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In Nezumi's dreams, he breathes fire.

Everything left behind glows in the light, stark whites, dark shadows, and red outlines of aftermath. It is a clearing in the forest. It is a city built on lies.

It was once everything but now it's just over.

And Nezumi breathes like he is breathing for the very first time.

*

In his waking moments, he breathes the air that Sion breathes, listens to the beautiful idiot chatter on, filling up Nezumi's makeshift house and his makeshift mind and his makeshift life with his brazen, foolish ideals. He talks of third options and middlegrounds and Nezumi sneers at him and barks a laugh. Sion is terrifying in his own way when he gets like this and all Nezumi can do is roll his eyes and growl at the boy; the alternative is to kick and duck and shove and fight and hide.

He does not believe in shades of gray, doesn't care to fall for them, no matter how flagrantly they are presented to him by this spoiled city-dwelling candy-cane of a boy. If anything, he's only making it worse.

Once, Nezumi would have done it out of hate for the sake of hate, revenge for the sake of the scar on his back, charred flesh to match the trees the ground the earth the bones of all the men and women and children, everything the city took from him.

Now, all the blood and fire and smoke seem to pale in front of this useless porcelain doll who has the gall to claim he possesses a spine. He is nothing but a deluded airhead, all snow-white hair and the reds of his eyes, the scar that snakes from his face to his calves and all the places Nezumi can't see but knows of regardless like animal instinct. And still, Sion spins something like magic with his words and his smiles, that dangerous sort of hope in his eyes. He speaks like he can clear away rain-clouds with willpower alone and stand tall in Nezumi's way like a force to be reckoned with.

Nezumi's never seen anything quite like it and there are times when he doesn't know whether to laugh or to stare.

*

(In the in-between is where he loses himself, surrenders to the fact that maybe this is that bruised, bleeding thing they speak of, the one that weakens, debilitates, kills.

He tries so hard to keep it stitched up and inside so it doesn't bleed out, doesn't show, because this is more terrifying that all the guns and the concrete, all the ash and the forest fires, and he has absolutely no idea what to do with any part of it.)

*

In his dreams, Sion either doesn't exist, doesn't matter, is nothing, is everything but the most difficult thing about all of this. Sion is all of the above and none of the above, irrelevant and inconsequent.

In his dreams, it is all so painfully easy.

*

In the mornings and the evenings and the nights, Nezumi shivers because he has grown so used to the sound of his own breathing and nothing else that this shift in the air should be unwelcome but it isn't and he hates that it isn't and so, he tries to spin it into reason. Fine, he thinks. He will bring it down and paint Sion's name over the ruins in black and white and red, sign it with: So you thought you could stop me, love? The best last syllables of the best last words must be sharp enough to break skin, teeth to lips, and slice through every last thing.

He'd put his theatrics to some good damned use. Only, even he's not deluded enough to think he could execute it with that much finesse.

He tells himself the difference is that Sion is here while the rest is gone. It doesn't make sense anyway. It makes no sense whatsoever and so he stops questioning it. Sion is going to be the reason Nezumi will tear through the ground, tear it from the core and make certain that the ripples are felt long after dark.

He doesn't need it to make sense, doesn't need a reason, just needs to do it before he changes his mind, before he is made weak like Inukashi always said he would be. Too soft, little princess, and he wants to claw at the echo of the memory.

Except--

Sion reads Much Ado during breakfast, gives his clothes away to homeless children after lunch and feeds all the mice with the crumbs from his leftover dinner.

For an archnemesis, he is the absolute worst kind.

Then, one night, Sion touches his neck and Nezumi is gone, and this is shaping up to be kind of a mess.