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As Boundless As the Sea

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It's been two years. Shion still keeps the window to his room unlatched, which is probably stupid, but he can't help hoping. Besides, the mice come and go through the cracked window in the summer. It's only considerate. He's moved back into his old room, above Karan Bakery. His mother was pleased to have him move back in, but Shion could tell from the sad tinge to her smile and the way she brushed his hair behind his ear, she knew. He'd spent that first month in Nezumi's old house, huddled on the small cot. It was far too small for two people, and too big to sleep in alone.

He's transported most of the books into his room above the bakery. There's very little space to walk among the stacks of them. Karan had laughed and suggested she start a library to go with the bakery. They do loan out some of the books, but there are too many, mostly the Shakespeare, that Shion can't seem to part with. He sleeps with the books within reach. Sometimes he wakes up in the middle of the night to stretch out a hand and feel their leather bindings, the old, rough paper. He breathes in the smell of them, the dust and age, the faint hint of old-press ink. It almost feels like home.

Shion has kept busy. He joined the reconciliation committee. Inukashi had laughed at him, clutching her sides.

"You really are going to prove we're all the same aren't you?" she shook her dark head in bafflement. The dog at her heels whined in curiosity and Inukashi just laughed harder. No one in No. 6 had pets, they were dirty, forbidden. Inukashi has made a living of selling her dogs to good homes. With the reconstruction, there's been work for everyone. People are crowding the houses of No. 6. The acceptance and growth of those first weeks still startles Shion. He'd been on three of the original house-placement committees, working to find shelter for both the remaining citizens of the decimated West Block and the families who's homes Eluryias blew away as well. Great sections of the wall were salvaged for building, the remaining wall torn down. People opened their hearts and hearths to strangers, pulling together in the face of the wider world. No.6 was not alone, and neither was the West Block. It was surprising how many people seemed to have known someone on the outside, suspected the evils of No. 6 even if they were too scared to say. Nezumi had said they were all submissive, complacent, guilty by failure to act or question. Shion thinks perhaps everyone was afraid. Like his mother, they had something to loose. 

Now, two years later, there are new buildings and fresh paint. Some of the residents from No. 6 and many of the West Block and caves have established a small village upon the remains of the symbiosis facility. They're planting trees there, connecting it back to the forrest. There are new farm fields in the West Block where the debris of the houses has been meticulously removed, reused, given new life. Shion hasn't gone back to Chronos, but even in the wealthiest areas of No. 6 change is making life better. Sweet smelling flowers bloom in community gardens, and new schools for the orphaned children of the West Block now occupy the over-large buildings once held by bored, depressed families.

His mother has flourished under all the pressure. You Ming's death had been hard, Lily had cried for days, suddenly alone in the world, but Karan took her in. Shion thinks his mother would take in all the children of No. 6 and the West Block if she could. Between the bakery, baby Shion, and Lily she's busy enough. But Lily is old enough to help with customers when Karan has to tend to baby Shion. Shion wishes he could do more to help. There isn't enough time.

The committee on rebuilding is meeting today to discuss opening a playhouse. It's something Shion has been quietly rooting for. He tries not to let his feelings, the last vestiges of hope he can't seem to let go of, cloud his decisions. But, it would be a meeting place for the community, a place for laughter and adventure. No. 6 has missed out on so much art and beauty, being closed and sterile. Shion finally locates his last pair of clean socks under a pile of toppled books. He stops a moment at the bottom of the stairs to kiss his mother and ruffle the hair on Lily's head. He's her long-absent big brother now, and she looks up at him with pleading eyes. He's going to be late, but the glass platter of pies is a bit much for her to carry on her own.

Shion closes the door to the conference room, surreptitiously checking the clock. He has a minute to spare. The eleven other members are already seated. Rikigia beams at Shion as he slides into his seat. Shion hadn't expected Rikigia to come work on the rebuilding committee. But as the man had said, "This is a new world, so I should be a new man." They haven't talked about it, but Shion guesses it probably has to do something with the way Rikigia had shines his shoes and wears his best suit whenever he swings by Karan Bakery. Shion hasn't spoken with his mother about Rikigia. She's polite enough to him, serving him like any other customer, but the way she raised her eyebrow the first time Rikigia had offered to take her out to dinner spoke volumes. If it's making Rikigia rethink his ways, Shion approves. Though, the way his mother sometimes smiles when Rikigia leaves, slumped shouldered and clutching a bag of her best muffins, makes Shion worry a little. His mother is a smart woman. Shion is only starting to understand how hard it is to have someone leave suddenly, much less without telling you why. He's come to know how that silence, that distance, can eat into a person's soul. Shion makes sure to hug his mother every morning, to place a kiss against the wisps of hair, lightly greying just above her ears, to squeeze her hand when she takes his to press a warm cup of tea against his fingers. Shion rarely regrets leaving, but sometimes when he sees the lines around his mothers eyes, the new ones of worry and fear, he wishes he could take it all back. He never would. He couldn't, it means too much, but for her he wishes that he might. 

The meeting adjourns with consensus on the location for a playhouse. Rikigia is organizing the construction team to refurbish an old wear-house to be used for the purpose. Chairs salvaged from the Western Block will provide seating, and new furniture built. Shion leaves the committee pleased, humming a snatch of tune. He's preoccupied with the beauty of the sunny day, staring up at the blue, blue sky so it comes as a surprise when he almost runs into someone. A pretty pair of hands steadies his shoulders.

"Excuse me." It's a girl, maybe just a little older than his own age. The bob cut of her hair for a moment reminds him of Safu and Shion feels his heart clench. She was his best friend, with all that's happened, it's one of the things he still can't believe. "Are you alright?" She asks. Her eyes are a deep blue, not the warm brown of Safu's. Her accent sounds like the Western Block. Shion nods dumbly. Nezumi would be yelling at him to pay attention to his surroundings, not to be so naive as to get caught unaware. 

"I'm fine, sorry. I was just admiring the day. I didn't see you."

The girl steps back, her fingers sliding of his arm and back to her side. "Ah, yes, it is lovely isn't it?" She rocks back on her heels, shading her eyes with that hand to look up as well. "Such a blue sky. I like storms better myself, but sunshine like this," She spreads her arms out wide. "I feel like a plant soaking up the light." Her smile is infectious. "I'm Sophie, what's your name?"

"Shion." Shion offers a hand and she clasps it, shaking firmly. 

"Well, Shion, it's a pleasure to have met you." She says, and turns walking away with a cheery wave. Shion smiles to watch her go. He meets so many new people these days. He never realized at once how big, and small, No. 6 was. There are boys who were in his school, students beside whom he took math tests and listened to Safu's lectures. There are girls he remembers watching play tennis in P.E. There are faces from the West Block, homeless men who slept at Inukashi's hotel, and women whose faces are more beautiful with out the garish paint they used to wear, peering out of the back alleys of the Western Block's market. Here everyone is new and fresh and starting over. Yet, somehow, Shion can't seem to. He's helping, making a difference. He helps his mother roll out dough for cookies and plays cats cradle with Lily. He and Inukashi chase the dogs through the public parks, laughing and rolling in the grass with the big old golden retriever before eating the sandwiches Karan has made them, the ones that the dog eats as much of as they do. But something is missing. Shion knows what it is, but there's not a lot he can do to fix it. 

 

The next day Shion has no work and no meetings. Those days aren't rare, but they're infrequent enough that Shion has learned to appreciate them. It was hard at first, finding himself lost, suddenly adrift without somewhere to be and something to do. He'd worked so hard, helping Inukashi with the dogs, and his mother with the bakery, attending every civic meeting even when he didn't need to be there. When Shion had stopped to breathe and the world continued to spin on without him he felt lost, terribly alone in his old bedroom, in his old house, with the happy sounds of costumers outside or on the veranda. It was like the winter festivals when Shion was a child living in Chronos. He could hear them, but his mother had insisted he was too young to go out to the street so late. He had listened to the neighbors singing the anthem of No. 6, praising the city and all the good fortune it brought. Shion had always wanted to join in the merriment. Stuck inside he lay in bed, tired but refusing to sleep staring up at the dark of his big, empty room. Now, Shion wakes up leasurly to the rising chorus of voices from the bustle of the neighborhood.

He rolls over in bed and reaches out to pat Crownbutter on the head. The little tan mouse squeaks and nuzzles his cheek with it's tickling whiskers.  Shion stretches, his toes pointing down and hands reaching out. He's grown taller again, almost too tall for his own bed these days. Instead of going down to breakfast first thing, he sits up and, propped against the wall, picks up the nearest book. He remembers what Nezumi said, how he was ignorant of life, of books and sex and fighting. Shion has shot someone. He has killed a man and destroyed an entire societies way of life. Shion doesn't regret saving Nezumi, he'd do it again, but he does regret the killing. Rebuilding of No. 6 has outlawed firearms, but Shion still remembers the weight of it in his hand, the kick back ricocheting up his arm, the hot splash of blood across his fingers. The heat and force of it. It isn't a sensation he ever wants to experience again. Instead, Inukashi has been teaching him basic hand to hand. The girl is fast, years of living in the West Block, tussling with her dogs, and fending off unwanted interests have left her whipcord and steel. Like Nezumi, she had him winded and staring up at the sky, eyes blurring in and out of focus the first time they fought. 

"Geeze, I'm sorry. Nezumi was right. You really are defenseless aren't you?" She asked, her face swimming into his vision. She held out a thin, brown hand, "Okay, watch what I do. I'll teach you, then we can try sparing again." Shion isn't a quick learner. More often then not he still finds himself hunched over, chest heaving and holding up a hand for a pause. Inukashi laughs at him, taunts and dances around in circles. But at the end of their last lesson, when Shion successfully blocked one of her punches and swung a leg out that almost clipped the back of her heels causing Inukashi to land in a harsh crouch, her own foot snapping out to take Shion's knees out from under him, she'd smiled. "You're getting it."

Shion had landed hard on the ground and couldn't help wincing as he stood, rubbing at what was going to be a dark bruise on his hip. "Thanks."

Today, however, he's reading. For books, at least, Shion is quikcly learning. He's already read all the Shakespeare. Shion takes his time with the words, reading their warm print, black ink and yellowed pages. He forms his lips around them, the words he doesn't know, finding their syllables and meanings, memorizing them for later. His stomach starts grumbling as the shaft of light from the window shifts full onto his face. It makes him squint, but he turns his face up to the warmth. 

His mother is downstairs, helping Lily ice a batch of cupcakes. They're colorful, decorated like flowers and happy, smiling faces. Shion snags one that looks like a star,

"Breakfast?" he asks when his mother scowls and rolls her eyes. She doesn't stop him from eating it. The blue frosting sticks against his lips, dying them an unnatural color, but Shion doesn't care. He doesn't have anywhere to be. He takes over from his mother, silently accepting the battered old apron when she leaves to check on the oven in the back of the bakery. 

"Shion, can you draw butterflies?" Lily asks, holding out a sky-blue-iced cupcake. Shion frowns, concentrating carefully with the purple icing.

"Is that good?"

Lily claps, hopping with glee at the small, perfect, butterfly on the corner of the cupcake. "Yes! you should do a whole flock of them. Can you teach me?"

They finish the cupcakes in time for the afternoon rush. Shion helps his mother serve the young couples on the deck their tea and cookies. There's a redheaded boy with a blonde freckled girl, holding hands and laughing together. Shion tries to be unobtrusive when he brings them their order. Shion still doesn't know anything about sex, or romance either, really. Reading has helped some, the tragedy of Romeo and Juliet torn apart by their families beliefs, or the mischievous bickering of Benedick and Beatrice in Much Ado about Nothing. The stories mostly make Shion sad, but he wants to know. 

"Shion!" Karan calls from inside. "Could you tend the register for a bit? I need to put Baby Shion down for a nap." It's still weird to Shion that the child he saved now bears his own name. It was a sweet gesture from Inukashi, but now his mother is raising the little boy, Shion sometimes wonders if they shouldn't have changed the name. 

Shion's just wrapping up some croissants for one of their elderly neighbors, the old man leans on his walking stick and thanks Shion a touch more loudly than necessary as he hands over the paper bag, when the girl walks in. For a moment Shion isn't sure why he knows her, but then their eyes meet. It's the girl from yesterday. 

"Shion!" she says and bounds over to the counter. "I didn't know you worked here." 

"Hello, um, Sophie?"

"Yes!"

"Well, this is my mother's bakery so I help out sometimes." Shion shrugs. 

"Oh, that's lovely. The family I'm living with, they love your mother's cookies, so I came by to get some, for a birthday." She smiles. Shion wonders if she's one of the many West Block residents he's helped to find new homes. 

"I'm sure they'll appreciate it. How many do you want?" 

"Probably five would be enough. Which kind do you think are best?" 

Shion considers for a moment, "The lemon cookies are great with milk, but they've very lemon-y. I personally am a fan of the sugar cookies." 

"Well, I guess I'll take three of each then?" 

Shion nods and grabs the cookies with the metal tongs, sliding them carefully into the bag so as not to crumble them. 

"There. Are you paying, or does your family have a tab here?" Shion asks, turning to the register.

"I'll pay," she shoves a handful of crumpled bills across the counter. Shion carefully unfolds each and places them in the register.

"Well, there you go." He slides the bag across to her. She holds it to her chest smiling. 

"You know, I don't know many people my own age yet. I go to the new school in Lost Town, but I've never seen you there."

"Ah," Shion rubs uneasily at his neck, feeling the pink ridge of the snake scar there. "I finished my education early. I was on the advanced track for a while and all that. There's not much more I could learn from any of the new schools."

"Well, have you thought about teaching?" Sophie asks. There's on one else in the front of the bakery right now, and all the guests on the veranda have been take care of. Shion rests against the counter, running his fingers along is high polish. 

"I've thought about it. Our bakery has a small library," Shion gestures to the shelves of books on the far wall, "I read to the neighborhood kids every Saturday evening, but they're all Lily's age."

"Lily?"

"My adoptive sister? She goes to the new Lost Town school actually." Shion smiles, "the cute one with the pigtails, brown hair, way too much energy."

Sophie's eyes light with recognition, "Lily? The one with all the overalls?" 

"Ha, yeah, she's rather fond of them these days."

"Well, she's lucky to have you as a brother. I aught to be going, but I'll stop by later. Would you mind if I came to listen to you read?" She asks.

Shion shrugs, "The more the merrier I guess." The bell on the door tinkles as she leaves. Shion heads back to check on the other customers.

 

They close up the shop by six. Baby Shion sleeps in Karan's arms. She sits in the rocking chair, humming to him, Lily at her feet, head resting against Karan's knee. Shion watches them from the couch where he's picking what book to read tonight. They've just finished Harry Potter. Shion was surprised how many children's books Nezumi had, but he's pleased by it too. The doorbell rings and Shion jumps up to let the children in. Nezumi had worried that he'd wind up living in a preschool, but Shion loves reading to the children. The youngest is three, and often falls asleep at his sister's side partway through the evening, the oldest is probably ten, a boy from two blocks away. Tonight the oldest person is Sophie. She stands at the back of the group of children, shifting awkwardly. When Shion smiles and welcomes her in, her shoulders relax and she flops down on the floor like the rest of the kids. 

It's dark when the stop reading. Karan hands out cookies and sends everyone home, making sure the littlest children all have an older child to walk with. Sophie is the last to leave. 

"If you don't hurry you'll get wet," Shion holds the door open, extending a hand out to feel the first tap of raindrops on his fingers. Sophie hesitates. 

"I don't know if you'd be interested, but I would love to go out with you sometime." she says quietly, half out the door. "If not, I'd still like to be your friend and come hear you read, but if it's an option..." She gestures openly with her hands. Shion stares at her spread fingers, the way they taper primly. Her dark brown hair shines in the porch light, a soft, chocolate color like the thick cocoa Shion had given to Nezumi when they first met. Her lips are pursed into a tenative smile, a light, petal pink. Shion thinks of kissing her, thinks of Safu asking for his sperm, thinks of Nezumi's lightly chapped lips pressed tight against his own. For all Shion has learned he hasn't taken too much time to think about sex. He's been too busy reading and learning and helping. 

When he was young, he never thought of anyone when he efficiently wrung out the white-hot craving for orgasm in the shower. Even when Safu had asked, her pretty, attentive face turned to his, waiting, Shion hadn't felt the stirrings he's read of in Nezumi's books. It was Nezumi himself, wandering around shirtless, toweling his hair dry, who made Shion's breath catch. Shion can still recall it, that first jump of muscle clenching at the powerful curve of Nezumi's back, the swell and bunch of Nezumi's arms, the wet-dark slick of his hair, curling across his shoulders. Shion never followed the impulse to gather handfuls of Nezumi's wet hair and lick the droplets of water that slid over his shoulders. He didn't understand it then, dealt with the sensativity to Nezumi's presence rationally, held himself still when Nezumi's fist against his collar, pressing Shion back to the wall made sparks dance down his spine. Shion would stand, and breathe, and listen because Nezumi's words were important, even if it was hard to pay attention. Shion sighs.

"Thank you Sophie, but I can't." 

She nods, reaching out to squeeze his hand. Her eyes grow soft with sympathy. "You're waiting for someone," she says. 

"Yes." Shion answers, surprised. Sophie laughs at his expression. Her fingers cup his cheek briefly. 

"I know what it looks like. I've seen it in the mirror." She steps back, crosses her arms around her waist, holding lightly, "My fiance was at the Market when they started the culling, the hunt." She turns her face away from the light, looking out to the darkened street. Shion can't see her expression, but the fall of her hair across her face reminds him so much of Safu he takes an involuntary step forward. She leans against him, wraps her own arms around his back. 

"Thank you. I...I really appreciate it. I wasn't sure I could ask again, but...you seem sweet." She steps back, "I really would like to be friends. I hope you find whoever you're waiting for."

Shion shrugs. "He left when the walls came down, I don't really know if he'll ever come back." 

Sophie's grin is wide, "Well, in that case, he's either an idiot, or he's gotten lost on the way home." She turns, waving over her shoulder, "If you ever decide you want a date, my new families' brother is pretty cute!" Shion shakes his head, watching her lavender sweater retreat into the shadows down the rainy street. He turns back inside. Karan is standing just beyond the front hallway.

"She seems like a nice girl," his mother offers. 

"Mom, I'm-"

"Shion, I know." Karan wraps him in her arms. The warm smell of her hair, the dusting of flour across her chest, the steady hold of her arms all feel like home. Shion closes his eyes, lets his mother hold him while the feelings that rise into his throat when he thinks about how long it's been shake him.

"He'll come back," Karan murmurs. "If he promised you, he'll come back."

Shion nods, face damp against the fabric of her shirt. Wiping at his cheeks, he leans back. "Thanks mom."

She taps in gently on the nose, kisses both his cheeks, mindless of the salty trails of tears. "You're worth it. You're my special boy. I'm sure Nezumi knows it." Shion laughs, allows her to usher him upstairs to where she's drawn a hot bath. "You go first, Lily and I will wash after. Get a goodnights sleep. You have a meeting in the morning right?" Shion nods. "Well then, don't stay up reading to late." She kisses him again and leaves him alone in the drafty bathroom.

The water is hot, almost too much at first. Shion sinks down into it, feeling the heat vibrate against his fingers. His arms float, submerged, distant like the belong to someone else. He stares down at his toes, wriggles them in the water. The surface remains undisturbed, but he can feel the swirls of heat play about his ankles. His skin turns pink under the heated water. Rising steam dampens his hair, pools sweat down his cheeks. Shion tilts his head back, cradled in the warm water, closes his eyes. The world is almost silent. Beyond the tap, tapping of the rain on the roof, Shion hears Lily's laughter from somewhere downstairs. Shion imagines them, his mother's happy family, baby Shion bouncing on her knee and Lily happily drawing at the low table by her mother's chair. Shion's part of that family now, part of this new life, this new world. No. 6 and the West Block, together, rebuilding, relearning.

After only ten minutes Shion's fingers are wrinkled red with the heat and the water. He stays another half hour, eyes closed, floating. Shion heaves himself from the tub slowly, feeling the weight of years. He towels mostly dry and darts across the cold hallway to his own room ready to burrow under his covers. It's with the first crack of thunder and lightening, the whistling of sharp-cold wind through the open window that Shion realizes there's someone in his bed. Or rather, on his bed. Shion jumps, almost falls but for the hands that close like hot coals against his arms, steadying him. The flash of lightening fades, but the flash of recognition sings with the thunder in Shion's ears. Shion doesn't take the time to think, just surges forward in that clap of thunder and sudden darkness, eyes wide with worldless joy. It's like deja vu. At one moment he's reaching for Nezumi, in the next, he's pinned against the bed, the wool of Nezumi's shirt rough against his back. It's for just a moment then Nezumi's gone, his weight off the bed. Shion sits up, searching the dark room with un-adjusted eyes. Nezumi is a shadow by an almost equally tall stack of books.

"Nezumi?" Shion whispers. Nezumi steps forward, sits back on the bed. 

"It is you." Nezumi's voice is soft as his fingers caressing across Shion's cheek in the dark. "For a moment- You're taller." 

Shion laughs and flings his arms around Nezumi. This time Nezumi doesn't jump away. The knit of Nezumi's shirt is uncomfortable on Shion's sensitive, waterlogged skin. Shion doesn't care. He tilts his face, cheeks brushing against Nezumi's. Their lips find each other. Nezumi's move silently, as if he's about to ask a question, speak a prayer. Shion doesn't give him time, presses closer, holding so tight with his fingers he might be pressing bruises into Nezumi's shoulders. Nezumi's fingers are insistent at his neck, tugging at his hair.

Through the long, dark moments there is nothing but the kiss, the whistle of the wind, and the pounding of the rain. There's another flash of lightening and Nezumi moves back, shifts his lips away from Shion's. They sit with their foreheads pressed together, breathing deafened by thunder. The storm is overhead now. Shion would throw open a thousand windows and howl his happiness into the night, that is if he could ever bring himself to move from beneath Nezumi's hands.

"Welcome home." Shion whispers, presses the words against Nezumi's ear, nuzzles his face into the heat, the beating life there in Nezumi's neck. Nezumi yelps, startled, tumbling them both backward on the bed.

"Your nose is cold!" he protests, shoving at Shion. Shion refuses to budge. He shivers in the gust from the window and curls closer to Nezumi. "Fine!" Nezumi huffs, wriggles out and slams the window shut. The sound would be loud enough to bring his mother but it's masked by the roll of thunder. Nezumi falls back against him. He's shed his shirt, his khaki pants rest low on his hips, leave space for the curve of Shion's fingers at his waist. 

"I'm home." Nezumi whispers back, the ghost of a kiss against Shion's lips. Nezumi draws the covers over both of them, turns so his chest is pressed to Shion's back, a silk shush of skin against skin. He presses a kiss to the back of Shion's ear. 

"I've been traveling all day, can we talk more in the morning?"

Shion nods, feels Nezumi's lips brush against his ear. 

"Sure, I have a..." Shion sits up, looks at Nezumi, head resting on one arm staring back up at him. "Wait just a minute." Shion wriggles out of bed. He finds paper and pencil on the desk by the door through feel alone. Hopefully it's blank sheet. Shion writes in large, curved letters, hoping his mother will see them in the morning. 

Nezumi is back. I'm skipping the meeting. See you at brunch. He sticks the note to the door. 

He burrows back into the warm bed, snuggling against Nezumi. 

"Wake me up when you do." Shion requests, twining his fingers through Nezumi's. Shion has never slept with someone this close. At Nezumi's place the bed was small, but they always managed to make space between them. Sometimes Shion would wake up in the night, his legs tangled with Nezumi's, but mostly Shion would fall asleep pressed against the wall, trying not to lean back into Nezumi's warmth and he would wake up with the far side of the bed rumpled and cool. Tonight, Nezumi's skin is a comfort against his own. The huff of his breath against Shion's hair is rhythmic, coaxing Shion's own breaths to slow, steady, falling into sleep.

 

He doesn't wake before Nezumi in the morning. Shion never has. He wakes to light across his face, and the feather-light caress of Nezumi's hands brushin hair off his cheek. 

"Nezumi?" Shion asks, scrunching his eyes open. He's almost afraid last night will be a dream, that he'll wake to find his mother rousing him to make sure he isn't late for the meeting. But it's not. Nezumi's hair is messy, his expression almost fond. 

"Good morning." Nezumi sits up. "How did you sleep." Shion looks down to where their hands are still entwined. 

"Well." Shion can't hold in a yawn as he stretches, sits up. He lists against Nezumi's side, warm and happy. "I had the best dream." Shion grinnes, "but it's even better to find out it's not a dream. You're really back!"

Nezumi nods, a smile twitching at the corners of his mouth.

"I'm back." His voice is low, quiet. Shion wants to scoop up the words like jewels in his hands, hold them to his heart and never let them go. His free hand clenches in the sheets.

"For how long?" Shion can't keep the tremor out of his voice. Nezumi rolls his eyes, lets go of Shion's hand to stroke fingers through his hair, guiding Shion's eyes to meet his own.

"For as long as you want me to stay." The words are warm with promise, "I think I've been gone too long already."

Shion swallows, the weight of the moment heavy in his throat. "And if I said forever?"

Nezumi laughs, and the sound is pure, without the nasty hatred when he laughed at No. 6, or the distaste when he laughed at Shion's foolishness. It's a free, joyous sound. Shion wants to hear it every day for the rest of his life.

"Then I'll stay," Nezumi says."I..." His hand comes to rest against the side of Shion's neck, holding him there as if suspended in the silence before Nezumi's words. "We, unaccustomed to courage, exiles from delight, lived in coiled shells of loneliness." Nezumi's fingers press the feeling of the words into Shion's neck, the hopeless weight. For a moment Shion sees the young, bleeding boy, standing water-sodden and barefoot in the open window. "until love leaves its high holy temple and comes into our sight to liberate us into life. Love arrives and in its train comes ecstasies." Nezumi's other hand rises to cup Shion's cheek, thumb stroking at the edge of his pink, ridged scar, "old memories of pleasure, ancient histories of pain. Yet if we are bold, love strikes away the chains of fear from our souls. We are weaned from our timidity. In the flush of love's light we dare be brave." Nezumi's smile is soft, inviting. Shion holds his breath, his eyes never wavering from Nezumi's constant gaze. "And suddenly we see that love costs all we are and will ever be. Yet it is only love which sets us free." Nezumi leans in, presses a quick, dry kiss to Shion's lips. His hand slips down to squeeze Shion's own. At this distance Nezumi's face blurs before Shion. Nezumi opens his mouth to speak, but Shion raises a finger, shushing him. Shion hasn't done all that reading for nothing. He shifts back a bit, trying not to blink as he quickly runs through the words. 

"Let me not to the marriage of true minds admit impediments. Love is not love which alters where it alteration finds, or bends with the remover to remove: Oh no! It is an ever-fix'd mark." Once the words start Shion finds them tumbling out one after another. It's one of his favorite Shakespeare poems, one he's recited staring at rain-spattered windows, waiting. Waiting now for two whole years. Shion pulls Nezumi's hand up, their entwined fingers held between them. He puts the hand to his heart. Rests it there, thinking of a time Nezumi pulled the same gesture. This time, Shion wants Nezumi to stay. This time, Shion thinks, maybe, Nezumi understands. At least his vocabulary is better. "That looks on tempests and is never shaken; it is the star to every wandering bark, whose worth's unknown, although his height be taken. Loves not Time's fool, though rosy lips and cheeks within his bending sickle's compass come; Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks, but bears it out even unto the edge of doom." Shion pauses, breathes in. The last words falling into place, "If this be error and upon me prov'd, I never writ, nor no man ever loved." Shion's not sure he got it all right, but Nezumi is beaming. 

"You've learned." 

Shion shrugs, "I had some free time." Nezumi pointedly looks around the room, piled high with books. Shion tries not to blush. He would be fiddling with his hands in his lap if Nezumi weren't holding them. 

"I'm glad you're staying." Shion says in a rush, "I know the last time we spoke you- well. You always said- but I really-" He can't seem to find the words. Nezumi rolls his eyes.

"What have I told you about a vocabulary? All that reading and still..." he pulls Shion to standing. There isn't much space between all the books and the bed, but Nezumi falls dramatically to a knee, one hand pressed against his chest, the other held out toward Shion as if about to give a soliloquy. "Give me your hand," he demands. Shion gingerly places his own fingers over Nezumi's. Nezumi's grip is strong and sure.

"I've been that wandering bark...I know who I am and what I want. I want to offer that." Nezumi frowns and Shion tries not to smile. Apparently he's not the only one feeling a little tongue tied. Still, Nezumi forges on, "I offer my strengths, and my weaknesses. My loyalty. I want to share in your hopes and dreams and thoughts. I promise to laugh with you and encourage you, and respect you. I will be help when you need it and turn to you when I need help. I promise to give you the best of myself." Nezumi's hand tightens against his own. "Our miracle lies in the path we have together. I want to walk that path the rest of my life, together. With you." The words take something in Shion's chest and shake it. He can't speak. Instead he falls to his knees, hauling Nezumi bodily against him into a hug. Shion holds on as hard as he can, feeling tears running fast down his cheeks. Nezumi's hands are startled at his back. He can feel Nezumi's confusion.

"God, you're such an idiot." Shion manages to mumble, "Yes. Of course it's a yes." 

His eyes are mostly dry, and not nearly as red as he'd feared, by the time they make it down stairs. It's well and truly lunch, rather than brunch, but Karan greets them both with a large smile and an entire cherry cake. 

"I saw the note," she says, handing Shion two forks. "I figure we'll be talking about what will happen next." Shion nods. "But, that doesn't have to happen now." Karan kisses his forehead. "Just so you know, the old man who lives next door is going to move back in with his daughter next month. It's a very small house, but it might be just big enough for two people and all those books." His mother winks shooing Shion off with a wave of her hand. "I've told him you might be interested." Shion raises the forks in a salute of thanks. He hasn't stopped grinning yet, but the smile just seems to be getting wider, and wider. He's not sure he could feel any more happy. For now, he hurries off to the veranda, where Nezumi is waiting.