are you gettin’ all worked up about…”
“You're an idiot. What he said wasn't a joke. Don't say you've gotten used to it. Don't―"
Tears started leaking heavily from Shion’s eyes, streaming down his face. Nezumi wondered idly if they were burning.
Don’t say I’ve gotten used to it? You have no idea.
Shion lay at Nezumi’s side, listening to him breathe deeply in his sleep. He’d long gotten used to sharing a bed with someone, now he could hardly imagine sleeping alone. It would be so cold, so lonely without that warm, living body curled up next to him.
Sometimes he’d wake to hear strange sounds coming from his friend, low, scared sounds coming from deep in his throat. Cries, grunts, a hitch in his breath, a whisper.
He’d always want to wake Nezumi up, but feared it would do more harm than good. He hated to see his friend become closed off and guarded, silent. So instead, he’d wrap himself around him and run his fingers through his hair, remembering how quickly Nezumi calmed down when he’d brushed his hair that one night when the nightmares had gotten particularly bad.
Nezumi never admitted he had nightmares, would always brush him off when Shion brought it up.
I wish you could trust me.
Nezumi’s hair was so soft, inky and silky, falling strands between his fingers tickling his skin like feathers. He knew Nezumi was diligent about cleanliness, making full use of the bath that they were so lucky and honoured to have access to. He figured it had something to do with his job too, as a performer.
Shion leaned in, as Nezumi’s scared sounds grew quieter, chest rising and falling in a more even pattern, and rest his chin against the boy’s shoulder.
I wish you could trust me.
"As if I couldn't tell one kind of kiss from the other. A goodnight kiss, huh? Bullshit." Nezumi's eyes were moonlight, "Never give me a farewell kiss again. Ever."
His face stung, hot and sharp. His heart hurt. His lips tingled.
Nezumi's lips tingled. He was an expert in kisses, he knew what a goodnight kiss tasted like, and it didn't taste like fear and sadness. There were many kinds of kisses, goodbye kisses, hello kisses, fuck you kisses, fuck me kisses, hateful kisses, promise kisses...
Never give me another farewell kiss, Shion. Give me any other kiss, just don't say goodbye. Don't do that to me.
"You want me to co-operate with you?"
“I want you to glean information from your customers." Nezumi replied haughtily, putting his feet up on Rikiga’s expensive coffee table.
"Information? You mean about the Holy City?"
"What's in it for me?"
That girl, Safu… Shion really, truly cared about her. The only way to keep himself from being driven insane with jealousy was to put all his strength and focus into the job, just like old times. Put it all out of his head, no thoughts, no emotions, just the job. Just do the job.
Rikiga coughed, glaring down at where Nezumi rested his feet.
"Some long legs you've got, huh. Showing off?"
"What an honour to be complemented by you. These are the money-makers, I gotta keep them in shape."
He flinched as Rikiga slapped his calf with an open hand, "Get your feet off my table. It's obvious what kind of upbringing you've had. Don't even know your basic manners, do you?"
"I use my manners with people who deserve them." Nezumi fluttered his eyes, folding his legs up. Folding, folding in, folding over -- make yourself smaller, bend yourself over --
Do it for Shion. Before, he did the job for survival. Now, he did it for Shion. Ignore the jealousy like you ignored the shame, do it for Shion, he needs you, play the game. Find Safu. Find Safu for him, so he doesn’t go off by himself. You’ll lose him.
I can’t lose him. I can’t.
Why hadn’t he severed himself from him sooner? Would he die for this boy, after all these years painfully surviving? Is he going to throw all that away for some elite he’d found thrown out in the trash by the great No. 6?
I can’t lose him.
"This is the punishment you deserve, Eve. The full extent of it."
Rikiga’s bodyguard, Conk, was a large intimidating man. His fists were large, covered in bulging veins, and bruised around the crooks of each boxer’s knuckle. If Nezumi were to take him in a fight, it would be difficult to gain the upper hand. He’d have to utilize his agility and smaller size, but there were easier ways to make use of his body.
"Eve ― is it really you, Eve?"
Nezumi grinned, but let his smile soften into something gentle and feminine, easing back in his seat with a curve of his spine.
"So your name is Conk? Pleased to meet you, Conk. Thank you for always coming to see me on stage. I would never have dreamt that I'd be able to meet you here. I'm so happy." He extended his hand, delicate, demure, offering it to the gasping bodyguard.
"Oh ― Eve, me too." Conk’s face was burning red, and he quickly grasped the hand in his large ones, "I've always been a fan of yours ― I've seen almost all of your performances―"
"I know. You stood out, so I always knew whenever you came to my shows. You'd even send me gifts sometimes. I've always wanted to thank you directly." Nezumi blinked slowly, tilting his head so his long hair fell over one eye. He could tell his small actions were having an affect on Conk, that heady blush extending to his neck.
"I’m overwhelmed with happiness. I've never been so happy. I feel like I'm floating on air."
"Thank you, Conk," Nezumi stretched out his legs once again, making a show of their feminine shape and grace, returning them to their place on Rikiga’s table. "And I hate to disturb you, but I'd like to have a nice, long talk with Rikiga-san. Would you be so kind and pour me a cup of coffee?"
"Of course. Anything to eat?"
"That would be nice. Do you have meat pie, by any chance?"
"Yeah. I'll bring it right away."
Conk exited swiftly, face still flush, hand rubbing together as if to commit the feel of Nezumi’s hand to memory.
"Coffee and pie, huh? That stuff is all mine, you know," Rikiga snorted, sighing with exasperation. He poured himself another shot of brandy.
"Don't complain, or he'd probably punch you.”
"That's quite something, Eve. Not only can you handle a knife, can you also use sex appeal to your advantage too?"
"Both make good weapons."
"Then use that weapon you've got."
Nezumi crossed his legs, “Oh?”
"Eve, you're no rat," Rikiga continued. "You're a cunning white demon fox, great at manipulating people. Now, I don't know how many tails you've got, but I've got a man who likes that kind of thing. He's an elite, works at the Central Administration Bureau. He's my best customer."
‘I remember you looked like an adorable little girl.’
“Who is this?” Fura snarled almost as savagely as Inukashi was, “I thought you said you had a young girl for me?”
“When they’re that young, whether they’re a boy or a girl doesn’t really matter.”
Nezumi’s eyes shut tight, a strangled breath caught in his throat. He felt Shion move at his side, about to rush out from their hiding spot, but Nezumi stopped him with a shaking hand.
Get yourself under control. He thought to himself, heart still pounding, Get the job done.
There was the click and metallic sound of a gun behind drawn, and he took that as his cue. Silent as a rat, Nezumi crept out from his nook and slid his hands around the No. 6 official, one hand slipping over his mouth, the other gripped the wrist who’s hand held the gun. With his pressure point seized, the gun fell to the floor.
“Why don't you hang out with us a little longer? We'd give you such a good time, you'd melt on the spot.” He breathed into the man’s ear, pressing himself flush to his back.
Inukashi glared at him, eyes bright with rage. Nezumi could feel wishes for his death being prayed for, damnations, curses.
"Inukashi, it's the benefit of the experience. You've just had the precious experience of getting your neck licked by a high official of No. 6. You can store it away as a good memory." He murmured, tying the man up with thick rope. It was a satisfying job, binding this letch, limbs bound like the man had no doubt held down the limbs of the young children he paid for and devoured.
Inukashi’s dark eyes were glimmering with a wet sheen, “Why me? Why couldn't you have done it instead?"
"Why do I have to do it?" Nezumi snapped, a sneaky little thing crawling into his throat. Words were flying through his head, memories, insults, praise. Each tilt of his head, each stretch of his legs, each flutter of his eyelashes.
"Because you'd make the perfect prostitute. You lure men in, and make them completely weak and helplessly infatuated. A liar, a wanton, with a nasty personality to boot. You wouldn't even have to put on an act."
Shion bit out, "Inukashi, that's going too far. Don't say any more."
Shion, why don’t you see what they see? Why don’t you see me? You’re looking straight at me now, eyes digging as deep as the daggers Inukashi is throwing at me, but you don’t see what they see. The whore, the temptress, Eve the dancer, the actor, Eve the actress, the seductress, the rent boy, the boygirl, who do you see? Why don’t you see me?
You say, ‘don’t say anymore?’
Inukashi can say much more. How about the time I collapsed after singing one of those dogs to sleep, body too weak to stand, no food, body no longer desirable enough to win me food since my shoulders began to broaden and my jaw took on a sharper edge. The days before I learnt how to polish my nails into delicate tips, plump my lips, let my bangs frame my face into a softer image.
Why not say more? Say how I seduce everything I want out of the world, so why not take on this role tonight? The perfect prostitute.
Shion, why don’t you see that I had to learn how to seduce and use these men? That I only learnt how to lure them with a taste of what they want, but giving them everything that they wanted when I was too naive and desperate.
Shion, why don’t you see me? Why are you angry that they say what they see?
"What are you after?" Fura rasped from where he lay. "Money? Surely you don't think you'll be let off easily for doing something like this?"
"Our point is not to be let off at all."
Nezumi knelt, watching the man’s eyes widen and a small smile pulling at his cracked lips. He sees me, why can’t you, Shion?
"You're a beauty." Fura murmured, eyes trailing down the lines of Nezumi’s body, "Rikiga, this one's a much finer gem."
"If it pleases you to have me," Nezumi said, wondering if Shion was listening, if he was angry, if he was seconds away from one of his attacks of rage -- he slipped a finger under Fura’s chin, "...then you can have me to your heart's content. But it'll be expensive. Five gold coins isn't nearly gonna cut it."
"So it is money you're after. How much do you want?"
"I don't want money."
Shion watched Nezumi breathe deeply.
They lay in bed, both holding a book propped up on their chests, though Nezumi was completely absorbed in reading, Shion was instead reading his face.
The soft slope of his cheekbones, slender angle of his jaw, delicate eyes moving through line after line -- Nezumi was beautiful, and was aware of his own beauty.
“I don’t want to see you be cruel.” Shion whispered, “It hurts.”
Nezumi blinked, glancing up at him, “Then close your eyes.”
“You always tell me I’m blind. I don’t want to blind myself to what’s in front of me, but I don’t believe you’re a monster, Nezumi. I don’t believe cruelty comes naturally to you.”
“We wanted information. Violence and pain pulls information out of people.” He answered plainly, returning to his book, “Do you feel badly for that No. 6 official? He preys on women and children, buying them with his blood money that he gets from keeping the holy city bright and beautiful no matter what the cost.”
“I don’t care about Fura. I care about you . I don’t care who it is you’re hurting, only that you’re hurting someone.”
“Would you prefer that he were hurting me? You saw him, you saw what he wanted from me.”
“You hurting someone and someone hurting you… they’re both terrible.”
“You are blind.” Nezumi sighed, “My blind little aster flower, with his blind coiled snake.”
“Then what are you?”
The secretive rat, with his nest of secrets. Biting out my eyes so I can’t see?
“You don’t want to know.”
Black me out.
I want to piss on the walls of your house,
I want to chop those brass rings off your fat fucking fingers.
As if you were a kingmaker. Black me out.
I don't want to see the world that way anymore,
I don't want to feel that weak and insecure.
As if you were my fucking pimp,
As if I was your fucking whore.
-Black Me Out by Against Me
"No― I just thought that sometimes you move really elegantly..." - Vol 2 Ch 3
“That would be a waste of good labour..." - Vol 2 Ch 3
"Never give me a farewell kiss again. Ever." - Vol 3 Ch 5
"You want me to co-operate with you..." - Vol 3 Ch 5
"Can you also use sex appeal to your advantage too..." - Vol 3 Ch 5
"When they’re that young, whether they’re a boy or a girl doesn’t really matter...” - Vol 4 Ch 1
"Because you'd make the perfect prostitute..." -Vol 4 Ch 1
"You're a beauty. Rikiga, this one's a much finer gem..." - Vol 4 Ch 2
But even if your love was unconditional
It still wouldn't be enough to save me
"Never do something like that again, you hear me? Whatever happens, don't flatter yourself and think you can be any help to me."
Shion felt Nezumi grab his arm tightly, halting his movements. He’d been finishing up bandaging the man’s wound, the dog bite gouging his shoulder.
For a second he could only stare at him, wondering how he could possibly expect Shion not to come running to Nezumi’s aid.
"You're powerless, you remember that. You don't have the skill or the mentality it takes to fight. You're like a chick that's fallen out of its nest. You'd just chirp-chirp-chirp until you're eaten by a fox. So do yourself a favour, and don't go walking into danger's path. Don't do it, ever. Use your head. Put your so-called gifted brain into motion, full-throttle, and use your judgment to assess the situation. Geez, I don't know what the hell you were thinking, running out into the darkness without even carrying a weapon."
"I wasn't thinking at all, of the situation, or of danger. I was already running before I could stop to think.” I always will. How could you ever expect me not to? When Hamlet came running, alerting Shion that something was wrong, he didn’t give it a second thought before he went running after the little mouse, following it out into the darkness where Nezumu bled.
"That's why I'm saying, Shion, next time, don't ever do something as foolish or reckless."
Nezumi’s entire body was still and tense, coiled energy contained and constricted into the very atoms of his being.
"Then what should I do?" Shion asked softly.
"Don't do anything. There's nothing you could do anyway. Pull a blanket over your head or something, and stay quiet."
Shion imagined that perhaps if he had arrived at Nezumi’s side as the dog was attacking, he would have frozen, caught paralyzed with the sudden realization that there was nothing he could do, truly powerless. Even so, he shook his head slowly, glancing away from Nezumi’s eyes.
"I can't do that," he said almost whispering. "I can't stay there and sit still when I know you're in trouble. I would've burst outside either way."
"You'd just be a hindrance."
"That's harsh," Shion said quietly.
"It's the truth.”
It was not exactly abnormal for Nezumi to return home with a new bruise, some brawl he’d been forced into at some point during his day out at the market or at work. It didn’t happen often enough to become a key point of concern for Shion, but often enough, that is ever at all, that it still made his heart skip a beat when he saw his precious friend injured.
Nezumi was a skilled fighter, so he rarely ran into trouble he couldn’t handle. In any case, he was a proud believer in running away if ever possible. The slinky creature had no shame in slipping into the darkness in the blink of an eye, disappearing on his opponent with ease.
“Sometimes there’s just no running though.” Nezumi would shrug, after sporting a black eye from running into one of the many gangs that lurked through West Block. He managed to get away without too much trouble, and left the gang members slightly worse for wear, but his eye bruised blue and purple around the socket.
“My manager is going to have a fit.” He sighed, examining his eye in their cracked mirror hanging on the wall.
“What started the fight anyway?”
“There’s a group of cretins in the Carnations.” Nezumi laughed lightly, “They’re a rising gang, still getting their feet under them. But a few Carnations members hold a grudge against Eve ever since she spit vodka into the eyes of one of ‘em.”
“You did what!”
“Hey, you can’t blame the actions me for the actions of my drag ego. She’s a feisty, violent woman who doesn’t take being hit on nicely.”
Shion rolled his eyes, handing him a bag of ice wrapped in a ratty towel. It was late winter, just barely still cold enough to freeze water outside. He always kept a few bags of water on the steps of the bunker just for occasions like this.
“I hate when you fight, I just want to protect you from everything.” Shion murmured, watching Nezumi press the ice against his swollen eye.
“You can’t protect me from anything.” The dark haired boy stated seriously, turning to meet Shion in the eye. And don’t ever try.
"But it's not about reasoning.” Shion’s voice was a whisper.
For a second, Nezumi pretended not to hear him, fidgeting with his bandaged shoulder, remember a night many years ago so stormy and windy and real in that moment. Sometimes the past felt a little like a dream.
After a few heart beats, Shion spoke louder.
"It's not about reasoning, Nezumi. I know very well in my head that even if I were to show up, I wouldn't be of any help to you ― I wouldn't be able to save you. I know."
"Good for you. The grey matter in your head is about the only thing you can boast about, anyway. And if your head knows, then take its advice."
Nezumi’s eyebrows crunched in exasperation, using all his willpower not to sigh. An old woman’s voice filtered through his many thoughts, and he held his breath.
Shion’s face was stern and serious, eyes bright like flames with their irises drained of their natural prigments.
"It's not about reasoning! I was scared. I thought something had happened to you. I thought you were going to die. Are you telling me I should've just stopped and calculated in my head? Figured that it wouldn't do any good if I went anyway, and just sat still? I could never do that. How could I? How could I be cool and calm and think about whether I have or don't have the strength, whether I can or can't help you? How could anyone? Idiot!"
Nezumi stared at him, heart thudding loud and heavy in his chest. It was so loud in his ears he wondered if Shion could hear it, could hear the blood pumping so ferociously in this bleeding body.
He wanted to reach out and press his hand against Shion’s jaw, letting him listen to the heartbeat in his thumb as he brushed his hair back.
He wanted to touch him. Let him feel.
“We’ll find her, Shion.” I’ll find her for you.
“I’m just scared, Nezumi. I don’t want to lose more people.”
“You’re young.” I’ve lost so many, I won’t lose you. I won’t let you lose me.
“She doesn’t deserve this. To be in that place.”
“No one does.” Especially not you, never you. Don’t change. Please, don’t change.
It was almost spring. The holy day was only a week or so away, air warming. Nezumi, Inukashi, and Rikiga had been planning and scheming near constantly, while Shion arduously continued his duties cleaning dogs and sitting silently in the backseat while the grown ups drove the car, the plan, the rescue.
He felt useless.
It was one thing to be aware of his own weakness as a fighter, his own inexperience, and his own uneducated awareness of No. 6 — but his mind was still his greatest strength, and it felt useless to not use it.
But he still left it up to them, the three who’d been living and surviving so ruthlessly for much longer than Shion had. He still felt useless.
Sighing, he threw down his rag and stared at the wet dog in front of him. He was grateful for the warmer weather, no longer chilled by the cold winter air on his wet skin. The dogs certainly appreciated it too, they’d had to laborously carry water inside to bath the dogs in a backroom of the hotel ruins when it had been stormy and snowy outside.
Nezumi would be arriving soon to take him back home, where they’d relax and read together and have dinner. The taller boy hadn’t been working at all for the past week, using most of his time working out his plans for the hunt, and sticking by Shion’s side. Nezumi had been adamant about keeping close to one another, rarely letting Shion out of his sight.
Despite the dark implications, the unknown danger that required the two to stay close to one another, it was kind of nice. Domestic. He enjoyed spending time with Nezumi, and sometimes, he figured Nezumi enjoyed it as well.
“You look a mess.”
He jerked, startled by the sudden presence at his side. Rat could always sneak around so quietly, like a ghost.
Shion’s sweater was slightly damp, and his hair was sweaty from spending so much time under the warm spring sun. He would have to start worrying about sunburns on his scalp soon, his translucent hair providing little protection from the sun’s beams.
He stood, offering Nezumi a smile. He didn’t ask how planning had gone, didn’t ask if they’d come to any conclusions. If there was something to be said, Nezumi would say it.
The two of them walked slowly through the streets, headed to grab buy early spring unripe hothouse vegetables from the market before going home.
It was pure luck that the winter had been short, but it still felt like a lifetime since Shion had seen fresh vegetables. Living off of stale bread and dried meat had made him long for the sweet juices of something so close to being alive.
He was tired of the winter’s constantly cloaking feeling of death.
Nezumi walked with long strides, looking distracted. It was rare for him to look like that, normally he remained planted firmly in reality, constantly in a state of hypervigalence. He’d seemed quite tired recently though, despite not working at the playhouse — it seemed like he was putting all his energy into planning Safu’s escape and keeping Shion safe.
“Is everything ok?” He asked quietly.
Nezumi shot him a glance, eyes clearing of their dreaming state, “Quite.”
“Are you worried about the plan?”
“Nothing to worry about.”
He didn’t know what the hunt was, not exactly, but he had a pretty good picture in his mind. The word sent horrific, terrible images that made his stomach roll with anxiety. Nezumi had survived numerous hunts before, though, even the hunt for his own life four years ago when he appeared at Shion’s window, bleeding and exhausted.
“When the hunt comes, never let go of my hand.” Nezumi finally whispered, “Never take your eyes off me, unless it means the loss of you own life. We can’t be separated.”
Spring wasn’t quite there yet, ghosts of cold winter air still coming in gusts through the streets. They’d just crossed the street, nearing the market district, when Nezumi suddenly shoved Shion into a nearby alley.
“Get down. Stay down. Don’t come out no matter what.” He rasped, and for a second, Shion thought the hunt had started, that this was where he’d hide while the world was torn apart around him, but that didn’t seem quite right. This was the exact opposite of his earlier command. This wasn’t hand in hand, and he soon lost sight of Nezumi as he left him in the trash heaps of the alley.
Inukashi once said that Nezumi had a sense for danger, like an animal. He could sniff it out like a stench on the air.
Shion breathed deeply, hoping to feel for a second what warning Nezumi had noticed, but only inhaled the thick smell of the garbage and compost he was sitting in. He pulled out the small blade he kept on his person. Nezumi had been against him carrying a knife day to day, saying that it was more likely an attacker would disarm him and then use it on him than it was that it’d protect him. He carried it anyway, feeling even slightly safer with it on his hip.
“Haven’t seen you on stage lately, Eve.” He heard a voice call out from a little further down the street, just around the corner.
“Been busy. Take it up with my manager.”
“Come now, don’t be snippy.” That voice had a certain leer to it, a low growl. “Just looking to chat.”
“Last time your boys tried to chat with me, I bashed their heads in.” Nezumi voice was calm but threatening.
“I admit, they may have been a little heavy handed. They just really like you a lot, I guess, despite the rude way you’ve treated them.”
Voices cut off, then a shout, and the sound of bodies being slammed into hard surfaces.
“I spit vodka in his eyes, and he and his buddies pulled knives on me. I don’t think this is a very healthy relationship.” Nezumi’s voice carried a smirk, “No matter how much you all like me.”
There was a crashing noise, and shouts of several men. Someone spat out curses, not Nezumi, a different voice, then a heavy thud.
Shion edged to peek just barely around the corner of the alley, into the street. Three men were nursing injuries, one looking near unconscious, and there three more stood around Nezumi who was crouched low but pressed up against the wall and in the grasp of the largest of the group. He was a heavyset but very tall man, wearing a thick denim vest. Shion presumed they must be Carnations members, remembering Nezumi’s words earlier that week. The largest appeared to be their leader, or at least the alpha of this small division of the gang.
“This isn’t going to end well for you.” Nezumi finally rasped, not struggling as the man leaned forward and pressed his mouth against the hollow dip of his throat. Nausea well up in Shion’s own, at the sight of Nezumi standing still and letting this man nibble at his skin.
Shion saw him wince almost imperceptibly, and dimly, back in the fog of his brain, he wondered if the gang leader had bitten him.
“What a delicious beauty.”
At the sound of the man’s thick voice, Shion shifted imperceptibly, legs moving without permission, ready to run out from his hiding place. From over the man’s shoulder Nezumi shot him a glance, and Shion could hear that willful voice echoing in his head, you’d just be a hindrance, just stay quiet, stay still, don't do anything, there’s nothing you could do anyway, protect yourself, don’t get involved, pull a blanket over your head or something, and stay quiet, stay where you are.
“Got nothing to say, Eve?” The leader heaved out, shoving Nezumi harder against the wall, “I know you can be quite chatty when you want to be.”
“Got nothin’ to say.”
“Is that right?” The man grinned, words dripping with intentions. “Eve, you’ve been pretty rude to us.”
“Is that right?” Nezumi parroted, flinching only slightly as the fist on his shirt tightened. Shion remembered the man’s words, spoken weeks ago, ‘you cannot show fear, not ever’ and he bit his lip.
“You punched out one of my guys, when he was jus’ tryin’ to have a lil’ conversation with you.”
“He and his buddies pulled a knife on me. I don’t call that having a conversation.” Nezumi bit out.
The gang leader drew up close, nose to nose with his prize, “And you spit vodka at one of my top boys, right in his face. What kind of distinguished woman does something like that?”
He shrugged, then replied sarcastically, “I hate to break it to you, but I’m not actually a woman.”
“Oh yeah? Cus you’re about to get down on your knees like a girl.” That fight loosened slightly, “And you’re gonna be our bitch.”
You're powerless, you remember that, Shion wanted to throw up, wanted to stop hearing this man’s voice in his head while that same man stood back to the wall just a few feet away from him, bleeding and threatened.
“I’m not that kinda girl.” Nezumi rasped, smirking, narrowly avoiding the punch aimed at his jaw.
The two men that had pinned him before darted forward as Nezumi ripped out of the leaders grasp, only to immediately be shoved to the ground by their joined strength.
“That’s right, rub his pretty little face in the dirt.” The leader laughed, “Show our princess what she’s worth.”
Shion closed his eyes, but the second he heard the belt buckle being undone, he could still see — see red, blood pumping through his eyelids, red, red, red.
“You bastards!” He screamed, scrambling from his hiding place, eyes open but still only seeing red. “I’ll kill you.”
“Shion, you fucking idiot!” Nezumi shouted, having already managed to get one of his captors in a headlock.
Shion narrowly avoided the first punch, but caught the second straight to his gut, slammed back by a gang member wearing a large studded jacket.
He twisted out of the way, rolling over until he could leap back up to his feet, shouting, “I’m tainted! I’ve got the sickness!”
“What?” The gang member frowned.
“You deserve to die. I should give it to you, share the sickness with you. It’d be what you deserve, for even thinking about touching Nezumi.” Shion growled, reaching out his dirty hand threateningly.
“Is this guy psychotic?” The gang leader chortled, “The kid’s bluffing.”
“I’ll kill you.” Shion whispered, eyes wide, letting all of his anger flood out of him like a volcanic eruption, “I want you to die. You hurt Nezumi now I want you to die. I’ll give you the sickness…” He grasped his knife in one hand and drew the blade over the palm of his hand, just hard enough that blood beaded up to the surface of the wound. He couldn’t even feel it through the waves of anger and hate swamping him.
“What’s this kid doin’?” The leader frowned, now turning his full attention on Shion.
“Here, take it.” Shion grinned, stretching his hand out once again, letting the blood splatter across the gang members boot. “Take my tainted blood, let it take you too, like you deserve.”
“Shit, what the fuck—” The guy he’d gotten blood on started backing up, knocking into his buddies who shoved him out of the way. Shion ran forward, frantically shaking his hand, letting droplets of blood fly through the air in all directions. No one wanted to go near him, ducking out of the way to avoid him, genuine horror and fear flashing across their faces.
“Let’s go.” The leader snapped, narrowly avoiding getting blood splashed in his face. “This kid’s fucking crazy.”
The other agreed unanimously by quickly slipping away into the shadows, or climbing up the nearby fence of a ruined house, retreating without a word. The leader himself finally back away without giving Nezumi a second glance.
Nezumi looked down at the gang member he had pinned to the ground in a headlock and unceremoniously dropped him and let him scramble away. He watched him go with a blank face, not a hint of pain or fear in his eyes or in in the flat line of his bruised lips.
When the last sounds of footsteps disappeared, Nezumi to look back at Shion, still completely unreadable. Shion hated it when he looked like this, the same face he used to wear constantly, that mask.
“Are you ok?” He asked quietly, and Nezumi smirked. A fake smirk. A performance smirk.
“Are you insane?”
It wasn’t the same incredulous cry as that of the gang members, this was harsh and stark and knowing.
“You should have stayed put.” He frowned, “You should have stayed quiet. It would have been fine. Instead you come raging out with some half cocked plan, relying on your terrible acting skills, and yet still completely out of control— you can’t let your anger get a hold of you out here. Emotions are useless.”
“I had to do something.”
“You got lucky. This could have easily ended in bloodshed, and not the kind you were aiming for, with your stupid trick.”
Shion smiled slightly, “There’s few things scarier to the mortal man than an infectious blood disease. Blood’s the one thing we all have in common, the one thing that levels the playing field.” He paused, letting Nezumi wrap his still bleeding hand in a handkerchief. He then smiled again, “Are you so sure I don’t have a blood disease, that you’ll brazenly coat yourself in it? I thought I put on a pretty good performance, you had to have a least some doubts.”
“You’re the worst actor I’ve ever seen.” Nezumi snapped, tying off the impromptu bandage with a tight tug, “Whatever’s wrong with you is in your fucking brain, not your blood. What were you thinking, you could have gotten killed. Or worse. I had it under control.”
“He was hurting you.”
“He wanted to hurt me a lot worse. I could easily have gotten away though, you know that, right?” Nezumi’s eyes were beautiful, a swirling galaxy of liquid silver, luminescent. Sometimes when Shion looked into his eyes, he considered the possibility that this man wasn’t even human. Some fairytale changeling, with eye so strange. They were just fantasies though, mind filled with stories and tales from Nezumi’s library. He realized the weather was too warm out, the bags of water on the steps back home useless to this boy’s bruises now.
Nezumi was still speaking, “What would you have done if they’d had me? If you weren’t here, if I were a little more tired, if I couldn’t get away until after one of them had already had his way with me — what would you have done, when if I’d arrived home beaten and sodomized, unable to look you in the eye?” Nezumi’s voice was low, lower than usual, more befitting his shouting voice rather than his soft seductive normal speaking voice. But he wasn’t shouting now, just murmuring with an almost-smile on his bruised lips. “Would you go out and kill them? Track them down, one by one?”
His eyes were what drew him in that night, four years ago. Hypnotizing. Like a will-o-the-wisp, luring him through the dark. Such strange, beautiful eyes.
“I can’t fight very well.” Yes.
“I see that glint in your eye, Shion.”
“People can’t get away with hurting you.” I’ll kill them all.
“You can’t do anything about. You’d get yourself killed trying to avenge my honour.” There was a genuine laugh there, sharp yet lilting. You're powerless, you remember that. Nezumi’s voice in his head, making him nauseous, making his stomach heave and twist. Then, his real voice continued, becoming soft and gentle, “I would have gotten away, Shion.”
Shion looked up at him, past those grey eyes.
Yes, he did know that. He knew Nezumi would have gotten away. Eventually.
‘If I couldn’t get away until after one of them had already had his way with me — what you would have done.’
Was that what Nezumi had expected? Despite his words and insistences, that he would have gotten away, been fine — had he still expected to take his losses? Hiding a shred of truth in a hypothetical, a possible reality, gauging Shion’s reactions.
Instead of just trying to convince Shion that he was powerless, was he studying how Shion would have reacted? ‘What would you have done?’
Has it ever happened?
It was the question that Shion didn’t want to think about and truly didn’t want to know the answer to, the question that flutters through his mind every time someone’s eyes eat Nezumi up while they’re at the market, or whenever Nezumi mentions the stalkers who sometimes lurk around after he’s done performing as Eve, or when some man calls him a ‘precious gem’ or treasure or delicious beauty… Is this hypothetical reality, a reality you’ve lived before?
“Do you trust me, Nezumi?” Shion whispered, “Because I trust you, I trust you to get us and Safu out of the correctional facility alive, I trust you to always come home to me each night you work and have to walk through the dark streets of West Block alone with smudges of makeup still on your face, and I trust you to never outright lie to me.” You’ve kept things from me, like Safu being taken, like your past, like these bruises on your neck from that man’s mouth which you keep covering with your hand like you aren’t even conscious about it, but you’ve never lied to me.
“I don’t trust you. I’ve told you that before.”
And nothing’s changed? So much has changed for me, I’ve become more alive, more aware, more emotional… you’ve changed me so much. Have I not changed you at all? Have I had no affect on you?
“No,” Nezumi said calmly, “You don’t.”
“I want to.”
“I don’t trust how you make me feel, Shion. You? I trust you could never hurt me. You’re get attached too easily, you’re too weak and emotional. But I don’t trust how you make me feel.”
Nezumi was walking now, so Shion followed slowly, watching the man’s steady stride. It was like nothing had happened at all, when his bangs covered his face like that, hiding the bruises.
“How do I make you feel?”
“Attached. Weak. Emotional. It’s dangerous.”
Shion had essentially confessed his love.
Nezumi stared at him, heart tight so tight, strangled and trapped in the too small space of his ribcage, ‘I'm probably more afraid to lose you than anyone―anybody else.’
The fainting spell, the dancing, none of that mattered in the face of those words spoken so painfully honestly.
How can you say those things to me, with such open, loving eyes. That you can’t live without me. That you don’t want to lose me, that you want to stay by my side forever. Didn’t I once say that I could spend a lifetime with you and never truly know everything about you? Doesn’t that sound like marriage now to my ears, who are you? What are you doing to me?
This feeling inside him. He knew that this was dangerous, to share the feelings with him, to feel these things with him. How could you do this to me?
Who are you? Who are you really? I never really knew you.
I’m afraid to lose you.
“Nezumi’s nose for danger is telling him the hunt will be in a couple days.” Inukashi’s voice rang out, as Shion worked to trim the thick matted fur off one of the larger dogs.
“The idiot thought about warning others, telling the people of West Block about it. You’ve softened him.”
It was an accusation as well as a statement of facts.
“I don’t think I’ve weakened him.”
“You’ve made him scared.” Inukashi snapped, “The guy has a sense for danger like a dog but he’s losing his instincts to use his skills to keep himself safe.”
Those men, pinning him to the wall, that disgusting mouth in Nezumi’s neck. Shion wondered what it felt like, Inukashi had experienced it too at the hands of the No. 6 official Fura. The kid was right, Nezumi had sensed the danger of the Carnations and used the forewarning he’d been given to ensure Shion’s safety first. Maybe if he’d thought of his own wellbeing above all, he would have gotten away without a single bruise.
But maybe if I hadn’t been there, he wouldn’t have gotten away at all.
“It’s not the end of the world if Nezumi cares about someone.” Shion murmured, snipping his shears through the dog’s fur.
“No, but it could be the end of his life.”
“It’s the hunt!”
“It’s begun.” Stay with me. Don’t lose sight of me.
“Shion!” Be safe, be safe, be safe.
“Are you alright?” Dust and dirt on your face, a scrape below your eye.
As they ran, buildings and bodies blasting apart around them, Shion spotted a thick denim jacket wearing man collapsed beside an obliterated building. The Carnation had been cut, ripped apart, red crimson blood pooling around his head like a blooming flower.
“Don’t look at him.” Nezumi murmured, ushering him through a dark alley and behind the ruined remains of a wall, tucking him down into the shadows.
Shion shivered, back to the cold hard wall, listening as the world was blown apart around them, feeling the heat of Nezumi’s living body so close to his own.
And so they hunched, together, pulled tight against each other, and breathed.
Half digested and eternal, somewhere lost in the ephemeral
Welcome to the future, an always ice-cold nightmare.
- Unconditional Love by Against Me
Dialogue from the novels:
“You're powerless, you remember that...” - Vol 3 Chapter 4
"It's the hunt..." - Vol 4 Chapter 4
Chapter 3: Go
"Nezumi, the world means nothing to me without you. Nothing."
Shion couldn’t feel anything except for Nezumi’s cold fingers slipping under his chin, that gentle contact, that simple touch, it meant everything.
The kiss was soft, passionate, innocent, lewd, everything and nothing -- two creatures of contrast.
“Was that a... goodbye kiss?"
Shion gazed into those terrible grey eyes. Those terrific grey eyes. Nezumi knew the different kinds of kisses, but this kiss was so salty, it truly felt like goodbye.
I never got to know you, and now you’re gone.
Nezumi didn’t look back, as he walked away. He never glanced over his shoulder to the boy he was leaving behind. Shion knew if Nezumi did, if he saw those eyes again, nothing could keep him from chasing after him.
I see you, Nezumi. With your back to me and the world you’re leaving behind, I see you.
The sky was clear and cold. The world around him was dead. In some places, he found grassy groves and pits of forests that almost reminded him of the home he’d lost to the fire, but nothing quite the same. Nezumi would keep walking. There was no repeat performances anymore. He couldn’t look for the past here, he couldn’t look for anything. Simply wandering. The forest people were far from nomadic, but having lost the forest, now he was just a person.
The world outside of West Block and No. 6 was starting to look familiar. Dead, burnt, gone.
His footsteps were a single line tracing a path across a graveyard, marked with little pockets of civilization. He was alone. It was just him, his back to the world, his back -- burning.
‘So beautiful.’ The man whispered, kissing his neck, ‘So beautiful.’
Fingers dancing across his bones, skin itching with each delicate touch. This man had money, this man had food. I am money, I am food. Devour me.
His back hurt, now aching with bad posture, as he traversed deserts and blackened earth, hills and mountains. The weight wouldn’t lift off him, not yet. He didn’t know what he had to do to get rid of it.
‘You’re on fire.’ His manager whispered in awe, as I step off stage, sweat shining and smearing the makeup around my eyes. ‘The perfect Stormandra, a satirical tragedy, you’re on fire, my darling.’ I nod, playing the part of the whore like I’d been practicing my entire life. I step off the stage of the Covent-Garden Tragedy.
His back burnt, scars searing under the hot sun. He’d never leave the fire behind, would he. It would always follow, clinging to him as he walked.
“He’ll come back.”
“He will.” He turned to his mother, staring deep into her milky brown eyes, “He promised me. He’ll come back.”
“You didn’t know him for very long, darling. I know he’s important to you, but can you really trust his--”
“Yes. I can trust his word.” Shion whispered, I need to know you, Nezumi. You have to come back, so that we can discover each other.
The city was new, fresh, raw, being built up from the ruins of a monster, from it’s bloody corpse, birthed from the ribs of its carcase. Shion had helped raise it, had tenderly nurtured its growth. All the while, he thought about Nezumi. He wanted to create a city Nezumi would be happy to come home to. A home he wouldn’t want to leave again.
Nezumi found a large family living in one of the craters created by long forgotten bombs. A detailed and intricate set of stairs had been carved and cut out of the scorched earth, a path leading down into the man-made valley borne of violence and destruction. Nezumi followed them blindly, finding his way down through cliffs of barley and wheat fields, little caves where plump edible mushrooms grew, and vines clinging to the rock walls bearing different varieties of tomatoes.
An elderly man met him when he finally reached the bottom, where the earth sunk deep into a ravine of apple trees and a small pond.
“We don’t get many travelers coming through.” The man smiled welcomingly, and beckoned him to follow him through the orchard. “Not many try to brave the bomb craters.”
“You made a home down here?” Nezumi asked in wonderment.
“My parents spent most of their lives as refugees, and my wife and I experienced a similar fate. Never quite belonging, our homes destroyed by the war and by the cities that sprouted afterwards.”
Nezumi found himself smiling as they came upon a small wooden house. It wasn’t anything fancy, hobbled together with the barest materials, but it was immediately recognizable as a home. A middle aged woman and a young boy sat on the front steps, knitting quietly.
“Ah, father. Who’s this?” The woman asked, glancing up, a friendly smile on her face.
So welcoming, open, no distrust. Nezumi thought as he approached.
“A traveler.” The old man said, “I thought we could give him a hot meal and a bed to sleep on.”
“Of course. What’s your name, child?”
Child? I suppose so. It’s been a long time since I thought of myself as a child. I don’t even know when my birthday is, but I suppose I will be seventeen soon. Not quite a youth, not quite an adult.
“Nezumi.” He nodded to her, “I’m from the Mao forest of No. 6.” It’s how he’d taken to introducing himself in his travels, as most would ask where he hailed from. Very few knew of the Mao forest, and he preferred it that way, could pretend it still stood tall and lush, a home to return to. I hail from the side of Shion, I’m from the bed that we once slept on. My home is wherever he sleeps, wherever he breathes. It was easier to give the name of a dead place he could never return to.
That night, he ate a large meal with the large family. The woman and her husband had three children, two sons and an older daughter, along with the woman’s parents who kindly smiled with their aged faces full of smile lines and crow's feet.
The children laughed and sang songs with him, as they sat outside around a bonfire by the pond. They had a true childhood, out here in this wound in the earth. They made up games with sticks and rocks, made statues from clay, learnt how to sew and bake and fight. These children were alive .
Nezumi watched them tidy the front yard while their grandfather smoked a pipe, and he wandered over to the old man.
“What will they do when they get older? Stay here?” He asked.
“My daughter will encourage her children to travel, travel like you’re doing right now. Maybe they’ll find a new place to grow their roots, maybe they’ll find love in a far off land, maybe they’ll return home to take care of their parents in their old age. Start a new family here, start the cycle all over.”
“Do you really believe they’ll return?”
“My granddaughter, I suspect she’s grown tired of the isolation, maybe she’ll create a new home off on some coast. But you never truly forget where you’re from.” His eyes twinkled wisely, “Will you return home, Nezumi?”
“I’m not sure where my home is anymore.”
“The Mao forest?”
“There’s no place for me anymore.”
“Are you traveling to find a new home?”
Nezumi shrugged, looking up at where the sky had started to grow dark. Here in the valley of the bomb crater with a horizon line so high, it was difficult to see much of the sunset. He missed it.
“I don’t know.”
“Why are you traveling? What are you looking for?”
“I’m traveling because the other option is staying in one place.” Nezumi glanced away, avoiding the man’s gaze, “And I’m scared of the place that I’d be staying.” The place, Shion’s heart, Shion’s home, at Shion’s side. A place of love. Trust. Comfort.
“It’s a place I’m unfamiliar with.”
“If you were seeking the familiar, you wouldn’t be traveling, child.”
A graceful spirit was dancing behind-before my eyes. I could see her, dress flowing out around her limbs as she moved. Inky black hair floated behind her, trailing behind as she danced across the cliff’s edge. The sun was setting. It was evening.
Eve of the dying day.
“Eve.” I whispered, “Eve.”
She couldn’t hear me, she wasn’t dancing for me. A crowd of men grouped at the base of the cliff, watching her with lustful eyes and shouting mouths, begging her to jump.
“Jump down to us! Jump down to us!”
Eve continued dancing, every once and awhile her foot would come precariously close to the edge of the cliff, but each time she gracefully completed her step without falter, never once falling or hesitating.
I was in awe of her, of her fluid movements and beautiful eyes like smoke. Smoke of a burning village, captured in her gaze.
“Eve.” I want to scream but my voice remains only a whisper.
It catches her attention though, finally, and she looks my way, just as her heel touches the ground near the edge -- and she’s fallen, dress flying and hair wild as she plummets.
“Eve!” I scream.
She’s falling, faster and faster, but her face is calm.
Shion woke with a gasp, chest tight like the snake on his skin was constricting him. His light flicked on and his mother ran into the room, whispering his name over and over again.
“It’s ok honey, Shion, Shion, it’s ok.” She murmured, kneeling at his side, running her hands through his hair.
The touch of Nezumi’s hair was a ghost in his fingers, it’d been so long. Silk, soft, even when dirty, he wanted to feel it under his hand, he wanted to cup that jaw, kiss those lips.
A sob pulled itself from his throat and he crumpled, allowing his mother to rub his back with continued soothing assurances.
“It’s ok, it’s ok, it’s ok.”
It wasn’t ok. Nezumi was gone. It wasn’t ok.
Nezumi left early the next morning, leaving a few toy gadgets he’d made during his travels for the children. One was a crude mechanical mouse, reminiscent of the microbots he’d left behind in the West Block, another was a solar device for telling time. Making little gadgets was one of the ways he passed the time, waiting for thunderstorms or sandstorms to pass, or when the memories of Shion grew particularly oppressive. Memories of Shion were their own storm.
He didn’t say goodbye before he left. Goodbyes just didn’t feel right anymore.
Three years passed.
The city was quickly evolving into something Shion could be proud of. He didn’t think of Nezumi as much anymore, not that the other boy didn’t cross his mind from time to time with flashes of white hot pain, like heart burn. He had other things to focus on, though.
Despite his young age, many on the committee still looked to him for guidance. Everyone knew the role he had in bringing No. 6 to it’s knees, and how active he’d been in helping the New City up off the ground.
Schools were starting to teach history lessons about this place they called home, in a few years, there would be students who’d never lived under No. 6’s rule, who’d only hear about it in their history books.
That’s not to say there weren’t people who opposed the directions the New City was taking, longing for the days of utopia and ‘freedom’. Slowly those vocal groups were dying down, as they lost relevance, as more and more evidence of No. 6’s crimes came to light. There were entire delegations committed to documenting the innumerable abuses and crimes of their past government, unearthing evidence of the massacres and military powers.
It was because of the New City’s dedication to accountability that the other cities agreed to continue trading and aid them in regaining their strength, despite their previous government's illegal military power. Perhaps it was also because that power had never been used against the other cities, only against it’s own people and the people surrounding the state, that the other’s felt comfortable in providing aid.
You were only destroying yourself.
Shion wasn’t sure in any case. He had little involvement with foreign affairs, and in fact was starting to shed responsibilities wherever possible. There was still much left to do, but he was starting to feel like his duty in the state of emergency was coming to an end. Others would pick up where he left off, in all honesty, Shion was growing tired.
Exhaustion was bearing down on him more and more with each day, leaving him feeling hollow and empty. It was becoming difficult to get out of bed each morning, legs weary, aching, unwilling. It wasn’t that he was sad, sadness came and went and came and went, but the exhaustion was a constant companion.
Sometimes he found himself wandering outside their New City, out past the graffiti ruins of what was left of the wall, out through the desert hills and slopes, until he found that small little bunker hidden amongst the sand. He usually couldn’t bear to step inside, he’d long since moved all the books out into a storage house out about a block from his mother’s bakery, leaving behind only a dusty hole in the ground filled with memories.
Instead he just stood outside, staring at the sun setting.
Sometimes the nightmares would come.
Nezumi would be holed up somewhere like a rat, curled in on himself, and they would come unrelentlessly. His skin burning, touched by fire, touched, touched, touched, touched -- and there would be no one to hold him or brush his hair, not while he screamed in his sleep, and not when he woke up shaking and struggling to catch his runaway breath.
Sometimes he found bloody gouges in his palms from where he’d balled his fists up too tight, delicate fingernails digging into his skin. He usually kept them fairly long, especially when he was performing, but it’d been a long time since he’d run into civilization and saw no need to keep up such appearances.
He cut his nails down to the quick.
He was alive, here, now.
Sometimes the nightmares would come, he’d live.
The quick, the living, flesh, blood.
Sometimes the nightmares would come.
Shion would curl up in bed, heart pounding watching Nezumi fall off the cliff. Sometimes he was dressed as Eve, sometimes there was a bloody gunshot wound, sometimes he was just smiling, plummeting off the edge.
Not all his dreams were about Nezumi though, sometimes he dreamt of the mountain of corpses, something deep inside him sickeningly warm at knowing the two of them now got to share a nightmare.
In his dreams, he was climbing the pile, slipping and sliding on blood and decay, the weak, failing arms of trapped survivors clinging to him as he passed.
He’d wake up crying, sometimes his mother would rush to his side, and sometimes she’d sleep through his wailing and he’d be left to the lonely dark.
In those moments, he’d wonder where Nezumi was, if he was dreaming as well, if they were even in the same timezone anymore.
Where are you?
Nezumi, where are you?
Sometimes the nightmares would come.
Nezumi didn’t have any concrete way to keep track of passing time during his travels anymore. He could usually watch of the sun in the sky, but when it came to days, months, years passing, he couldn’t even rely on the seasons to reliably keep him informed of his place in the linear sequence and segue of time and time passing. Spending so much of his travels in inhabitable and decimated land, seasons were arbitrary and obsolete.
At some point though, something clicked in that hollow little place in his heart. Something snapped into place, an internal clock that set off a little alarm deep in his organs and blood -- it’s time.
It was almost exactly four years since Nezumi had left. Shion knew, but he tried to avoid ruminating on that fact. It would ruin him if he did, if he attached hope to such an insignificant little thing. This anniversary meant nothing. There was no relevance. It didn’t matter. Nezumi would not come. Four years had passed the last time they were separated, but that didn’t mean they’d reunite now. For all he knew, Nezumi was dead --
His throat caught, and he set his water glass down before he dropped it. Every once and awhile a thought like that entered his mind, Nezumi’s never coming back , and it was almost as devastating as hope.
Sometimes hope was worse though.
Hope had become so dangerous.
Hope had drained all the energy from his body.
Hope, hope was --
Hope was an open window.
A figure stood, so slight, looking almost like a girl with hair loose and draped around their shoulders. The curtains of the open window behind them billowed out around them, catching their hair on the slight breeze.
Shion didn’t move, standing in his doorway like a fool or a deadman. A ghost was watching him with sharp grey eyes.
Not a girl.
Shion had never forgotten those shoulders, those grey eyes blinked up through his thick hair falling over his face, even those thin lips tightly sealed. This man -- no longer a boy, perhaps never a boy, never having had a childhood -- look at him, look at his face, that face you’ve dreamt of for years, look at him, look at him, look at him-- here, standing in Shion’s room.
He was slammed back against the wall, movements eight years in rehearsal, ever since their first debut that windy night. A repeat performance.
Nezumi didn’t hold him by his neck, instead his hands snaked their way around his waist, and instead of whispering a dangerous command in his ear, he pressed his face into Shion’s hair and just breathed.
They stood like that for perhaps what felt like the rest of their lives, breathing. Seeing.