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My Gypsy Boyfriend

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No one talked to the new kid. It wasn’t an official rule, but it was common practice among the students. Nezumi was one of those gypsies. They had rolled into town one day and never left. Behind his back girls fawned over him but none had the guts to approach him.

“I fail to see what everyone’s talking about; he’s not that pretty.” Taking a bite of her sandwich, Safu grumbled.

Shion couldn’t disagree more. Never had he met anyone more interesting and beautiful than Nezumi. He was taller than Shion, but not by much. His body looked firm underneath his casual tee shirt. His skin was so pale, and from certain angles his delicate features made it hard to tell if he was a boy or a girl. Nezumi’s long hair reminded Shion of twilight with its soft, dark tone. It looked so silky. He normally used its length to tie it up into a ponytail.

Nezumi always sat by himself near the stage with several tables between him and where everyone else ate lunch.

Nose never leaving his book, his fork periodically dug into a nearby Tupperware container. Shion wondered what kind of food he ate. From this distance, it resembled chicken and cabbage in broth. He’d never been close enough to know exactly what it could be. To Shion, all foreign dishes tasted spicy so he assumed Nezumi’s food was too. Nezumi always had yellow cake with his meal. The first time Nezumi dipped it into the broth though, Shion had to rethink his first observation, and reclassified it to some kind of corn bread. Nezumi ate everything with a fork, probably not wanting to dirty his book. He never drank anything but water.

Shion glanced back to look at Nezumi. At that moment, Nezumi’s book lowered and their eyes met. Nezumi studied him for a moment. His mesmerizing gray both absorbed and reflected light. What lay behind those eyes? Who was behind that mask of indifference? What made him laugh, caused him to cry? What were his dreams; how did he view the world around him?

Nezumi’s eyes lingered for a second longer, then he dug his fork into his Tupperware and went back to reading his book.

Shion pushed aside his Bento lunch. His fried pork always tasted better with sauce. “I’m gonna go and grab more soy sauce. Want any?” Shion swiveled in his stool and stood up, making sure not to bang his knee on the place where it attached to the table.

Not many of their friends were at lunch today. Aiko was sick, Akihiko had detention—one too many tardies because he and mornings didn’t get along—and Shanelle was helping out with the Chorus class’ bake sale. Only Safu and Shawn were present, and Shawn hadn’t even arrived at the table yet.

Safu shook her head, swishing her short-cropped, black hair. “I doubt soy sauce would taste good on my sandwich. Shion, are you even paying attention?”

“Oh, yeah, right.” Warmth heated his cheeks.

“Seriously, what am I going to do with you, Shion?”

Shion headed for the cafeteria's kitchen where he found the condiments at the end of the serving line. He grabbed a few packets of soy sauce, hoping it would be enough.

“Hey, Shion.”

Shion looked up. “Hey Shawn.”

“So, um, it’s just you, me and Safu today, right?”

Shion nodded.

Shawn’s blue eyes lit up. Glancing at Safu, Shawn's smile widened, the tips of his protruding ears becoming red. Shawn loved to be around Safu. But Safu only tolerated him because they had mutual friends. She always reassured him that she wasn’t interested in Shawn. But he didn’t see why; Shawn was a nice enough guy.

He followed after Shawn to their seats, and had just put the sauce packs on the table when an idea hit him. An idea? Feeling? Desire, maybe? Shion didn’t have any topic of conversation in mind. All he knew was that he wanted to talk to Nezumi.

Shion stood up quickly, leaving the red plastic stool swirling on its axis, and headed over to where Nezumi sat.

“Shion?” Safu called after him.

Shion glanced over his shoulder briefly. “Just give me a sec.”

“Um, hi,” He said to Nezumi whose nose was still in a book.

Nezumi lowered his book. Mesmerizing gray eyes studied Shion, and any words he wanted to say vanished from his mind.

“Can I do something for you?” Nezumi asked in a standoffish, but not cruel tone.

“Um, well, not really no. I mean, I just thought I’d come and say hi.”

Nezumi smiled. “You sound nervous. Don’t worry, I don’t bite.”

Shion found his voice. “I’m not afraid of you if that’s what you’re thinking.”

“Oh?”

“I just noticed that you sit by yourself all the time, and I thought maybe you’d want to join us?” Shion directed his head towards his table. Safu and Shawn stared at them with wide eyes. Their expressions various decrees of curiosity, shock and fear.

“You sure?” Nezumi smirked. “Doesn’t look like your friends are in on your plan.”

“My friends? Oh, Safu and Shawn won’t mind. You’ll find Safu’s really easy to talk to.”

“So all rich kids are this unguarded and straightforward? You don’t even know me. Shouldn’t you at least be weary? You have to of heard the rumors going around about me?”

“Yeah, I have. But I’m not one to judge a person by what I hear. I’d much rather get to know him for myself.”

“Isn’t that noble of you?” Nezumi’s mocking laugh shouldn’t have made Shion’s pulse race.

“I’m not doing this to be noble—”

“Aren’t you though? Outcast, sitting by himself, unwelcomed and feared by the school. So you’ve taken it upon yourself to include me.” Nezumi scoffed. “Don’t kid yourself, this is a classic case of nobility. And why do it? To make yourself feel better about the situation? Or is that you feel pity?”

“I don’t feel any of those things. Please don’t talk about me like you know me when you clearly don’t. I don’t have any hidden agenda, and I’m certainly not doing this because I feel sorry for you.”

“Then why are you? And don’t tell me you just wanted a new friend. Please, I may not be elite like you, highness, but even us lowly plebs aren’t stupid.”

“Why are you so insistent that I have a reason for coming over here other than I just wanted to be nice?”

“Hmph, nice? Ah, right. If you’re nice everyone will think what a good, little boy you are.” Nezumi snorted dismissively. “That’s just another way of making yourself feel better. You’re not doing any of this for me.” He went back to reading his book. “People who can’t see themselves don’t interest me.”

Shion stood there gaping. “Fine. Geez, I just wanted to invite you over. But you apparently don’t want to join us, and that’s fine, but don’t go thinking I’ve some sort of agenda or am doing this to fill my own ego, because I’m not. I just thought you were interesting—” He hadn’t meant to say that to Nezumi, especially not after his attitude.

“Interesting, huh?” Nezumi hadn’t looked up from his book. He sighed. “You really are a textbook case, you know that?”

“How am I?”

“Little, rich kid suffocated by his privileged life comes across a gypsy who’s so different, so interesting…” Nezumi’s voice morphed into an orator, his hands acting out the role of the boy in his story. Shion’s attention drew to Nezumi’s fingers. Slender and graceful, they made the gestures look elegant. It wasn’t something Nezumi did purposefully, rather it was how his fingers moved, like a nimble dance. “...And so different than your stuffy life. So you go to befriend this new, shiny toy. And as a bonus, your soft, little ego gets boosted for how generous and caring you are.”

Shion fumed with anger. “I don’t think that at all.” But Nezumi’s words hit home. He was a suffocated, little rich boy. Nezumi had seen right through him, seen an image Shion hadn’t thought about before. Perhaps he’d come over to Nezumi because a gypsy was completely opposite from his own life. Shion had been drawn to him the moment he saw him. Nezumi was a myriad of colors in Shion’s grayscale world.

“Just spaced out there, didn’t you?” Playfulness hid behind Nezumi’s smile.

“Uh…yeah.” Shion looked at his feet before he met Nezumi’s eyes. “Guess you’re right. Guess I am a suffocated, little rich kid.”

“Obviously.” Nezumi’s dismissive tone perked up Shion’s fighting spirit.

“But I wasn’t talking to you to make myself feel better.”

“So it was for the excitement then?”

“I don’t know, maybe. But that isn’t what I thought about when I came over.”

“Hah?” Nezumi drew out the word. “And what were you thinking? Wanted me to read your fortune?” Nezumi laughed at his own joke. “If you give me your palm I’ll do it, but it won’t be free.”

Thinking of Nezumi holding his hand made Shion’s cheeks heat up. “Okay.”

“What?”

“If you wanted to read my fortune, I’ll let you.”

Nezumi looked shocked before he burst out laughing. “You serious? What an airhead! You actually believed that? I was obviously joking.”

Shion’s face burned; he was lobster red for sure.

“Idiot,” Nezumi said. “And well, looks like our time’s cut short, your majesty.”

Shion looked at him confused.

“Lunch is over, and you just missed it. Think of this as a learning opportunity. Next time, don’t befriend someone for self-centered reasons.” Nezumi stood up, closed his Tupperware box and headed off.

Shion stared at him confused, and feeling a little like a fool. But he didn’t want to give up. He had no idea why he was going to pursue a guy who obviously thought terrible about him, but maybe that was the reason. He felt misunderstood. Nezumi had gotten some things right about him, but not everything. Shion knew that Nezumi wasn’t just some shiny, new toy—something that would hold his interest for a while until it was no longer new. No, that was not it. He was intrigued by Nezumi, drawn to him. He wanted to know Nezumi himself, not the gypsy. Where did he come from? What was his past like? Shion wanted to get inside Nezumi’s head, see what made him tick. He wanted to laugh with him, hear his dreams, be there for him when he was sad. Shion wasn’t wanting to just play with him and leave. He wanted to know Nezumi more. From this point on, Shion wanted Nezumi in his life.

“Nezumi, wait!” he chased after Nezumi.

Nezumi looked back, exasperated. “Milord?”

“Don’t call me that. My name is Shion.”

“Yeah, I know. Like the flower, right?”

“That’s right. My mom was really into gardening when she had me.”

Nezumi smirked. “I bet.”

There was a sexual meaning behind those words but Shion didn’t know what. Sexual jokes always went over his head.

“What are you reading?”

“What?”

“Your book? You must know its title since you’ve been reading it nonstop all lunch.”

Nezumi smirked. “Was that a comeback, milord?”

Shion smirked. “Yeah, I guess. And it’s Shion.”

“All right, I’m reading A Midsummer Night's Dream.”

“Shakespeare?”

“I’d hope a pampered boy like you knew his classics.”

“Yeah, but?”

“You’re surprised to find me reading Shakespeare? What? Too literate? Thought it’d be a picture book? Or maybe something like The Gypsy Guide to Thieving and Looting, second Ed? Sorry to not fulfill your gypsy fantasies, milord.”

“No, I didn’t mean to imply that. Sorry if it came out that way. I just wouldn’t have taken you for a Shakespeare guy.”

“And how is that not generalizing or stereotyping me? A gypsy that reads classics? Yeah, right.”

“It isn’t because you’re a gypsy. You’re really caught up on that, and it makes you blind to the fact that someone might just want to be your friend.”

Nezumi's smirk faded, his eyes became more skeptical.

“And I didn’t think you weren’t into Shakespeare because you’re a gypsy. I thought…?”

“What?”

Now that Shion questioned his motive, what was it he thought? Perhaps Nezumi was right? Perhaps it was because Nezumi was a gypsy that Shion had been shocked to see Shakespeare in his hand.

Nezumi’s smirked. “Spaced out again, didn’t you? You sure are scatterbrained.”

Shion blushed again. “Sorry. I just. Sorry, I guess you’re right. Forgive me, I didn’t mean to generalize.”

Nezumi’s smile faded. “Apologizing? Why?”

“Well, because I clearly hurt you with my preconceptions, and what’s worst was I wasn’t even aware I was doing it. I really didn’t think I thought it was because you’re a gypsy. Honestly, I don’t mind that you’re a gypsy. I think people are too quick to judge. But I’m sure you’re about to judge me and say I am hypocritical or self-centered, right?”

“More or less.”

“Can’t I just want to be your friend?”

“Why? I’m really not all that interesting of a person? Why go out of your way just to make a friend?”

Shion blinked. “Why? Friendship is one of the things that makes life worthwhile. Friendships are more enriching than money that’s for sure.”

“Says the rich kid. Must be nice to live in a world where you have the luxury to be so dismissive of money.”

“I didn’t mean that.” Shion met Nezumi’s eyes. “I know how lucky I am, how fortunate. I didn’t mean to sound unappreciative. I was just answering your question. You asked me why go out of my way, what’s so important? Well, I like you. I want to be your friend.”

“Wow, don’t you feel embarrassed saying awkward things like that?”

“What’s embarrassing about saying that I want to be your friend?”

Nezumi shook his head. “If you don’t notice it, then I’m not even gonna bother. But I’m about to be late for class, so if you don’t mind?”

“Oh, yeah, sorry, let’s go.”

Nezumi smirked at him. “You really are absentminded, aren’t you, Shion?”

Shion’s heart skipped a beat and a smile broke out on his face.

“What?”

“You said my name.”

“Yeah? Wasn’t it you that wanted me to call you by that?”

“No, yeah, I do. I mean, it sounded nice.”

Nezumi shook his head. “Idiot. Now before you got us distracted by stating the obvious, I was going to say, aren’t you forgetting your things?”

“Oh…” Shion looked down at his empty arms. “That’s right, my things!”

Nezumi was laughing his head off. “You’re too funny. Such an airhead!” Shion smirked with him, and then they were both laughing. “Go and grab your things, professor, I’ll wait for you.”

Shion smiled brightly. “Right!” A thrill of excitement rushed through him. It was like he hit a milestone; a changing point in his life. He wasn’t sure how he knew this, he only knew that after this moment his life would never be the same.

Shion walked into his Probability class right before the bell sounded. He had had to part ways with Nezumi, and was surprised to learn Nezumi’s next class was Drama. It was yet another piece in the puzzle that was Nezumi. He had also learned that they shared Literature together. How had he never noticed that Nezumi was in his class? Although given the size of the auditorium perhaps it wasn’t that surprising. Besides, Shion had never been the most perceptive guy in the world.

There was one more class today after Probability, but unfortunately, he didn’t have any other classes with Nezumi. So unless he was lucky enough to see Nezumi by the lockers, Shion would have to wait until tomorrow.

Today he planned to go over to Safu’s house. Her last class was Biology, and they were dissecting a fetal pig. Knowing Safu, she would not be done with cleanup by the time he arrived and he would end up waiting for her. Safu found dissections fascinating and liked to take her time. He could understand since he was the same way, but this delay meant that Nezumi would be long gone by the time Shion finally made it to his locker.

“Shion!” Safu had her hands on her hips. Normally they sat towards the back so they could whisper to each other during class. “You’re almost late.”

“Yeah, sorry, got caught up talking.”

“Right. To Nezumi? Oh, thanks by the way.”

“Thanks?”

“For leaving me with blabbermouth Shawn. He kept talking and talking all through lunch, while you just stayed over there, doing—I don’t even know what?—over by Nezumi. Were you expecting him to come and sit by us?”

“Would that have been a problem if he did?”

Safu dragged out a sigh. “Of course not. But Shion, Nezumi doesn’t sit with anyone. Doesn’t talk to anyone, and from the looks of your conversation, he didn’t want to talk to you either.”

“Yeah,” Shion nodded. “No, he tried to get me to go away.”

“Then why didn’t you?”

Shion shrugged. “I want to get to know him.”

“You what?”

“I want to be his friend.”

Safu gave him an incredulous look. “Shion, what are you trying to do? If he doesn’t want to be your friend, why keep pushing it? I don’t want to see you get hurt.”

“Hurt? Nezumi’s not going to hurt me. People are wrong about that. Nezumi may be a gypsy, but he’s not a killer.”

“I didn’t mean about him being Romani. Honestly, people need to stop being stupid. So what if that’s his ethnicity. Why should that matter?”

“Exactly!”

“But if he doesn’t want to be your friend, he is just going to hurt you.”

Shion considered what Safu was saying. He loved her for her compassion and caring nature, but in this case he felt like she had them wrong. He couldn’t explain it, but in his heart he knew that pursuing a relationship with Nezumi was not a mistake.

“Thanks Safu. You are always looking out for me, aren’t you?” Shion smiled, scratching the back of his head. “Even if it is embarrassing... but you don’t have to worry about me this time. I just have this feeling like Nezumi is someone I will be able to trust. I can’t explain it any other way.”

Safu rolled her eyes, shaking her head. “Geez, Shion you really are an idiot, and one of these days it’s gonna get you seriously hurt. You got that! You need to take better care of yourself, and stop trying to take care of everyone else.”

“I don’t try to take care of everyone else?”

Safu raised an eyebrow.

“I don’t.”

“If I can have everyone’s attention onto the white board. That goes for you, Safu and Shion.”

“Sorry, Mrs. Whitemarsh,” Safu said, Shion following with a similar apology.

The rest of the class was filled with information that heavily required their attention, so Shion’s mind had to pause from thinking about Nezumi, at least for now.

~-~-~

They were sprawled out on Safu's bed finishing up the Literature assignment, when Safu said, “You’re smiling again.”

“Hm?” Shion looked at her from over his copy of a Brave New World.

“This book isn't what I would call funny, and here you are smiling every five seconds." Safu’s voice teetered between chastising and amusement. "You were smiling all through Probability too. Seriously, you’re on a loop. Just what are you thinking about?”

Shion looked at her confused. Sometimes Safu read more into it then what was there. “I haven’t been thinking anything. I’m feeling happy, that’s all?”

“That’s my point, when are you this happy? I mean, you smile, sure, but not like this."

“Is it a problem that I’m smiling?”

“Not a problem. Not at all. It’s just…”

“Just what?”

Safu sucked her bottom lip, brow wrinkling. Her eyes became distant. She was thinking something upsetting, Shion was sure of it.

“Safu, tell me what’s bothering you?”

“It’s nothing.”

“Safu? I’ve known you way too long for it to be nothing.”

“It’s just, Shion, you’ve never been passionate about anything.”

“What?”

“I mean, you normally just go with the flow; you’re not really into anything. But you were today.”

“I was?”

“Yeah, you went right over to Nezumi, and you stayed talking, even forgetting about your lunch. And then you were late for Probability.”

“I was just on time, not late.”

“That’s not the point. The point is that you’re never that driven when it comes to anything, and now... Well, I’ve never seen you like this.”

Shion smiled at her. “I think you’re making too big of a deal of it, Safu. I just wanted to talk to him. And well, I kind of lost track of time. But I wasn’t all that hungry anyways. So it’s all good.” Shion's stomach growled. He had forgotten he'd skipped lunch until he mentioned it, but now that he had, he was starving.

Safu gave him a scolding look. “Let's hurry this up, granny's making curry tonight. You did ask your mom if you could stay for dinner, right?”

Shion nodded. "Yeah, mom was okay with it.”

“Good!” Safu smiled, before her tone turned serious. “Just be careful, Shion. Ok?”

“Uh, ok.” Shion still didn’t understand the reason he needed to be careful, but he had to finish this book. He was pretty sure there would be a pop quiz tomorrow. Plus the sooner he finished it, the sooner he could eat.

~-~-~

The next morning Shion was by his locker when out of the corner of his eye he saw Nezumi. The comfortable looking yellow tee he wore made his shoulders look broader and his back more defined. The color also contrasted nicely to Nezumi’s twilight colored hair, which as usual was worn up in a ponytail. There was something warm, and dare he say, cuddly about Nezumi’s appearance. Shion wanted to wrap his arms around Nezumi from behind and hide his face in the valley between Nezumi’s shoulders.

“Shion!” Safu called over to him before she was at his side. “So guess what granny just did?”

“Oh?” Shion asked.

“She finally went out and got—”

“Hey Safu, Shion!” Shawn came over, scratching the sleep out of his eye. “Man, I’m tired!”

“Excuse me,” Safu puffed up indignantly. “I was in the middle of a conversation with Shion. So if you don’t mind?”

“Geez, snap my head off, will yah?” Shawn grumbled, before he perked up. “Well, good timing on my part ‘cause now you don’t gotta tell the story twice.”

Safu rolled her eyes.

Shion turned to look for Nezumi again. He could see a sliver of Nezumi’s yellow tee shirt behind a thick crowd of students traversing the hall, some were just standing around talking. “Hang on, guys, I’ll be right back.”

“Shion?” Safu called after him.

Shion maneuvered his way through the crowd, trying to get to Nezumi’s locker. This section of the hall was always the most crowded in the mornings. Shion passed a gaggle of freshmen girls laughing and swatting at each other—Shion taking one of the blows to the arm, followed by a chorus of sorry’s from the girls. But Shion was determined. He had been waiting all night to talk to Nezumi and now was his chance. Otherwise, he would have to wait until Literature.

Finally making it to Nezumi’s locker, Shion wasn’t too surprised to find Nezumi no longer there but he felt downhearted anyway. Thankfully, he would be able to see him in Literature.

Making his way back through the stream of people, Shion found Shawn and Safu again.

Shawn had been in the midst of saying something. “You know, it might be fun. How about we go—?”

Safu cut him off. “Finally! Shion, where the heck did you run off too?” Safu grabbed Shion’s elbow when he was close enough, pointedly turning her back on Shawn.

“Um, sorry. I thought I saw Nezumi by his locker, and wanted to say hi.”

“Nezumi?” Safu’s confusion turned into a frustrated sigh. “And that’s why you beelined across the hall? Jeez, leaving me with Blabbermouth again too.”

“Sorry. I didn’t mean to just run off.”

Safu’s voice turned from angry to thoughtful. “Seriously, Shion, I’ve never seen you like this.”

“So he wanted to talk to someone else.” Shawn cut it, pouting. “I don’t see what the big deal is.”

“I didn’t ask you.” Safu glared at him before she turned back to Shion, looping her arm through his. All three of them were in the same homeroom class and so they walked there together. Shion in the middle, with Shawn and Safu on either side. Shawn started to talk about the new dirt bike his brother had gotten. It was his number one choice topic. Safu rolled her eyes, and every so often she tried to steal the conversation and start a new one with just Shion.

~-~-~

Coming into their Literature class was an experience in and of itself. Their school had a prestigious reputation so they got a lot of students. As a result, some classes were held in large auditoriums with stadium seating. Literature was one of those classes.

The moment he came in, Shion looked for Nezumi.

Nezumi had chosen a seat near the back row on the left side of the auditorium. Nezumi never brought in electronics, instead he carried a notebook binder and a pen. Now that he thought of it, Shion wasn’t even sure Nezumi had a cell phone. If he did, Shion had yet to see him use it.

“Hey, let’s sit in the back this time.”

Safu looked over to where Shion was directing them.

“Near Nezumi again? Shion?”

Shion didn’t understand Safu’s resistance when it came to Nezumi. She had said that Nezumi’s background wasn’t a problem, but given the way she was acting, Shion wondered if she was being truthful.

“Yeah, well, like I said, I really want to get to know him.”

“Why Shion? Why are you so persistent in being this guy’s friend? Jesus, what do people see in him anyways?”

“Huh?”

Safu let out a sigh and turned away from him. “Never mind. Let’s just find a seat.” Before she murmured under her breath. “Next to wonder boy.”

Shion heard her, and now was even more confused. Safu was acting strangely. Maybe she was still mad at being left this morning with Shawn, who probably kept asking her out on a date. That always upset Safu. Maybe that was it? Shion decided to let Safu be, thinking that in time she would forgive him and all would go back to normal.

Nezumi looked up from A Midsummer Night’s Dream when Shion and Safu entered his row.

“Mind if we sit next to you?”

“You were serious about the whole friend thing, huh?”

“Of course I was serious.”

“Who’s serious? What are we talking about?” Safu cut in.

“Apologies, my lady,” Nezumi said. At first Shion thought Nezumi was mocking her, but the smile he gave her was sweet, not the sarcastic one from before. “Very rude of me to not introduce myself.”

“You’re Nezumi, right?”

Nezumi smiled again. “So you’ve already heard of me, huh?”

“Well duh. It’s not like this school is that big. I mean it is big, but not to the point where the new kid wouldn’t be talked about.”

Nezumi offered her his hand. “Well then, pleasure meeting your acquaintance, Safu.”

Safu faltered—perhaps curious how he knew her by name—before she returned the handshake.

“Um, likewise.” It was a brief handshake. The entire time, Safu scrutinized him; her large, black eyes filled with suspicion.

Nezumi nodded, and went back to reading his book. Shion was even more curious about Nezumi. He had thought for sure that Nezumi was playing around with Safu, but his genuine smile and soft tone weren’t those of mockery. He wasn’t ridiculing her or trying to chase her away. And despite his weird, gentlemanly way of talking to Safu, he wasn’t pursuing her either. It was yet another clue to the mystery that was Nezumi.

Shion sat down next to him—right next to him—not leaving any space. Safu took her seat on the other side of Shion.

“Nezumi?”

“Hm?” Nezumi didn’t look up.

“Is Nezumi* your real name?”

Nezumi lowered his book and looked Shion in the eye. Shion’s insides turned to mush and he felt self-conscious. Nezumi’s gray, beautiful orbs were taking all of him in.

“Why? Is there something wrong with that?”

Shion blushed and looked away. “Um, no, not exactly. It’s just. It doesn’t suit you.”

Nezumi smirked at that.

Shion felt his ears burning, to change the subject he burst out another question. “Where did you move from?”

“Pretty far away, that’s all you need to know.” He had gone back to reading his book.

“How long are you planning on staying?”

“You ask a lot of questions.”

“Well, of course, I’m trying to get to know you.”

Nezumi scoffed. Spinning around so fast Shion hadn’t time to do anything before he was grabbed by the collar. “You’re not trying to get to know me, you’re gathering data. You are trying to figure me out, like I am a math problem for you to solve.” The ferocity in Nezumi’s gray eyes held Shion captive. “You’re just trying to cure your own curiosity, you don’t care to know me at all.”

“That’s not—that’s not…true,” Nezumi’s hand on his collar had pulled them closer together and Shion’s heart was beating overtime. Shion’s eyes took in Nezumi’s straight nose, smooth jaw, and flawless, alabaster skin. From this close, Nezumi smelled nice, like spring flowers hinted with cinnamon. Maybe it was his hair—which looked soft and shiny—cologne? Body wash?

“Just what’s your problem?” Safu’s voice jarred Shion back to reality. She had stood up and was pointing a finger at Nezumi. Thankfully class hadn’t started yet. “Shion is just asking basic questions. It’s what normal people call a conversation. You know, what people do when they are trying to get to know one another? And here you are criticizing him? And now you are being cruel to him!” Safu grabbed Nezumi’s shirt, her mouth upturned in that angry smile she got whenever she wanted to punch someone. Nezumi blinked at her, and released Shion’s shirt.

Shion wondered what Nezumi would do now. He was a bit afraid for Safu. She was his friend, and he couldn’t allow a guy to hurt her. Even if that guy was Nezumi.

Nezumi gave her a soft smile. “Forgive me, milady. I didn’t mean to upset you.”

Safu blinked. Nezumi hadn’t thrown her hand off. So she was still grabbing his shirt.

“I’m not the one you should be apologizing to.”

Nezumi smiled at her again. “Of course.”

“Safu, it’s okay.”

“No, it’s not okay, Shion. He just assaulted you.”

Shion snorted. “He didn’t assault me, Safu.”

“The lady is right. I was short tempered with you, Shion.”

“Um, okay,” Shion said. Safu had let go of Nezumi’s collar and now looked like she didn’t know what to do with herself, before she returned to her seat. “So, are you going to answer my questions then?”

Nezumi laughed. “You really aren’t very self-aware, are you?”

“Why because I want to know you? And don’t say that I don’t want to know you, because you don’t know what is going on inside my heart, only I do. And I say that I want to know you.”

Nezumi gave a mocking smile. “Seriously how can you say such embarrassing things? Have you no shame?”

“You’re doing it again! You’re being rude to Shion!”

“Rude, milady? Yes, truth can be raw, and blunt, but it is never rude.”

“So what, you’re saying that all I want with you is to solve your riddle and then I won’t have any interest, is that it?”

“Pretty much.”

“Why do you keep thinking these things about me? I don’t have any agenda, and I’m not playing with a new toy. You’re the one pushing me away.”

“Then why won’t you take a hint?”

Safu stood up, grabbing her things, “Come on, Shion, we’re leaving.”

“Safu, it’s okay.”

“No, it’s not, Shion. I’m not sitting next to a rude guy like Nezumi. So let’s go.”

“It’s okay, Safu. It’s all right if you want to take another seat. But I’m not finished with Nezumi yet.”

Nezumi raised his eye brow. “Really?”

Shion met his eyes. “Yeah. You keep thinking of me as an enemy. And I’m telling you I’m not. I don’t know what grudge you have against me, but I only want to get to know you.”

“Even now? When I have been cruelly pushing you away?”

Shion nodded. “You’re right, you are a mystery to me. But you’re not just a problem I am trying to solve. Not at all. Like I said before, I want to be your friend.”

Nezumi sighed and put his head in his hand. “Man, you’re persistent. Fine, sit down and I’ll answer your questions.”

Shion smiled. And took a seat. Safu looked so upset, Shion wanted to calm her down. She gave him one hurt look, as if he had betrayed her, and then went off to sit closer to the front of class.

“Safu. Safu! Wait!”

But she didn’t turn around.

“You should go after your girlfriend, Shion.”

“Oh, Safu is my friend, not my girlfriend.”

“Yeah? Could’ve fooled me. I’m betting she's thinking the same thing. Seriously Shion, are you really that blind?”

“What?”

Nezumi shook his head. “‘Course you are.”

“Now, I’m really lost.”

“Never mind, geez, you really are an airhead, aren’t you?”

“And you said you’d answer my questions.”

“Fine. Fire away.”

“You’re real name? It’s not really Nezumi, is it?”

“It doesn’t suit me? Is that it?”

Shion suddenly was very embarrassed. Looking down at his chest, Shion muttered. “Something like that.”

“Nezumi is the name I go by, but yes, it’s not my real name. But it might as well be. I go by Nezumi to all who know me, my family included.”

“Oh. Why? Why not use your real name?”

Nezumi stared at him, those gray eyes seemed to be asking a question. Shion wished he could understand what it was. “Another time, Shion. Maybe I’ll tell you another time.”

Shion thought about it. Nezumi had answered his question. And he was right, Shion had just met Nezumi and already he was playing twenty questions. That probably did look like he was just trying to have his curiosity sated.

“Ok, fair enough.”

Nezumi returned to his book. “You really should go after your girlfriend.”

“Safu isn’t my girlfriend. And yes, I should probably go and apologize to her.”

“Apologize? For what?”

“That I’m not sure, but she sure was angry with me.”

Nezumi laughed. “You really have no idea about women, do you Shion?”

Shion shrugged. “Guess not.”

Nezumi shook his head and chuckled at that.

“So, you said you’d answer my questions. I won’t ask any more than the ones I have already. Is that fair?”

“How generous of you milord.”

“My name is Shion, and I’m not trying to be rude. I didn’t mean to come off as only interested in satisfying my own curiosity.”

“Fine, fine. I get it.”

“So, where did you guys move from?”

“You guys?”

“I’m not blind Nezumi, I know that you came in a large group, of which I am assuming at least some of them are family.”

“Brilliant deduction, genius. Ten out of ten.”

“Are you going to mock me, or answer me?”

“We came from Canada.”

“Canada?”

“Yeah. We’re not Canadians, but my uncle lives there and one thing led to another and we ended up staying in Canada for a while, but now we came here.”

“Why?”

“Needed a change, I guess.” Nezumi closed his book and tucked it back into his book bag. “Sorry, I can’t give you an answer that you will understand, let alone accept. We don’t need a reason to move, nor do we need a direction, we just go. That is who we are.”

Shion watched Nezumi unable to tear his eyes away from the beautiful person in front of him. Nezumi was right, they were so very different than each other. Obviously Shion was intrigued, and interested, and in many ways it was because it was so different to his life—to his stuffy life, in which he felt trapped, Nezumi seemed like the ultimate symbol of freedom. To just move wherever the wind blew you, for no reason at all? Have no destination, no plan, no preparation? Shion wouldn’t have even thought that kind of life existed.

“Thank you.”

Nezumi looked at him confused.

“I know you didn’t want to tell me any of that, but thanks for answering my questions anyway.” Shion gave him a big smile. “Sorry, if I prodded. But I mean what I said. I really want to be your friend.”

Nezumi shrugged. “You will probably lose your girlfriend if you keep spending time with a jerk like me.”

Shion smiled even wider. “Then the solution is simple: just don’t be a jerk.”

Chapter Text

School had started and Nezumi was at his locker. Shion watched him from afar, drawn to the elegant movement of Nezumi’s fingers. Taking books in and out of a locker wasn’t a graceful activity, but somehow Nezumi made it look that way.

Shion closed his locker and headed over to Nezumi when Emily passed him. Stopping behind Nezumi, her slender arms wrapped around his shoulders. Emily was one of the cheerleaders. A long-haired blond with even longer legs. She wore a tight, little skirt. Her high-heeled, knee length boots brought her eye level with Nezumi. Though she was pretty, Shion wasn’t interested in her. Now her arms were around Nezumi.

Wasn’t she supposed to be dating that quarterback, Sam Thompson? Why the hell was she with Nezumi?  

A smirk tugging at the corner of his mouth, Nezumi turned and took her into his arms.

Shion couldn’t hear what Nezumi said but Emily’s smile grew and it emphasized her dimples. Nezumi's fingers gently stroked her face. He pulled her closer, his hand on the small of her back. A blush swept Emily’s cheeks.

Shion clenched his fists, his palms became sweaty. He trembled, but it wasn’t fear; ire raged beneath the surface. He wanted to shove her off Nezumi, and slap the blush right off her cheek. The outburst of emotions confused him. Never in his life had he wanted to hit someone, nor had he felt this much anger. Right now, he wanted to rip Emily apart.

“Of course, leave it to Emily to fuck yet another guy.” Safu appeared at his side. “Wouldn’t have thought it’d be Nezumi though, given how he never talks to anyone. But then again, he was all flirty with me that one annoying time.” Safu rolled her eyes. “Honestly, Shion how can you stand that guy, he is always criticizing you.”

Shion had stopped listening. He was watching Nezumi carry Emily’s book bag on one shoulder as they walked off together, probably to a class they both shared. Shion didn’t have a class with Nezumi until Literature, and Emily was in that one too. His head throbbed, pressure built in his temples, burning behind his eyes. He needed to excuse himself. Tears threatened to embarrass him and he had no idea why.

“Honestly though, of all the cheerleaders, I’d have thought Yuki be the one to fuck Nezumi; she’s such a slut after all.”

“Sorry, Safu, I have to run to the bathroom.” Shion’s voice cracked, threatening to expose the turbulence inside him.

“Now? But class is about to start?”

“Yeah, tell them I’ll be late. I’m not feeling so good.” He desperately tried to control his emotions, but he was losing the battle.

“Uh, okay.” Safu’s caring tone contrasted sharply to her condescending one earlier. “Should I walk you? I’ll go with you to the clinic if you want?”

Shion shook his head. “Nah, I just need to wash my face with cool water. That should be enough.”

Safu nodded. Shion took off. He almost didn’t make it to the bathroom before hot tears streamed down his cheeks. Rushing into a stall, he leaned against the door, sobs shaking his shoulders.

“I don’t want that,” He whispered. “I don’t want her to be with him. I don’t.” Shion had no idea why he didn’t want Emily to be with Nezumi. Why was he so bothered by this?

Nezumi was still harsh to him. But however painful his words, Nezumi never said things to attack him. While they hurt to hear, they were insightful. Shion was discovering things about himself he never knew were present—things he hadn’t even thought about until Nezumi brought them up. And through these discoveries Shion was beginning to feel more alive. No longer did he just float through the motions of life, now he lived them. The more he hung around Nezumi, the more he awoke to the world.

Nezumi acted differently when it came to women. He didn’t criticize them with harsh words, or constantly mock and call them out on their weaknesses like he did Shion. It pissed Shion off. Why did these girls get to see a softer side of Nezumi when he didn’t? What was so special about Emily? Why was Nezumi nicer to Emily than he was to Shion? He clenched his hand into a fist.

“That’s not…she doesn’t belong there.” More tears clouded his vision. “I want—I want to be by your side, Nezumi.”

Shion finally managed to stop crying. He had shimmied into class through the side door when the bell rang. Mr. Suarez’s eyes rested on him.

“Shion, mind coming here for a sec.”

Shion hung his head. He had no idea what he planned to say. Did crying in the bathroom for an entire class period count as an excuse?

The last student left the room. Safu waited for him outside in the hall.

“Safu told me you weren’t feeling very well.” Mr. Suarez’s eyes held pity, his mustache billowed when he spoke. Thick, charcoal brows bunched together into a unibrow.

Shion nodded, not wanting to share his feelings with his history teacher.

“Are you feeling any better?”

“Not really.”

“Have you gone to the nurse’s office?”

Shion looked down at his feet, and shook his head. Mr. Suarez searched his desk drawer. “How about you go lay down for a bit. I have an Advil if you’d like?”

“Okay.” At this point, Shion’s stomach ached, and he had a headache from crying. Being in another class without Nezumi sounded terrible and he just wanted to go to sleep, so going to the Nurse’s office sounded like the best idea.

Safu cornered him the moment he stepped out the door. “Shion, are you okay?”

Shion gave her a shrug. “Think I’m gonna go to the clinic for a bit.”

“Oh,” Safu’s eyes spoke volumes of concern, worry. “Want me to walk you there?”

Shion gave her a smile. “Nah, it’s okay. You’re gonna be late for your class.”

Safu shook her head. “I don’t care about that! I care about you,” she faltered. “I mean, I want to make sure you’re all right.”

“Thanks, Safu.” Shion wanted to get out of here. He was done talking. Honestly he was done with the entire day, but he wasn’t about to be rude to his friend. He tried to give her another smile, which hopefully looked better than he felt. "I'm sure I'll feel better once I get some rest.”

Safu nodded, but her eyes looked hesitant. She really did want to go with him, but finally she relented and Shion headed to the clinic alone.

~-~-~

Loud talking from behind the curtains around his bed roused Shion to the waking world, and to the fact that he had fallen asleep in the Clinic. The ticking of the clock on the stand next to the hospital bed was louder than what he remembered it being when he went to sleep. The hour hand was nearing eleven. It was almost time for Literature. That meant Shion had slept through two of his classes, Biology and Calculus III. Thankfully, Shanelle was in his Biology class and Safu was in Calculus; both were the best note takers in the world.

Safu. She was most likely worried sick about him. He would have to apologize for putting her through such trouble.

Shion’s eyes studied the hour hand of the clock five notches away from the number eleven, before he sat up quickly. Immediately he was lightheaded, but he ignored it. He had to talk with Nezumi. He needed to find out just what was going on between Emily and Nezumi.

The footfalls his sneakers made against the floor grew louder as he neared the classroom. With every step that brought him closer to class, his world was beginning to cave in on him. His head pounded. His heartbeat loud in his ears, the thud of his heart shook his chest. His vision dotted; flickers of colors and lights danced across his eyes. Then it dawned on him. What he was feeling was dread.

He dreaded talking to Nezumi.

He already knew what Nezumi would say. They were an item. Emily would be present from now on whenever Shion talked with Nezumi. He would no longer have Nezumi to himself, wouldn’t get to talk just the two of them.

When he made it to Literature, he didn’t even notice he passed Safu until she called out to him.

“Hey, Safu. Just give me a second, okay?”

“Uh, yeah, okay.” Her confused tone was laced with concern. She was worried about him, and probably had been worrying all morning. Shion felt bad for treating a precious friend like this. But in that moment, Nezumi sat alone. Emily hadn’t arrived yet. This might be Shion’s only chance.

“Nezumi!”

Nezumi lowered his book, his face taking on a look of concern. “Shion, are you all right?”

Shion nodded, even though his head started to spin.

“I wanted to ask you about Emily.” He knew he should probably be more tactful, but he didn’t care. “What’s going on there? Are the two of you dating?” Will she be around from now on? Will I ever get to talk with you by yourself? Will it ever be us two again?

“Shion? You’re not okay. You’re about to pass out.” Worry laced Nezumi’s tone and shown from those mesmerizing, gray eyes, and that was the last thing Shion saw as he tumbled forward and blackness engulfed him.

~-~-~

Safu had been sitting in her seat when Shion came rushing through the door of their Lit class. He had been sick all morning so Safu was more than concerned. She had only opened her mouth when Shion practically blew her off. It was so strange because Shion was never passionate about anything, and now he was so focused and driven it was like he was a different person.

He went straight up to Nezumi, talking as if no one else was in the room.

To everyone else it probably sounded like Shion liked Emily. But not to Safu. Having known Shion most of their lives, she wasn’t fooled. This wasn’t about Emily at all. Shion was interested in Nezumi. Safu had a hard time putting her head around that. She never thought of Shion as gay. He never seemed interested in anyone like that. Secretly she always hoped that she would be the one.

“Shion, are you okay?” Nezumi said and Shion staggered. And then he fell forward, and would have hit the edge of the chair on his way to the floor, except Nezumi caught him. “Shion? Shion? Get a hold of yourself? Shion!”

Shion went limp like a rag doll in Nezumi’s arms.

All attention focused on them.

Murmurs rung out around the auditorium.

“What’s wrong with him?”

“What happened?”

“Quiet down, please.”  Mr. Norbert adjusted his glasses, something he did when irritated. The microphone pinned to his dress shirt made his voice loud in the auditorium.

“Forgive me, Mr. Norbert, but it looks like I need to assist Shion to the nurse’s office.”

“Please go ahead, Nezumi.” Despite his irritation, his voice was laced with concern. “Have the nurse contact me if it’s anything serious.”

“Shion wasn’t feeling well earlier.” Safu’s close distance to the front made it so she didn’t need to stand to be heard. “Please, may I go with them?”

“That shouldn’t be necessary, Safu. I can’t have three students out of my class, after all.” Mr. Norbert had already begun to open the book they were reading, Brave New World. “Nezumi will keep us posted on Shion’s recovery. Right, Nezumi?”

Nezumi nodded. “Of course.”

Safu wanted to argue. She should be the one helping Shion, not Nezumi.

Kneeling, Nezumi helped Shion onto his back. Shion’s head rested against his shoulder as Nezumi headed out.

After class Safu raced to the nurse’s office to check on Shion. Nezumi was there, reading his book. “How is he?”

Nezumi looked over to her. “Afraid he hasn’t woken up yet. Do you want my seat, Safu?”

Safu really hated how nice Nezumi was to her, she wished he’d be a cold jerk like how he treated Shion, then she would have more fuel against him, of course the way he treated Shion pissed her off enough.

“Just why are you here anyways? You’ve done your part. Why stay? Thought you hated Shion, and found him annoying.”

“Did I give that impression?” Nezumi studied her, and it made her want to slap him. “Sorry if I did. No, I don’t hate Shion. At all.”

“Then why are you so cruel to him?”

“Ever heard the expression you have to be cruel to be kind?”

“Shakespeare.”

Nezumi smiled. “Milady is correct.”

“Shion is kind, he doesn’t need anyone to be cruel to him.”

“Kind maybe, but seriously ignorant about himself and the world around him.”

“Oh, and it’s your job to point these things out?”

“My apologies, my lady, if I have taken your job.”

“My job?”

Nezumi was interrupted from responding by the nurse. “Get back to class, will yah. This is no place for a fight.”

“A fight, ma’am?” Nezumi smiled politely to the nurse. “I wouldn’t dream of fighting with this pretty lady.”

Safu’s mouth formed a thin line then she turned away.

“My apologies, Safu, until next time.” And with that Nezumi left the nurse’s office.

Safu went over and touched the side of Shion’s face, before she fingered his light brown hair. It always looked a bit messy, because his idea of grooming was running his fingers through it on his way out the door.

She breathed out a sigh. “Stupid Shion, he’s not worth it. He’s just not.”

“Safu? You too hun.”

Safu nodded, resigning herself.

~-~-~

Nezumi waited outside the clinic. Voices were approaching. He stepped against the wall behind the opened door. Ms. Murakami, the school nurse ushered Safu into the hall.

“Will you let me know when he wakes up at least?”

Ms. Murakami sighed under her breath, her tone apathetic. “Sure. I’ll tell him to let yah know.” Nezumi was sure if any nurse would take Worst Bedside Manner in the Universe Award, it would be Ms. I-don’t-give-a-shit Murakami.

He waited until their conversation ended, and watched Safu walk away. Then he listened as Ms. Murakumi retrieved her cigarettes from her desk. When he saw the box almost hidden behind the sign in sheet, he knew he’d be able to sneak back in while the bitch took a smoke break. He really was surprised the school kept her on, but whatever. What did Nezumi care, he never got sick. When she was gone, he slipped back into the clinic. Going over to the section of beds, Nezumi closed the curtains around Shion’s bed and sat down in a chair, watching him sleep.

His mind went back to the fire he had seen in Shion’s eyes. He’d never met anyone like Shion, not in all his life. Shion seemed genuinely interested in Nezumi, and what he did, and who he was, and now he’d been jealous over Nezumi’s lovers. Shion had it bad for him, and Nezumi had no idea what to do with this newfound information.

He could not deny that he was drawn to Shion. He felt himself wondering more about Shion. Who was he? What made him act the way he did? Most of the time, Shion was completely oblivious to the world around him, but other times Shion saw straight into Nezumi’s heart. That scared the hell out of him. No one got close to him unless they had a motive. Take Emily. Not that he cared. Emily was beautiful and Nezumi would be stupid to turn her down. He knew his good looks played a huge factor, but he didn’t judge her for choosing him based on that. Beauty was beauty after all. But Nezumi wasn’t blind either. Emily was excited by the idea of being with a gypsy, and she was thrilled to have a challenger to her boyfriend as none of the other guys were man enough to do it. But Nezumi didn’t mind being used by her. He wasn’t a guy who would deny a woman what she wanted, especially not a cute girl like Emily. She was sexy in all the right places—curvy body, great ass and long legs.

Sex he could do. Sure it was intimate, but its levels of intimacy were diverse. Emily wasn’t that great in bed, but she wasn’t bad either. She was a bit of a princess, especially when it came to the bedroom. Definitely not Rebecca who used to climb on top of him and ride him hard. Still Nezumi liked being in charge in the bedroom and pleasing a princess had always been his specialty. Besides fucking Emily was fun.

He was not afraid of her boyfriend by any means. If Sam tried anything Nezumi would kick his ass. The same was true if Sam decided to get revenge on Emily. Nezumi was more than confident he could take Sam even though the guy had weight and height on him. Over the years he had learned that if you knew the right pressure points, size mattered dick.

Still Emily wasn’t someone he would date. It wasn’t because she slept around. What she chose to do with her time wasn’t his concern. Rather it was the way she treated people that turned him off. Thankfully it wasn’t a requirement to take other people to bed with them. He had seen Emily bully other girls—the weaker, less popular ones. The ones that didn’t have the confidence or the clout to stand up for themselves. Nezumi didn’t attack the weak. It was cowardly and pointless. There was really only one person he fought against; this man was anything but weak. None in school posed any kind of threat to him. They were all weak in Nezumi’s mind. Well…all but Shion.

Truth be told he was a bit afraid of Shion. Sure the idiot was painfully unaware of himself and the world, but Shion had a way of throwing him off balance. The persistent bastard was getting way too close.

Shion wasn’t like Emily. Shion was interested in Nezumi the person, not the gypsy or the new kid. His interest in Nezumi wasn’t because Nezumi was different, nor did Shion’s feeling for him spring from rebellion. Shion genuinely liked to be with him. Apparently more than Nezumi had realized.

And because of this, Nezumi needed to put some space between them, and sitting in the clinic waiting for him to wake up was not the way to do this. But he couldn’t leave, he had to make sure the airhead was all right. He wanted to protect him, like wanting to protect a baby bird who the world had yet to harden through its brutalities. He also wanted to wake Shion up to the world; helping someone in this way was something Nezumi had never wanted to do before. The more he got to know Shion, the more he saw that Shion was broken, although he didn’t know the cause of Shion’s brokenness.

~-~-~

When Shion came around he was back in the nurse’s office. The curtains were pulled around the bed, and Nezumi sat beside him in one of the chairs, reading Don Quixote if Shion read the title right.

“Nes-zumi?”

Nezumi looked up from his book, lowering it. “Welcome back.” His smile teasing.

Shion squeezed his eyes together. Thankfully, his head no longer hurt. “How long was I asleep?”

Nezumi looked at his watch. “Forty-five minutes. It’s almost lunch time.”

“And…you sat here with me?”

Nezumi studied him before he smirked. “Well, someone had to make sure you woke up, or stopped your dead body from stinking up the nurse’s office.”

Shion couldn’t tear his eyes off Nezumi. He couldn’t believe Nezumi had stayed with him this entire time. “Thank you.”

Nezumi gave him a shrug. “Obviously I didn’t do any of this for free. I missed hearing Mr. Nobert’s take on Brave New World, so I’m gonna need compensation. The book wasn’t half bad actually.”

He couldn’t believe Nezumi was such a book worm, but he really did read all of the time. Shion found it endearing. “I’ve got a dollar in my wallet if you want it.”

Nezumi smirked. “Talk about getting the raw end of the deal.” While it was fun joking with Nezumi, Shion had other things on his mind.

“So are you and Emily an item now?” He had to ask, no matter how much it hurt.

“Calm down, child, we’re just having some fun. ‘Sides she’s probably just trying to get her boyfriend jealous. Geez, never knew you had it bad for Emily. She is a hottie though, as a man, you’d have to have noticed her.”

“It’s not her that I want to spend time with.” Shion looked Nezumi straight in the eye. “I was worried I would never be able to talk to you like this.”

“Like what? In a hospital bed after almost eating the floor in Lit class?”

“As in just you and me.”

Nezumi studied him again with those beautiful, soul-searching eyes. “You’re so weird.” He smirked. “Honestly, how are you not embarrassed being so straightforward like that?”

Shion shrugged and looked down. “I’m not always speaking my thoughts. Not all of them.”

“Oh? So the little prince has a secret garden of thoughts he never shares?”

“You can mock me, but who doesn’t have thoughts they don’t share? But around you, I feel like I want to share them.”

“There you go again, just stop talking. You’ll thank me later.”

“I like you.”

“I noticed.”

“I like being around you.”

Nezumi smirked. “You’re an idiot. Come on, you should probably eat something so you don’t end up back here. Geez, you’re not that light you know.”

“You mean, you carried me all the way here?”

“Well you certainly didn’t fly here? How’d you think you got here? Unless you’re hiding mad sleepwalking skills?”

Shion smiled. “Thank you again.”

Chapter Text

Shanelle had bugged them all year to come and support the Chorus. Needless to say, her friends weren’t very helpful. Safu’s own clubs kept her too busy. Unless forced, Akihiko didn’t do anything that involved leaving his house. Aiko promised she’d be there, but Shanelle knew not to get her hopes up. Inevitably something would come up; Aiko was flaky like that. Shion would have gone if he could only remember the dates. His belated apologies sounded like this: ‘oh, that was yesterday? I’m so sorry, Shanelle, please forgive me. I’ll make it up to you next time.’ Of course, he forgot the next time too. As for Shawn, he didn’t want to go. But at least he was honest. 

The bell rung, and signaled the end of Biology. Shion and Shanelle collected their books.

“Can I come to your next chorus practice?” Shion stashed his Biology book into his bag. “You have a performance coming up next Friday, right?”

“I see you’ve finally discovered Nezumi’s in my class.” Shanelle shook her head, chin-length afro bobbing. “I don’t know whether to be offended, or impressed that your airheaded self actually remembered the correct date.”

Shion grimaced. “I’m sorry, Shanelle, I must look like a complete jerk.”

Shanelle led the way out of the classroom, and held the door for him.

“That would be the sum of it, yes.”

Three sets of traffic crossed this intersection. Shion wove through the throng, following Shanelle. She would have blended in with the crowd except that her attire looked completely out of place. Unlike the other students, Shanelle always dressed like a businesswoman. Her white blouse, gray pencil skirt and jacket belonged in an office not a classroom.

After Biology class, he and Shanelle normally walked to Shanelle’s locker and met up with Safu. Then he and Safu walked to Calculus III together. Shanelle parted ways; her class in the opposite direction.

Shanelle had been unloading books into her locker when Safu came around the corner.  Maneuvering past a heavy-set kid with glasses, she said, “What’s going on?”

Shanelle rolled her eyes. “Oh, Shion has decided to finally come support the chorus and cheer us on.”

“Oh wow, that’s nice, Shion.”

Shanelle snorted. “Nezumi is in my class.”

Safu’s black eyes narrowed, her sparse eyebrows bunched together. “Seriously Shion? Of all the asshole things to do.” She shook her head. “And of course, it’s for Nezumi. Geez, what the hell, Shion? Can’t you think of other people’s feelings for once in your life?”

“I’m sorry.”

“I mean, would it hurt to look around sometimes and actually see what’s right in front of you? Nope, you haven’t done that. Not once. And now suddenly in comes Nezumi and Shion’s the most caring, focused guy in the world!”

Shion was getting confused. He saw the people in front of him? He didn’t know what Safu was saying, or where she was going with it.

“Safu?” Shanelle nudged her shoulder. “I mean, I care a little, but not all that much. Not enough to upset yourself.”

“Well, why aren’t you caring more? Lord knows Shion needs to get chewed out for this!”

“Safu,” Shion bowed his head, “you’re right, I’m so sorry. I always meant to go to a performance. It’s just well, I’d end up forgetting.” He directed his apologetic tone to Shanelle. “I’m so sorry, Shanelle.”

“Really, Shion, I’m over it. I already got my apology. Seriously, Safu. I’m fine.”

Safu looked away, hurt in her eyes. She nudged her nylon stocking with the toe of her shoe. “I don’t like him.”

“What?” Both Shanelle and Shion had barely heard Safu’s mumbled words.

“Nezumi.” Safu grumbled. “I don’t like him. I just don’t. He’s rude, and he’s...he’s...he’s, I don’t know, overrated!”

Shion’s brow creased. “This doesn’t have anything to do with the fact that he’s a gypsy, does it?”

“Oh, come off it, Shion.” Safu got right in his face. “Have I ever discriminated against a person based on his race or sex or ethnicity?” Shion looked away, tugging the back of his hair.

“I’m sor—”

“The answer is no, Shion. I’ve never done that, and I won’t. But still, Nezumi being a minority doesn’t give him an excuse to be a jerk to people. Honestly, how the hell can you not see this? I thought you were smarter than that? And seriously, why are you even interested in becoming friends with someone like that?”

“Safu...”

“No, until you pull your head out of your ass, I’m not talking to you.”

Safu spun on her heel, her pleated skirt swiveling.

“Safu! Wait!”

“No, Shion. I am tired of you and all of your airheadedness, and the one time you’re not off on some cloud it’s for that rude jerk? Not me? Not Shanelle? Not any of your true friends? Nope. It’s for him! I can’t stand it. Until you come to your senses, consider me no longer your friend.”

“Safu?” Shanelle said. “Isn’t that a bit extreme?”

Safu balled her fists, shaking with emotion. “I’m leaving.”

“Safu!” Shion called after her. “Sorry, I gotta go after her.”

“You most certainly better.” Shanelle rolled her eyes. “But practice is after school on Thursdays in the Chorus room, so feel free to come and see Nezumi, and if it’s not too much trouble, me as well.”

Guilt piling on, Shion bowed his head. Safu was right, he was treating all of his friends horribly. “Forgive me, Shanelle.”

“I’m not the one you should be asking.” Shanelle tilted her head in Safu’s direction

“Right!” Shion took off at a brisk pace.

“Idiot.” Shanelle’s voice got drained out by the noises in the hallway.

~-~-~

“Safu!” Shion looked for his friend. She wasn’t short, but not particularly tall. Her white sweater easily got lost in the crowd, but thankfully she wore a red skirt vivid enough to spot.

Safu walked fast and was almost at their next class, Calculus III. Quickly, he caught up with her.

“Just go away, Shion.”

“But, Safu?” Shion kept her pace. “Please, Safu.”

Safu shook her head. “Go and sit with Nezumi.”

“Nezumi’s not in our next class.”

“Really Shion? That’s your answer? How stupid can you be?”

Shion grew desperate. He didn’t know how to fix this, and the more he talked to Safu, the more he got confused. “You’re my best friend, Safu. It’s just, well…Nezumi’s intriguing. And well, I like him. He’s not as rude or as mean as he projects, I just know it.”

Safu shook her head. “Go away, Shion. I’m serious.”

When they entered the classroom, Safu avoided their normal seats. When Shion sat by her, she promptly got up and moved.

Is Safu really serious? Or is she just mad?

Shion fretted all class until taking notes became difficult. He had put his pen to paper when his hands began trembling. It had started this morning during breakfast. He had ended up dropping his glass because his fingers had spasmed. It only lasted for five seconds, and he had no intention of alerting his mother to something most likely caused by last night’s writing assignment. But it had happened again. His fingers shook wildly, the pen rattling against the desk. Shion used one hand to trap the other, stilling them until the trembling stopped. Had that last writing assignment injured him? Or maybe it was stress related? Either way, it was probably nothing important. What was important right now was his relationship with Safu.

When class was over, she refused to walk with him to Lit.

“Safu?” Safu took her regular seat in the massive auditorium. Shion glanced over to where Nezumi usually sat. Sure enough, Nezumi read another large book—a different one by the looks of it.

Safu snorted. “You’re unbelievable! Here you are wanting to gain my forgiveness, and you have the nerve to start daydreaming about Nezumi! And while you’re hanging around here too.”

“Safu, keep your voice down, please.”

“Why? Don’t want everyone knowing you like Nezumi? Thought you wanted to be friends with him?”

“I do. And it isn’t that I don’t want people knowing, I just don’t want to cause a scene.”

“Once again, you are an oblivious airhead, I wasn’t asking that literally.”

Shion’s head was spinning. “Then how were you asking it?”

Safu dragged out a sigh. “Just go away, Shion.”

“But Safu?”

“Go away!”

Shion backed away. He looked around embarrassed. Everyone’s eyes were upon them.

“I’m sorry, Safu,” Shion said, “Forgive me.” And with that he went up the steps towards Nezumi.

Had he turned around he’d have seen Safu, rotated in her seat, watching him. Her wide eyes, smothering with anger, poorly hid the sadness underneath.

About three steps up, Shion’s leg spasmed and his foot slipped. Thankfully his hand held the railing; it’d be more than embarrassing to trip after that scene earlier. His hand trembled, his fingers rattling against the metal. Ok, this was getting weird. Maybe he should be getting more sleep.

“I told you, you’re gonna lose your girlfriend by being friends with me,” Nezumi said absently, when Shion finally made it to their row. He hadn’t looked up from his book. Shion released a sigh.

“I don’t really understand why she is that upset.”

Nezumi snorted. “'Course you don’t.”

“I didn’t mean to not go to Shanelle’s chorus events, I didn’t. It’s just that—”

“You’re gonna go to chorus events?” Nezumi's eyes narrowed in suspicion. “Why?”

“Well, 'cause I want to see you of course,” Shion said. “Besides I’ve been meaning to see Shanelle for a while now, I just forget—”

“Forget about going.”

“What?”

“I told you to forget about going.”

“I know that’s what you said, but why did you say it?”

“You really are an idiot.” Nezumi’s eyes pierced him. “If you’re suddenly gonna run to chorus practices just to see me, I’d rather you didn’t.” Nezumi’s tone turned cold, harsh. “Look, we’re not friends. If anything we’re closer to enemies, so why the fuck would you—?”

Nezumi stopped. Shion blinked. Large tears trailed down his cheeks.

“Shit.” Nezumi sighed. “Look, don’t cry okay.”

“I’m crying?” Shion touched his cheek. Sure enough, salty trails of liquid wet his fingers.

“I didn’t mean to make you—sheez, you don’t need to cry, okay?” Nezumi’s tone softened, contrasting to the one he’d used a moment ago.

“I wasn’t, err…I didn’t realize, I mean…um, I’m not crying.”

“Yeah, you are. I hurt you, didn’t I?”

Shion nodded, inside him a torrent of emotions whirled. And until they ran down his cheeks, he hadn’t even realized what he had been feeling. He was hurt, first Safu and now Nezumi. Shion shook his head. No, he wasn’t hurt. He wasn’t, not really. He was just...more tears trailed down his cheeks.

“Shit.” Nezumi leaned in close, and used his sleeve to clean the tears off Shion’s cheeks. Shion wanted to say something, anything, but his words wouldn’t come out. Inside fulminated a hell-storm of emotions, each too deep down to name. “I’m sorry. It’s just.” Nezumi used his index finger to wipe away fresh tears. “I’m not—well, I’m not used to someone like you, honestly.”

Shion swallowed. That torrent of energy caught in his throat, bubbling up, threatening to spill. He breathed in Nezumi’s gentle scent, filling his lungs. The lovely fragrance had a soothing effect. Nezumi caressed Shion’s cheek. His finger pads calloused but gentle, caring. They traced the line of Shion’s face, and Shion’s eyes fluttered shut. When he opened them, he found Nezumi’s face near his.

“Normally when I tell people to get lost, they take the hint, but well, with you…” Nezumi sighed. “Honestly, I can deal with books better than people. Books don’t judge.” Nezumi closed his mouth tight as if he hadn’t meant to say that out loud.

Shion touched Nezumi’s cheek in a similar manner. “I’m sorry.”

Nezumi flinched at the touch, but then his brow creased in confusion. “What the heck about? I’m not the one crying, moron.”

“For bothering you.” Shion cupped Nezumi’s face. His thumb rubbed Nezumi’s cheek like it was Nezumi in need of comfort. “It’s not my intention. I just really like being around you.” Shion gave a nervous laugh and dropped his hand. “I know it sounds stupid and probably crazy, 'cause I’m sure now I sound like a stalker or something, but—”

Nezumi pressed a finger to Shion’s lips and stopped him mid-sentence. He gave a nervous laugh that was quickly masked by mockery. “Ok, Mr. Embarrassing, you can stop now. I think I get it. And well, who am I to stop you from wasting your time? It’s yours to waste. So, if you wanna hang around with a boring bookworm like me, have at it, I guess. You can even go to those stupid chorus practices, which I really shouldn’t be going to, 'cause man, does Ka complain! Geez, it’s like they don’t realize I actually have to go to this damn thing.”

Nezumi rambling like this was a first. He sounded like he was having a conversation, not just taunting and sarcastic.

“Who’s Ka?” Shion asked. A faint blush pinkened Nezumi’s cheeks and he put some space between them.

“My uncle.” Slipping the book he was reading into his bag, Nezumi brought out the day’s reading assignment. As class began, Shion did the same.

~-~-~

When class was over, Shion stood up and stretched. His back was sore and his legs were stiff. He had to wonder if sitting in those stadium chairs damaged the body over time. It sure felt like it did.

Safu’s eyes rested on him. The moment he noticed, she spun on her heel and headed for the door.

“Well, if that’s not an invitation, I don’t know what is.” Nezumi collected his book bag.

Closest to the aisle, Shion exited the row first.

“An invitation? For what? I really don’t understand.”

Nezumi actually laughed. “Man, how did someone like you survive to his seventeenth year being so clueless?”

Shion shrugged, and that made Nezumi laugh again.

“I’m not that clueless, I just don’t understand—”

“Right, right.” Nezumi shook his head. “Well, let me translate: your girlfriend is upset and clearly wants you to follow her, talk to her, apologize to her, and tell her that she’s right in every possible way.”

“Woah, you got all of that just from Safu leaving the room?”

“It’s not just her leaving the room, it’s how she left it.” Nezumi rolled his eyes. “Geez, you know absolutely nothing about women, do you?”

“I guess you’re right,” Shion said, a small smile on his face. “I mean, if you got all of that from Safu just now. Well, I really should race after her.”

Nezumi nodded. “That would be wise.”

“But I don’t think that she’s right in every possible way. I mean, I’m not intentionally trying to ignore anyone, nor am I trying to leave people out. I just honestly want to be with you. I’m drawn to you. I don’t know, it’s like the world doesn’t feel so hazy when you’re around.”

Nezumi smirked. “Now why am I not surprised your lovers’ spat involved me?” Then his eyes turned guarded. “You shouldn’t say that, you know?”

“Say what?”

“You’re not drawn to me. You don’t feel some special connection. This is infatuation you’re feeling. Like I said, classic textbook case. I’m just something shiny and new, not your all-encompassing, savior-soulmate.”

Shion stopped and looked Nezumi straight in the eye. “I can only say what I feel. You are welcome to call it whatever you want. But that’s what it honestly feels like to me. I’m grounded around you. And well, as my friends can attest to, that isn’t something I’m used to feeling.”

Underneath his skeptic expression, a hint of fear flashed in his eyes. “Okay, now you’re weirding me out. I gotta go.”

Nezumi headed for the door. Shion followed.

“Is it still okay for me to watch Chorus practice?”

Nezumi just nodded. “Do what you want; I’m not your guardian. I can’t tell you what to do.” And with that he took off into the mass of people.

Shion started to feel the first hints of shit, oh my god, what did I just say. Normally he liked to speak from the heart. And he still did, but he wasn’t expecting Nezumi to react like that. He had been expecting to be mocked, not looked at with fearful eyes. He was upsetting everyone today. Nezumi, Safu, Shanelle...

Safu!

~-~-~

The cafeteria was louder than usual, and Shion had no idea why. Maybe because he was more focused, and not lost in thought. He tried to find Safu, but she hadn’t arrived yet. In his head, he reviewed what he was going to say to her. Saying sorry sounded so hollow. And he’d been saying it all morning. It wasn’t what she wanted to hear. But therein lay the problem. What did Safu want to hear?

Akihiko already sat at their table. “Hey, Shion,” he said, nose in his 3ds XL—the light blue, handheld device looked glossy white in the cafeteria lighting. From this angle, Shion couldn’t make out the game he played.

“Hey.” Shion wondered if he should ask Akihiko for advice but he doubted he’d get an answer from him. Maybe Aiko would know?

Aiko, Shanelle and Safu approached the table together. With her bento lunch in hand, Aiko led the group. Her tiny backpack swayed behind her; the long, loose straps starkly contrasted its size. Shion always thought its Hello Kitty theme was adorable. Aiko must have said something hilarious for all of the girls were laughing. The moment Safu saw Shion, her eyes narrowed and she stopped smiling.

“I’m going to sit somewhere else today.”

Shanelle shook her head. “Come on, Safu. Just leave it for now, you don’t have to talk to him, just sit down.”

“Please Safu!” Shion stood up. “If you won’t accept my apology, please tell me what I need to do in order for you to forgive me.”

“Forgive you?” Aiko’s honey-colored pigtails swayed as she sat down. “What did you do this time, Shion?”

“This time?” Confusion weighed Shion’s tone. “I don’t bother Safu. I’m not upsetting her regularly, at least I didn’t think I was. Safu, if I am, please tell me what I need to do to fix it. Tell me and I’ll do it, if I can.”

“Safu,” Shanelle sighed in annoyance, and rolled her hazel eyes. “This isn’t something to get angry about. It’s my Chorus performances, and every single one of you misses it. So why just focus on Shion? You can’t expect Shion to not be absentminded. That’s just who he is.”

Shanelle normally backed Safu on almost everything so her standing up for him felt nice.

Safu shook her head. “It’s not about Chorus.” He really hoped Safu would clarify what she wanted done so he could address it. “It’s about Nezumi. I don’t like him. And I do not want to be around people who choose that mean, rude jerk over their real friends.”

Aiko blinked. “Is that what this is about?” Her expression sobered and made the smile lines around her mouth prominent. “Safu, I love you, but you’re not being fair. You want to tell Shion who to hang out with, and that isn’t fair to do to someone.”

“What?” Safu glared at Aiko. “Please stay out of this; it’s between Shion and me.”

“Apparently not. It’s between you, Shion and Nezumi. The latter, by the way, isn’t even here to defend himself.”

“Now you’re taking that rude jerk’s side too!”

“I’m not taking his side, Safu.” Aiko said calmly, pity in her almond shaped eyes. “I’m just saying, asking Shion to not be friends with someone just because you don’t like them is being unreasonable.”

“Fuck you, Aiko.”

“Whoa, whoa, ladies.” Shawn chimed in, only now setting down his tray.

“Shut up!” Both girls glared at him from over their shoulder.

“Geez,” Shawn lifted his hands in defeat. “Sorry.”

“Ok, girls, time out.” Shanelle spoke up. “First off, Safu, you say it’s not about Chorus? Ok, then what is it about? Are you really telling Shion to not be friends with Nezumi? If so, I’m gonna have to agree with Aiko, that’s not really fair to ask of him.”

“You too, Shanelle?”

“Well, then tell me, why are you so bothered by Shion’s friendship with Nezumi? Or better yet, how does it affect you?”

“Because he’s the only person Shion gives a damn about!”

Shion blinked. The auditorium fell silent. Shion’s face heated up. He wanted to melt into the floor, especially because now Nezumi watched them. Shion must’ve looked even more like a creep. He remembered the fear he’d seen behind that look of suspicion. He had freaked Nezumi out. And now, all of this probably embarrassed Nezumi even more. Shion wanted to go lie down; his stomach hurt.

“Shion. Shion?” Shion’s eyes snapped into focus. Shanelle, Safu, Aiko, even Akihiko were staring at him. Shawn must have gotten up for something for he was missing.

“See? This is what I am talking about. He just looks at Nezumi and it’s off to la-la land, the rest of us be dammed. We have to call and call and call for his attention, and all that rude jerk needs to do is show up and Shion gets all doe-eyed.”

Shion’s stomach ached. “Um, sorry, Safu.” He hoped he sounded contrite. He didn’t want to keep hurting her, but he really had to leave this room. “I’m not feeling so good, so I’m gonna go lie down in the clinic. I’ll see you guys later.”

“Shion,” Shanelle said. “You don’t have to leave. Come on guys, let’s just talk this out.”

“Oh no, I’m not leaving out of anger or anything. I mean, Safu’s right. I space out a lot, and I really shouldn’t be spacing out over Nezumi—I mean, I really shouldn’t even be bothering Nezumi—but no, I really do feel a bit sick, so lying down sounds like the best thing to do.”

He headed off before his friends could say anything else. He wasn’t sure if Safu hated him or not. Before he left the auditorium he glanced over at Nezumi. He read his book as if Shion ceased to exist in his world. Shion’s stomach ached even more.

He just bothered Nezumi.

Nezumi didn’t want him as a friend. He upset Nezumi, hurt him, and scared him. It was wrong of him to talk to Nezumi to begin with. It just hurt his friends and worst yet, it hurt Nezumi. Shion hadn’t wanted to do that. He’d really thought he'd chosen the correct path. His heart certainly had been on-board, but he had to think of other people, like Safu said. Nezumi didn’t want him for a friend and he upset Nezumi by continuing to pursue him.

Shion went to the clinic, signed in and took a bed. Covering himself up from the world with a thin wool blanket, he fell asleep.

~-~-~

As proof that the universe did not like him at the moment, Shion received more homework from his Chemistry class than just about every day this year. He liked chemistry, not as much as ecology, but he was good at both of them, and learning had always been fun.

His melancholy mood was still present. His fingers, and this time his arms spasmed again in class. It wasn’t for very long but it was becoming annoying. Worst yet, his head felt funny, not quite a headache but somewhere in the middle of pain and feeling confusion, and for a moment he didn’t know where he was. It was the weirdest thing. Going home, throwing the covers over his head and feeling sorry for himself sounded like the best thing he could do right now. Of course, he’d have to at some point address that mountain of homework, but one thing at a time.

That had been Shion’s plan when he noticed Nezumi further down the hall entering their school’s theater. It was weird to see Nezumi going anywhere after school.

Curious.

Shion followed him. He stopped at the doors, faint noises came from behind heavily padded wood. For a moment he wondered if he’d be interrupting something if he came in.  But he was too curious not to.

Shion cracked open the door and crept in.

The large auditorium was empty. Nezumi stood on the stage, alone, with outstretched arms in middle of a monologue. It just so happened Nezumi had been facing upstage. Shion hoped he hadn’t been noticed. He had thought he’d been successful when Nezumi stopped speaking.

Shion ducked into an aisle and crouched low, hiding behind the seats.

An annoyed sigh came from the stage. “I know it’s you, Shion.”

Standing up, Shion tugged on his messy hair. “Um, yeah sorry. I saw you going into the theater, and—”

“And you decided to eavesdrop.”

“Um, well…yeah. Sorry, I was curious. I mean, you never do any afterschool stuff. I had to look.” Shion looked down at his feet, shuffling his shoes. “I’m really sorry for intruding.” He gave a nervous laugh. “Probably look like a stalker, huh?” When Nezumi didn’t answer, Shion raced on talking. “Um, I can leave it you want?”

Nezumi shrugged. “If you wanna watch me practice, I’m fine with it. After all,” the corner of his mouth curved into a smirk, “can’t have you crying on me again.”

Shion’s ears burned. “I wasn’t—I mean, I didn’t—”

Nezumi laughed. “Alright, sit down.” He gave a mock bow. “Only the best for his majesty.”

Shion opened his mouth, Nezumi cut him off. “I know, I know, don’t call you that.” His smile told Shion he had no intention of stopping.

Nezumi turned upstage again and continued right where he left off. Now having a front-row view, Shion could watch all Nezumi’s little nuances from the way he tilted his head over his shoulder and lowered his eyes while he spoke. Or the way his body acted out the part. Nezumi was beautiful, but in this moment, it wasn’t Nezumi Shion saw on that stage, but the character he portrayed.

Who turned out to be a woman; Titanya from A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Shion hadn’t expected that.

When Nezumi finished, Shion stood up clapping. Nezumi gave a mock bow, a smirk on his face.

“His majesty is pleased.”

“Very much!” Shion’s smile grew. “That was amazing! You’re amazing, Nezumi.”

Nezumi tsked. “It doesn’t take a lot to amuse you, does it?” His tone grew pompous. “Though, as far as performances go, that was superb as usual.”

Suddenly the world shifted out of focus and his head screamed in pain, his body broke out in tremors.

“Oyi, Shion? Are you okay?”

A pounding grew inside his mind.  His vision dotted. “Nezumi, I’m—” Words trapped in his throat. He gasped, and gasped, but no air entered his lungs. His throat burned, his world spiraled, and he was on his knees.

Chapter Text

“Shion? Shion! What’s wrong?” Nezumi jumped down from the stage.

Shion’s loud gasps rebounded off the theater’s acoustic walls. He barely held himself up on his hands and knees, his fingers trembling. He grabbed at his throat and lost his balance, collapsing face down on the floor.

“Shion!” Nezumi knelt by his side and turned him over. “Shion? Get a hold of yourself! Shion!” Shion’s face began to purple.

Nezumi didn’t know what the hell was happening. Shion looked to be choking, but that didn’t make sense. He hadn’t been eating anything.

Since he didn’t carry a cell phone Nezumi couldn’t call 9-11. He could run for help, but Shion didn’t have that kind of time. Maybe Nezumi should try the Heimlich maneuver? But the feverish sweat on Shion’s brow indicated this had to be something other than simply choking.

If it wasn’t because of something he ate, then what was it? An inflammation? Brought on by an illness of some sort?

An image of his mother surfaced in Nezumi’s mind. Her terrible screams still haunted his dreams. Brow soaked in sweat, she clutched the sheets with white-knuckled fists. It had been right after she’d given birth to his sister. His family didn’t do hospitals, so no doctors had been present. His father had placed his newborn sister in his arms. She had been so tiny and slippery that he’d been afraid he’d drop her. He remembered his father leaning over his mother. He couldn’t see past his father’s broad back. But not long after she had stopped crying. The last thing he recalled was his mother hugging his father, and how his darker skin made her arms look deathly pale. She had escaped death that night. Somehow his father had healed her.

Later his father had told him that he too possessed this healing ability; that it was in his blood. Was that really true? Could he really heal Shion the way his father had his mother? There was only one way to find out, and right now he was out of other options.

Assuming he actually possessed it, how did this power work? If it was in his blood, then maybe…? Withdrawing his knife, Nezumi slit his finger. He squeezed the skin around the deep gash to bring forth more blood.

He stuck his finger in Shion’s mouth. “Suck.”

Shion’s terror filled eyes looked up at him.  

“Do it.”

Weakly Shion’s tongue swiped along the cut, before he sucked Nezumi’s finger.

“Good, now try and swallow it.”

Shion’s gags grew louder as he tried to swallow. His gasps turned raspy as a tiny wisp of air entered his lungs. He sucked more on Nezumi’s finger. A weak, shaky breath escaped his lips.

Shion gasped large, greedy breaths. His skin color began to return to normal.

Had Nezumi’s blood really healed whatever inflamed Shion’s throat? How was this even possible? He had barely came to terms with this newfound revelation when Shion began convulsing.

“Fuck.”

Shion’s skin began losing color, turning white. Fear filled Shion’s large, brown eyes, the color draining from them too.

“I’m dying,” He got out.

“No, you’re not. Goddamn it, Shion, fight it!”

Shion didn’t look like he could hear him. He broke out in tremors, his face panic-stricken, his heart beating double-time. A haggard breath escaped his lips and his eyes fell shut.

“Shion! Damn it!” Nezumi shook him hard. “Open your eyes. Don’t you dare die. Open your eyes!”

What do I do now? Dad? He hadn’t remembered his father shedding any blood when he had healed his mother. Maybe his skin also healed? Taking a chance, Nezumi rubbed his hands all over Shion’s face and neck. Ripping open Shion’s shirt, he groped his chest. Please, dad! Help, like you helped dya. Help me, help him. Please. Please!

Not surprisingly, just touching Shion wasn’t helping, but Nezumi’s blood had. It would be gross, but if it worked that was all that mattered. Using his knife again, he cut a long line along his bicep. Then he ripped Shion’s long sleeve and exposed his skin. Cutting Shion’s arm in a similar manner, he mixed their blood.

It hurt. And he had no idea how much was enough…if any at all.

Nezumi held his breath, waiting.

The white skin around Shion’s cut slowly started to regain its color. Amazement and relief washed over him until he saw Shion’s chest.

Starting from Shion’s heart a red line formed. It circled his chest, then neck, and up to his face. In the opposite direction, it snaked around his stomach and disappeared underneath his shorts, before it came down his leg and stopped above the knee.

The skin around the scar began to turn a reddish pink. What looked to be an infection, originating at the scar, spread to the rest of his body, coloring his skin.

“No! Damn it!” Nezumi cut a line on Shion’s stomach and filled it with his blood. The skin around where his blood entered began to return to normal.

The infection had turned Shion’s neck red and now colored his face. Nezumi cut another small wound, this time on Shion’s shoulder where it met his neck and forced more of his own blood inside. The squelching sound the blood made caused Nezumi to shiver. He was already numb to the pain—Nezumi had learned how to control the effect pain had on his body.

Everywhere Nezumi’s blood touched, the infection had stopped, Shion’s reddened skin healing… But it wasn’t happening fast enough.

“Fuck!” He was watching Shion die right in front of him.

Nezumi made small cuts all over Shion’s body. Then he cut open his palm and smeared blood all over Shion’s skin, his rapid movements spurred on by panic.

Shion’s skin became a bloody mess, most of it belonging to Nezumi. Everywhere but where the infection had first started, the redness had faded. The line that wrapped Shion’s body like a snake was still present, but redness no longer dispersed from it.

Nezumi dragged out a sigh in relief. Already he felt faint from the blood loss.

Shion’s hands started to tremble again.

“No…” Nezumi’s tone incredulous.

Mouth opened, Shion’s teeth chattered.

“Shion. Shion! Open your eyes!” Shion’s heart thudded loudly. “Don’t you dare die on me! You’ve barely lived. You don't know anything about literature, or sex. Hell, you haven't ever left this goddamn city. Open your eyes!”

Slowly, Shion’s eyes cracked open. “Nes…zumi?”

A shaky breath escaped Nezumi’s lips. “Good. Good, Shion. Now stay with me.”

“What’s—what’s..?”

“What’s what?”

“Your name...your real name?”

“You live through this and I’ll tell you. But you’ve got to live, you got that?”

Tears spilt from Shion’s eyes. “It hurts so badly. So bad…”

“Bare it! Push through the pain. Shion, don’t you dare leave me!”

Shion’s eyes locked with his. “Ne-zumi.”

“Where does it hurt, tell me?”

“My body.”

“The cuts?” Nezumi ran his fingers over the opening he had made on Shion’s bicep.

Shion hissed in a breath. “That too.”

“I made those. It was necessary. It seemed to have healed you. But now there’s something else. You need to be specific, Shion. I can’t heal you if I don’t know where you’re hurting.”

Shion gasped. “My head…” He let out a cry of pain, his eyes closed and more tears spilt down his cheeks, only they weren’t tears but droplets of blood.

“Shit.” Nezumi took breaths to calm himself down. “Okay, okay. Your head.”

Starting from his scalp, Shion’s color began to fade. Nezumi grabbed handfuls of hair, and watched with horror as it turned pure white.

Dad, I need you again. Please. What did you do? Tell me what to do? Please dad.

Open sores, which looked like blisters, appeared on Shion’s scalp. Nezumi rubbed his fingers over them, and Shion screamed.

“This is it.” Nezumi cut his other palm and ran both bloody hands all over Shion’s head, crimsoning his white hair.

Spots dotted his vision. He was losing too much blood. He needed to cure Shion from whatever the hell this was, and quick, before he lost consciousness.

Shion let out a raspy breath, his teeth chattering. “Better…get’ting better.”

“Good. Good, Shion.”

"My head...doesn’t hurt…anymore.”

“Okay, okay.” Nezumi breathed through his relief and lingering fear. “Okay, anywhere else?” His head hurt, and his vision swam.

“My-my chest.”

Nezumi looked down to see a black spot on Shion’s chest right over his heart.

“F-fuck.” He picked back up his knife from the floor. “This is gonna hurt a bit.” As gently as he could he sliced along the sore.

“Ahh! Sto-op!” Shion cried out. Shoving Nezumi’s knife hand, Shion tried to get away from him.

Nezumi turned and pinned Shion’s shoulders down with his knee.

He had to mix their blood, but Shion fought hard. The cuts on Nezumi’s palms hurt like hell and the blood made grabbing Shion difficult, but he didn’t let up. Out of options, Nezumi bit his tongue until he tasted blood. Holding Shion’s arms down, Nezumi kissed the cut he made over the blackening spot, mixing spit and blood into the sore. Shion let out a cry, then fell silent.

Please, Devel. Dad…please.

He rubbed his tongue on the open wound, licking it. The place where he had kissed began to heal, the black spot going away.

“Shion?” Nezumi looked up, too quickly because his vision swam and the world spun.

“I’m…okay.” Shion’s eyes were open, blood tears from earlier trailed his cheeks; he lay panting, staring up at the ceiling.  

Nezumi sank back on his knees, breathless.

I did it. Dad, we did it.

His world started to fade. He had lost too much blood. Staggering, he fell the remaining way to the ground and darkness claimed him.

~-~-~

When Shion came to, he lay on the damp, carpeted floor of the theater. Everything hurt, tiny stings all over his body. The smell of blood overwhelmed his nostrils. He rolled up to a sitting position. As he did so, pieces of his ripped shirt fell to the ground. Dried up blood was all over his upper body. Panicking, he searched for the injury. Several cuts littered his chest, arms and stomach, the longest one ran along his bicep. Smeared around his wounds was more blood. Too much to belong to him. This was someone else’s blood. Like someone had rubbed blood all over him.

He only now noticed a weight pressing into his side. Nezumi lay beside him, passed out.

“Nezumi!” Shion turned him over. Nezumi’s already pale skin looked ghostly in the theater lighting. His heart thudded stubbornly in his chest.

Suddenly he remembered his throat burning. He’d been unable to breathe. Sheer panic had engulfed him when he’d realized he was dying. Then something warm, tasting like copper, had trailed down his throat and opened up his passageways.

Like out of a dream, Shion remembered shards of pain cutting his body, soft lips kissing him, a warm tongue licking him. Nezumi’s scent. Then hands coating his skin with warm wetness. It smelled of blood. Nezumi’s blood.

Nezumi had long cuts on his arms, the marks starting to scab as they healed.

What the hell happened?

Something red wrapped around his chest and stomach. It looked to be a scar. As he examined it, his movements grew frantic. It was huge. Shion’s breathing became difficult. Any moment now he felt sure he’d hyperventilate.

Nezumi groaned.

“Nezumi!” He cradled Nezumi’s head in his lap. “Are you okay?”

Nezumi winced. “That’s my line.”

“What—what happened to me?”

Nezumi shook his head. Mesmerizing, gray eyes opened and studied Shion. “No idea. You just collapsed choking. Somehow I stopped it. Then you had some kind of infection—” Nezumi’s fingers trailed Shion’s cheek and down his neck. “It’s still there?”

“What’s still there?” Fear dominated Shion’s voice.

“There’s a scar that runs the length of your body; it ends right below your eye.” Nezumi’s fingers ran in a line down his cheek. “It appeared when you were sick.”

“Is it gonna kill me?” Tears stung behind his eyes.

Nezumi shook his head. “Doesn’t look like it. I managed to stop whatever it was doing to you. But it looks like the scar never faded away. Not sure how deep it goes. I could find out for you, if you can bear the pain.”

Shion let out a breath, trying to compose himself. “I remember you licking me. I remember your blood.”

“Licking you? My blood?” Nezumi snorted. “You were delirious. I’m not surprised.”

“Then why is my body covered in blood that’s not mine?” His hair was annoying him, it was sticking in clumps. When he ran his fingers through it, they got stuck. His fingertips came back bloody. “Nezumi, what did you do?”

Nezumi looked away. “Nothing.” His words quick, and was that fear in his voice? “Nothing, it was nothing. You were just…fuck.”

“Hey,” Shion took Nezumi’s hand. “It’s okay. Whatever you did, you saved my life. I’m so grateful, you have no idea. I’m alive, and it’s all thanks to you.”

Nezumi looked up at him, terror edged in those gray eyes. “Please, don’t tell anyone about this. Please. Shion, please.”

“Hey, it’s okay. You’re okay.”

Nezumi shook his head. “They’ll kill me if they find out. Please. Shion, please.”

“All right. Don’t worry, I won’t say anything. I promise.”

Nezumi released a shaky breath, it was clear he was trying to compose himself.

“Nezumi, who will kill you? What did you do to me?”

Nezumi sat up. Pulling his hand free, he looked away.

Shion grabbed his hand again. “I won’t tell anyone. I promise. I’ll never open my mouth as long as I live, especially if it’ll put you in danger.”

Nezumi sucked in a breath. “It’s just something I can do, and my parents—”

“Your parents?”

Nezumi nodded quickly. “I have no idea what it is, or how I can do it. But my dad once saved my mom when she got sick after having my sister. And now, I used my—blood, my saliva, and—and it healed you.”

“That’s why I’m covered in your blood.”

Nezumi nodded, he still hadn’t looked at Shion.

“And that’s probably why you fainted. Given all of this blood…Nezumi you lost a lot.”

Nezumi nodded. “I tend to recover quickly.”

A million questions swarmed Shion’s mind, questions he knew he’d be getting no answers to.

“I’m—I’m a freak. That’s what I am.” Nezumi’s words soft. “And if they find out—they’ll kill me. Like they killed my parents.”

“Your parents?”

“Yeah.” Nezumi continued to not look at Shion. “Both of my parents were killed when I was a kid.”

Shion blinked, fear and sadness warred inside him. “Nezumi...”

Putting two fingers under Nezumi’s chin, Shion made him look at him. “You’re not a freak. You are the person who just saved my life. I don’t know how you did it, but I’m so grateful. And I won’t let anyone kill you. I promise. I swear it, okay?”

Nezumi’s eyes held his. “Shion...”

Shion leaned his forehead against Nezumi’s. “Thank you. Nezumi, thank you so much.”

Nezumi closed his eyes, and covered Shion’s hand with his own.

They rested their foreheads together. Time slipped by, but no one spoke.

It was Shion who pulled away.

“It’s late, I need to call my mom.” He dug out his phone, only to pause. Before he turned on the screen his reflection appeared in the black, glossy cover. A notable red scar ran along his cheek, just underneath his left eye before it disappeared around his neck. His white hair stood out stark against his skin.

“W-what will my mom think? And Safu?” Shion’s tone grew with anxiety. “My mom! She’ll freak out. She won’t be able to handle this. She won’t. What am I gonna do? I have to hide all of this. I can’t go out like this.” Shion tugged the back of his hair. “What will people think? And school...? They’ll torture me.”

“Hey,” Nezumi’s tone pacifying. “Your mother and Safu will be happy you are alive. They aren’t going to care about your appearance. I promise you that. As for people at school, if they have a problem with you, they’re gonna have a bigger problem with me.”

His worried mind came to an abrupt halt and Shion stared at Nezumi. Had Nezumi just promised to protect him? Did that mean Nezumi cared about him? That he wasn’t just an annoyance to Nezumi, but an actual friend? Shion digested this newfound revelation; his worries cooled down like someone had poured a glass of water over his head.

“What will I tell them?”

Nezumi looked pensive. “You’re mom?”

Shion nodded.

“I’m not sure, but just leave my name out of it.”

“Right.”

Nezumi gave a sigh. “Christ, we made a fucking mess. We can’t go out like this.”

Shion looked down. Blood splattered all over his skin and spotted his pants, his shirt ripped to shreds. How had he completely forgotten about their current state?

“There’s a shower in the changing rooms. Let’s go.” Nezumi took the lead and assumed Shion would follow.

“But-but what will we wear?” Shion had never been backstage a theater before, and was amazed at how much it resembled a construction site with wooden bar structures, cans of paint and prompts lying about. It was nothing like the immaculately clean stage.

Nezumi went quiet for a moment. “Costumes I guess.”

“Costumes?” Shion tugged his white hair. “My mom’s gonna freak out if I come home looking like Bozo the Clown?”

Nezumi let out a laugh.

“That was pretty good.” He led Shion into a dressing room. “But don’t worry, highness, our theater puts on modern day plays so we won’t upset mama.”

Shion rolled his eyes, about to comment.

“In the back is a shower. After you, milord?”

“And what will you do?"

“Find us something to wear of course,” Nezumi smirked. “What’s with the face? Were you wanting me to come in with you?”

Shion swallowed. His brain stopped working. He pictured Nezumi standing underneath the faucet. Water ran down his broad shoulders and dripped from his long, dark hair free from its ponytail. Droplets rolled down his defined back, a stream of water trailed the curve of his spine. The Nezumi in his mind looked over his shoulder, and a teasing smile played on his lips. Shion blushed, and his eyes began to roam lower…

“I’m gonna take that as a yes if you don’t stop spacing out.”

Shion snapped out of his reverie. Heat burned his chest and face. He wasn’t sure it was from embarrassment or something else.

“I um...well, um…”

Nezumi smirked, and stepped into Shion’s personal space. He caught Shion’s chin. His thumb traced Shion’s bottom lip, his finger pad calloused.

“You’re quite articulate? Aren’t you, Shion?”

Shion swallowed, tasting the coppery smear of blood Nezumi’s thumb left on his lips.

“Nezumi?”

“Take a shower.” Nezumi released Shion’s chin. “Hurry, 'cause blood is crusting all over my skin.” He headed for a large closet that covered the entire back wall of the dressing room. Costumes stuffed the space to the point where it’d be hard to remove one without taking out its neighbor too.

Shion pulled himself out of his daze. “Right.”

“Oh sweet!” Nezumi’s excitement made Shion pause. He looked over his shoulder at Nezumi. A rather evil looking smirk grew on Nezumi’s face. “Almost forgot about Elliot’s stash.” he let out a laugh. “This oughtta be good. Can’t wait to see his face once he realizes they’ve gone missing.”

Nezumi scheming like this was a first.

Nezumi laughed again before his tone turned bitter. “Serves the asshole right for using this as his personal closet. And knowing the idiot, he probably has a towel in here too.” Sure enough Nezumi found a towel folded with a few pairs of shorts and tees. Thankfully, there was no need to disrupt the horde of costumes since Elliot’s clothes rested on the top rack above the hangers.

“But, won’t he realize it was us once he discovers they’re missing?”

“Idiot. Who’s gonna suspect you of stealing anything from backstage?” Though it held mockery, Shion wanted to hear more of Nezumi’s laugh. “As for me, well, if he can’t prove it, it won’t mean shit. Now hurry your ass up, or I’m gonna steal your spot.”

~-~-~

The harsh water spray irritated the cuts all over his body. Although none bled and most had closed up, they were still tender. When he got the last crusts of blood carefully off his skin, Shion turned off the shower.

He shivered in the stall. The reflection of Elliot’s clothes and towel folded neatly on a dressing table caught his attention. It came from a stage mirror above the table.

Then it dawned on him. If he could see the clothes, Nezumi must’ve seen him showering. Talk about horrible design! Shion blushed heavily. He wondered if Nezumi had looked. Shion’s tummy flipped at the thought.

He came out to an empty room. “Nezumi?”

Six mirrors lined the wall above the long dressing table, each one surrounded by small, yellow light bulbs. As Shion dried off with the towel, he caught sight of his reflection, and his mouth went dry. The towel dropped from his hands to the floor.

A plethora of pencil thin cuts marred his upper body. But Shion’s attention wasn’t on those wounds.

A thick, red scar started below his left eye. It went down his cheek, wrapped his neck, and snaked over his shoulder blade and through his armpit. Then it crossed his chest—going across his peck and his solar plexus—and rounded his side. It looped diagonally down his back, and came around his waist. Next it sliced down his abdomen, a few inches below his bellybutton. It jutted over his hipbone—narrowly missing his groin—and spiraled down his thigh until it finally stopped above his front knee. Thankfully, his right leg and arms were completely scar-free.

His heart sped up, a late wave of fear struck him. Was this how he looked now? Possibly forever?

“Never took you for a nudist.” Nezumi’s reflection in the mirror smirked at him. He hadn’t changed his clothes, but his arms and hands were free of blood like he had washed them.

Shion saw his skin redden in the mirror’s reflection. “I’m not a nudist.”

Nezumi's smirk grew. “Then you just like looking at yourself naked?”

“That’s not—!” That’s when he remembered he wasn’t wearing a towel—Nezumi’s soul-searching gray taking all of him in. Shion swallowed, unable to move, held captive by Nezumi’s gaze.

Nezumi gave a laugh, and looked away. “You saw the clothes I put for you on top of the table, right?”

Shion nodded. Picking the towel back up from the floor, he tied it around his waist. Looking up, he saw his reflection again.

“Nezumi,” His tone sobered. “Is this how I’ll be for the rest of my life? …stuck looking like this?” He hadn’t asked a question.

“Hey, it only just happened. Shouldn’t you give yourself some time to heal?”

“But they’re deep Nezumi.” Shion didn’t mean to take his anger out on Nezumi.

“Alright, so it’ll be a little scarring.”

Shion’s stomach sank.

“Hey, I don’t know why you’re complaining. I kinda like your new look.”

“Stop joking.”

“I’m not. Honestly, I wouldn’t mind if my body got all funky like that.”

“You know, sometimes you take things too far. It’s not funny, Nezumi. This isn’t funny. This is—!”

“Are you calling me a liar?” Nezumi’s tone grew low and threatening.

Shion blinked. Surprised at Nezumi’s sudden anger. “No...um…I didn’t...”

“I never say what I don’t mean.”

“But-but you’re always teasing me?”

“Do I lie to you?”

Shion thought back. Nezumi always mocked him, but he didn’t embellish or make up fodder to use against him. He teased and ridiculed. But Shion couldn’t remember a time when Nezumi had lied to him.

Slowly Shion shook his head. “No.”

“And I won’t. I’ll be truthful no matter how hard it hurts, but I won’t lie. That is my way.”

“So…so you really think these ugly things look good?”

“I don’t think you’re ugly. Yes.”

Shion blinked. That wasn’t what he asked.

If Nezumi didn’t think he was ugly, did that mean Nezumi found him attractive? Shion was too embarrassed to ask. All he got out was, “oh…”

Nezumi smirked. As he passed Shion, he grabbed the towel.

Shion yelped. Nezumi’s eyes traveled his body.

“Give…give it back.” Shion’s voice came out in a whisper.

Nezumi smirked. “Or what?”

Shion swallowed.

“Nezumi?” He had no idea if his intention was to ask a question, or just say Nezumi’s name. They stared into each other’s eyes, the smile slipping from Nezumi’s face. Silence engulfed them.

Nezumi’s graceful fingers trailed the scar crossing his chest.

“See? Not ugly at all.” A softness entered Nezumi’s eyes, and Shion could do nothing but stare.

Nezumi broke the moment, giving Shion back his towel. “Some fighter you are, Shion.”

“Huh?”

“Just gonna let me take your towel?”

“Um, I, um…yeah, guess you’re right.”

“Idiot.” Nezumi entered the shower stall fully dressed, and Shion heard the water running. He had done the same thing so he could wash the blood from his clothing.

Shion dressed in Elliot’s clothes. He had to keep pulling the jeans up because they sagged on the ass and hips. Too bad Elliot hadn’t left a belt. Thankfully his briefs were still wearable. 

He folded the towel and went to leave it for Nezumi. That’s when he remembered the mirror that from the right angle exposed the shower stall. Should he peak? Saying he wanted to see Nezumi in the shower was the understatement of the year. This went way beyond want. He remembered when Nezumi had joked that they should shower together and the images that had filled his mind.

But it wasn’t right. Then again, Nezumi had seen him naked.

No, he couldn’t violate Nezumi’s privacy like that.

Every inch of his resolve tested, Shion put the towel on the table, and avoided looking into the mirror. He went to sit in faraway chair, and breathed through his agitation.

He had ended up falling asleep on the table, head on his arms. His body fatigued and sore.

He awoke to Nezumi towel drying his hair. He was already dressed. Elliot must have been husky since Nezumi’s clothes also ran big.

Once the towel had done its job, Nezumi sat up in his chair. His hair spilled freely down his back, a few strands fell over his shoulders. Ponytail free, it was long and gorgeous. It made him look like a girl. Childlike and innocent.

Nezumi stood up. He used its length to tie his hair in a ponytail, becoming once more the Nezumi Shion knew.

“Good morning, Sleeping Beauty. Sleep well?”

Shion stretched. “I didn’t mean to fall asleep, but I was so tired.”

“I bet,” Nezumi said, “You did just cheat death.” Was that what he had done? The thought sent a shiver up Shion's spine.

“Well, I didn’t do much, you cheated death for me. I just watched from the sidelines.”

Nezumi paused. “Don’t take lightly your will to live. I didn’t do that, you did.”

For the first time since he awoke covered in blood, Shion felt a bit of control over his situation. He wasn’t just a victim. He too had had a hand in his survival. Shion studied Nezumi, seeing him in an entirely new light. Nezumi had saved him. He could have lorded that fact over him, but instead he chose to point out where Shion had saved himself. Shion had been right to defend him. This moment confirmed it, Nezumi was kind.

“Zoning out again?” Nezumi tsked. “But the fun is just beginning.”

“Fun?”

“Yeah,” Nezumi said, “The fun job of cleaning up the theater floor.”

“Oh right.” Shion had forgotten that critical detail.

“Seriously?” Nezumi cocked a grin. “Don’t commit a crime, you’d suck at it.”

“Thanks.” Shion followed Nezumi out into the hall.

~-~-~

Neither spoke as they cleaned up the blood that remained on the theater floor. Nezumi had found some bleach from the janitor’s closet. It took out most of it, but the stains ran deep. Still it was the best they could do.

They also found a bag to store their bloody clothing. Even though they washed them, the stains still remained. Shion’s shirt was pretty much destroyed but his shorts were still savable. He had no idea how to hide those stains from his mother. Thankfully, Nezumi insisted he’d take them home and wash them. Since his mother would already be a handful, he was grateful Nezumi volunteered. He could only imagine the high anxiety his mother would have to overcome if he came home with a bagful of bloody clothes.

“Nezumi?” They left school together. “How are you planning on getting home?”

“Probably same as you. The bus.”

“Public transportation, huh?”

“Unless you know some other way?”

“Well, I’ve...”

Nezumi gave him a funny look. “Don’t tell me you’ve never taken the bus before?”

“Never had any reason too.”

Nezumi sighed, walking off. “Then call mama, I’m sure she’ll pick you up.”

Shion wanted to retort. Wanted to run after Nezumi and prove him wrong. He wanted to get on a bus and take himself home, but he wasn’t even sure one went to his house. Then there were his looks; Shion wondered how many people would stare. Nezumi was right, perhaps he ought to call his mother.

But his mother seeing him like this while in a car was dangerous. If she went into a panic attack while driving...

“Um, Nezumi, wait!” Shion raced after him. Nezumi turned around. “I mean—”

“What? Afraid to be outside by yourself?”

“No, it’s just that...well, you see, my mom is…um, delicate. And if she were to see me…like this, while behind the wheel…she might wreck—!”

Nezumi sighed in annoyance. “Man are you annoying.” Going over he grabbed Shion’s bag. Shion was so confused he let Nezumi take it from his hand.

Nezumi fished out his phone.

“Wait, Nezumi! You can’t call her, you really can’t!”

Nezumi wasn’t using the calling functionality, he was installing an app. Nezumi didn’t own a cell phone. So rather than what he was doing, Shion was more confused that Nezumi knew how to use his phone.

“There, got you Lyft. Now just call one of those guys and ask them to take your royal ass home.”

“Lyft?”

“You know like Uber, only not as shitty.”

Shion now felt like an idiot. “Of course. Uber! Oh yeah, I don’t know why I didn’t think of that!”

Nezumi shook his head. “Seriously? How’s someone as dumb as you not already dead? You’re so airheaded, it’s ridiculous.”

Shion ignored Nezumi’s grumbling and fiddled with the app. Looking up he smiled brightly.

“Thanks!”

Nezumi blinked. Studying him for half a second, he snorted. “Only you.” He handed Shion back his book bag. “Now if you don’t mind I gotta get home.”

“Yeah, of course!” Shion couldn’t stop smiling. Nezumi had come back and helped him, he hadn't just left. “Thanks, Nezumi.” Nezumi made to leave, when Shion grabbed his wrist. Nezumi jerked, looking over his shoulder. Shion wondered if the gratitude he felt softened his eyes. “Thank you, Nezumi. For everything.”

Nezumi glanced down at Shion’s hand, before he met his gaze. “Yeah.” His one word came out unsure, hesitant, before he flipped his wrist and dislodged Shion. Nezumi hadn’t left yet, but he no longer looked Shion in the face. “Just don’t tell anyone.” Nezumi released a breath. “Please.”

“I won’t. I swear I won’t.” Shion wanted to grab Nezumi’s hand again, but when he tried Nezumi avoided him. “I promise. No matter what, I won’t ever tell anyone about what you did.”

Slowly Nezumi nodded. Shion thought Nezumi would leave. Only he didn’t. “Are you feeling okay?”

Nezumi’s question surprised him. “Uh, yeah. Great actually! I’m not dizzy or have a headache or anything. And I’m not spasming like I’ve been doing all day. So, whatever you did, it worked.”

“I’m glad.”

And with that Nezumi headed off. Shion watched him retreat down the street until he disappeared around the bin.

~-~-~

“Shion!” The moment Karan saw him she froze, all color drained from her face. “Oh, oh my God. Oh my God, oh God, oh God, God, God!”

“Mom,” Shion grabbed his mother’s hands. “It’s okay. I know it looks scary, but I’m okay.”

Her bottom lip trembled. Her rapid pulse thudded through her grip on his hand.

“Mom, I need you to breathe. Can you do that for me? Deep breath. In, one, two, three. Hold. Now out, one, two, three.” His mother started to follow his lead. “Good, mom, just keep breathing.” Shion stroked her hair and pulled her into a hug.

“Wh-what happened?”

“I got sick. I was with—” Shion faltered. “I stayed after school for a bit and I got sick. I had been feeling strange all afternoon, but I didn’t think much of it. Then it hit me all at once, well, as you can see things happened to my body, but I got better. I recovered.”

“You-you were sick?” His mother pulled back and probed his face, touching the scar on his cheek, his neck, his white hair. “Sick? Sick! Oh God. Are you sure you are better?”

Shion nodded. “Yes. I am sure of it. I got really sick mom. But I got better.”

Tears trailed down her cheeks and she was shivering again.

“God helped me, mom. He didn’t want me to die.”

“God, helped?”

Shion stroked her wrists.

“God…helped,” she pulled back. “Doctor...”

“Mom, I’m okay. I promise.”

“Doctor?” her voice quickening, “We need a doctor!”

“Mom.” Shion raised his voice to calm her, but she raced for the phone.

“Doctor! We need an ambulance! We need to get you to the hospital!”

“It’s okay, mom, I’m feeling fine.”

“You’re not looking fine. What if it’s still affecting you? What if you need more treatment?”

“Mom, I swear, I’m better. I’m fine.”

“No, no no no! Shion!”

Shion sighed. “Okay, mom. But we can drive ourselves?”

“No! Shion, I can’t lose you.”

“Mom, you are not going to lose me. I promise.” Shion stilled her hand on the phone. “Remember mom, the costs; we can’t afford it.”

“The hell we can’t! Your father? He’ll pay. Your father needs to pay. Your dad needs to be here! Where is your father in times like this?”

“Mom, please. We don’t need an ambulance. Please, listen to me. Please, mom.”

His mother grabbed his face, thick tears ran down her cheeks and gathered at her chin. “Shion.”

“Deep breath, mom. Come on, breathe. Inhale, one, two, three.” Karan took a shallow breath.

“That’s good, hold it. Now release, one, two, three.” Her second breath was a little deeper but still shaky and full of panic. “You can do this. Okay, mom?”

Shion started walking them to the car. “We’ll just drive ourselves over to the hospital, okay?” He didn’t want to go to the hospital. What if it lead them to Nezumi somehow? He’d never seen Nezumi display fear. But the terror in those gray eyes was real, Nezumi’s feelings raw and exposed. Shion’s immediate thought was that he wanted to protect Nezumi. If these people killed Nezumi’s parents, then Nezumi was also in danger. But who were these people? The government? A terrorist group?

His mother was long past the point of calming down though, her hair disheveled, her clothes wrinkled. Expecting someone with her fragile disposition not to take her son to the hospital was asking the impossible. But at least if they drove themselves, they wouldn’t have to ask his father for money. He hated asking the man, it was bothersome. But he would do it if it meant calming his mother down. He refused to let his father have his mother committed or any of the other things the man threatened to do.

Shion didn’t really care if the man sneered at him, or tried to guilt him. Nothing his father did ever bothered him. He barely knew the man. He didn’t feel sad, or hurt, or angry or unloved by his father’s lack of presence or coldness. He just didn’t want his mother to get hurt.

The drive to the hospital was filled with him calming his mother down and answering her many questions.

How did this happened? How are you feeling? Is the scar getting redder? I think it’s getting redder! Shion we need to stop, we need to get someone to help us!”

“Mom, we’re almost there. It’ll be another five minutes that’s all.”

When they entered the emergency room, Shion tried to have Karan sit in the Waiting Room while he talked to the receptionist, but she wasn’t having it.

“Help! My son! Help him! Now!” Her fear turned to anger.

“Mom, shhh,” Shion whispered, and pulled her into his arms. “Let me handle this. Please?”

“We need to see a doctor,” Shion said, “I had some kind of sickness. I fought it off, but it made my body look like this.”

“Oh?” The receptionist looked at him with curious eyes. She wasn't the only one.

Everyone in the Waiting Room had eyes on them. Some people looked shocked by his appearance and his mother’s outburst. Others displayed fear, and was that disgust? Thankfully, he didn’t have to wait long before he saw a doctor. His mother went in with him; there was no way she’d wait outside.

“We’ve ran some tests, and there are no abnormalities in his blood or body. In fact,” the doctor’s tone rose with confusion. “I couldn’t find a trace of pathogens in his system at all? No residue from past illnesses. Nothing. It’s like his system has been wiped clean.”

“Wiped clean?” His mother had been given a sedative and was now calm, her voice free of anxiety, even though underneath she still looked troubled.

“For instance, the Herpes virus stays in the body even though it’s inactive. Shion has had both chicken pox and cold sores, so you would expect the Herpes virus to be present in his body. But it isn’t. And it isn’t just the Herpes virus, it’s every one of them. It’s the strangest thing. Whatever Shion was exposed to seem to have targeted all viruses present, active or otherwise, and got rid of them.”

Just what had Nezumi done to him?

Nezumi. Fear stabbed Shion’s gut. What if they find out about Nezumi?

“What do you mean wiped clean?” His mother’s anxious tone returned Shion to the present. “Like all of his antibodies are gone? What if he gets sick? What if he gets measles or mumps or rubella even…?”

“It’s okay, Mrs. Takahashi. Shion’s immune system is fine. Only the viruses in his system, like the chicken pox virus, were removed. None of his antibodies were affected. And while vaccines sometimes contain dead viruses to simulate the infection so the body’s immune system can produce antibodies needed to fight them, once these antibodies are created, it makes no difference if the dead viruses are present. All that matters is that the immune system now knows how to fight off that disease.”

“Oh,” Karan dragged out a breath, speaking like a comforted child. “Okay.”

The doctor turned his attention to Shion.

“Shion, what exactly happened as you fought off the disease?”

“I just, I don’t know, I got better.” It was partially the truth. Nezumi hadn’t known how he’d been able to heal Shion. “I got sick, and well, it got bad…really bad. But I just rested, and well…I felt better.”

“There is no trace of any disease in your system. In fact, nothing would even attest you had an illness if not for the strange state it left your body in.” His voice turned apathetic. “Speaking of which, I’m afraid those scars are permanent. Etched completely into your skin, almost like the illness present was sucked from your body and left crevices, think of it like a dried riverbed. They’re too deep to ever completely heal. If you’re uncomfortable with your new looks, there’s always the possibility for skin grafts. As for your hair and eyes, you appear to have lost all pigment in both. I’m not sure if the pigment will return; it doesn’t look that way. I need to run more tests to see what happened.”

His mother hung her head. “My father—”

“Mom?” His mother’s words came from nowhere. “What about your father?”

“He died, when I was a kid. I lost him. Like I…like I almost lost you.” Karan looked up and grabbed Shion’s hand. “He collapsed so suddenly.” Tears gathered in her eyes before they spilled down her cheeks. “We were sitting together in the living room. He was—reading a book to us. And he—he just grabbed his throat and fell to the ground. I can still hear his gasps.” His mother would have been sobbing if not for the sedatives in her system. “He—he choked to death, but I remember…I remember his white hair, and his skin; it was so red.”

Shion hugged her, before she pulled back. Karan’s watery large eyes met his. “Later I heard my mother with the doctor. He hadn’t just choked. It was something else—some sort of sickness.” She clutched Shion's hand tightly. “He was sick, Shion. And you got sick! How do I know you won’t get taken away, just like he was?”

“It’s all right, Mrs. Takahashi. Shion’s vitals are healthy, like I said, it’s surprising just how virus-free his system is.” The doctor adjusted his spectacles in thought. “I’ve never seen anything like it.”

Karan looked like she was trying to compose herself. “The doctor said his windpipes had constricted and he ended up dying of suffocation. They said his body had those scars on it, and was a shade of red. In the end, they weren’t sure what had happened, but...”

“I see,” the doctor’s tone was soft, reassuring, before it turned pensive. “I have never heard of a disease like this. But if what you are telling me is true, it is a miracle that Shion is alive.”

“Thank goodness!” Karan burst out in to tears. “Thank goodness I didn’t lose you.”

Shion had never heard the story of his grandfather. But whatever he’d overcome may have been genetic.

“With this in mind, I’d like to run more tests. I will examine his throat and chest, as well as his scalp.”

Shion’s head contained a whirlwind of thoughts. His system had really been wiped clean? That meant that Nezumi’s blood not only healed sickness but did so on a level Shion had never heard of before. Was that why Nezumi’s family were killed? Someone wanted to use their abilities? Shion couldn’t even imagine what this discovery would do for modern science. Honestly it seemed like a shame not to have it benefit other people. But Nezumi’s family were killed for this. And judging by the terror in Nezumi’s eyes, he genuinely feared for his life.

~-~-~

The following morning Safu came bursting into his hospital room. Her grandmother was out in the hall talking to Shion’s mother, who now that she had confirmation her son was okay had calmed down significantly. Her laugh so beautiful it made Shion smile softly.

“Shion!” Safu hugged him tightly. “When granny told me, I—I had to come! Are you okay?” She sniffled. “I’m so, so sorry! All I could think about was our fight, and how that’d be the last words I’d ever say to you.” Hot tears wet his shoulder.

“Hey, it’s okay,” Shion patted her back. “I know better than to think you hated me. Seriously, even if the worst had happened, I would’ve known you cared. After all…you’re my best friend.” The corner of Shion’s mouth rose in a smile. “Besides, we’ve had fights before.”

“Yeah, when we were in primary school, and they never lasted long.”

“Exactly,” Shion's smile grew wider. Safu huffed out a laugh. Slowly she pulled back and examined his face and hair.

“You really did have some kind of strange infection.” Safu ran her fingers through his white hair. “I want to ask the doctor if he has considered that due to the draining of the pigment from your hair, this might be a result of an autoimmune condition, known as alopecia areata. Among other colors, brown hair is susceptible to this disease—” Safu’s voice had changed. She hadn’t just spoken the words, but recited them from rote.

Shion waved her silent. “We can ask the doctor when he gets in, but please, no medical lesson.” Safu smiled, and grabbed his hand.

“Are you feeling better?”

Shion shrugged. “It doesn’t hurt. I just wish I didn’t look so weird now.”

“Shut up, just shut up! You almost died, I don’t care how you look. I’m so happy you’re alive!” She threw her arms around him again. He patted her back. Closing his eyes, Shion savored the warmth of their friendship, and of being loved.

After that Shion had been able to go home.

~-~-~

It was Friday. Nearly one week had gone by since Shion had gone to school. All week long his mother had been treating him like he was about to break. At this point Shion would rather go and sleep in the hospital than take any more of his meddlesome mother. And the worst of it all was Shion wasn’t even sick. In fact, never in his life had Shion felt healthier.

Every day this week she had insisted on making a complete Japanese breakfast—which Shion certainly appreciated, even if he objected to her reasons. As with everything she did when she was trying to curb her nerves, she went overboard. Right now he was over saturated with liquids. He had barely finished his Miso when she poured him some orange juice. Thankfully, it didn’t go bad with the rolled omelet and the Natto, but when it came to the Yakizakana, orange juice was pushing it. Now she was fixing him some tea? Shion feared if she didn’t stop, he might start spouting fluids out of his ears.

Just then the doorbell rang.

“Don’t get up,” Karan said as Shion shifted in his chair. “I’ll get it.” Shion rolled his eyes with a sigh.

“Mom, I feel better.”

“I don’t care, you are staying put and drinking your orange juice.” And with that she was in the doorway opening the door.

“Hello,” he heard his mom say. The responder sounded to be a man, but at this distance, with the outside noises and his mother blocking the way, it was hard to make out what was being said. But there was a familiarity to the timbre. It sounded like Nezumi’s voice.

Had Nezumi really come to Shion’s house? Surely Shion had heard incorrectly.

“Oh? Please come in. I’m sorry, Shion has been recovering from an illness but he should be able to go to school next week.”

Unable to wait for confirmation that it was Nezumi, Shion rushed into the hallway. His mouth dropped open; Nezumi stood in the doorway. When he caught sight of Shion, he smiled.

As Nezumi removed his shoes and Karan went to fix him some tea, Shion grinned.

“You’re here,” his grin grew wider. “I can’t believe you’re actually here.” A puzzled expression crossed his face. “How did you find out where I live?”

“I consulted the tarot cards, and they spelled out your address.”

“Oh wow, really?”

Nezumi broke down laughing. “Seriously, Shion?” His laughter died down, but his smile remained. “Only you…”

“Well then?” Shion pouted. “How did you find out?”

“I asked Safu.”

“Safu? But she—” Shion cut his words short.

“She hates me?” Nezumi smiled. “Apparently not so much. I only had to ask her once, and she gave it to me promptly.”

Shion didn’t know what to feel happier about, that Safu had decided to put her grudge against Nezumi aside, or that Nezumi actually went out of his way to come and see him.

“Thank you,” his words were soft.

Nezumi looked over at him. “For what?”

“For coming to see me. And for going out of your way to do so.” Shion’s words must have taken Nezumi off-guard, for he actually blushed, before he quickly turned away. When he looked back, his face was concealed again. But Shion had seen it, and his smile turned soft. “Come on.” He tugged Nezumi’s sleeve. “I wanna show you my room.”

“Oh?” Nezumi drew out the word, a smirk in his voice. “Who’ve thought you’d move so quickly?”

A wave of embarrassment burned his insides, and he let go of Nezumi’s sleeve. “I’m not—I didn’t mean—I’m—”

“Yeah, yeah,” Nezumi laughed. “Well?” He arched an eyebrow. “Aren’t you showing me your room?”

Shion stood there for half a second trying to calm himself. He couldn’t believe what Nezumi had just said. It was embarrassing—no, it was more than embarrassing. But Nezumi had implied that something might happen in Shion’s room. Right now, Shion wanted that more than he wanted air in his lungs.

Nezumi’s smirk made Shion focus. Nezumi’s beautiful smile held mockery. “Off to shionland again, huh?”

“Shionland? Oh, right, the spacing out thing? Yeah, sorry.” Shion spun on his heel before he could see Nezumi’s reaction. Honestly, it kind of scared him just how many emotions he was feeling lately. And embarrassment was a horrible one, so he had to put some space in between them if he wanted it to go away.

“Shion? Nezumi?” Karan’s voice greeted them when they entered the kitchen from the hallway. “I’ve made some tea? Would you like some?”

“I think we’re good mom.” Shion wanted to get to his room.

“Shion, I want you to drink the rest of your orange juice first.” 

How embarrassing.

“Mom, please. Can I do that later?”

“Shion?”

“Fine, fine.” Shion went over and grabbed the juice off the table, chugging it down. “Okay, thanks mom, I’m gonna hang out with Nezumi in my room for a bit.”

Karan smiled, “All right. Are you sure you both don’t want to take up some tea?”

Shion shook his head. But Nezumi smiled.

“I’d love some.”

Shion sighed, grumbling. When he caught Nezumi’s eye he noticed he was smiling.

“Jerk,” he mouthed. Nezumi just smirked.

Finally they had escaped his mother and made it to his bedroom, tea in hand. When they had closed the door, Shion let out a sigh. “Why did you encourage her? You have no idea how annoying she’s been.”

Nezumi just laughed. “It’s tough being loved.”

“I guess.” Shion hadn’t taken any tea, but he directed Nezumi to put the cup on his dresser.

After Nezumi had done so, he placed a box of brown hair dye onto the bed; it stood out against Shion’s purple bedsheets. “I picked this up for you. I thought maybe it’d make it easier to go to school, at least ‘til your natural color comes back.”

Shion was shocked; he hadn’t seen Nezumi carrying anything earlier. His manners taught him better than to ask Nezumi where he had been hiding a present for him.

“Thanks, that’s really nice of you.” Picking up the dye, Shion turned the box over. “I’ve never dyed my hair before.”

Nezumi smirked. “That’s where I come in. I’ll help you dye it.”

Shion smiled involuntarily, but the hair dye returned the melancholy he’d felt at the hospital. He sat down on the bed. “The doctor says my hair and eye color won’t be coming back.”

“Oh.”

“And the scars, they’re permanent too. Apparently my muscles and organs are fine, but the scarring is too deep for it to recover on its own.”

“Consider it battle scars then. The price you paid to survive.”

“Maybe...but if I have to live like this...”

Sitting down next to him, Nezumi cupped two fingers under Shion’s chin and forced him to look up. “Would you rather have died then live as you are now?”

Dragging out a deep breath, Shion whispered, “I’m glad to be alive.”

“Good.” Nezumi’s tone was soft, before he smirked. “Like I told you, I don’t think you look bad. Your scars are actually pretty bad ass!”

Shion still couldn’t accept that Nezumi was being serious, that he wasn't simply trying to make light of the situation. He was about to chastise Nezumi again, when he remembered what Nezumi had said to him in the dressing room. He had said Shion didn’t look ugly...

This close to Nezumi, Shion was losing the ability to think. His senses were washed in Nezumi’s pleasant scent. Perhaps it was Nezumi’s hair, or his body wash, cologne maybe? Shion only knew it was beautiful and he was beginning to feel hazy.

“And I kinda like your hair.” Nezumi ran his fingers through the white locks. Shion shut his eyes and leaned into the touch. “It’s soft and shiny, more clear than white. It’s pretty.”

Silence settled in the room, broken only by their breathing.

Nimble fingers carded through his hair and Shion sighed. Opening his eyes, he found Nezumi studying him; those beautiful gray orbs held a soft warmth.

Releasing his hair Nezumi traced the red scar underneath Shion’s eye. “It’s charming.”

His fingers left the scar and traced Shion’s cheek and along his jaw line, before his thumb ran across Shion’s bottom lip. As the distance closed between them, Shion’s eyes fluttered to Nezumi’s lips. He was brought closer by a gentle hand on his neck, Nezumi’s head tilted as his lips parted mere breaths from Shion’s trembling ones.

A knock came from behind the door.

“Shion, Nezumi? Dinner’s ready if you’d like to come down.”

Nezumi smirked and Shion felt his breath against his lips. Nezumi’s hand left Shion’s face, the other one releasing Shion’s neck.

Standing up, he gave a mock bow. “Your dinner awaits, milord.”

Shion rolled his eyes. “Stop calling me that.”

Nezumi laughed and held the door for him, and they went downstairs.

~-~-~

“So how do we go about doing this anyway?” Shion stood in the hallway holding the brown hair dye box.

Nezumi took it from his hand and walked into the bathroom. “Obviously, the first thing is to read the instructions.”

“Well, I knew that.” Shion felt a little like an idiot, but he didn’t want to let Nezumi know that.

“Ok, go and sit down on the toilet seat,” Nezumi commanded. Shion closed the lid and took a seat. “All right.” Nezumi sounded distracted as he read the box. It didn’t come with gloves, but Nezumi had bought himself a pair. As Nezumi put them on, Shion’s eyes were drawn to Nezumi’s slender and graceful fingers. Their movements intricate. He remembered when those slightly-calloused fingers trailed his cheek and cupped the back of his neck, bringing him in closer.

Nezumi caught him staring and smirked.

Quickly, Shion looked away, but his need to see Nezumi made him glance back over. When he did so, he found Nezumi right beside him.

“Okay,” Nezumi no longer made eye contact. He sounded serious. It was a new sound on him, more commanding. Very different than his usual mocking tone. It changed the atmosphere in the room. “Turn around so I can get to your hair.”

Shion lingered. He had so much he wanted to say to Nezumi. Had Nezumi really intended to kiss him? Why? How did Nezumi see him? Just what was he to Nezumi? Instead, Shion spun around on the closed toilet seat.

“Ok, now relax.”

Shion released a breath as cold goo touched his scalp. An ammonia-like odor stung his nostrils and made his eyes water. Nezumi massaged the dye into his hair. It was quiet in the bathroom except for the sounds the mixture made as Nezumi squeezed it from the tube and coated it onto Shion’s locks.

Nezumi treated his hair with care, his fingers never tugged or snagged, but gently combed through Shion’s white strands. Shion got lost in the feel of Nezumi’s hands.

“There,” Nezumi’s word broke him from his dream state. “Now all we’ve gotta do is wait, for…” Nezumi consulted the back of the box. “Fuck, a whole half hour?”

Shion smirked. “Guess you’re stuck with me until then.”

Nezumi looked over at him and swallowed. “Shion…”

“How’s it going boys?” Karan popped open the door before she opened it completely. “Oh, Nezumi, that’s so very sweet of you!”

Nezumi gave her a wide grin. “Not at all, madam, I’m only too happy to help.”

“Since it’s going to take some time, how about you both come to the kitchen and I’ll fix up snacks?”

Shion dragged out a sigh. Hadn’t they just ate dinner? He really wished his mother had taken that trip to the store she’d been threatening to do all day. “Mom, I’m sure you don’t—”

Nezumi smiled at her politely. “How could I refuse such a generous offer?”

Shion grumbled. He scooted off the seat and followed his mother and Nezumi out of the bathroom.

~-~-~

“Ok Shion, time to see the new you,” Nezumi’s voice teased. Karan followed them into the bathroom, and Shion really wished she’d stayed and left them alone. “Go next to the tub and lean your head forward.”

On his way over, Shion’s foot slipped on a lingering puddle, his arms reaching out wildly. Nezumi’s hand caught Shion’s and his firm grip helped him keep his balance.

“Thanks.” Warmth radiated from Nezumi’s hand, and Shion didn’t want to let go. Nezumi’s palm was calloused over what otherwise was smooth skin—creamy, pale and beautiful. Shion looked over to Nezumi, who had been staring at him looking as lost as Shion felt. But when Shion’s eyes met his, he smirked.

“Careful there, highness, not the best place for spacing out.”

“I’m not.” Shion tried for agitated, but it sounded like a whine.

“Ok, kneel.” Shion swallowed, his mind racing to every dirty alley imaginable. He’d kneel anytime for Nezumi. Getting onto his knees, he met Nezumi’s gaze. Nezumi blinked, he had to have caught the vibe Shion sent for he faltered a bit. “Le-lean your head forward and look down.”

“I’m sure this is going to be a lovely color.” Karan’s voice coming from the bathroom doorway jolted Shion out of sex mode, and he complied to Nezumi’s words, silently willing his mother to leave.

The gushing water sounded like a waterfall above his head. But his attention dwelt on Nezumi’s hands. Nezumi had to get right beside him, leaning in close to the tub so he could reach. Ammonia marred Nezumi’s normal fragrance. Thankfully as the dye washed out, so did its smell.

“Oh…” His mother’s voice made him open his eyes.

“Don’t, not yet, Shion. Else you’ll get this shit in your eyes.”

Shion nodded. “What’s wrong with it?”

“It’s not wrong, per say.” Nezumi’s tone wasn’t reassuring so Shion opened his eyes anyway. He found Nezumi looking at him, his head tilted to the side in thought. “Actually…”

“It’s like the color is see-through.” His mom entered the bathroom, and came over to Nezumi’s side.

“See-through?”

“Yeah,” Nezumi answered, “Wait…shit, now it’s washing out completely.” Nezumi forced Shion’s head under the faucet, and scrubbed Shion’s hair. “What the heck did we do wrong?”

Shion’s stomach fell.

“It didn’t work.” He sank back onto his knees. Water ran from his hair and sent long brown trails rolling down his shoulders, chest and back. “I’m—I’m stuck like—a white haired freak!”

“Shion, you’re dirtying your clothes.” Karan’s words were dull, background noise.

Because of the dye, Shion had let himself get hopeful. But now…

“Hey.” Even amidst his inner turbulence Shion heard Nezumi’s voice. His eyes found Nezumi’s. “You survived, Shion. Never forget that.”

Shion studied the way Nezumi’s pupils bled into the soft gray. Nezumi’s orbs held a reassurance like nothing Shion had seen before. Inside shown emotions too vast for words, and more than that: a strong desire to live, to survive regardless of the pain. Shion couldn’t look away.

“Nezumi.”

“’Sides,” Nezumi smiled and gently patted Shion’s head, “your hair has kept its luster and shine. Like I said, it’s pretty.” The way Nezumi caressed his hair made him feel cherished, his eyelids fluttered shut. He rested his hands on Nezumi’s forearms.

“Really?”

Nezumi smiled. “Yeah.”

“I have Safu on the phone.” Shion had forgotten about his mother until she pressed the cordless landline (that Shion still wondered why the hell they needed when they both carried cell phones) into his hand.

“Shion?”

“Um, uh, Safu. Hi!”

“Hi,” Safu sounded like she was smiling. “Your mother told me all about your misadventures.”

“Misadventures?”

“Um hmmm, the one where you and Nezumi attempted to dye your hair.”

“Oh...yeah, right. It didn’t turn out so good.”

“I imagine it wouldn’t.”

“You did? But how?”

“Did you make sure the dye you are using accounts for hair lacking pigment?”

Shion looked to Nezumi, who was close enough to hear all that was being said.

“Um, no, not really, Safu,” Nezumi answered.

“Is that Nezumi?”

Shion nodded before he answered. “Yeah.”

“Well, put me on speaker then.”

Shion complied.

“What dye did you get him, Nezumi?”

“Hang on a sec,” Nezumi searched for the box and read out the label.

“Okay, now read the back around the ingredients and instructions label. Anything that says this dye accounts for lack of pigment?”

Nezumi searched. “Just ‘lack of pigment’? No, I don’t see anything about that.”

“What about something regarding white hair? Something telling people that this will work on white and gray as well.”

Nezumi searched some more. “No, can’t find anything.”

“Okay, well there’s your answer.”

“So, I got the wrong dye.”

“That’s correct,” Safu sounded cocky. “But it’s not your fault. I mean, you’re a guy after all. You guys don’t dye your hair as much as we ladies do.”

Nezumi smiled. “And that’s you telling me I should leave this to a professional.”

Safu laughed. “Exactly!” Shion heard commotion coming from her end. “I’ll be there in twenty, with the right stuff this time.”

“I’m forever in your debt, Safu.” Nezumi’s tone was sweet, bordering on flirty. Shion was so happy that Safu and Nezumi were actually talking, he was willing to overlook Nezumi’s flirty ways.

~-~-~

In the end, Safu’s dye only did slightly better. Shion’s hair did hold the brown color, but it still looked see-through, and not the light brown it had been before. Safu was extremely puzzled and kept repeating her doubts, albino hair when dyed is actually supposed to hold in more color not drain it? By the next day, Shion’s hair was mostly white again.

By Monday, Shion had given up on coloring his hair. For the first time since his illness, he was going back to school. Right now, he felt more than self-conscious over his new looks.

He was a freak now. His hair was white, his eyes red. He’d look like an albino if not for his normal skin color. A long, red scar snaked his body. And while his shirt and jeans hid most of it, now it looked like Shion had a red snake wrapped around his neck with its tail resting on his left cheek below his eye.

Then Shion remembered the soft look that had come over Nezumi’s eyes. Nezumi had said Shion’s hair looked pretty and that his new features were charming. If Nezumi liked it, what did Shion care if the rest of the school thought him a freak?

His mother had insisted on driving him to school today instead of him taking the school bus. They also had a meeting with his teachers before school started to discuss his condition. Everyone was just glad that he was alive, and all of them wanted to make sure there was nothing Shion needed. Afterwards, announcements were made in every homeroom class about Shion’s recovery from near death, resulting in his strange, new looks.

After first period, Shion walked with his group of friends through the crowded hallway. Only Safu shared his next class, but after his scare with death, everyone wanted to spend extra time with him.

He kept getting stares. Some people were subtle and tried not to be noticed; others blatantly looked at him with disgust. Shion tried his best to ignore them. Instead he focused on his friends.

“Unless you play for ‘em, you can’t claim bragging rights.” Akihiko sounded vindicated.

“It’s called pay-to-win, dummy, of course you get ‘em!” Shawn grew animated and it made his eyes bluer. He had a habit of talking with his hands. It was only thing about him that looked Italian. “What? Are you supposed to unlock every champion with just IP?”

Akihiko’s glasses wiggled on his nose. “If you want bragging rights, you do.”

“Bullshit!” Shawn’s reddening face emphasized his rosacea. “That's not how the creators designed it!”

“Oh, for crying out loud,” Aiko rolled her eyes. “Stop talking about that stupid game! No one gives a shit.”

“I've already unlocked fifty champions,” Akihiko ignored his twin, “and I plan to do all of them.”

“Fifty? You’re so full of shit!” At this point, Shawn resembled a red balloon ready to pop. “There's no way you can get enough IP!” He spoke in a know-it-all voice. “I looked it up, it's over a million. You can’t earn that much, genius.” He rolled his eyes. “Come on, Shion. Back me up.”

“Um…it’s been awhile since I played LOL…” Shion started, “But I’m gonna go with—”

Out of nowhere, Shion was slammed into the lockers, his shoulder struck the metal hard. His books scattered all over the floor. He looked up to see Sam that quarterback Emily was supposed to be dating.

“Watch it, freak.” Sam’s wide grin was disproportional to his square jaw. He shared a smirk with his two jock friends, Mike and Jamal.

Shion glared at them, before he went about grabbing his books. He didn’t like fights. Plus if he came home with bruises his mother would be even more mollycoddling.

Sam stepped on his notebook.

“Just cut it out,” Shion said, annoyed, “Don’t you guys have anything better to do with your time?”

“What was that?”

“So you’ve got no life and are hard of hearing?” Being around Nezumi had drastically improved Shion’s comebacks. Shawn laughed, and so did a few other people close enough to hear them.

“A comedian, huh?” He kicked Shion’s notebook, sending it down the hall. Mike dug his heel into the cover. “Gonna go and get it?”

“Why? So you can kick it away before I can? Nah, I think I’ll pass. Keep it, for whatever good it’ll do. Probably can’t understand it anyway.” More people laughed from the growing crowd.

The tips of Sam’s ears grew pink, most of it hidden by blond, wavy locks. He shoved Shion into the lockers. “You powder freak!”

“Stop it, Sam!” Safu’s fists trembled by her side. “Or I’m going to get the teachers.”

Sam slammed a fist into Shion’s gut and he doubled over coughing.

“Not so tough are yah now, freak?”

Suddenly, someone shoved Sam away. A fist connected with Sam’s jaw and he tumbled backward.

Nezumi stood in front of Shion.

“Get up,” he commanded.

“‘The fuck?” Sam glared. “This ain’t your problem.”

“It is now. Now get your ass up, and fight.”

The crowd grew thick around them.

Sam snorted, and got to his feet. “I’ve been wantin’ to kick your ass for puttin’ your gypsy hands all over Emily.”

Nezumi cocked a smile. “Well now’s your big chance. Stop talking, and fight.”

“Why you!” Sam punched at Nezumi, who sidestepped. Sam’s momentum sent him crashing into the lockers, people quickly clearing out of the way.

Nezumi smirked. “That all you got?”

“You asshole.” Sam raced at him, letting out a low cry.

When Sam got close enough, Nezumi grabbed him by the arm and collar. In movements almost too quick to see, Nezumi had his back to Sam. He crouched low, and used Sam’s own momentum to flip him over his shoulder. Sam’s weight smacked loudly against the ground. All of this happened so fast that one minute Sam charged at Nezumi, and the next he lay on the floor.

“Weakling,” Nezumi spat out the word; he still held Sam by the arm. “Don’t start what you aren’t able to finish.”

Moving so quickly he was almost invisible, Nezumi dropped Sam’s arm. He knelt behind Sam, who still lay flat on his back. Then he had Sam’s neck in a steel-tight hold.

Sam grabbed Nezumi’s arms, trying to break free. He tried to buck Nezumi off him, using his legs to push off the floor. That only allowed Nezumi to choke him harder.

Sam’s face grew red. His fingers dug into Nezumi’s skin, his knuckles turning white from the effort. Letting go, he tried to grab Nezumi’s face. But, Sam’s arms couldn’t move past the level of his neck. Perhaps Nezumi hit a pressure point?

“Nez’umi stop,” Shion’s broken voice got drowned out by jeers from the crowd. He wanted to go pull Nezumi off Sam, but he couldn’t get off his knees. His stomach threatened to throw up this morning’s breakfast. Everything ached. He could barely breathe.

Jamal and Mike towered over a few students that stood in front of them. Shion thought they’d intervene and help their friend, instead they just watched with the rest of the crowd.

Sam’s struggles grew weaker. Dangerously close to passing out, his hands barely held onto Nezumi’s arms.

“Nezumi, please stop. You’ll kill ‘im…” Shion tried to stand. He had to stop Nezumi. Would he actually kill Sam? Where the hell were the teachers right now? He didn’t want to see Nezumi become a murderer.

“Here’s how this is going to go,” Nezumi squeezed harder on Sam’s neck. “Touch Shion again, ever, and next time I’ll break it.”

Sam’s loud, choking gasps filled the now silent hall. Thick veins protruded from his face. His eyes began rolling behind closed lids. Hushed, fearful murmurs sprang up within the crowd. And yet, not one person tried to stop Nezumi.

Nezumi released Sam.

Sam gasped in air. Overcome by a coughing fit, his shoulders shook violently.

“There won’t be a next time.” Nezumi stood up; people from the crowd backed away.

“Nezumi,” Shion muttered. Nezumi spoke with a cold-blooded ruthlessness. This was the first time Shion had heard someone sound like that. He could only describe it as an intent to kill. A cold shiver ran down Shion’s spine. Nezumi could kill Sam with no hesitation.

“That goes for everyone here,” Nezumi spoke to the crowd, “bother Shion and you’ll be next.” He grabbed his book bag off the floor and headed out, people quickly cleared out of his way.

Shion stared after where Nezumi had left.

He didn’t know that person. Nezumi may have hid behind a mask of mockery and indifference but this cold, unfeeling persona was not the real Nezumi, of that Shion was certain. He didn’t believe for one moment that Nezumi could kill another person. It went against everything he had learned about Nezumi thus far.

Nezumi was kind. He had risked his own safety to save Shion from dying. He had protected Shion. 

Fear closed its icy hand around Shion’s heart. He had made Nezumi act that way. Nezumi had become a cold-blooded torturer to protect him. It had all been for Shion’s sake...

"What the hell was that?” Shawn’s jaw hung open.

“Hmph,” Safu stuck up her nose. “Sam deserved it. I’m glad Nezumi was there.”

All of the group looked at her, shocked.

“What? Sam started it,” Safu’s tone filled with concern. “Shion, are you okay?”

Shion rubbed his stomach. It ached. He doubted he’d be able to eat anything at lunch. Still he nodded to Safu. “Yah. I’m fine.”

~-~-~

In Lit class, Shion found Nezumi sitting in his usual spot reading his book. Happiness bubbled up inside him, and Shion practically floated up the auditorium steps.

After that whole fiasco with Sam earlier, Shion needed to have a serious conversation with Nezumi, not fawn over him like a schoolgirl.

Did Nezumi really intend to kill the next person who bothered Shion?

‘I never say what I don’t mean.’ That night in the theater dressing room Nezumi had told him that.

Shion was a walking target with his new, freakish looks. If he was attacked again, would Nezumi make good on his threat? That cold-blooded, murderous intent didn’t belong in those beautiful, gray eyes. He didn’t want Nezumi to become that person. But, despite the gravity of the situation, Shion’s feelings were way beyond his control. Every time he saw Nezumi, Shion felt deliriously happy.

“Shion,” Safu grabbed his shirt. “Oh forget it. I’ll talk to you after class.” Shion nodded and went over to sit by Nezumi.

Nezumi continued reading as Shion sat down.

“Sam start anything else?” He wasn’t expecting Nezumi to talk, so it took him off-guard.

He shook his head. “I doubt anyone will talk to me for the remainder of the year, let alone bother me.”

Nezumi smirked. “Told you they’d have a bigger problem with me.”

“No kidding. I never knew you could do that.”

“Do what? Fight?”

“Yeah, you were in a completely different league than Sam, than any high schooler, really.”

“We move around a lot. And we’re not always greeted with a warm welcome.”

“I see.” Shion's thoughts from earlier turned his heart heavy. “About Sam…?”

“What about him?”

“Um…well, I um...”

Nezumi sighed. “Just spit it out already.”

“Ok,” Shion said, finding his voice. “What you did to Sam was brutal. You could have killed him.”

Nezumi perused his book. “Yeah, yeah, yeah.”

“Nezumi this is serious. The person I saw back there wasn’t you.”

“Yeah? And how’d yah figure?”

“Because I know you. And you wouldn’t be so careless with someone’s life.”

“You seem pretty confident,” Nezumi snorted, “You sure about that?”

“Yeah.”

For a moment, no one spoke. Nezumi read his book; Shion gathered his thoughts. He had a question to ask no matter the answer.

“Nezumi, about that threat you made…you wouldn’t really do something like that, right?”

“Heh,” Nezumi snorted, “Is that what you want to hear?”

“I want to hear the truth.”

Nezumi sighed, “Haven’t you already come to your own conclusion? What is it you’re looking for? Validation? Want me tell you if you’ve gotten the correct answer? What are you five years old? Think for yourself.”

“Nezumi, I need to hear it from you.”

“Why?” Nezumi smirked, “You afraid of me now too?”

“Of course not. I could never be afraid of you.”

“Oh yeah? And why is that?” Nezumi scoffed, “'Cause there’s no way I could ever hurt you? That what you’re thinking?”

“Yeah. That’s what I’m thinking.”

Suddenly, Nezumi was nose to nose with him. His arm wrapped around Shion’s neck—from an outsider’s view, it looked like Nezumi hugged, not strangled him.

“Still feeling confident?” Nezumi whispered softly. Shion shivered. A sweet thrill danced up his spine. He longed to touch Nezumi’s smooth skin, but his arms wouldn’t budge. Nezumi must have hit a pressure point.

Shion couldn’t breathe, his gasps barely audible, his face reddening. The pressure on his windpipe made him unable to speak. Completely at Nezumi’s mercy, Shion rested his head against Nezumi’s shoulder, and closed his eyes, relaxing his body. Colors and dots danced behind his eyelids.

For a moment, he toyed with the idea of Nezumi slowly squeezing the life from him. He had choked before during his illness. It was nothing like this.

Being held in Nezumi’s embrace of death was exhilarating, drowning him in arousal. He didn’t want to die, but that final moment in Nezumi’s arms would be pure ecstasy. A beautiful surrender. One last, euphoric instant when he knew life like never before or would again, before he fell into oblivion. Nezumi snuffing out his life, transcending him to heaven—him becoming the air, water and ground, being everywhere and nowhere.

Nezumi let him go.

Giving them some space, Nezumi watched him. Shion gasped in breaths.

“Just gonna let me kill you?” Nezumi didn’t smile. “Weren’t even gonna try to fight back?”

Shion smiled low. “Would there’ve been any point?”

“How about staying alive? That point enough for you?”

“I don’t want to die, Nezumi, but I trust you.”

“Don’t know why,” Nezumi snorted dismissively, and picked back up his book.

“I do,” Shion’s hand covered Nezumi’s holding his book. “Because I know the person you are inside. And you’re not that monster. You’re kind.”

Nezumi failed to mask his shock quick enough.

“You did all of that to protect me. And I appreciate it. But I don’t want you becoming something you’re not. And definitely not for me.”

Nezumi scoffed, shaking his hand free. “You think too highly of yourself.”

“Maybe. Or maybe I just see you.”

Noises around the classroom indicated that class was about to start. People talked as they took their seats, the teacher set up his lecture material on the podium. Yet Shion ignored everything in the room but Nezumi.

“Nezumi, I can’t bear to see that again.”

“Damn, you’re annoying.”

“I don’t care what I am! Promise me that'll never happen again. That you'll never break someone's neck.”  

Nezumi rolled his eyes. “Just shut up already, will yah?”

“Nezumi,” Shion warned, before his voice softened. “I’m worried about you. Even if it’s to protect me against the jerkiest asshole in the world, I don’t want you to do that. Promise me you won't?”

Nezumi sighed under his breath; Shion didn’t give him a chance to speak.

“I want you to stay yourself. Please, Nezumi? I need you to promise me you’ll nev—”

“Jesus, Shion!” Nezumi slapped the book down on the arm desk, and glared at him. A couple of rows in front of them, a few heads turned.

“What the hell do you think?” Nezumi balled his fist. “After all your ‘that’s not you’ crap, why keep asking this question, huh? Why not have more confidence in me?”

“Oh…” Words died on his lips. Shame flushed his cheeks. He hadn’t realized what that question implied. Did he really believe Nezumi could kill a person? The answer was an adamant no. Then why question Nezumi like it was a possibility? “I’m sorry.”

“Another apology, milord?”

“Well, you’re right. I was trying to validate what I already believe. Deep down, I guess, I doubted myself.” Shion smiled into his shirt, unable to make eye contact. “I already know the answer. I shouldn’t need to question you.”

“You really are full of yourself, do you know that?”

“Full of myself?” Shion’s tone rose in octave, “I’m trying to get your forgiveness?”

“Forgiveness? ‘The hell about?”

“'Cause somewhere in my heart I feared you actually might,” Shion made eye contact. “It was inconsiderate to ask that. You’re right, I should trust you. And I didn't, and that probably hurt you…”

“Not everyone’s ego is as fragile as yours.”

“That’s not what I’m say—”

“Get off your high horse, already,” Nezumi sighed, rolling his eyes. “Stop acting like the whole goddamn world revolves around your words or actions. News flash: it doesn’t. I don’t need your apologies.”

Shion thought about it. “You’re right.”

“Of course, I am.”

“Man, are you difficult! And frustrating sometimes,” Shion tugged the back of his hair, “And I’m full of myself? Seriously Nezumi, can you not say one thing that isn’t a putdown?”

Shion breathed out a sigh. “But, if you hadn’t showed up, I'd have gotten worse than a punch to the stomach. So, thank you for saving me.”

Nezumi snorted, “You and your thank-yous.”

“Jeez, Nezumi,” Shion’s emotions spiking, “I can’t win with you! Can’t apologize or say thank you or—”

“Calm down, child.” Nezumi’s hands rose in surrender. “Say your thank-yous and sorries to your heart’s content. Just don’t go crying on me again.”

“I’m not,” Shion grumbled, “I’m not a girl, you know. I swear, you’re such a—”

“What?” Nezumi teased, “I’m a what?”

“An infuriating, stubborn, belittling jerk.” Shion released a breath. “But…I really am grateful you stepped in.”

Nezumi’s hand lay on the arm desk over his book. Shion covered it with his own, his fingers wove through Nezumi’s.

“I just worry about you too, you know? I don’t want you to get in trouble for me, or get hurt, or do something you might regret, or—”

“Ok, already. I get the picture,” Nezumi dragged out a sigh. “Geez, why are you always so embarrassing?” He still hadn’t pulled his hand free. “Forget it, you don’t have to thank me. As if I could do anything else.”

~-~-~

Shawn and Safu were already at the lunch table when Shion sat down. Safu looked thrilled at his arrival.

“Shion,” She smiled at him, he smiled back. The moment he sat down, she swatted his head. “That’s what you get for just ignoring me in Lit.”

Shion grimaced, “Sorry. I just wanted to talk—”

“To Nezumi, I know, I know. It’s always Nezumi with you.” Shion bowed his head, an apology on his lips, when Shawn interrupted them.

“That guy’s scary,” Shawn shook his head. “Think he would’ve killed Sam?”

“I still think it was justified.”

“Nezumi’s attack?” Shanelle said, coming to sit down with her tray of steaming hot chicken and rice. Shion’s mom had packed him a bento, but he doubted his stomach would be able to take anything right now. He was starved though. Absently he rubbed his stomach.

“Does it still hurt?” Safu asked.

Shion grimaced, “Yeah…” Aiko had just joined them. Pigtails and tiny backpack swaying, her face took on a look concern.

“See? Nezumi did the right thing beating up Sam,” Safu snorted, “wish he beat him up more.”

“Safu!”

“What, Shion? Don’t tell me you actually want to defend Sam?”

“No, but, that’s not Nezumi.”

“What?”

“Nezumi is kind. He’s not—”

“Kind?” Both Shawn and Akihiko spoke at the same time.

“Yeah,” Shion looked down at his lunch.

Shanelle looked from Shion over to where Nezumi sat absently eating his lunch, his nose in a book. Then she looked over at Safu, a pitying look coming over her.

“Oh, Nezumi’s there!” Shion stood up. “I’ll be right back!” And left before anyone could respond.

~-~-~

“He’s got it bad,” Aiko took a bite of her sandwich. Shanelle still looked at Safu with apologetic eyes.

Safu bunched her fists together. “Why?” she whispered, “Why does he have to like Nezumi?”

“Makes much more sense though, right?” Shawn chimed in, “I mean, has Shion ever mentioned any girl he liked, like ever?”

“Has he mentioned anyone he liked, like ever?” Aiko added. She looked at Safu sadly, “Sorry, Safu.” 

Shanelle rubbed Safu’s back gently. Akihiko didn’t participate in the conversation. Instead he just played on his 3ds XL and ate his lunch.

Safu shook her head. “I’m not going to lose to Nezumi! I’m just not!”

“Yeah, well, good luck with that,” Shawn’s tone grew snarky. Safu glared at him.

“I didn’t ask your opinion!” Her eyes tracked Shion at Nezumi’s table.

~-~-~

“Nezumi?” 

Nezumi glanced up from his book; this one titled Jamaica Inn.

“To what do I owe the pleasure, milord?” Nezumi smirked. Shion opened his mouth, and was cut off. “I know, I know, call you Shion.”

“If you know,” Shion pouted, “why do you keep doing it?”

Nezumi put his book down. “Maybe if you stopped reacting to it, I wouldn’t keep doing it.”

“Oh, so it’s my fault!” Shion pointed a finger against Nezumi’s chest. “You know what I think?”

Nezumi’s hand closed Shion’s into fist.

“I’I—um, well—I.”

“Oh? His majesty unable to speak?”

Shion blushed profusely. Nezumi’s gesture had brought them closer. “Nezumi?”

This close to him, Shion basked in Nezumi's intoxicating fragrance.

“Gonna stand there stuttering. Thought you were telling me what you think?”

Shion had no idea what he’d planned to say. “I don’t…remember.”

Nezumi smiled and let him go. He resumed reading.

“I take it you had something to say, Shion.”

Shion sank into the chair beside him. His heart beat overtime. Everything that happened with Sam had pushed his thoughts about Friday to the back of his mind. Now though...

“Nezumi, about last Friday?”

“Hm, what about it?”

Shion couldn’t say anymore, too afraid of what Nezumi might say. Nezumi’s voice sounded so casual. Maybe he didn’t think it a big deal? Maybe he didn’t return Shion’s feelings after all? What was Shion thinking? Of course Nezumi didn’t return his feelings. Nezumi liked girls.

“Stop thinking Shion, you’re starting to hurt my head.”

“What?”

“The wheels in that simple head are spinning. I can practically hear your thoughts. Really, it’s annoying.”

“Oh? And just what am I thinking?”

“You’re wondering why I almost kissed you. And you’re thinking ‘but he likes girls?’”.

“Now that’s just uncanny,” Shion blurted out. “How did you know that?” He narrowed his eyes. “You can’t read minds, can you?”

Nezumi looked at him from over his book, and broke down laughing.

“You’re such an airhead. Seriously, only you, Shion.”

Shion found Nezumi’s laugh contagious and soon he chuckled along with him. Nezumi’s genuine smile lit up his eyes. Even if at his expense, Shion liked seeing Nezumi smile like that. Those thoughts sobered Shion.

“So, why did you try to kiss me? What am I to you?”

Nezumi closed his book.

“You’re gonna go another lunch without eating if you stay here talking.”

“What?” Shion looked over at his table; all of his friends looked back at him. His face heated up. “Oh, yeah, right.”

“Idiot.”

“Well, I’m okay not eating today.”

“Stomach hurt too much.”

Shion nodded.

“You gotta be hungry though, right?”

“Well, of course, but I don’t want to upset my stomach, and if I try to eat anything...”

Nezumi’s hand rested on Shion’s knee, and words faded from Shion’s lips. Nezumi didn’t look at Shion, instead his hand traveled up Shion’s thigh. Then Nezumi’s warm palm rested on his stomach, Nezumi’s heat penetrated Shion’s cotton shirt, soothing his hurt. 

Nezumi’s fingers massaged Shion’s stomach. “Something Daj does whenever I have an upset stomach. Not sure how she does it, but the rhythm always works on me.”

At first he didn’t notice the subtle change, but his stomach no longer felt so tight, the pain slowly fading.

“Nezumi?”

“Hm?” Nezumi went back to reading, holding his book in his other hand. Every so often his hand left Shion’s stomach, grabbed a bite to eat, and promptly returned. Shion leaned his head against the table; Nezumi’s hand reached him better this way. It was less conspicuous too.

“Who’s Daj?”

“My grandmother,” Nezumi took another bite, and Shion missed his hand.

“Feeling any better?” Nezumi ruffled Shion’s hair.

Head resting on his arms against the table, Shion looked over at Nezumi. He gave a little smile, “Yeah.”

Nezumi grinned. “Good.” And then he went back to reading, tapping Shion’s stomach in-between bites.

Shion must have fallen asleep for he awoke to Nezumi gently shaking his shoulder.

“Rouse ye, O children! Waken to sport— Farewell to the Land of Nod.”  Nezumi’s words were soft, like he recited a poem. Even though he was teasing him, Shion liked the sound.

“Nezumi?”

“What?”

“I like you.”

“Obviously,” Nezumi smirked, “Now come on, or you’re gonna miss your next class. Look, all your dear friends are waiting for you. Rude of you to just ditch them. Probably oughtta apologize, huh?”

Shion sat up. He ran a hand through his messy hair. Then Nezumi’s words struck him.

“Oh right, I did! Yeah, I probably should apologize.”

Nezumi burst out laughing, “You seriously didn’t mean to do this, did you?”

“Well, no.”

“What an absentminded moron you are.”

“Thanks.”

Nezumi’s hand messed up Shion’s white locks in a similar manner. Shion side-glanced him. He was putting his book away, taking up his bag.

Shion followed him until they came to the table where his friends waited.

“Until next we meet, milord.” Nezumi took his hand and kissed it.

“Nezumi!” Shion’s face burned.

Nezumi headed off laughing.

Shion tried to catch his breath. He looked at his feet, way too embarrassed to see his friends. Shanelle spoke first.

“Did he just kiss you?”

“He was playing, that’s all.” Words rushed his lips before he could stop them, then he whispered, “that’s—not all.” Nezumi had almost kissed him that night on his bed too.

The back of his hand tingled, his skin remembered Nezumi’s warm, soft lips.

“Shion? Are you coming?” Safu’s voice near his ear. “Come on!” She grabbed his elbow and pulled him away. “You didn’t even eat your lunch. Shion, you’re going to get sick.”

Shion tried to listen to her, but his mind kept going back to that time on his bed. What if his mother hadn’t interrupted them? Would Nezumi’s kiss have been gentle or forceful?

He imagined soft lips kissing him tenderly, a gentle brush of skin against skin. Nezumi’s hand on his neck brought him closer and soon the kiss turned forceful. He could almost feel Nezumi’s tongue inside his mouth, tasting him.

Nezumi, what do you feel for me?

~-~-~

“Shion?” Shion’s eyes snapped into focus. His Probability teacher, Mrs. Whitemarsh's hand was on her hip. She looked annoyed. “Great, welcome back, now if you could please explain your solution to homework problem number three.”

They had already covered problems one and two, and Shion had missed it entirely.

“Yes ma’am.” Shion explained his solution as he wrote on the whiteboard. He didn’t need to bring his notebook for reference. A quick glance at his homework was enough; his memory was good like that.

Nezumi sprang up in his mental view, a taunting smile on his face. ‘Such an airhead, spacing out again.’

Nezumi. Shion smiled at the whiteboard.

“Nezumi?” The teacher’s word snapped Shion back to reality. Had he just spoken Nezumi’s name out loud? Horrifyingly embarrassed, his face rivaling an apple, Shion jumped back into explanation. The class laughed.

By the time he had finished, Shion was beat red.

“No, stay up there Shion.”

Shion looked down at his feet, trying to breathe through his embarrassment. “Does anyone have questions?”

The class went silent. Shion expected them to taunt him, at least tease him, but other than that initial laughter no one did. News of Nezumi’s actions certainly spread fast. Nezumi had been terrifying against Sam, maybe Shion shouldn’t be surprised.

Safu’s hand rose up.

“Yes, Safu,” Shion said.

“I wanted to ask you if you’d thought of this approach.” She looked at the teacher, “Ma’am, may I come up to the board too?”

Mrs. Whitemarsh nodded.

No sooner had Safu started writing then Shion’s mind began to wander. Apparently he hadn’t learned his lesson.

“Shion?” Safu said.

Shion snapped his eyes into focus, “Sorry about that.” Thankfully his memory saved him. “Yeah, I had thought of that, but if you’ll see here...”

Just then, a knock came from the door. Safu and Shion paused as their teacher called.

“Come in.”

Nezumi opened the door, and Shion almost fainted.

“Ah, Nezumi, thank you. Tell Mr. Ashura I really appreciate this.”

Nezumi nodded, “Will do.” He smirked at Shion, who smiled back, wide and broadly, forgetting for a moment that they had an audience.

Mrs. Whitemarsh’s voice interrupted the moment. “For God’s sake Nezumi, stop encouraging him. Shion has been distracted all class because of you.”

“Me?”

Shion didn’t think he could blush anymore. He wanted to melt through the floor.

“Yes, I can’t get two lines from him today without him daydreaming.”

A smile lit Nezumi’s features. “Well, he does have a habit of spacing out. Right, Shion?”

“Okay, okay, I get it. I’ll pay attention. Thank you, Nezumi, you’re probably needed back in class. So, good bye.” The rest of the class started laughing, Nezumi right along with them.

“Yeah, yeah. See yah later, lover boy.”

“Nezumi!” Shion couldn’t believe what Nezumi had said, and in front of the whole class too!

Nezumi’s laughter carried down the hall, leaving Shion to deal with the fallout.

“I um, I’m,” Shion wanted to sit down. Well, and hide, but right now he would settle for getting out of the center of attention. “Am I done with this problem, ma’am?”

Mrs. Whitemarsh was smiling. “Of course Shion, and from now on, please leave your thoughts of Nezumi for after class.”

Shion wanted to die. He was so embarrassed it actually hurt inside. But then he remembered Nezumi’s words.

Lover boy?

Did that mean Nezumi liked him like that? And just like that Shion was spacing out again, thoughts of Nezumi in his head.

Chapter Text

It was the end of the day. Safu had debate club. Shanelle, Aiko and Akihiko had already gone home. Shawn and Shion were gathering their books. It was then Shion noticed Nezumi over by his locker. The hallway was mostly empty so Shion assumed he could hear them.

“Shion!” By the irritation in Shawn’s voice, this hadn’t been the first time he’d called Shion’s name.

“Um, sorry, what?” Shion turned to his friend. Shawn shook his head.

“You really do have it bad.”

“Have what bad?”

Shawn let out a sigh. “Never mind, are you coming? We’re gonna miss the bus.”

Shion watched Nezumi head off down the hall. He had never seen Nezumi’s home, his family. Nezumi had been over to his house. Nezumi had almost kissed him, but Shion still knew very little about him. Nezumi had risked his own safety to save Shion, though Shion didn’t really know why. Nezumi had also made himself into a total outcast—even more than he already was—for Shion’s sake.

“Nah, you go ahead.”

Shawn rolled his eyes. “Going after Nezumi?”

Shion looked over taken aback by Shawn’s words. “Uh, yeah.”

Shawn shook his head. “You know, Safu…well, never mind.”

“What about Safu?”

Shawn shook his head. “It’s nothing. See you tomorrow.”

Shion nodded. He momentarily wondered what Shawn was going to say. But Shawn said it was nothing, so it must not have been a big deal.

Quickly he headed out after Nezumi.

Nezumi normally walked home. Shion took the bus.

When he came out into the schoolyard Nezumi had already made it to the gate. Chasing after him, Shion called. “Nezumi!”

Stopping, Nezumi looked over his shoulder before a smirk lit his face. “Following me home now, huh?”

Finally catching up, Shion leaned heavily against his knees, out of breath—missing what Nezumi just said. “Where you going?”

Nezumi laughed. “Airhead. Where do you think I’m going?”

“Oh, right.” Shion sucked in a breath, standing up. “Yeah, of course, right.”

Nezumi studied him. “Your stomach feeling better?”

Shion smiled. “Yeah, your massage helped.”

Nezumi started walking again. “Daj would certainly be happy to know that. Later.”

Shion followed. “Wait, can I come with you?”

Nezumi paused. “Wanna see where gypsies live, huh?”

“No, I wanna see where you live.”

Nezumi’s back to him, he started walking again. “All right. Come on.”

Shion’s smile gave no indication he’d nearly been beaten up today. He chased after Nezumi until he was by his side.

“So how far is it, anyway?”

Nezumi shrugged. “Not too far, half an hour walk.”

“Half an hour?”

“That’s to the bus stop.”

“Seriously? And you walk this every day?”

Nezumi laughed. “No, I run. Geez, Shion, not everyone’s as out of shape as you are.”

Shion grumbled, “Well excuse me for not being super fit.”

Nezumi rolled his eyes. “Would have helped you today. What would you have done if I hadn’t been there? Just let him kick your ass?”

Now that hurt. Shion had never been a fighter—he’d never even been in a fight—but at the same time, he had no plans to lay there and get the shit knocked out of him. “No. I would have tried to defend myself, but I probably would have lost.”

Nezumi snorted at that.

“Thank you for saving me.”

“Do you want me to teach you how to fight?”

Shion hadn’t expected to be asked that. Nezumi was an amazing fighter; Shion didn’t think he had the stamina or the coordination to pull off what Nezumi did. Still the idea of Nezumi showing him was appealing. Nezumi would have to make physical contact with him, hold him, maybe pin him down. Shion’s face felt hot.

“Spacing out again, huh?” Nezumi mocked. “Talented in this area, aren’t you? Maybe you should show me some pointers.” Nezumi laughed. “I know, I’ll teach you how to fight, while you show me the completely useless and annoying skill you’re good at.”

“Now that’s not fair.” Shion grew angry. Nezumi always picked on him and it hurt. “Not my fault you’re so alluring.” Those words just came out and weren’t what he wanted to say, but he was tired of never being understood in this area. “I was thinking about you. About you showing me how to fight, and how you might go about it. Would you grab my hands, hold me down, would it be close contact?”

Nezumi had stopped walking. Shion looked to find Nezumi staring, most likely wondering why he had said such embarrassing things.

“That’s what I’m thinking—”

Moving too quickly to follow, Nezumi was in front of him and kicked Shion’s feet out from under him. As Shion fell backward, Nezumi grabbed his forearms, breaking Shion’s fall. He’d barely touched the grass when Nezumi was on top of him. Nezumi grabbed Shion’s wrists, pinning them to the ground above his head. Legs trapped between Nezumi’s knees, wrists restrained in a tight hold, Shion couldn’t move at all.

“Like this?” Nezumi whispered into his ear, his voice silk. Nezumi’s long side bangs fell and rested on Shion’s cheeks, blocking his view. Although smooth, the hair felt heavy against Shion’s skin.

When Shion’s lungs breathed in some much needed air, he gasp out a laugh.

“Wow! That’s amazing. I couldn’t even follow your movements. I can’t move at all, are you using some pressure points—?”

Nezumi’s laugh cut Shion off. Releasing Shion, Nezumi rolled off him. Lying on his back, he was laughing again. “You sure are a weirdo, Shion.”

In one graceful movement Nezumi rolled onto his feet. He offered Shion a hand. He used too much force as he pulled Shion up, and Shion stumbled against Nezumi’s chest.

Nezumi took a step backward to account for the additional weight, and stabled Shion with a hand on his waist and another on his shoulder.

Heat radiated from underneath Nezumi’s shirt as Shion rested his palms flat against Nezumi’s chest.

“You all right there?” A mocking smile was on Nezumi’s face, but his voice was broken in parts. “Didn’t hurt your other injuries, did I?”

Shion looked up, palms still resting against Nezumi’s chest. He was close enough to inhale Nezumi’s alluring scent, feel the thudding of Nezumi’s heart underneath his fingers. Those gray eyes were watching him, Nezumi’s mocking smile faded.

“I’m not hurt.” Shion’s words started out as a whisper. Then he did something he didn’t think he’d have the guts to do, he rested his head against Nezumi’s chest. “Got me tired though.” Out of breath, he paused. “I can hear your heart beating.”

Nezumi’s laugh rumbled against his ear. “I certainly hope so, otherwise I’m a dead man standing.” Nezumi’s tone wasn’t confident, it was breathy. His arms encircled Shion’s waist and shoulders in reaction to Shion’s closeness. “Not up for those lessons, then?”

Shion smiled. “Maybe I need to jog first.”

Nezumi laughed, still holding Shion in his arms. “Come on, sports star, we got a bus to catch.” With that he pushed Shion off, and Shion was standing on his own two feet again.

For the rest of the walk they were mostly silent. Every so often Shion would ask a question. But it wasn’t prying, more just to start some kind of conversation. But mostly Shion’s thoughts were a whirlwind of turbulence. Nezumi had held him. He had felt Nezumi’s strong heartbeat. That close to Nezumi he had heard the change in Nezumi’s voice—for once not sounding as confident and sure as he normally did.

The closer they made it to the bus stop the city side was becoming more and more rundown, and vagabonds were becoming the norm. Shion was feeling more on edge. He was used to being surrounded by clean streets, nice looking buildings and normal passersby …not this. Nezumi didn’t seem to care in the least, but he looked over at Shion with a smirk.

“Never fear, milord, as your shining knight, I gallantly vow to protect you.”

“Nezumi!” Shion grumbled. “Would you stop calling me that? And I’m not afraid. Sure, I’ve never been in this part of town, but I’m not that pampered. I’m perfectly fine walking down a street, thank you.”

“Oh? And here I was thinking I was gonna have to hold your hand.”

The idea of Nezumi’s warm hand around his own made Shion shiver. He really hoped Nezumi didn’t notice.

“Spare some change?” The old man reeked of sweat and garbage and God only knew what else. His tattered clothes were filthy, barely covering his bony form. Shion’s heart went out to him. He was always scolded for giving handouts to people on the street. They will only use it to buy alcohol and drugs, was what his mother would say. But Shion could never just walk by them without caring.

Stopping, Shion dug into his pockets. “I’ve got a dollar, but that’s all.” He felt bad he didn’t have more to give.

“Thank you, God bless! Thank you, boy.” The old man took the dollar and gave a smile full of rotten gums and fallen out teeth.

“Seriously, Shion?” Nezumi rolled his eyes. “Now we’re gonna have every damn one of them asking, and we haven’t even made it to the bus stop. Sheesh, who doesn’t know to not give money to beggars?”

“Well, excuse me, but I can’t just walk by someone suffering and do nothing.”

Nezumi snorted and kept walking. “Oh really? There’s a hell of a lot of people suffering. What, do you think you can save every one of them? Don’t be so full of yourself. You giving them money doesn’t do shit for them in the long run, all it does is make you feel better about yourself for a moment.”

Shion passed more and more homeless people. Nezumi was right, he couldn’t do anything for them. He really only did have one dollar on him. “I’m not feeling better after I give to them. That’s not why I do it.”

“Oh? Then it’s from the good of your dear heart, huh? Seriously Shion, you’re starting to get annoying. Stop living in a fantasy and come down to the real world with the rest of us. People don’t need your sympathy and they don’t need your God-complex.”

Shion opened his mouth.

“Don’t tell me you don’t feel pity for these people. You do. And that’s because you look at them and see how much better off you are in comparison. Then out of guilt, you feel the need to give something back. To wash off some of your guilt? To make yourself feel better? In the end, it’s all the same thing.”

Shion wanted to refute it, but he had nothing to say. He did feel pity for them. He wanted to help them. Give them a better life than they had now, but also inside he felt fortunate. Thankful that he had a home, and people who loved him. It was as Nezumi had said.

Finally they made it to the bus stop. Nezumi took a seat on the bench. Shion followed him.

“Nezumi?”

“What now? Have you decided to open a food shelter?”

“No. I was just asking if you did this every day.”

“Of course. Shion, do you ever think before you speak?”

“Well I was going to ask if that has made you insensitive to the suffering of the people around you.”

Nezumi shrugged. “Having a realistic outlook isn’t insensitivity. It’s much crueler to promise hope to people when you have no way of giving it to them.”

The bus arrived and they got on, there were all sorts of people on it, but none of them were the kinds of people that Shion had any business being around. He was a walking target.

One man shoved past him, and Shion stumbled. Nezumi stopped the man with a half step in front of him.

“Give the idiot back his wallet. He doesn’t have any money in it anyway.”

“Wait…he?”

“Of course, seriously Shion, pay the fuck attention to your surroundings.”

The man shoved past Nezumi and started running. He didn’t get far. Nezumi tripped him, and sitting on the man’s back, he pinned the man’s hands down with one hand and with the other, fished out Shion’s wallet from the man’s shaggy coat.

“Damn it Shion, stop causing me trouble.”

Shion caught the wallet Nezumi threw at him. Those words hurt. “Sorry.”

Nezumi released the guy, who took off running straight out of the back of the bus. Nezumi let out a sigh before he shook his head, going to sit down in one of the rows. “You can’t help it, can you? Forget what I’m saying. I’m just tired.”

Shion took in Nezumi’s state. Nezumi didn’t look tired as much as annoyed. But maybe this was how he showed his fatigue. “I’m still sorry though. I just wanted to get to know you better. I didn’t want to cause you trouble.”

“I said forget it. You’re fine.” Nezumi was looking out the window; Shion sat down beside him. Another fifteen minutes and Nezumi shoved him out of the seat. “Here’s our stop.”

They were in the middle of nowhere. The street was surrounded by woods on every side. The late afternoon sun was low and bright, the street going off towards the horizon. They walked some ways on the road, before they came to a field. Tall grass grew, yellowing in the sun.

“Almost there, your highness.”

“Seriously, Nezumi. Can you not tease me all of the time?”

Nezumi smirked. “Where’s the fun in that?”

Shion shook his head. “You’re not gonna stop doing that, are you?”

“Nope.” Nezumi stepped over an old wooden fence that was broken in places. Shion followed. They were climbing up a hill. The moment they got to the top, Shion sucked in a breath.

The scene before him kind of reminded him of a traveling performance group without any of the gawk of a circus. There were trailers and tents, trucks and other worn down cars. It wasn’t as glamorous as the gypsy camps in the movies, and in other ways it was exactly what you would expect a gypsy camp to look like. There were no wagons though. Or signs above the trailers that read: Fortune telling. Shion took in all of the sights, and smells.

As he neared the camp, Shion inhaled. This was it: the scent that he had associated with Nezumi, it was all around here. An incense maybe?

Several incense sticks were in the ground, smoke coming from them. It held the same scent.

Near the RVs, clothes lines were sprawled out. There were also chairs—lounge chairs not just chairs you would find by a campfire. An old TV was out in front of one of the trailers. Two adolescent boys sat watching it. One sat near the TV on a quilt on the floor while the other one was in a nearby chair.

The boys were in street clothes—jeans and tees—and neither looked dirty. One of them looked around thirteen; he was the one sitting on the chair. The younger boy, sitting on the floor, looked around ten, maybe eleven. They looked so similar they could have been twins if not for their obvious age difference.

“Nezumi!” the older boy called in a sing-song voice. “You’re late, and dya’s not gonna be happy!”

“Shut up.” Was Nezumi’s response.

“Who’s dya?” Shion was curious.

“Just a name for mom.”

“In Romani?”

Nezumi nodded.

“Your little brothers?” Shion asked. Shion surveyed the kids. The two boys didn’t resemble Nezumi all that much. Their tan complexion was too dark. Their hair was jet black, and their eyes were a mixture of brown and green. But they had a similar shaped face as Nezumi’s.

“Cousins,” Nezumi corrected.

The older boy smirked, and now Shion could see the family resemblance. “Brought a white-snake home with yah?”

Nezumi leveled him with a look. “Keep talking and I’ll cut your throat.”

Shion was taken aback by Nezumi’s comment. Sure, he didn’t like being made fun of, but Nezumi’s comment seemed a bit extreme. “It’s okay, Nezumi. I’m fine.”

The boy didn’t look afraid of Nezumi though. “Hmph.” Then he turned his attention on Shion. “You have to pay a toll to come in here, gadje.”

“You are really pushing it, aren’t you, brat?”

“Oh, I know what this is. He’s that boyfriend you’ve been talking about!” Now that seemed to be Nezumi’s breaking point. Going over he kicked the chair out from under the boy, and in two seconds had drawn a knife and pinned his cousin to the floor. Sitting on the boy’s chest, he pressed the tip against the kid’s throat.

“Shut. the. fuck. up.” Punctuating every syllable Nezumi bared his teeth. The first signs of fear shown from the boy’s eyes. “I’m tired, and your annoying ass is the last thing I want to deal with. Got that?”

“Nezumi!” Shion hadn’t even known Nezumi carried a weapon. How did he bring such a thing in school? They had metal detectors now. How had Nezumi even managed to do that?

The kid snorted out a somewhat nervous laugh that turned into a devious smirk. “Dyaaaaa! Nezumi’s tryin’ to kill me!” His drawn out tone sounded like a whiny, little brother and not someone Nezumi was about to murder.

“Nezumi, stop trying to kill Kash.” A woman came out of the nearby trailer. She had her sons’ darker complexion, and didn’t look anything like Nezumi. She also had given her sons their green-brown eyes. Her tone threw Shion for a loop. She didn’t sound afraid as a mother might have sounded whose son was being held at knifepoint. Instead she seemed tired, as if this were an everyday occurrence.

Nezumi released a breath. “Got off easy, brat. Now fuck off and go watch your TV.” Nezumi closed the knife and stood up. The moment he was free, his cousin took off.

“White snake! White snake! Nezumi loves a white-snake!”

“Fucking, little shit.”

“Nezumi, who’d you bring here?”

Nezumi pocketed his knife. Shion was even more surprised that this woman not only seemed completely okay that Nezumi had threatened her son, but the fact that Nezumi held a weapon didn’t faze her at all.

“Bee, can’t you get him a gag or something?” Nezumi sounded like he was pouting. It was the strangest sight coming from the guy who almost choked a jock at school and just held a knife to a kid. The sight was endearing though, and Shion couldn’t help smiling.

The woman smiled.

“Not like it do ‘em any good. He’d just bite right through it.” She put her hands on her hips. Her black hair was wavy, and her face—while pretty—clearly showed her age. But her smile was friendly and her eyes were full of life. She wore clothes that made her look a bit like a rancher—jeans, plaid white shirt, and a red bandana around her neck. “Now you gonna tell the name of your handsome friend here?”

“Bee, this is Shion. Shion, meet my aunt.”

“Your aunt?” Shion remembered his manners. Going over he offered his hand. “Nice to meet you.”

“Likewise.” She drawled the word as she gave him the once over. “Call me Tsura.”

Nezumi had started up the steps of the trailer when his aunt whacked him upside the head. It didn’t look like it hurt him, but Nezumi complained like it had. “What was that for?”

“That’s what you get for not telling me we’re having company.”

Shion felt guilty. He had just imposed on Nezumi. Tsura grumbled, “Geez, now who’s gonna help me make dinner?” Tsura’s smile ruined her projected mood. “Can’t have you being a shit host.”

,

“Shion, come on,” Nezumi called over his shoulder.

“Oyi!” Tsura called. “Get over here and give your Bee a hug.”

Nezumi’s smirked, but it didn’t look mocking. “Sorry, Bee.” He hugged her, and she gave him a big squeeze.

“Ungrateful shit.” As he pulled away, she tried to slap his ass, but he dodged her hand. Shion got the feeling this was just regular banter between them.

“Yeah, yeah,” Nezumi said offhand before he called for Shion.

Shion followed Nezumi up the stairs.

On the floor was a warm looking door mat. Shion expected it to be soft to the touch, but the normal amount of dirt and outside debris on it made it crunch underneath their shoes as they stepped inside.

The trailer wasn’t all that big with one main room and a kitchen at the back. The kitchen and family room jutted out, behind it, continuing in both directions, was a hallway. Shion guessed that was where the bedrooms were located.

On one end of the main room was a wooden couch with a mixture of red and yellow large, fluffy cushions. On their fronts were hand woven designs. In front of the couch was a wooden coffee table. Intricate patterns were carved into its surface and trailed down its legs.

“Take off your shoes.”

Shion pulled off his tennis shoes, following Nezumi’s lead. The shoes around the door weren’t disorderly per say, but there was a lot of them so that gave it a disorderly feel.

The room was brightly colored with lots of reds and yellows. The trailer walls were cluttered with images; not a white space visible. Some looked like icons, like the ones found in Eastern Orthodox churches. Others were just pictures: a mixture of religious, flowers and designs. Some looked handmade, others were photographs tattered with age. Interwoven quilts hung on the wall behind the couch; their vivid patterns demanded attention, consisting of bright reds, yellows, purples and blues. Fake flowers rested on the wooden coffee table. The brown worn carpet seemed underdressed when compared to the walls.

The decor was kind of tacky, bordering on gaudy with lots of fake gold. Again, there was a disorderly feel to the place, even though it wasn’t untidy. But the place felt homey; Shion got the feeling that a lot of love had been poured in it over the years.

Along the wall closest to the door were cabinets built into the trailer itself. Inside plates and teacups lined the space. Trinkets interspersed between the dishware. Shion reminded himself to inspect them in greater detail when he was able.

Nezumi took him down the hall and opened up a door at the end. Inside was very different than the rest of the house. Nezumi’s room wasn’t very big. Stacked all over the floor were piles and piles of books, some stacks twenty books high. And they were staggered, stacked in every which way. Other books were sprawled about the floor in no order whatsoever. Nezumi’s bed was at the far end.

Inside his closet was awash with colors. Costumes by the looks of it, dominated most of the space. Nezumi’s normal wear on the other side was a lot smaller by comparison. He had a small, wooden desk in the room, and on it were two trinkets—one on each side—that looked like they belonged with the rest of the house. Next to the table in the corner of the room was an incense stand. Nearest to the door stood a music stand, and on it sheet music. Nezumi dropped his book bag over to the corner in a book-free space that looked to be the exact size of his bag.

“Make yourself at home.”

Shion had no idea what to do with himself. Nezumi maneuvered around his books with finesse as if every book was an old friend he greeted for a second and moved on. He made his way over to his closet and started taking off his clothes. Shion blushed profusely when he realized what Nezumi was doing.

Pulling his shirt off, Nezumi smirked at him from over his shoulder. His back was nicely defined. But in the center near his shoulder blade were burn marks in the shape of a deformed spider. Shion tried not to stare.

“You look like a white-haired tomato, if you’re wondering.”

Shion turned away. “Um…do you want me to step out?”

“Why? Grow shy at the sight of bare skin?” Nezumi was hanging his shirt. “We’re both guys you know, not like it’s anything you haven’t seen before.” He reached for a simple yellow tee. “Though…maybe not. You are pretty scrawny.”

“Am not!”

Nezumi tugged the shirt on over his head. “Uh huh.”

“I am not. And you know it.”

“Do I?”

“Yeah, you’ve seen me.”

“My point entirely.”

“Jerk.”

“That’s it. That’s your comeback?” Nezumi burst out laughing.

“Well, sorry, your highness, we mere plebs can’t master sarcasm like you can.”

Nezumi stopped laughing before another smile lit his face. “Now that’s better.” Making his way back through the books, he went over to the bed. “Gonna stand there staring? Come sit down.”

“Oh, um.”

“Seriously, you’re not afraid I’m gonna jump you, are you?”

“That’s not it,” Shion grumbled. “I’m just not sure how I can navigate through this mess of books.”

Nezumi smirked, “So sorry milord, I didn’t have time to clean up for you.”

“Shut up.” Dropping his book bag on top of Nezumi’s, Shion headed for the bed. As he looked at the books he became more and more impressed. “Wow, these books…They’re beautiful. The covers, and wow, some of these look old! Like originals or something like that.”

“Something like that.”

Shion inhaled the smell of books. He felt like he was in a library, it smelt that way.

“My uncle is a professor so he’s sends me a lot of books. I’m sure Bee and Ka love him for it. Makes it a pain in the ass when we move, so I don’t blame ‘em. Speaking of which I should probably start sending some of these back to him.”

Shion sat down on Nezumi’s bed. That’s when he noticed the markings at the foot of the bed. It looked like someone had drawn a line across it, the black color in contrast to Nezumi’s green sheets.

“Oh, that...” Nezumi said following Shion’s line of sight. “It’s for making sure you keep that section of the bed for your feet only,” Nezumi smirked. “Something that my family doesn’t really do anymore. But my grandmother and some of the older people still get hung up on it. Daj always goes on about how we are losing our culture. But honestly it was a stupid practice anyway.”

“What was it about?”

“Just that the lower body is impure, so it shouldn’t be in contact with the upper body,” Nezumi smirked. “See, told you it was dumb.” Nezumi sounded like he expected Shion to laugh at any moment. “We still do some of the things though, just not everything. Bee still doesn’t wash towels and shirts with underwear and socks. And other stuff like that. As far as traditions go it’s pretty important, our family just diverged from a lot of it.”

“I see. I’ve never heard of that before. So, it’s very interesting to learn.”

Nezumi shrugged. “I guess. Not that interesting. But whatever.”

Nezumi laid back against the bed, crossing one knee over the other, his arms behind his head. “So, does it live up to your expectation? Our Gypsy camp?” He smirked.

“I’m not sure what I was expecting. But I’m glad you took me. I feel like I have learned more about you. And really, I shouldn’t have been surprised by your library of books, since you always bring a new book into class every few days.”

“You’re watching that? What books I bring in and stuff?”

“Sounds creepy? I’m not obsessing over details like that, I just have a good memory.”

“Yeah? I don’t know.” Nezumi’s grin got wider. “Sounds like a creeper to me?”

“No, I do, test me.”

“What?”

“Test me.”

“How?”

“Show me the page of that book, and then take it away.”

“And what? You’ll be able to recite it for me, word by word?” Nezumi’s eyebrow rose.

“You think I’m making this up. But I’m not. So test me.”

“Alright.” Nezumi took the book he was reading and opened up a random page. “Here, study it milord.”

Shion looked at the page. “That’s long enough.”

Nezumi snorted. “You barely looked at it.” Shion gave him a challenging look.

“All right, let’s see how you do, genius. And I’ll tell you now, I’m a harsh grader.”

“Fine.” And with that Shion started reciting. Nezumi was following along as Shion recalled the words. In his mind, Shion saw the page in its entirety as if he had snapped an image of it and was simply reading from it. Around the second paragraph, Nezumi looked up at him with an incredulous look.

“See, I told you.” Shion smiled, feeling vindicated. “So, that’s proof that I wasn’t creeping.”

“Ok, ok, I stand corrected. Consider me impressed.”

Shion leaned back on the bed, lying next to Nezumi. “Nezumi?”

“Hmm? You gonna tell me what I’ve worn for the last week as well?”

“Do you want me to?”

“Shit, really?”

“Well, maybe, I haven’t tried to recall things like that. So, I’m not sure if I can. But I could try if you want.”

Nezumi held up his hands. “Nah, no need. You’ve already proved you’ve got some brain on you.”

“Nezumi? You said you’d tell me your real name?”

Nezumi turned and looked at him, gray eyes studying him. “Why do you care to know anyway?”

“That’s simple. I like you. I want to know everything about you. I want to know what you like, and how you grew up, and what makes you afraid; what you hate, what you think of when you’re alone. Who you want to be. You know, I just want to get to know you.”

Nezumi blinked at him. Shion expected to be mocked, but Nezumi just stared at him. He trailed a finger across Shion’s scar under his cheek. “Tell me more about this?”

“That? You were there. Of all people, you know most about this. How I got it and all.”

“Not why you got it. Did you ever find out anything from the doctor?”

Shion nodded. “Yeah, I guess I did. Apparently my mom remembers her father dying of suffocation, and his hair turned white, and his eyes and skin turned red. She said she had forgotten about the white hair until she saw mine. Apparently the doctors never knew what exactly killed my grandfather. But I must have got whatever this thing was from him.”

Nezumi looked thoughtful. “I see.”

Shion smiled. “Yeah, given what happened to my grandfather the doctor said that it was a miracle I was alive.” Shion’s fingers reached out and traced along the curve of Nezumi’s cheekbone. “And it was, you saved me.”

Nezumi’s lips quivered, his snort was more a small exhale of breath than mockery. Then he looked away and his eyes became guarded. “You didn’t mention anything about me, right?”

“Of course not. I promised I wouldn’t.” Shion reached down and took Nezumi’s hand. That brought Nezumi’s attention back on him. A small smile brightened Nezumi’s eyes, and he intertwined their fingers. Shion’s tummy fluttered, his insides becoming heavy and heated. Closing the small distance between them, Shion softly touched his lips to Nezumi’s. It was just a brush of skin, a soft caress, but the guarded look in Nezumi’s eyes faded.

“Shion.” Nezumi spoke his name softly, like a prayer, his breath warm on Shion’s lips.

The bed dipped as Nezumi shifted closer, and soft lips met Shion’s. Nezumi pulled away for an instant to lick his lips, before he was kissing Shion tenderly. Nezumi’s skin was soft and moist, molding Shion’s mouth to his. Surrendering to the moment, Shion closed his eyes and got lost in the taste of Nezumi’s lips, the warmth of his body, his rich, intoxicating scent.

Cupping his face, Nezumi worked Shion’s mouth open. His kisses deep and thorough, forcefulness growing behind his gentleness.

Nezumi’s warm tongue swiped the seam of his lips, and Shion’s parted. Shion had never kissed anyone before, let alone French kissed. Nezumi’s tongue was wickedly skillful as it circled and rubbed against Shion’s, sending tingles down his spine and all the way to his toes curled against the bed. His tummy tightened. His groin ached, and at first he hadn’t even realized he had started grinding against Nezumi; all he knew was that it felt amazing.

Shion wrapped his arms around Nezumi’s shoulders before his fingers found Nezumi’s ponytail, and he reveled in the silky feel of Nezumi’s hair. Their heated breathing made the kisses warm, the buildup thick and blinding. Nezumi dominated the kiss, setting the pace, drawing a moan from Shion’s lips. Shion wanted Nezumi’s mouth all over his body, marking him; Nezumi’s sinful tongue inside him, licking him. He wanted to belong to Nezumi.

A sudden thudding came from behind the door. Shion didn’t want to stop. He wanted to stay here with Nezumi in his arms. He wanted to feel Nezumi’s mouth against his. He wanted to explore Nezumi’s beautiful body, feel Nezumi’s naked skin against his own.

Nezumi also lingered. Finally he sighed. “What?”

The door opened.

What, does not mean enter,” Nezumi snapped when his aunt’s shape was lit by the light in the hallway.

“Oh? Testy now? I just wanted to tell you that Ka is home, and he wanted your help carrying things off the truck. But…?” Her tone turned teasing. “If I’m interrupting anything…?”

Shion blushed hard. Nezumi was still in his arms, mostly on top of him. Shion was so embarrassed he wanted to hide under the sheets.

Nezumi didn’t seem all that bothered, other than the soft pink that appeared in his cheeks.

“No, why would you be interrupting?” His tone sarcastic. “I just closed my door because I want people to come in.”

“Don’t get snarky with me, mister.” She put her hand on her hip.

“Yeah, yeah.” Nezumi got up. Shion quickly sat up, getting off the bed.

“I’m sorry. We didn’t mean to cause you trouble.” Both Nezumi and his aunt looked at each other with a funny expression on their faces.

“You weren’t kidding; he is an odd one.” Tsura smiled. “But a cutie. You are just too adorable, sweetheart. Don’t worry about it, if Nezumi could keep his hands off you, I’d be surprised.”

“Bee! You can stop being annoying now.”

“I said watch it, you.” She swatted his head again, but this time Nezumi ducked. “Cheeky brat.”

Nezumi smiled. “But you love me, and you know it.”

“That’s fighting dirty, Nezumi.”

Nezumi smiled at her and pressed a kiss to her temple. “Shion, wanna come with me to help my uncle? It’ll be boring, they’ll be lots of time to space out, you’ll love it.”

Nezumi’s aunt swatted his ass on the way out, which he avoided.

“Anytime you need a break from this butthead, you come and find me, okay sweetie?” Tsura called as they left the room.

Shion didn’t know how to take that, so he just smile. “Ok, thank you.”

“Airhead. Come on.” Nezumi grabbed his wrist and tugged Shion to the door, before they both were putting on their shoes.

An old truck was parked on the dirt road as close to the family’s trailer as the nearby tents and clothing lines allowed. The makeshift dirt road dispersed throughout the camp before it led up the hill and out to the road. The truck looked like it had once been white, but now dirt and dust had turned it a light gray. A man was unloading a wooden table from the back. The table was beautiful: elegantly carved legs had floral designs etched into the maple. The table was glossed over, and the maple wood shined.

“Ah, Nezumi, give me a hand, will yah?” Nezumi’s uncle had turned the table onto its back and was carrying it out. It was a good size table, but he carried it just find by himself. Nezumi went over to the truck and climbed up onto the back. He stacked four chairs that looked like they belonged with the table. Carrying them with one arm, he grabbed a small wooden stool with the other. The stool was completely different with its shiny purple color and black designs on the seat. But like the table it was beautiful.

“Um, Nezumi? Do you want my help too?”

Nezumi jumped down from the truck. “Only if you think you won’t break a nail. Otherwise, keep spacing out. It looks good on you.”

Shion shook his head and climbed up onto the back of the truck. The truck was actually a lot taller than it looked when Shion was just watching it from the ground. He looked around for objects he could help carry.

There were a set of vases that looked hand-made. A myriad of colors had been blown into the glass, producing intricate Marble patterns. Shion was mesmerized. Nezumi chuckled behind him and he spun around quickly.

“Should have warned you about these, a definite Shion trap, isn’t it? Perfect for you to hone those spacing out skills of yours.”

Shion grumbled at Nezumi’s insult before his mind went back to the beautiful vases. “They’re beautiful. Who makes them?”

“My older cousin and his wife.”

“What about the furniture? I take it that’s also made by your family?”

“Yeah, my uncle does all of that. Him and Sasori, along with a few others in camp. Though, I help out sometimes.”

“You do? Wow! You’re amazing.”

Nezumi smirked. “Idiot. Come on, let’s get these stuff into the shed.”

Shion had stacked all of the vases. He had gotten out of the truck before he took them in his hands so as to not break them. Nezumi was carrying a new table, and had stacked a night stand on top of it. The wooden night stand was a simple blue color, while the table was a deep green. Maple leaves were scattered on the top of the table, baked into it by what looked like a smooth fake-glass surface. Again it was amazingly well done.

“Nezumi? Does your family own a furniture store or something?”

Nezumi shook his head. “Way too much of a tie down for us.” He had arrived at the shed. “Nah, we sell them to furniture and retail stores. Em takes the other stuff and sells them at the flea market. Sometimes she sells them outside of Daj’s wagon.”

“What does your grandmother do?’

“Fortune telling.”

“Seriously?” Shion said. “I thought that was just a stereotype?”

“Not like anyone here believes that crap, but you’d be surprised how many gadje fall for it. And hey, who’s gonna turn down free money?”

“Where does she set up the wagon?”

“Wherever. Sometimes at the flea market, other times downtown during markets and stuff. Just wherever she thinks there’ll be enough of a crowd.”

The ramp connecting the shed with the ground was rickety as Shion walked up. Inside were tables stacked on each other, and chairs. There was also a bookshelf and a dresser. Most furniture in the shed had not been painted.

“Ka stores a lot of the newly made furniture in here, as well as anything that hasn’t sold yet.” Nezumi took the vases from Shion after he finished stacking the table and its chairs. “Most of the time Em keeps these stuff with her, but she had too many this time.” Going over to a stack of a few vases Nezumi put the new ones in the pile, stacking them when necessary to conserve space.

“Nezumi?” Nezumi headed for the exit, and Shion followed him. “How long will you stay here?”

Nezumi smirked at him. “Why? You gonna miss me when I’m gone?”

“Of course. Hell, I might wanna go with you if that happens.”

“Did you just curse?”

“Yeah. Why?”

“First time that has slipped from your mouth, highness. Careful, otherwise people are gonna judge your current company.”

Shion rolled his eyes. “I use swear words. I just use them for emphasis, and don’t abuse them. That way they hold more weight.”

“You really are weird, you know that, Shion?”

Shion smiled. “I like it when you say my name.”

That was not what Nezumi was expecting to hear, the startled expression that flashed on his face testified to that. “Yeah. Weird, really weird.”

“Nezumi? Have you finished everything on the truck?” Nezumi’s uncle was out in front of the chairs that Kash and his brother had been sitting earlier. He had several buckets of stains and was stacking them into a wheel barrel. He paused for a moment and his eyes rested on Shion. “Who’s this?”

“My absent-minded friend from school,” Nezumi smirked at Shion when he said this. Shion just let out a grumbled sigh. “Shion, this is my uncle. My mom’s brother. He’s married to Tsura.”

This man’s resemblance to Nezumi was uncanny. It was like Shion was watching an older version of Nezumi himself. The man even had Nezumi’s gray eyes, but they weren’t the same shape, and for some reason they didn’t have the same effect as Nezumi’s did. His uncle had Nezumi’s hair color, and was roughly Nezumi’s height and build. The difference between them would probably be skin color—Nezumi’s complexion was a little fairer—and certain facial features like their chins and noses. Nezumi’s features were delicate in such a way that at times it was hard to tell if he was a guy or a girl. This man held no ambiguity. His chin was more squared than Nezumi’s, and his nose was a different shape. But his smile looked like Nezumi’s. Shion was mesmerized. This man, although he was older, was beautiful just like Nezumi.

Going over, Shion took the extended hand of Nezumi’s uncle.

“Very nice to meet you, Shion. Please call me Hanzi.”

Shion smiled. “The pleasure is mine. I’m really glad Nezumi allowed me to come home with him. Meeting his family is wonderful. I’ve already learned so much about him—”

“You can stop talking now, Shion,” Nezumi grumbled, shaking his head. “Geez, maybe you’re the one I should be gagging, not Kash.” The image of Nezumi shoving a gag in his mouth made Shion’s stomach flip, Nezumi’s nimble fingers brushing his chin, running over his lips before placing a cloth into his mouth. Being gagged by Nezumi and kept by his side—being unable to prevent Nezumi from doing anything he wanted to him. Heady intoxicating feelings warmed Shion’s tummy. He could feel his cheeks fluster.

“Fuck, Shion. Geez. I can’t say anything to this guy without him spacing out.”

“Nezumi, that is no way to treat your guest.” Hanzi’s scolding tone actually stopped Nezumi’s pout, and he nodded, suddenly taking on the role of obedient son. It was such a contrast to how Nezumi had interacted with his aunt.

“Sorry, Kako.” Shion was shocked. Had Nezumi apologized? And actually sounded polite about it, not a trace of mockery in his tone.

“That’s more like it. Now, the both of you come with me. I want to hear more about you, Shion.” Shion nodded. Nezumi seemed to have broken out of the persona he had been in a moment ago, and was back to his normal self. “How did you two meet?”

“Shion talked to me at lunch,” Nezumi smirked. “And then he just wouldn’t go away.”

Shion smiled. “Well, I really wanted to be your friend, so—”

“I’m teasing, obviously. So you can stop before anything embarrassing comes out of your mouth.”

“You’ll have to forgive Nezumi, he gets that from his mother. My little sister was quite the mouthy brat growing up.” Hanzi smiled. “Nezumi’s a spitting image of her, inside and out.”

Nezumi rolled his eyes. “That’s just 'cause you don’t know how embarrassing this guy can get when you get him going.”

“Do you live close by then?” They had went to the truck, and Hanzi gave Nezumi a few more things to carry, and sent him off to deliver them to Em, the cousin’s wife Nezumi had mentioned earlier. Again, it was uncanny just how obedient Nezumi was to his uncle. It was kind of sweet. Shion had worried about Nezumi when he learned Nezumi’s parents were dead. Shion wondered if anyone was there to guide Nezumi, help him grow into an adult. Someone who loved him and protected him. It appeared that Shion had been wrong to worry. Nezumi had way more of a family structure than Shion could ever hope to have.

“No, I live on the Northside with my mother.” Sometimes Shion was good at replying and thinking at the same time. He really had honed his spacing out skills as Nezumi had said.

“Does your father live here or somewhere else?”

The conversations Shion had about his father were always awkward. At most he didn’t know what to say about the man, and that always made him feel embarrassed. Like his father not being present in his life was something he should feel ashamed of, something that if he just worked harder at, he would be able to change.

“My father lives in this city, but well, we’re not very close.”

Hanzi cupped his chin with his weather-worn palm—a carpenter’s hands, Shion thought—he looked like he was thinking.

“I’m sorry to hear that. Unfortunately, those things with families are sometimes unavoidable.” Shion wasn’t expecting Nezumi’s uncle to say that. He didn’t think he would get scorned, but with all of Nezumi’s family around Shion expected the man’s reaction to be at least awkward, if not haughty. But Hanzi did neither of those things.

A large, dark-skinned man approached them. The man was huge! He towered over the group. He looked like a body builder mechanic. His hands were stained with grease, his thick fingers blackened with dirt under his nails. He was slicked with sweat, making his white wife-beater stick to his rippling muscles. There was nothing delicate about the man with his square jaw, weather-worn skin and narrowed hawk eyes. His short, disheveled hair was a shade darker than Nezumi’s twilight. There was not a single feature he shared with Nezumi.

“Hanzi, why has Nezumi been allowed to bring an outsider into camp?” His gruff, angry tone matched his monstrous body.

“Sasori, as I have said before, guests are always welcome in our camp.”

Sasori looked over at Shion with his nose crinkled, his hawk eyes narrowed into slits. This was Shion’s first time being on the end of such a look of disgust. Was it his hair? Eyes?

“He looks like a demon. Should we really welcome such a curse into our camp?”

“My apologies, Shion,” Hanzi said, ignoring Sasori entirely. “Please go and find Nezumi, he should be at the trailer by that red tent over there.”

Shion nodded. “Okay.”

“Oh, and Shion? It is very nice to meet you. You are always welcome here.” Hanzi had a warm tone when he spoke this, it was so very opposite of Sasori’s.

Shion nodded and smiled. “Thank you so much.”

The moment he was away, Shion heard bickering. Hanzi and Sasori had started arguing. Shion heard a few things from their conversation before he was out of earshot.

“Maybe he’s Death’s Demon? Nezumi should be careful.”

“How dare you insult our family like this? To speak in such a tone to a guest? That will be what brings a curse to our camp!”

Shion was again captivated by Hanzi. The man spoke with authority and everyone, including Nezumi bowed to him. He must have been the leader of their group for even Sasori respected Hanzi’s wishes.

Nezumi chose that moment to come out of the trailer. He had a taunting smile on his face. “Not my fault, Em. Take it up with your hubby if you want it done faster.”

“Nezumi!” Em had a hand on her hip. She was rather pretty, though she and Nezumi didn’t share any features. She had sandy blond hair—almost dark enough but not quite brown—green eyes and a rather curvy body. Her olive colored skin made the blond in her hair stand out in contrasts. Of the people Shion had seen in the camp so far, this was the first person with blondish hair. She looked roughly the age of Shion and Nezumi, but Shion had a suspicion that she was not, at least not in role.

“Hey? Who am I to come between husband and wife?” Nezumi’s tone was mocking, that smirk on his face again.

Em shook her head. “See if I help you out next time at Daj’s!”

Nezumi waved her off. “As if I need it.”

“Asshole.”

“Right back at cha.” Nezumi didn’t look back at the woman, who gave him another angry snarl, before she went back inside the trailer.

“Was that your cousin’s wife? The one who makes the glass vases?”

“Yeah, and as you can see, she doesn’t like me much.”

Shion smirked, “Can’t imagine why with your award winning personality.” Nezumi looked over at him, his shocked expression turning into a smile.

“Getting good on those comebacks, milord.”

“Well, you’re training me well.” But thinking about Nezumi training him had been a bad thing. Now Shion’s mind wandered to the image from earlier but instead of Nezumi gagging him, he was wearing a collar, Nezumi’s elegant hand holding onto the leash.

“Whatcha thinking?” Nezumi was behind him, whispering into his ear. Soft breath tickled Shion’s neck. “Or do you want to show me?” Nezumi’s voice was sex itself. Shion released a breath.

“Nezumi.” Caught in Nezumi’s web, Shion’s eyes fluttered shut. But the sounds of children playing and people talking, and the smell of something wonderful roasting kicked Shion back into reality. “We’re in public.”

“Something that can be fixed.” Shion picked that moment to crack open his eyes. Nezumi’s bratty cousin Kash was right in front of them.

“Eww gross! Nezumi stop making out with your white snake! I’m gonna lose my appetite.”

Shion actually heard Nezumi growl. “Little fucker. Come back here and say all of that shit to my face, instead of running away.”

Kash, of course, had ran off and out of Nezumi’s reach. No doubt expecting Nezumi to chase him. Yeah, Kash was a brat, but it was kind of endearing how he was trying to get some of Nezumi’s attention.

“Hi there,” Shion said. “I’ve never got a chance to meet you.” Kash stopped, and looked over, but before he could speak Shion said, “I’m White Snake. Who are you?”

Nezumi broke out laughing. “Only you, Shion.”

“I’m the guy who has to live with this jerk wad,” Kash said. “Nice to meet you too, White Snake.” Shion smiled back at him. “But why do you have white hair? And what’s with your eyes? Are you an albino or something?”

“Kash, do you ever think before you talk? Or is it you’ve got nothing in there to think with?” Nezumi had caught Kash with a speed both Shion and Kash hadn’t been able to follow. “He’s not an albino, look at his skin color, dummy. It’s not white.”

“But he’s got red eyes? Like a demon?”

“Only a true moron would believe in demons.”

“Nezumi, it’s okay. I don’t mind, really. Your cousin’s kinda endearing.”

Both Nezumi and Kash turned to look at Shion.

“You can’t be serious?” Nezumi said, followed by Kash’s, “Who you calling endearing, jerk?!”

“Apparently not your bratty ass. Now beat it.” An evil little grin appeared on Nezumi’s face. “Or I’ll feed you to my snake.”

The moment Nezumi released him, Kash took off running. “White snake! Nezumi’s kissin’ a white snake!”

Nezumi sighed low. “I really want to take that kid somewhere dark, murder him and hide his body.”

Shion burst out laughing. “If the kids in school could see you now. Nezumi? Getting teased by a thirteen year old? And well, dare I say it, you sound like a grumpy, big brother.”

Nezumi gave him an annoyed look. “How the hell is any of this funny?”

“It’s like you’ve come alive here. I’ve seen so many sides of you. I’m so glad you brought me with you.”

“Okay, stop saying that.” Nezumi blushed before he could hide it from Shion. “Seriously if any more of that crap comes out of your mouth, you’ll be eating the dirt.”

Shion couldn’t stop laughing. Nezumi grabbed him into a headlock, and the nuggie he gave Shion still didn’t make Shion stop laughing. So Nezumi upped his game, and started tickling Shion.

Shion gasped and writhed. He couldn’t breathe, laughing was becoming painful. “Nezumi! Stop!”

Now it was Nezumi’s turn to laugh. “But I thought you liked laughing, Shion?”

“Ne-zumi! Pl-ease!” Shion was laughing so hard, he was turning red. He shoved into Nezumi, hard and the two of them actually fell to the ground. Nezumi shielded a lot of his fall, and that made him stop tickling Shion.

“Ouch. Fuck, you’re heavy,” he grumbled.

“Oh? Weren’t you the one who said I was scrawny?”

“Seriously, I’m gonna have to shut your mouth up now. Between your comebacks and embarrassing bullshit, it’s really getting annoying.”

Shion leaned into Nezumi, his head resting against Nezumi’s shoulder before he moved closer and nuzzled Nezumi’s neck. “I like you, Nezumi.”

Nezumi’s grumbling died on his lips, and he froze up at the contact. Shion wanted to pin him, climb on top of him, kiss him, make Nezumi beg. Shion’s mind was quickly jumping into the gutter. “I know how you can shut my mouth up?”

Nezumi raised his brows at Shion before a wicked smiled appeared on his face.

“Hey you two!” It was Nezumi’s aunt, Tsura. “We’re having dinner now!”

Never in his life had Shion been happier he hadn’t followed through with those thoughts. That would have been mortifying. As it was, laying here on top of Nezumi, cuddling with him was already making him grow red. Nezumi shoved him off, and got to his feet with fluid finesse. He offered a hand down to Shion.

Shion clasped it, but this time Nezumi used the proper force so Shion didn’t come collapsing into his arms. Shion felt a bit disappointed by that. Then he wanted to slap himself especially because as soon as he stood up he saw the entirety of Nezumi’s family sitting around four picnic tables pushed together to make one long row. Each table could fit eight people, and was covered with a red table cloth. Nezumi’s uncle Hanzi sat on the end, Tsura sat on the side next to him. On his other end sat an elderly woman.

She had graying, jet black hair. Deep creases lined her mouth, her face wrinkled with age, but the gleam in her eyes was sharp. Her eyes were a deep brown, almost black. She had Nezumi’s bone structure but much darker skin. Thick, penciled in eyebrows were the color of her hair, and red lip stick colored her thin lips. Her hair and makeup were a bit gawky, but it didn’t look bad on her. Rather, there was something mystical about her like she had sprang out of a gypsy fairytale. All she needed was fortune-teller clothing and a crystal ball.

“Daj!” Nezumi came over and hugged her shoulders.

“Nezumi, handsome as always.” The woman smiled a little like Nezumi. “I pitched you to some of my customers today.”

Nezumi gave a lopsided grimace. “Daj…”

“Well, one’s coming back with two of her sisters next time.”

Nezumi shook his head. “So, I take it business was good. Geez, swindler, using your own grandson to make a buck.”

“Ungrateful brat. Speaking to your Daj with that snarky mouth of yours.” Her serious face broke into a full front smile revealing sparkling, white teeth that if Shion had to guess were dentures.

“Oh,” Nezumi said, before he tugged Shion by the elbow, bringing him closer. “Daj, this is Shion.”

“Oh?” The woman’s hands clasped his firmly; they were wrinkled from age, but warm. Her onyx eyes captured Shion like she had put a window up and was looking into his soul. “So, you’re the new friend?” She broke eye contact with Shion and smirked up at Nezumi. “Such a cutie.”

Nezumi blushed but quickly tried to hide it.

“You need to come by my wagon, and I’ll tell you your fortune.”

“As if I’d let him. Go and swindle your own friends, Daj.”

Daj laughed and laughed, the sound was both pleasant and mystical—what Shion imagined a good witch might sound like, without the cackle. “Go and sit down brat, before I spring a hex on you.”

Nezumi smirked, “With your hexes I might actually get some good luck for a change.”

While they had been talking, people had been serving the food. Tsura and a few other women were putting down plates, a few of the older children were helping—among them were Kash and Nezumi’s other little cousin that had been sitting in front of the TV before. Nezumi grabbed Shion’s elbow and led him to a seat.

“I kinda want to go and get my fortune told by your grandmother.”

“Seriously? I just told you she’s a sham.”

“Maybe, but there’s something in her eyes.”

“You are such an airhead, I’m getting a headache just from talking to you.”

Shion leaned forward and captured Nezumi’s ear. “That’s not all you’ve gotten from talking to me.” Nezumi’s shocked expression told Shion he’d succeeded in catching Nezumi off guard. But before Nezumi could retort, Shion had sat back down and innocently looked at his plate. “It looks wonderful!” he said to Tsura, who gave him a wide smile.

When all of the serving trays and pots were placed on the table, they all waited to eat. Hanzi spoke; Shion wasn’t expecting him to say a prayer.

“Devel, we offer thanks for the food you have provided for us. May we never forget your goodness and reflect the same in our lives.”

All around the table people said, “Amen.” When Shion heard Nezumi’s voice repeating it, he couldn’t help but be touched. Nezumi praying before meals? Sitting down with family? If the kids in school could see this side of Nezumi they would never consider him a monster.

Shion too repeated the word. He wasn’t really a religious person, but he liked the idea of a God looking out for his children and loving them. But Nezumi’s uncle hadn’t called the deity God. Was it another name for God, or a different god entirely? Maybe they were polytheistic? Shion was too curious not to ask.

“What does Devel mean?”

“God,” Nezumi whispered back.

“In Romani?”

Nezumi nodded.

“We are joined tonight by Nezumi’s friend, Shion. Please be kind to him.” As Hanzi said this all eyes were on Shion. He felt his cheeks go hot.

“Let me introduce you to Nezumi’s family,” Hanzi continued. His uncle was very coordinal, and an excellent host. With Nezumi’s cold, snarky attitude Shion would never had guessed he had such a welcoming uncle.

Shion nodded. He was very curious to know who all of these people were. They couldn’t all be Nezumi’s family, right?

Starting on his right, Hanzi reintroduced his wife. “Tsura, you already know.” Shion nodded and Tsura gave him a warm smile. Hanzi gestured to the other end of the table. “And you have met my mother, Lala.”

“Feel free to just call me Daj.” Daj’s smile looked more like Nezumi’s, but that mystic air to her was still present. Shion wasn’t at all surprised she could make a living fortune-telling.

Shion nodded to her. “Okay.”

“Next to Tsura are my two sons, Nezumi’s cousins. I believe you have met them before. Here are their names if they failed to properly introduce themselves.” There was chastising in Hanzi’s tone. “The elder one is Inukashi, the younger one is Luca.”

“Nice to formally meet you,” Shion said with a smile.

“Nice to meet you too,” Luca replied. This was the first time Shion had heard the boy say anything. He sounded shy, and didn’t look up to make eye contact.

“Hi,” was all Kash said before he whispered, “White snake.”

Hanzi paused. “Kash, if I hear that out of your mouth again, you will not be eating tonight. Do I make myself clear?”

For once Kash looked genuinely sorry. Bowing his head he said, “Sorry, da.”

“Now apologize to Shion.”

“I’m sorry, Shion.” Kash’s demeanor, like Nezumi’s earlier, transformed to that of an obedient son.

“It’s all right,” Shion replied. He honestly didn’t mind the nickname. But from the stern look on Hanzi’s face, he had no doubt the father would follow through on his threat. Kash seemed to think so too and for the rest of the meal was silent.

He heard Nezumi smirk by his side. Side glancing him, he saw Nezumi silently laughing at his cousin, who made a mean face when he saw what Nezumi was doing. They had entered into a staring/silent growling/vindictive-evil-eye contest. It was the cutest thing in the world. Who knew Nezumi could be so childish?

“Next to them, is my eldest son, Daiki and his wife, Emily.” Daiki looked so very similar to Nezumi, if Shion hadn’t been told that this was Nezumi’s cousin he would have believed it to be Nezumi’s older brother.

“Very nice to meet you.” Daiki’s voice sounded a lot like his father’s. His mannerisms also resembled Hanzi’s. Mildly put, in personality he was nothing like Nezumi.

“Hi, Shion,” Em said. She really did look like she was their age, whereas her husband looked like he was an adult. Not overly old but clearly in his thirties. Shion was curious about their relationship. He had so many questions he wanted to ask Nezumi.

“Nice to meet the both of you.” Shion smiled politely.

“Next we have Sasori, Tsura’s brother and Nezumi’s uncle.” So the mean looking man was related to Nezumi’s awesome and very welcoming aunt? If Shion hadn’t been told this he would never had imagined it. Though, now looking at them, they did look similar.

“Next to him is his wife, Lyu. And their daughter, Nadya.” All three of them had darker skin and hair. Nadya’s eyes were the shape of Nezumi’s eyes, if not the color which was brown-green just like Tsura’s.”

“Nice to meet you,” Sasori’s wife replied. Sasori just nodded his head. His daughter smiled at Shion.

“Likewise.” Shion smiled back.

Sasori had two sons. One older, the other younger than Nezumi. The three of them couldn’t have been more than a year apart. Shion wondered why only Nezumi went to school. Yet another question he was saving for when he had Nezumi alone.

Hanzi looked a bit sad when he introduced the husband of Nezumi’s late aunt. She had died in childbirth and had left behind two daughters, ages four and two.

“You will meet them later,” Hanzi said. “They’re taking a nap.”

Nezumi had more relatives, which were still called aunts and uncles regardless of their distant relations. All of Nezumi’s family shared some features in common with him, whether it was pale skin, build or facial features. However, the vast majority of Nezumi’s family had darker skin. Only one family member was heavy set. His name was Simon. Mechanical grease stained his thick fingers with dirt under his fingernails. Unlike Sasori, Simon laughed a lot. Shion immediately felt comfortable in the man’s presence.

Some of the family were elderly, one being Nezumi’s paternal grandfather. It was the first of Nezumi’s family related to his father. The man politely bowed his head, but didn’t speak.

“Puroda’s getting old,” Nezumi whispered into his ear. “We’re not sure if it’s dementia or just old age, but he doesn’t talk anymore.” That made Shion sad, and his heart went out to the man. Still Nezumi had a living grandfather. Shion never knew any of his grandparents. Both of his maternal grandparents were dead—Shion learning that his grandfather had died of the same disease that had almost killed him. Shion had heard that his paternal grandparents may have been alive. But if they were they wanted nothing to do with him and his mother. Shion didn’t care though. He had never met them, so they might as well have not existed.

“Very nice to meet you, sir.” Shion smiled, returning the nod.

There were a few guarded, some even suspicious, looks from Nezumi’s extended family, but for the most part they were welcoming. After Shion had met all of the relatives—he would have certainly had forgotten most of their names if not for his excellent memory—the family started their dinner.

In the center of the table was a large pot, steam rose from it. It smelled delicious, some kind of soup, Shion guessed.

“Here, sweetie, let me pour you some.” Taking the bowl in front of Shion, Tsura poured some of the pot’s contents into his bowl.

“Thank you,” Shion took the bowl, “That smells wonderful.” Tsura went about serving the soup starting with her husband. Then her mother-in-law and the elders, and finally down to the rest of the family.

Shion’s attention was stolen by the sound of food being poured onto his plate. It was a soupy dish that looked like cabbage with some kind of meat in broth. Shion’s eyes lit up; this was the same thing Nezumi would bring in for lunch. He was going to taste what Nezumi normally ate, that made him both curious and happy, and then feeling a little like a stalker. Alongside the dish, some yellow cornbread was placed on his plate. It too was the same cornbread Nezumi typically brought in. They both smelled delicious. Finally, Em came around dishing out sausages, sliced up and fried. Shion could smell the meat smoked and sizzled in just the right mouthwatering amount.

With all food served, Em, Tsura and Nezumi’s two other aunts sat down. Shion waited until everyone else started eating before digging in.

“Wow, this is amazing!”

It wasn’t until he had started eating his soup that he noticed a strangely lacking number of silverware, and even plates, now that he looked closer. Some of Nezumi’s aunts and uncles were sharing plates, and most were using their hands to eat, dipping their cornbread into the cabbage dish. At some point, spoons were eventually dug out to eat the more soupy parts of the cabbage dish, but if they could get away without using utensils, they did.

Shion wasn’t used to that, and parts of it were gross, but it was educational. After all, he had never eaten with gypsies before. Nezumi and Hanzi were among those that always used utensils. The only time Nezumi stopped was when he dipped his cornbread into his soup. Shion also noticed that no one ate their soup with a spoon—Nezumi included. They all just drank from the bowl.

Shion tried to imitate, but when he almost swallowed a chunk of meat whole—which he would have choked on for sure—he reminded himself to drink slowly. The soup tasted like cabbage and the meat was chewy and tough. The broth was tasty though.

“What's in this? It taste delicious.”

“What’s in what?”

“Everything,” Shion smiled. “The soup, the cabbage dish, the cornbread. Do all of these dishes have names?”

“Soup’s just soup. Cabbage, meat and oase tziganesti.”

“What is oase tziganesti?”

“Animal bones mostly.”

It sounded gross, but that was when Shion remembered that soup in general was cooked using bones. So, it wasn’t that unusual. Even if it did kind of make his skin crawl if he thought about it long enough.

“Okay, so what's the cabbage dish called?”

Nezumi smirked. “It’s not a cabbage dish, Shion.” His smile widening. “It’s pig stomach in broth.”

“Woah, really?”

Nezumi nodded. “Why, is your highness about to chuck up his meal?”

“Of course not.” Shion gave a thoughtful expression, talking more to himself. “Guess that’s why it didn’t taste much like cabbage.”

Nezumi smirked at that.

Shion marveled at just how good it tasted. He would have never guessed if he hadn’t been told this information. “I never would have thought it tasted this amazing.”

“Bee’s pig stomach is the best in camp,” Nezumi said. “The bread is mamaliga, basically it’s cornbread.”

“Well, at least I was right about one of them!” Shion's comment must have sounded like it came out of nowhere, Nezumi’s eyebrow rose in suspicion. “I used to see you eating this at lunch. I first thought this was a cabbage dish, but I got the cornbread right!”

“You were watching what I ate?”

“Um...” Shion stuttered. “Well…I mean, you always had the same thing so...”

“You really are a creeper.” Nezumi’s smile widened. “Next I’m gonna find your secret shrine to me in your closet.”

Shion could feel himself blushing. “Am not. I just…noticed you.”

Shion’s soft words made Nezumi’s teasing smile wane. He blinked at Shion, his cheeks growing rosy, before he looked away, biting his bottom lip.

“Idiot.” Nezumi didn’t sound as confident as he probably meant to, but soon he hid his discomfort under his signature smirk.

 

~-~-~

After dinner, he and Nezumi were ushered away by the women who began to clean up, most of the children as well.

“Oyi, Kash and Luca, get over here and help yer mother!” Tsura called. Luca didn’t put up a struggle. Kash on the other hand…

“Why me? Nezumi’s here too. Why can’t he help clean?”

“You know very darn well why. Nezumi’s got a guest.”

Kash looked around making sure his father was not in earshot. “Nezumi’s white snake doesn’t count.”

“Fucking take it like a man and just go and help her.” Nezumi shoved his cousin in the shoulder. “Geez, are you such an annoying, little shit.”

“Nezumi, go and take Shion to meet your cousins.”

Shion thought he had met Nezumi’s cousins, but apparently there were more. Nezumi knew what his aunt meant for he led Shion away.

Sasori’s daughter, Nadya was helping the youngest children clean their face and hands. When she saw him staring at her, she smiled. Shion blushed profusely.

Shion had been watching the old women help Nezumi’s grandfather to a lounge chair before two high-pitched voices coming from behind him caught his attention.

“Nesmi! Nesmi!” Two little girls were running to them; they reminded Shion of tiny squirrels chirruping.

“C’mere you two!” Nezumi scooped up both squirrels one in each arm.

“Spin us, spin us!” the elder one squeaked. They were the most adorable things Shion had seen, in his entire life maybe.

Their resemblance to Nezumi was uncanny, at least with the elder one. It was like looking at a mini girl-version of his boyfriend. (Shion hadn’t even realized he had mentally called Nezumi his boyfriend. If he had, he most likely would have stopped to ponder this fact.) The elder little squirrel had a baby doll face, and Nezumi’s delicate features—same hair, same eyes, same bone structure, same pale complexion. Her little nose was straight and cute, and Shion imagined that this was what Nezumi’s nose had looked like when he had been her age. There were little differences between her and Nezumi much in the same way there were differences between Nezumi and his older cousin Daiki, but still this little girl could be Nezumi’s sister, and was probably how little Nezumi had looked like. Of all of the people that shared Nezumi’s eye color this little girl’s was the closest to Nezumi’s in feeling. But there was only one pair of eyes that both drew in the light and reflected it. There was only one Nezumi with his beautiful eyes.

The younger one also strongly resembled Nezumi. But her hair was darker, a jet black. Her complexion was fair just like Nezumi’s. She had the green-brown eyes that matched Nezumi’s aunt and Kash. She too had Nezumi’s bone structure—at least that looked like what her baby features would grow into.

If Shion had to guess their ages, it would be four and two, maybe?

Nezumi started spinning them around, both girls giggling. The little one though soon grabbed at Nezumi’s shoulder.

“Top! Nami, Nami!”

Nezumi stopped spinning. “You wanna get down, Ava?” The little tike nodded. No sooner had Nezumi placed her on the floor, then she plopped onto her butt. “Dizzy there?” Nezumi patted her head, ruffling her hair.

“Nesmi! Nesmi! Spin me, spin me!” Nezumi still had the older of the two in his arms.

“You sure? You’re not gonna puke on me, are yah?”

The girl giggled. “Yes!” she drew out of the word. “Imma puke on you!” And she made puking sounds.

“Ahhh,” Nezumi laughed. “Not my clean shirt! You gonna wash it for me!”

“Yup!”

“Yup?”

“With mud!”

Nezumi made a face. “I’m not sure I like this deal.”

The little girl giggled again.

“Shion,” Nezumi looked over from playing with his cousin, who was still giggling in his arms. “Meet my cousins. This is Hana, and that party animal over there is Ava.”

“Watsa party animal?” Hana asked.

“It’s you!” Nezumi started tickling her. She really sounded like a squirrel now, her giggles sounding more like chirps.

Shion smiled. Nezumi’s laugh was genuine and free of mockery. He might as well have been a different person. His behavior was so unlike how he treated Kash, and definitely not what the kids at school saw.

“Here, take this puker!” And Shion soon had an armful of Hana. She was super light. It was like he carried a critter, and a bouncy one at that, Hana almost bounced out of Shion’s arms.

“Hana, Ava, this is Shion.”

Hana’s eyes looked at Shion with wonder. Ava had grabbed onto Nezumi’s ankle, her tiny fingers curling, pinky up. Nezumi had crouched down and started talking to her.

“See’on?” Hana’s words claimed Shion’s attention.

“Yeah?” he smiled at the mini Nezumi squirrel in his arms, inwardly laughing at his own joke.

“Why do you got a snake on yer face?”

“Hana! Remember we’re not supposed to talk about that?” Nezumi’s eight-year-old girl cousin, Aishe had come over and scolded Hana. From up close Aishe’s eyes looked a lot like Nezumi’s grandmother’s, except for the hazel color; she also narrowed her brow a bit like Nezumi did.

Now that Shion looked down all of the little kids in the camp were surrounding them.

“It’s okay,” Shion said, putting Hana down and sitting with the kids so he was at their level. The kids sat on a large quilt on the floor around him. “I got really, really sick. But I got better, but my sickness caused my hair and eyes to lose all of their color.”

The kids stared up at Shion with eyes of wonder.

“And that’s how you got a snake on your face?” Nicu said, he and his twin looked around the age of seven. He was pale like Nezumi, but that was all the resemblance they had. His twin brother was a bit shy, and stared at Shion with wide, curious eyes.

Shion smiled. “Yeah, the snake mark also came from my sickness.”

Nezumi had looked over at him too.

“How did you get better?” Aishe asked.

“Did you almost die?” Kuro was probably a year older than Aishe. He blinked at him. The awe borderline excitement in his voice reminded Shion of when Shawn asked him that same question. Inwardly he could almost hear Shanelle chastising.

Shion smiled. “An angel saved me.”

“Nuh uh,” Aishe’s tone unconvinced.

Shion smiled.

“Did da angel make yer hair waite cause he lives in Heaven?” Hana asked.

“Yeah, I guess the angel did.”

“Whea mama is?” Ava said.

“Yeah,” Shion’s tone gentle. “Where your mother is.”

“See’on, I’m glad you didn’t die.” Hana’s little voice sounded so innocent. “Nesmi would be sad.”

Shion’s eyes found Nezumi. He was sitting on the floor with Ava in his lap. The moment Shion looked over he caught Nezumi’s eyes. There was a blush on Nezumi’s pale cheeks. Had Nezumi really talked about Shion to his family? Both his aunt Tsura and Kash, and even his grandmother, had hinted as much, and now this little four year old was telling him that Nezumi would have been sad if Shion had died.

“You’re cheeks are red,” Hana said laughing. Shion scratched the back of his head.

“Ah, yeah. Well, you made me happy.”

“I did?” Hana asked.

“Did you really see an angel?” Aishe was clearly bored with Hana and Shion’s conversation; her face bunched up with suspicion.

“What if he did?” Nezumi came over to the kids. Little gasps came from the group, from the youngest ones. Nezumi smiled. “Shion has the ability to see far off into space, into the zone where angels live. So, he could very well have seen an angel.”

Shion rolled his eyes. Stupid Nezumi. Leave it to him to tease me, even now.

“Yeah, and the angel saved my life. And that’s why I’m here today.”

“And that’s also why all of you need to stop asking Shion questions about this.” Nezumi’s tone grew firm. “You’ve all be told not to. Want me to go and tell our kakos and bebes?”

“No, no, Nezumi!” A chorus of no’s broke out in the group of children.

“Well then, now that we have all satisfied our curiosity, we won’t be asking Shion about this again. Right?” All of the kids nodded their heads to Nezumi’s words. Nezumi sounded like a schoolteacher. He wasn’t cruel, or mean, instead he spoke in a firm tone that lacked any edge. Disciplining the children not yelling at them. And it worked. All of the kids listened to him. So very different than Kash. Then again, when these kids got to be Kash’s age they probably wouldn’t listen either.

Just then a large hand rested on Shion’s shoulder. As he turned around, Nezumi’s uncle Hanzi said, “Shion, I would like to talk with you, if you have a moment?”

“No, Ka!” Hanna whined. “We wanna play wit See’on!”

“Yea, See’in, See’in!” Ava chirruped.

“You will later. I promise to bring him right back.”

Hana made a pouty face as she chewed her bottom lip. “Okay.”

“That’s a good girl.”

“Great,” Nezumi feigned irritation. “Leaving me to handle the gaggle all on my own!”

Hanzi smiled at that, so did Shion. Nezumi looked adorable with his pouty face. Shion kind of wanted to kiss him, but that would be very inappropriate around the small children. In Shion’s opinion that stuff was for adults only. He wasn’t sure of Nezumi’s take on that though.

“Get em!” Hana yelled, and all of the four girls pounced on Nezumi, who fell from a sitting position back to the floor. Ava, making the number of girls now up to five, plopped down on Nezumi’s shoulder.

“Ahhh! Help!”

“To think the great Nezumi can be so easily overcome,” Shion smirked.

“Have you seen them? All those devious, little fingers, there’s no way I can handle so many!” Nezumi laughed before he flicked Shion’s ankle. “Good luck with the interrogation. Sucks to be you right now.”

“What?”

“Nezumi,” Hanzi sighed, shaking his head. “Boys, it looks like the girls could use some aid.” The three boys’ devious little smiles were priceless, as was the look of betrayal on Nezumi’s face.

“Ka!”

“What?” Hanzi put a hand on Shion’s shoulder. “Oh, I’m sure you can handle a few more children, Nezumi. Come on, Shion.”

 

~-~-~

Shion walked with Nezumi’s uncle in silence until they came to the family’s trailer.

“Come inside, please.” Hanzi opened the door and began to remove his shoes. Shion followed suit before he could be asked.

“Sit down, can I fix you something to drink?”

“I’m fine thank you.”

Shion’s tummy was flittering with anxiety. He was getting more and more nervous. All of the buildup. Hanzi must have had something awfully important to talk about. A scary thought struck him straight in the jugular and filled him with dread. What if Hanzi had brought him here to tell Shion that he could not be friends with Nezumi anymore? But that kind of conversation really didn’t fit how Hanzi had acted earlier, so Shion knew this was his mind playing tricks on him.

“I’ve got the good stuff,” Hanzi said with a smile that reminded Shion of Nezumi. He held out a bottle of wine. “Year 1980, can’t say no to that, can you?”

Shion smiled back. He liked Nezumi’s uncle. “I guess you got me. Sure, if you are offering, I’ll take a glass.”

“Good.” Hanzi was in the kitchen opening the bottle and preparing the drinks. Shion took this time to study the contents inside the china cabinet. The plates were beautiful, ceramic and handmade, though after all of the handmade crafts Shion had seen today, he was not surprised. They were embroidered with what looked like religious symbols. Though Shion was a bit confused because there seemed to be a hodge podge of religions combined in there. He recognized Jesus Christ, and Vishnu—the Hindu god’s blue skin jotting Shion’s memory. There were other things, other symbols. The deities were in the center of the plate and looked to be engaged in a battle, around the edges carved in gold were other figures. It took Shion a moment before he recognized them as hideous looking demons.

“All right, here you go.” Shion hadn’t been able to study any of the figurines in the cabinet as he had wanted to. The exotic plates captivated Shion with their vibrant and unexpected patterns. But he would just have to continue this later.

Shion graciously accepted the wine, though he wasn’t a big drinker—the correct wording being he wasn’t a drinker at all, as he had never had a drink before in his life. Well, he was underage, so... But Hanzi didn’t seem to care about that. Shion had a feeling Nezumi had already had his taste of alcohol.

“I’m sure you are wondering what I have brought you here for. Correct?”

Shion nodded.

“Don’t be afraid. I’m not here to interrogate you as my nephew likes to joke about. But I did want to talk to you alone, if that is all right with you.”

Shion thought the question was a loaded one, because there was obviously no way Shion could refuse to have a conversation with the person who was for all purposes Nezumi’s father. He nodded politely though, not sharing these thoughts.

“I wanted to talk about your illness.”

“Oh.” Shion wasn’t sure what to expect here. Nezumi had told him not to tell anyone. Did that include Nezumi’s family as well? “Um, what is it you would like to know?”

“Before we start I want you to know that I am already aware of Nezumi’s involvement.”

Shion’s mouth dropped open, and Hanzi smiled. “He is for all practical purposes a son of mine, and something of this magnitude would not be something he would, or could hide from me.”

Shion nodded. “I’m sorry.”

Hanzi looked puzzled. “What for?

“For Nezumi having to help me. I know he put himself at great risk doing so. So, well, I’m sorry.”

“If I know Nezumi, he would get angry at that comment,” Hanzi smirked. “But don’t worry. You have nothing to apologize for, it is not like you asked to become sick. How did you come about that illness, if I might asked? Nezumi was vague on that detail, saying he didn’t know.”

“We didn’t at the time he saved me. But later I found out that it might have been genetic and might have been responsible for my grandfather’s death. The doctor wasn’t sure what I had though. They did tests. At first, I didn’t want them to. I didn’t want them to find out about Nezumi somehow.”

Hanzi smiled a knowing smile. “I brought you here because I wanted to stress the importance of not revealing what Nezumi did to anyone outside of my family. And not to the children either, as they won’t understand at this time. But now I see that I have nothing to be worried about. You clearly care about Nezumi very much.”

Shion nodded. He didn’t even have to think about his reply. “Yes, I do.”

“My mother used to tell us bedtime stories about the Children of Life. That Life created children to soothe Her loneliness and bring Her joy, and blessed them with Her gifts. Long ago, our family came across these people and intermarried. My mother believed that Hajime’s ability was a product of that. Hajime was the name of Nezumi’s father. He and his twin brother both possessed this strange ability to heal sickness. Sadly both of them are no longer with us.”

Shion hadn’t taken a sip of his wine as he listened to Hanzi.

“Have you ever heard Nezumi sing?”

Shion shook his head. “I asked him to sit in on one of his Chorus practices. But then I got sick.”

“My mother believed that this inept ability of song was one of Life’s gifts to Her children. That these songs could bring about peace and cleanse the soul.”

Hanzi sipped his wine. “Course I am not sure how true my mother’s stories are. And I am sure you might find all of this ridiculous. And of that I understand. After all, this is quite a claim.”

“I don’t find any of this ridiculous. Even if I may not understand or believe something, I was taught to never discredit someone else’s belief because it might very well be true, I just don’t have an understanding of it. And besides, people’s beliefs should be respected because they are extensions of the people themselves. And all people should be treated with dignity.”

“You and Nezumi might hit heads, I believe.”

“Yeah, he is always telling me that I’m idealistic, and don’t understand reality. He’s probably true in a lot of ways. I learn a lot from him, actually. I’m really glad I met him.”

Hanzi smiled. “I’m sure he would say the same about you.”

“Hanzi, why doesn’t Nezumi use his real name? Why does everyone, even his family, call him Nezumi? Does it have something to do with his parents’ deaths?”

Hanzi chuckled, and Shion saw Nezumi laughing through his uncle. “That is a lot of questions to answer in one setting.”

“Oh, sorry, I didn’t mean to pry.”

“No, it’s okay. Yes, the fact that Nezumi doesn’t use his real name is related to his parents’ deaths. But I’m afraid I can’t tell you the reason behind it. This is something Nezumi must choose to tell you or not. But, Shion.” Hanzi’s voice took on a pleading tone. “If Nezumi chooses to not tell you, please do not press him. Believe me when I say he has a very good reason for not doing so. I know some might think our ways are quaint or false, but they are very real to us. So please try to be understanding if Nezumi decides not to tell you.”

Shion had to take a moment to process this information. He never realized that there might be a serious reason for Nezumi not using his given name.

Slowly, Shion nodded. “Like I said, even if I don’t understand something, that doesn’t mean I can’t respect it.” Shion still felt so curious to know Nezumi’s name though. It was like a little itch—well a growing, nagging itch—that he really wanted to scratch. But he had to think about Nezumi. “Okay. I promise to not pry if Nezumi chooses not to tell me. I really want to know, but I can respect his wishes if he doesn’t want to tell me.”

Hanzi smiled. “You really are a good friend to Nezumi.”

“What happened to Nezumi’s parents?” Shion asked. He felt comfortable enough around Hanzi, and figured the man simply would not tell him if it wasn’t something Shion ought to know. “Nezumi told me that the people who killed his parents would kill him if they found out about him.”

Hanzi looked away, and deep sorrow etched in his face, and his eyes. Shion wasn’t sure if the man was going to cry in front of him. He didn’t know if he should comfort him, or pretend he didn’t notice to give the man time to collect himself.

“My sister’s death isn’t something I can bring myself to talk about without reliving the pain of it.”

“I’m so sorry. Please forgive me, I didn’t mean to ask such a blunt question.”

“No, it’s okay. I understand your curiosity.” Hanzi’s tone was soft and caring, he inhaled and dragged out a breath and continued. “Yes, they were killed because of the power Hajime possessed. I believe these were the same people who abducted Rikki, Hajime’s twin brother. At the time we found out about Rikki’s ability, it wasn’t known that Hajime also possessed it. Rikki had cured my youngest sister of pneumonia. A few months later he was abducted. His body was found, mutilated in a river several miles away. Hajime discovered his ability later when he saved my sister from death after she gave birth to Nezumi’s sister.”

“Nezumi mentioned that. He said his father saved his mother, but he didn’t know how he did it. Nezumi told me he didn’t know how to use his power, not like his father had.”

“Yes, well before we were uncertain that Nezumi also possessed this ability, so there was no reason for us to tell him.”

“So you know how Nezumi’s abilities work?” Hanzi nodded, and Shion quickly rushed on. “Can you tell me?”

“I’m afraid not.” Hanzi sounded apologetic. “You are a very good person, and I do not doubt your ability to keep this information private. But this information cannot be revealed to outsiders. It is not just for the user’s protection. It protects our camp, and our people. How this power works can never be revealed because the risk of it getting out would increase, and if this knowledge were to get out, our family would be in as much danger as Nezumi’s parents were, as Nezumi himself will be if he is found out.”

Shion felt really curious again. He knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that he would never betray Nezumi, or any of his family members. But he knew Hanzi would never tell him this information, and he had to respect that. And if this knowledge was as dangerous as Hanzi claimed, it was a good rule that he lived by in not sharing.

“Nezumi is the precious child of my beloved sister. He is all that I have to remember her by—her last gift to us. I will do everything in my power to protect him, even if it costs me my life. My love for my little sister demands no less. Nezumi, Hanna and Ava are all that are left of my two beautiful sisters, and I will care for them and raise them as my own. And now I know that Nezumi has the same burden his father had.” Hanzi sighed. “Everyone in our clan that has had this ability has died early. I won’t allow Nezumi to meet the same fate as his father, not if I can help it.”

Shion could only stare at Nezumi’s uncle. Nezumi was awesomely and unconditionally loved by this man. It made Shion think of his own father. He had never felt any emotions over his father. But now sadness pierced his heart. He would never know the love of a father, not the way Nezumi knew it from his uncle. Shion never thought not having his father or his father’s love would matter to him, but now the sadness he was feeling seemed to be just the tip of a large iceberg of feelings that lurked inside his heart. He felt himself pulling back, closing off his mind to the feelings. But that was just it, ever since Nezumi came into his life Shion had been losing the ability to do this. As if Nezumi were reaching inside of him and breaking down Shion’s dams that kept him from these—sometimes painful—emotions.

“Nezumi is lucky.” The words just slipped out. “I’m happy.” I want Nezumi to be loved. I want Nezumi to be happy. I want Nezumi safe.

Hanzi’s eyes—a variation of Nezumi’s eyes—studied him. Shion felt as if the man’s eyes were pulling back layers of his defense and seeing what was inside. Shion really hoped that was not the case. He didn’t even know how to deal with the emotions that had so suddenly appeared concerning his father. Overwhelming sadness wailed inside of him, and Shion closed off his heart to it. Hanzi’s eyes looked away, and he took a sip of his wine.

“You haven’t drank any of your wine, Shion?”

“Oh. Yeah, right. I’m sorry.” Shion took a sip, and then another one. He drank it too fast, and the bitterness caught in his throat and he was coughing.

“Easy there.” Hanzi patted his back. “Can’t have you choking on me, wouldn’t want Nezumi to draw that knife of his on me.” Hanzi chuckled. Shion finally got the much needed air into his lungs and had stopped coughing. He wanted to ask more about the knife Nezumi had—which he had all but forgotten about—but Hanzi stood up, and took his glass. “You don’t have to drink it if you don’t like it. I just thought it might help you relax.”

“Thank you. It’s just, I haven’t ever had alcohol before.”

Hanzi looked puzzled as if he were remembering something. “Oh, forgive me. I guess legal age here is twenty-one.” He laughed out loud. “This wandering life might be finally doing me in.”

Shion laughed. “It’s okay. I appreciate you trying to make me more comfortable.” The thought jumped in his head and he couldn’t quash it. “Has Nezumi drank before?”

Hanzi scratched the back of his neck, his expression turning into a look of guilt. “Well, I’m sure this makes me looks like a terrible guardian.”

Shion laughed.

“Not at all. I just got curious, that’s all. I just want to know more about Nezumi. I can’t help it. Everything about him is intriguing. I want to know more about the person he is under the mask he wears. I’m very glad he brought me here, meeting his family is like seeing different versions of Nezumi. I’m so happy. I feel like I’ve seen an entirely new side of him.” Shion was drawn into his own little world and barely realized he had spilled his heart until those words were already out of his mouth. Realizing he had just said all this information, he burned with embarrassment.

A low smile graced Hanzi’s face making the older man look beautiful, it kept growing until he let out a laugh. “I can see it now. Why Nezumi gets so embarrassed when you start talking.” He laughed again. Shion wished he could dissolve into the floor, he felt that mortified. “No, don’t be embarrassed. I like it how you speak your mind. I am just imagining Nezumi around you. Your personalities are opposite in this regard. Nezumi likes to keep his thoughts inside, while you like to speak from the heart.”

Those words stopped Shion’s embarrassment. It didn’t get rid of it altogether, but now he no longer wanted to fade into the floor.

Hanzi’s face sobered. “I’m sorry if it seemed like I was laughing at you. Quite the opposite, actually. I’m very glad you are Nezumi’s friend. I know he can be very hard to deal with. He has trouble letting people in—even with family. He had a rough past with the death of his parents, and those scars run deep. But I appreciate it that you stick with him. You’re a good friend, Shion. Know that you will always be welcome here.”

Shion smiled wide and broad. “Thank you.”

 

 It was faint but Shion heard the electronic sounds of a ring tone. Somewhere a phone was ringing. Hanzi heard it too. He looked up.

“Since when did Nezumi get a cell phone? Hmm…wouldn’t have thought he’d do something like that...”

“Cell phone?” Shion jumped up, finally recognizing the chiming. “It’s mine!”

“Well you better go and catch it.”

“Thank you!” Shion raced down the hall and into Nezumi’s bedroom. Right on top of Nezumi’s book bag, Shion had dropped his there. Shion fished through the side pocket until he found the vibrating phone, its blue lights flashing. The incoming call had the word MOM up on the screen.

“Mom?”

“Shion!” Karan’s relief stark against his ear. “Oh, thank goodness!” Sounds of her deep breathing filled the phone, she was trying to calm herself.

“Mom.” Shion didn’t know what to say. His tone soft.

“Where are you? You’re not hurt, are you?” The anxiety flayed her voice.

“Hurt? No, I’m fine.”

“How dare you just go somewhere without leaving me any notice!” her once breathy tone turned shrill. She was pissed all right. “You didn’t come home. No notifications. I couldn’t reach you by phone. You weren’t texting me. Damn it Shion, you nearly brought on my death tonight!”

Shion felt terrible. “I’m sorry mom. I didn’t mean to worry you.”

Karan’s heavy breathing answered him.

“I just got distracted, and I ended up meeting Nezumi’s family.”

“Nezumi’s?” Confusion strained her tone before she sighed in relief. “Thank goodness. For a moment I thought you were with those gypsies.”

“Well, mom Nezumi is a—“

“I was so worried so I called Safu, who had no idea since she was in debate club, then I called Shanelle and Aiko and they had no idea, and finally I got a hold of Shawn at Akihiko’s house. And Shawn told me you were with the gypsies. And meanwhile this is around eight at night! Then you weren’t answering your phone. I didn’t know if you were hurt. If you were abducted. If...” his mother’s sobs rang out.

“Mom, shhh, it’s okay,” Shion soothed. “Nezumi’s by my side, nothing can hurt me.” Karan choked on a breath.

“He is a good kid. I like him.” Tears in her voice.

“I’m surprised Shawn didn’t say I was with Nezumi.”

“He knew?” Her shock soon turned into betrayal.

“Well, he told you partially the truth. Nezumi is a gypsy, mom.”

“What?”

“Yeah, he brought me to meet his family. They are the nicest people you could ever meet. So warm and welcoming. And he has such a large family. I’m so envious.” Then Shion realized he was saying this to his mother. “Well, I mean, forget that last part. Anyways, they have taken great care of me. So you have nothing to worry about.”

Karan sounded like she was taking a moment to collect her thoughts and feelings. “Nezumi’s a gypsy?” she mulled over the words, tasting them on her lips.

Shion nodded. Before he realized she couldn’t see him.

“And you’re safe there? They didn’t hurt you?” her tone timid, and contained a lace of fear.

Shion didn’t mean to laugh. He knew his mother was frightfully upset. Quickly he answered her. “No, mom. No one hurt me. They are just misunderstood, that’s all. You like Nezumi, right?” he could almost see his mother nod from the other side of the phone, he heard it in her confirming hum. “Well, Nezumi’s family are all just as nice.” Shion smiled, “Actually they are a lot nicer than him.” He thought his joke was funny, but not surprisingly his mother was not in a laughing mood.

“I didn’t know that,” she repeated, lost in her own thoughts.

“Mom, I know you’re not a person to judge someone based on preconceptions or rumors. I know that. You’re my mother. Please tell me you don’t have a negative opinion of Nezumi simply because you found this out?”

“Oh, Shion. Of course not. Nezumi is such a good boy. I am just surprised. I’ve heard such terrible things about them. How they were picking pockets, and if you were south of Brawer Street it was good to keep your windows up while at stop lights, so they didn’t try to hold you up by knifepoint.”

“You heard all of that?” Hot anger smoldered in his veins. “How dare all of those assholes! Nezumi is the kindest person, I owe my life to him! How dare they say such vile and vulgar lies about Nezumi and his family?”

“Shion?” His mother sounded lost and small, before she went silent.

Shion had just realized he had yelled at her over the phone. That had never happened before. “Sorry, sorry, mom. I didn’t mean to yell.”

The sound of his mother’s sniffle was loud over the phone. “I didn’t know they were lies.” Her voice sounded small, almost inaudible. “I’m sorry Shion. I didn’t know. So when I heard you were with the gypsies I assumed the very worst. I thought I might…” her tone dropped to a whisper. “Lose you.”

Shion shook his head. “You’ll never loose me, mom. You just won’t, I promise.”

Karan was crying again. “I almost did.” Her teary reply was almost inaudible. “And in such a cruel way. I would never have gotten to hold you. To tell you how much I love you, how proud I am to be your mother. How there’s nothing you could possibly do to ever lose this love.”

“Mom, shhh, don’t cry. I swear I’m okay.”

“Wait a moment…” her tone becoming the detective one she used when she was on the scent. “What did you mean when you said you owed Nezumi your life?”

Shion couldn’t get enough air into his lungs. His palms went sweaty, and yet he shivered. His throat dry. Had he just exposed Nezumi? And after hearing what lay in store if that did happened?

“Forget it. I didn’t mean literally.”

“Yes, you did. Shion, I know you. You were upset when you said this,” His mother paused pondering. “I’ve never heard you that upset before.” Confusion warred with awe in her tone, before it was back to sleuth on the case. “But that didn’t mean you weren’t speaking the truth.”

Shit. Shit. Shit…

“I didn’t want to tell you, mom,” Shion said slowly, his mind grabbing onto an idea that just might save both him and Nezumi right now. “Sam attacked me at school today.”

“What?” He just knew his mother’s face drained of its color as she processed this information. And then there would come a mother’s rage that Shion knew even Sam would quiver at.

“He didn’t like my new looks. So he decided to beat me up.”

“This is that football player kid, right?” Karan was getting close to that rage zone, her shock quickly wearing off. “The big guy with shaggy blond hair?”

Shion nodded, then realized his mother couldn’t see him. “Yeah. So he attacked me, and well, if Nezumi hadn’t showed up and stopped him, he might have…well, let’s just say it wouldn’t have been pretty. Already my stomach still aches, even though the massage Nezumi gave me really worked wonders. He said his grandmother does it to him whenever he’s sick—”

“I don’t believe this!” his mother roared into the phone. “What do I pay my tax dollars to that school for? Hell, what does your father pay big money for? And they let that kid hurt you!”

Yup, she had hit it. She was in full fledge rage mode. But the fact that she had believed this made him inwardly sigh in relief.

Thank you Sam! I don’t know how I was going to get out of that one!

“I’m going straight to that school tomorrow! If they think they can hurt my son like that, they have another thing coming!” she panted over the phone. “I can’t believe this!” before she softened, worry back in her tone. “Are you hurt? Is anything broken? Do we need to go and see a doctor?”

“Nah, I’m okay. Like I said, Nezumi’s grandmother really knows her stuff.”

“What?” Apparently rage mode shut off her ability to listen to him.

“Yeah, Nezumi gave me this massage and it worked so well. He told me that his grandmother taught him how to do that.”

“Nezumi did?” Karan sounded like she had found a life raft to hold onto. She sighed. “I want to thank Nezumi. No, I need to thank Nezumi. He is such a wonderful boy. I am so glad you met him. And as for his family, bring them all over so I can cook them dinner, especially his grandmother!”

Shion couldn’t help it and burst out laughing. ‘You’re so funny mom.”

“Funny? I don’t mean to be funny. Shion, you were almost taken from me. When you got sick…I almost lost you. And, I might have lost you again. Thank God for Nezumi.”

Shion smiled. “I say that often too. I really like him. I’m so glad I met him.”

“Next time I hear the ladies at the salon insulting Nezumi’s family you can be sure I will stop and sternly give them a telling.”

Shion smiled. “Just don’t be so forceful mom, you want to keep coming back there, right?”

His mother’s laugh sounded beautiful against his ear. “I love you so much, Shion. Please, please, please be safe.”

Shion sobered up. “I know. I promise I will be.”

“Where are you? I can come get you?”

“Oh…well, I don’t actually know. Maybe I can ask someone and call you right back.” The hesitation in her voice told him she now wanted for him to live on this phone so she could constantly hear his voice.

“Mom?”

He could hear the nod in her voice. “All right.” She sighed. “But please find this out quickly. I really need to see you after this whole scare.”

Shion nodded. “I promise. I’ll go and ask him, okay?”

“Ok. I love you sweetie.”

Shion smiled. “I love you too mom.”

Shion ended the call, and dragged out a sigh. He hadn’t meant to cause his mother such trouble. And Safu…knowing her she was sitting by the phone. He would have to call her as soon as he got home. But given his mother’s state of mind right now, he needed to get home and fast. He couldn’t spend hours on the phone talking with Safu—calming her down was more like it.

Leaving Nezumi’s room, he found Hanzi sitting on the couch, finishing both of their wines. “I hope you don’t mind if I ended up drinking your wine. 1980 is such a good year to let it go to waste.”

“Oh no, please go right ahead. It’s your wine to begin with.”

Nezumi’s uncle smiled

“Um, I need to go home. My mother was a bit worried I didn’t call. Well, a bit is a large understatement. But that’s my mom, always worrying about me. I’m afraid I’m gonna send her to an early grave.”

Hanzi stood up. “Shall I give you a ride to your house?”

“Oh? I hadn’t thought of that. I was going to ask you for your address so my mom could drive here.”

“Addresses in this part do little good, I’m afraid.”

“Well, then given my mom’s sense of direction, maybe that’s for the best. If she can’t plug it into a GPS, she’ll be driving around for hours.”

“Shion?” Nezumi came into the trailer. He didn’t sound worried per say, but there was a slight uppity in his tone. “Jeez, Ka, think you interrogated him enough? I’d like to keep him around for a bit, so if you two are finished?”

“Ah, Nezumi, good timing. Shion needs to go home. I was going to drive him myself, but I imagine he would rather be taken home by you.” Shion blushed hard. He tried to hide it by rubbing his nose with his sleeve. Nezumi just smirked.

“Yeah, yeah. Come on.” Nezumi sounded kind of happy. Shion forgot completely that he was supposed to feel embarrassment.


Shion said goodbye to Nezumi’s family. The little girls were bummed to see him go, but Shion promised to come back and play with them, and he got big, baby-tooth filled smiles from the both of them. As well as the other little kids who were listening to Shion’s story. They also wanted him to come back.

“You’re lost, I’m afraid,” Nezumi said as they pulled out in his uncle’s truck. “Once they’ve got you wrapped around those little fingers, you’re done for.”

Shion smiled. “Think I’ll be okay with such a noble death of my freedom.”

“Sure, say that now…it’s all fun and games until they puke on your favorite shirt.”

Shion laughed. “Oh my god, they did?”

“Yeah, I wasn’t joking when I told Hana to not puke.”

“Well, whose fault is it for spinning them around, huh?

“Totally theirs. That’s all they want me to do now, it seems.”

Shion looked out the window as they passed nothing but miles and miles of trees. “I really like your family.”

“Well that’s good, 'cause I think you’re okay in their book, for a gadje anyway.” Shion’s smile got even widener before ire burned black in his veins. Nezumi must have sensed his shift.

“It’s just a stupid name for outsiders. I’ll stop them from calling you that, if it bothers you.”

Shion balled his fists until his hands hurt. “It’s not that at all. I can’t believe the nerve of some people. Saying all of those bad things about you and your family. I want to rip their throats out.”

Nezumi blinked at him with wide, shocked eyes. “Woah, who knew you had such a dark side, Shion?”

That was the bucket of cold water Shion needed to quash his anger. “Oh, sorry.” Shion had never felt that much anger before, so he was also puzzled by his strange burst of wild, near murderous rage. “I’m sorry. Not sure what came over me.”

“Hey, don’t apologize. Sometimes the truest emotion you can experience is anger. Let’s you know you’ve been wronged. Helps you stop others from hurting you. It a friend really. A true friend that always speaks out when you are in trouble.” Shion watched Nezumi with eyes of awe. He had never heard anything like this before. Anger had always been described as a negative emotion, which was why Shion avoided it. He never felt it, truth be told. Before Nezumi, he never felt anger, not once. But there was that tip of emotion that flashed up inside of him, the tip of the monstrous iceberg of feelings underneath. He had felt a similar thing with sadness when he was speaking with Nezumi’s uncle. Now Shion felt that tip of the iceberg again, this time with his anger.

“The trick is to not be ruled by it,” Nezumi continued. “To feel it, let it guide you, but then choose how to let it out.”

“I see,” Shion said thoughtfully. “Honestly, and this might sound egotistical, but I never thought I was an angry person. I never really experienced anger, not like that. Well, not ever.”

Nezumi studied him. “Really?” Shion looked away from those piercing gray eyes. “I find that hard to believe.”

“Believe it or not, it’s the truth to the best of my knowledge. I’m not trying to come off as better than anyone. It is simply what I have observed of myself.”

“Which we’ve seen that your ability to see yourself accurately isn’t very good.” Nezumi spoke these words not in mockery, just flat certainty, as if he could see a Shion, Shion himself could not.

“You think so?”

Nezumi smiled, and it turned into a smirk. “Yeah, I think so.”

They were silent for a long while, long enough to see the city side improving from the slums and back into the ritzy up class world where Shion lived all of his life.

“What were they saying about us anyway?”

Nezumi’s question seemed out of nowhere after their period of silence. Shion hesitated.

“That you guys were pick pocketers, that you guys might rob people from their windows if they left them open at red lights.”

Nezumi shrugged. “I’ve heard worse. Nothing fazes me anymore nowadays. Really, best not to lose your shit over something like that. Especially 'cause there are a hell of a lot of things you could have heard that will make that look like we’re all selling cookies.”

“Like what?” Now Shion was curious.

“Do you really want to know? Might be hard for your delicate ears, milord? And my uncle’s car, can’t take any more of a beating.”

“Stop calling me that, would you?” Shion grumbled, before he looked at Nezumi with resolution in his eyes. “And yes, I want to hear it. I want to know about the world around me. The one you call reality, the one you said I should come down to from my cloud of ignorance and see.”

“All right,” Nezumi said, his focus on the road. “That we’ve stolen children, and give them over to sex-perverted men as child brides. Means we raped them if you haven’t caught on to that bit.”

Shion’s mouth dropped.

“There’s more,” Nezumi smirked at Shion’s discomfort.

“More than that? I don’t know, Nezumi, that’s pretty bad.”

“See, told you I can’t be fazed anymore,” Nezumi smirked. “Let’s see? Oh, I love this one: we go into people’s houses at night, steal everything from them, and if they wake up we rape and murder them.”

“Shit, really?”

“Another swear word, milord?”

“If you call me milord one more time, we’re gonna get in an accident!”

Nezumi smiled at the challenge. “Really? Like to see you try.”

“Don’t push me, Nezumi,” Shion growled, but he was starting to feel playful, and moreover he wanted to hurt Nezumi, but in a good way. “You don’t know all sides of me. You have no idea what I am capable of.”

Nezumi studied him with his signature smirk. “Now that I believe. You are in a lot of ways a mystery to me, Shion.” Then he snorted dismissively. “And other times you’re such an open book, it’s just sad.”

Shion reached over and grabbed Nezumi’s knee. “I want to hurt you, Nezumi.” Nezumi’s sharp intake of breath was just what Shion was hoping to draw out. “And I want you to like it. No, I’ll make you like it.”

Nezumi swallowed, and when he looked over to Shion there was pure lust shining from those gray eyes. “Let me pull over and we can see.”

Shion leaned in and kissed Nezumi’s neck, before he licked a wet trail all the way up to his ear.

“Shit, where do you live already? I wanna fucking jump you, right now.”

Shion laughed. “Just a bit up ahead. Right there, take a left.”

The moment the truck entered the neighborhood, Nezumi blew out a low whistle. “Such elegance, milord. Do hope I’m dressed for the occasion.”

Rows of white, two-story condominiums lined the street. Each one was identical: solid black doors fitted with fiberglass windows, overhanging bay windows, and a single car garage. The freshly paved asphalt street and driveways made the road look like one gray river with many branches. The evenly trimmed grass sparkled blue-green under the moonlight. Flower bushes adorned the stone-tiled walkways, the hedges polka-dotted with white gardenias.

“Again with the milord?” Shion smirked. “I’m so gonna enjoy kissing that word off your mouth.”

“That another challenge, milord?”

Running a hand through Nezumi’s long side bang—fingertips reveling the silky softness of his cheek—Shion whispered. “Yeah.”

Nezumi parked the car on the side of the road, three units down from Shion’s condominium.

The engine cut and Shion’s neck was grabbed. Warm lips crashed against his. Nezumi cupped his chin, his nimble fingers fanning Shion’s cheek.

Shion was trapped. Enraptured. Kisses stealing his breath away.

He nibbled Nezumi’s bottom lip, and a warm tongue invaded his mouth. Nezumi dominated the kiss, his tongue forceful, plying Shion’s lips open. Nezumi readjusted in his seat, then both his hands were holding Shion’s face, forcing him to take it.

Shion unknotted Nezumi’s pony tail. Long, dark hair fell and framed Nezumi’s face.

Shion held Nezumi’s cheek with one hand and invaded his long hair with the other. Nezumi got a hand in between them, and grabbed him between the legs. Shion gasped into the kiss.

“Nez-umi!”

Nezumi let out a groan, and it reverberated down Shion’s throat. He thrust his tongue deep into Nezumi’s mouth, going as deep as their joined mouths allowed. All Shion could feel was lust, see nothing but dots and colors: flashes of Nezumi’s pale skin, Nezumi’s darker eyebrows above his closed eye lids, the way Nezumi’s nose looked straight and beautiful when his head was to the side allowing for them to kiss each other deep and thoroughly.

“God Sh-ion.”

Shion wanted to make Nezumi moan.

Shion licked Nezumi’s lips. “More Nezumi. I wanna hear you.” Nezumi let out a groan, his head slipping back exposing his neck. Shion claimed the pale skin with his teeth, marking and sucking. His fingers digging into Nezumi’s hair, grabbing Nezumi’s face, holding him down, forcing Nezumi to take all that he offered.

A moan escaped Nezumi’s lips. The sound real and beautiful. Shion wanted to capture it. He wanted to pull more sounds from Nezumi; he wanted to breathe in every one of those beautiful moans. He wanted Nezumi so badly he ached. He grabbed Nezumi from over his jeans, and squeezed down the way Nezumi was grabbing him. He thrust up against Nezumi’s hand, feeling Nezumi doing the same. He wanted their clothes off. He wanted Nezumi on top of him, he wanted to be on top pinning Nezumi down. Shion wanted everything: the sun, the moon, the little droplets of sweat on Nezumi’s skin.

He was shoved against the seat, and in one smooth movement, it lowered and Nezumi was on top of him. He dragged his nails down Nezumi’s back—there’d be skin under them if not for the cotton shirt.

His pants painfully tight. Nezumi ground against him. The friction so, so good. Blood pumped beneath Nezumi’s jeans.

Moans spilling from his lips, Shion clasp Nezumi’s face, kissing him harder.

“God, I want you,” Nezumi moaned, breathing those words into Shion’s mouth. The sound of his zipper was loud in the car, steam fogging the windows.

“Then have me.” Shion thrust up and pulled him close, the movement yanking Nezumi’s hair.

Nezumi groaned in pleasure-pain. His wet tongue traced the scar on Shion’s neck, before he nibbled his shoulder blade. Shion carded his fingers through Nezumi’s long hair. Nezumi tugged at his hips and Shion lifted up as far as he could to allow Nezumi to get them down enough to free his erection from his underwear. Shion still shivered like the humid air was cold.

“Nezumi, you too.” Shion tugged at Nezumi’s pants, hastily looking for his fly. Nezumi’s nimble fingers helped him, and soon Nezumi’s warm flesh pressed against his own. Nezumi fisted both of them, groaning out in pleasure, causing the tiny hairs on Shion’s neck to rise. Shion gasped, a few strands of his lover’s hair snagged in his sweat-stained fingers. Nezumi moaned out in pain, his hot pants wetting Shion’s sensitive neck.

“Nezumi,” Shion moaned, he was so close to exploding. He pulled Nezumi into a kiss that sent heat all the way down to his toes, pleasure running down his back. Nezumi’s hand was skillful as he jerked them both off, and settled on a rhythm, and Shion was starting to lose his mind, dangerously approaching the edge of oblivion.

“You close?” Nezumi panted against his lips.

“Yeah.”

“Me too.” Nezumi’s eyes opened the same time Shion cracked his open. The pure, heated lust in those gray eyes, was enough to send Shion over the edge. And he screamed out a moan, clinging to Nezumi, pulling him toward him, hands clasping clumps of Nezumi’s hair, fingernails digging into his scalp.

Nezumi was just as brutal when he went over the edge. One hand grabbed Shion in a death grip, his fingers rough against Shion’s chin, before fanning out to his cheek. His other hand still worked both of them in the frenzied rhythm that had sent Shion over the edge. Hugging Shion against him as if this were their last moments on earth, Nezumi cried into Shion’s hair.

“God Shion!”

Both of them were panting heavy. Nezumi's head lolled back, staring at the ceiling, desperately trying to capture his breath. The motion had Shion sending wet pants against Nezumi’s neck, before he licked the sweat off Nezumi’s throat with a smooth, long swipe of his tongue. Gently as breath returned to him, and Shion’s body cooled—reentering the land of mortals—he began to stroke Nezumi’s hair.

“Nezumi.” His voice still breathy.

“Hmm?” Nezumi equally winded.

“I like you.”

A broken laugh escaped Nezumi’s lips. “I noticed.” He hugged Shion, arms going underneath Shion’s ribs and wrapped around his back. Nezumi lay his head against Shion’s chest, as Shion continued to pet Nezumi’s hair.

“I like you too, Shion.” Nezumi’s voice was soft and fragile, his breath tingling Shion’s skin underneath his cotton shirt.

“You’re kinda my favorite person right now.” Shion smiled.

“Only right now?” Nezumi’s soft voice teased. “And here I go and put out too.”

Shion breathed out a laugh, and hugged him tighter.

A loud glaring ringtone sounded from somewhere on the floor. The ringtone shrill to their exhausted ears, even though in all honesty it wasn’t that loud.

“Shit,” Shion got out, “Mom! She’s gonna kill me.”

Nezumi laughed. “Especially if she knew you were getting dirty with a no-good gypsy, and a block away from her house too.”

Shion sighed, “This isn’t funny Nezumi. You don’t know my mom. She can get—” Shion searched for the right word until he found something that kind of worked, “desperate sometimes.”

“Desperate?”

“Yeah. Told you, you don’t know my mom.”

“Guess so.” Nezumi got up off him before tucking himself back inside his pants, zipping them up. Then he climbed elegantly back over to his seat, holding himself above the stick shift with such finesse like it wasn’t even there.

Shion sat up. He was sweaty and winded, his body still tingling in places. Cum, sticky and wet, reached up past his belly button, both a mixture of his own and Nezumi’s. Some of it stained the bottom of Shion’s shirt that wasn’t pushed up all the way.

“Nezumi? Got any tissue?”

Nezumi shook his head. “No, unfortunately. Just use your shirt.”

“Uh, okay.” Shion used the bottom of it to clean what was closest to his bellybutton, and whatever lay below it he just tucked into his underwear and shorts. The wetness stained directly above the crotch. There would be no way of hiding his current state from his overbearing mother who would surely jump him the moment he got through the door.

“Wanna come inside?”

“What? And let mama see me like this? Hell no.” Nezumi used the length of his hair to tie it back up into his signature pony tail.

“But you’re kinda the hero in my house now. She’d be so ecstatic to see you, I think she’s all but blind right now.” Shion sighed, “Well, all but blind to me. The moment she sees me, and my pants—especially my pants—she is going to ask me all sorts of questions. And those eyes, those knowing, all-seeing eyes will catch every little, single detail.”

“And you want to bring me into that?!”

Shion laughed at the exaggerated tone of his boyfriend (he still didn’t know what they were officially…even though they had had sex).

“Well, at least pull up so I have some time to recover,” Shion pouted. “Wait, I know! Gotta jacket I can borrow?”

“What? In this old piece of junk?”

Shion sighed. He should have known it would be a dead end, but he had to try.

The moment their headlights pulled up, his mother raced out of the door. “Shion!”

Nezumi shared a look with Shion, those dark eyes saying you weren’t kidding. Shion rolled his eyes with a sigh, and opened the car. The moment the door had even creaked opened, his mother pulled it the remainder of the way and he was pulled into her arms.

“Ow mom, I can’t breathe.”

“Thank goodness, you’re okay!”

“Mom, we went through this. I was never in trouble. Not at Nezumi’s family’s place anyways.”

“Let me see where he hurt you.”

“Moooom.” This was more than embarrassing. “I’m fine. I barely feel it.”

“Shion! Don’t argue with me, I can barely think at this rate.” Her breathing sporadic, she looked like she would faint at any time.

“Okay, mom, take some deep breaths.” Shion grabbed her hands and held tight. “Mom, look at me. And breathe.” She dragged in a shaky inhale. “Good. Now let it out. Okay, good. Keep breathing mom.” Shion was so used to having to do this that he would forget how weird it probably looked around company. “Ok, mom. Feeling calmer?”

She nodded, letting out a soft sigh. “Yes, yes. Better. But, Shion I was so terrified something had happened to you.”

“Mom, I told you I was with Nezumi. I was safe. I promise.” Shion’s tone had soften at Nezumi’s name.

“Nezumi,” His mother got out, panic laced her uppity tone. “I gotta thank Nezumi!”

“Not right now you don’t.” Shion started directing them into the house. “Right now you need to sit down, and I’m gonna make some tea, okay?”

She nodded. “I’m so sorry, Shion. I know I am a burden to you.”

“Don’t say that. Ever. Don’t ever say that. Okay? You are not a burden. I love you, so please don’t say that. Okay?”

Nezumi had closed both of their doors, and ended up closing the house door behind them. He was silent. He wasn’t smirking or making fun. His serious eyes held concern.

“Okay.” Shion helped his mother sit down onto her arm chair, and opened up the foot rest. “Just rest mom. See, I’m safe.” Shion felt so terrible for not messaging her. What the hell was he thinking? Geez, why was he such an absent-minded airhead. “I’m sorry mom, I’m so sorry. I won’t do that to you again. Okay?” And he even had hot sex outside in the car when he knew she was waiting. Guilt weighed so heavy on his shoulders he was surprised he could stand.

“I’ll make the tea,” Nezumi said. “Just tell me where it is, and if she takes it with anything.” Shion nodded. His mother had her eyes closed and looked to be doing breathing exercises.

“Chamomile, with honey. Will be in the pantry, three rows from the bottom. But Nezumi, you don’t have to make it. I can?”

Nezumi shook his head, and started to say. “It’s okay.”

“Nezumi?!” Karan’s eyes flew open, her light brown vivid—Shion’s original color when he still had pigment. “Oh my! I wanted to thank you so very much! You saved my son! Thank you, thank you.” She looked away, her cheeks tinging pink. “I’m so sorry you had to see me in this state. Please forgive me.”

Nezumi knelt down, and gently took her hand, rubbing the back of her palm soothingly. “It’s all right. You are fine. You must have endured a great deal of worry and pain today. It is completely understandable for you to be upset. I am sorry for my part. Next time I will make sure Shion notifies you. I promise. Is that okay?”

Karan's eyes started watering. “Nezumi.” Tears in her voice. “Thank you.”

“Not at all. Thank you for bringing Shion into this world. I can’t imagine my life without him now.”

If he had been holding a glass Shion would have dropped it. He was teary eyed; seeing Nezumi being so gentle to his mom tugged at his heart. Shion hadn’t always received a good reaction to his mother’s mental condition. And in grade school he was made fun of for an entire year after a friend he had over for a sleepover saw his mother in this state. It had made third grade hell. So to see Nezumi being so accepting and gentle to his mother brought tears to Shion’s eyes.

But what Nezumi had just said…Shion was speechless. He had never expected anything like this to come from Nezumi’s mouth.

Shion just stood there gapping. Not sure what to do. Not even sure he could do anything honestly.

Karan looked at Nezumi and a few tears spilt down her cheeks. Nezumi wiped them off with gentle swipes from the back of his thumbs.

“How about I go and make that tea, and you can talk with Shion? Does that sound good?”

Karan nodded, words seemed to have failed her at this moment too.

“So Chamomile with honey, in pantry, three rows from the bottom.” Nezumi repeated, and Shion had no idea what he was talking about. Shion couldn’t understand words right now. “Shion? I take it the honey is also in the pantry?”

“Honey?” What the hell was honey? “Pantry?” Who knew what that was either?

“Ok.” Nezumi had apparently gotten everything he needed out of Shion’s response and went about making tea.

“Shion?” Karan's voice finally brought Shion back into reality—and it was like he remembered everything at once: where he was, what honey was, what a pantry was. And why he had forgotten about everything in the first place. It was Nezumi’s gentle words.

Had Nezumi really felt like that about him?

“Come here?” Karan’s voice continued.

Shion went over to her side and knelt by her chair. He smiled at her warmly.

“I really like him,” she said.

“Yeah. I do too.”

“They are so very wrong.”

“Who mom? Who are wrong?”

“Ladies at the salon. Nezumi is the kindest friend you have ever brought home. Gypsies are friendly, if they are anything like him.”

Shion smirked, “Nicer actually. Much nicer.” He laughed through tears he hadn’t even realized he had spilt.

“Are you okay?” his mother said.

“Okay? Oh, you mean the fight?” Shion nodded. “Yeah. It has been awhile since then. I’m feeling fine.”

“But you still hurt a little though, right?”

Shion sighed. He couldn’t lie to her. “A little, but it’s okay. I promise.”

“Should we go to the doctor?” The flare of anxiety that entered her voice got Shion a tad paranoid. He really wasn’t feeling like trying to fight his mother out of the idea of calling the ambulance.

“No, mom. I promise I don’t need it.”

“Let me see.” And this was why he never got into any fights.

“Okay, okay, and you can see how better I am. Okay?”

She nodded a bit frantically for Shion’s liking. But she had been much worse before, so he would take what he got. Rolling up his shirt he exposed his stomach. It was only then that he hesitated. Hadn’t he and Nezumi just had sex in the car? Cum all over his stomach? And now here he was just rolling up his shirt in front of his mother? Quickly he took a few steps back from her to put some space in between them. Looking down, he sighed out in relief. There was no lingering cum that gave any indication of what he and Nezumi had done. There was a faint smell though. He would just have to hope his mother’s current distress didn’t make her dwell on it.

Along his left ribcage there was a green mark. Shion hadn’t even noticed it was there, well, he hadn’t really looked. It had bothered him a lot at the time. He couldn’t even get up, or even speak much when he had tried to stop Nezumi from choking Sam.

“Oh baby?” she whispered, and then she was angry. “I’m gonna go straight in there and yell at that little punk!”

“Please don’t mom.” She had done that; yelled at his friends when she thought they had hurt him; yelled at teachers when she thought they were mistreating him. She could be one pack of energy. She never hurt him though. She never yelled at him like she did to those other people. He had never been afraid of his mother. He was afraid of what she would do. But not to him. And mostly because her actions had caused him so much trouble and had been the sole reason for his bullying in primary school. “I’m begging you mom. Please don’t.”

His mom calmed down at the pleading in his voice. “Oh sweetie. I just want you safe.”

“And I will be.”

“What if he tries to hurt you again? Shion you almost died! I can’t lose you! I can’t!” She was getting worked up again.

“Shhhh, mom.” He hugged her. It was what he did when he had absolutely no idea what else to do. “Nezumi told him to not bother me again. He was pretty good at persuading him.” Shion chuckled into his mother’s hair, and she snorted out a laugh along with him. “I would be surprised if he ever talks to me in a lifetime, let alone bothers me.”

“Thank God for Nezumi.”

Shion smiled. “Yeah.”

It was at that moment that Nezumi came back in carrying a mug full of tea. It had a soft steam to it, but upon touching it, it didn’t burn his hand. Shion normally had to taste the tea first otherwise if it burnt his mother’s throat she would freak out. But Nezumi made it just right.

“Wow, how did you get it to be just the right temperature?”

Nezumi smirked. “Don’t you know? It’s through my magical gypsy powers!” He let out a cackle like a witch.

Shion broke down laughing. “I think that’s a witch, not a gypsy!”

“With Daj, it’s the same thing!”

Shion smiled and went over to his mother who was watching them intently, her eyes soft. “Here you go, mom.” Shion smiled, his spirits lifted by Nezumi’s humor.

“Thank you,” she said. And sipped the tea. “Perfect.”

Shion kissed her temple. “I’m gonna go see Nezumi off, okay mom?”

She nodded. “Please do.” Then she turned to look at Nezumi. “Thank you, for all you have done.”

Nezumi gave her a warm smile. “My pleasure.”

 

~-~-~

Shion and Nezumi were out front of Hanzi’s truck saying their goodbyes.

Shion dragged out a breath, suddenly feeling exhausted. He had no idea why, but all of his strength had been drained out of him.

It was his mother. She was taxing….  Shion stopped those thoughts. They wouldn’t help. His mother needed him.

Nezumi stood in front of him, looking out into the neighborhood. Lost in thought, maybe?

“Nezumi? Could it be that you’re zoning out?”

Nezumi smirked. “Guess you’ve been teaching me your skill after all?”

“Well, you’ve certainly got the hang of it.”

He fell forward, his head resting against Nezumi’s chest; Nezumi carrying his weight. Shion closed his eyes. He could hear Nezumi’s heartbeat, strong, consistent, and comforting.

“So?” Nezumi smirked, sounding like he wanted to pull away. “Now we’re gonna be all lovey dovey, huh?”

“Please let me.” Shion released a breath. “Sometimes I get so tired after…well after mom’s…and well…just let me…please?”

Nezumi released a sigh, and nodded. They stood there in silence. Shion leaning on Nezumi listening to his heartbeat. They weren’t hugging. Instead they were just standing there, Nezumi acting as Shion’s pole.

“Thank you,” Shion said.

“For what?”

“For this,” Shion sighed. “For being understanding. My Mom...” Shion took a deep breath. “Isn’t someone that people—my friends I mean—understand. But you did. So thank you.”

Nezumi just nodded. “How long has she been like this?”

Shion shrugged. “Not sure. She’s been like this all of my life. I’m not sure if she was always like this or not.”

“That must be difficult on you handling it all by yourself.”

“I guess.” Shion breathed in the sweet scent of Nezumi. “Sometimes she really wants to call for an ambulance, and I have to calm her down.” Shion closed his eyes, suddenly feeling the need to share. “When I was a kid, I got sick. It was bad. It hurt to breathe, I was burning up and it was hard to move around. But we didn’t need to call an ambulance. We could have just driven there.” Nezumi was listening silently. Nezumi carried some of Shion’s weight, and it made Shion relax.

“She ended up calling that ambulance in the end,” Shion continued. “She was freaking out on the phone, saying I needed immediate assistance. So, of course the ambulance comes in, sirens blaring. But, she doesn’t wait until it gets to our driveway. Instead she goes running out to it. I tried to call after her, but my lungs hurt so I wasn’t very loud.” Shion snorted out a laugh. “So here she is running down the street in her nightgown, screaming at the ambulance, demanding that they help.” He could laugh about it now, even though it wasn’t humor he felt inside, just emptiness. “In the end, she was justified I guess, 'cause it turned out to be pneumonia so I did need to go to the hospital. Only…we could have just driven. She didn’t need to flip out…”

“How old were you at the time?”

“I don’t know…ten maybe?”

“I’m sorry.”

Shion shrugged. “I don’t care. It doesn’t bother me.”

“You say that a lot.”

“What?”

“You don’t care. It doesn’t bother you.” Nezumi’s eyes narrowed. “You know what I think? I think you’re lying to yourself. You only tell yourself you don’t care to make it easier to deal with, so you won’t get hurt. You’re not fine. And you definitely do care. You just lie to yourself.”

Shion pushed away from Nezumi.

“What the hell would you know?” Shion’s voice carried down the empty suburban street. “You don’t know me? You don’t know anything about me! I’m not lying about anything. When I say I don’t care it’s because I fucking do. not. care!”

Nezumi watched him silently with narrow, almost cold eyes before he smirked. “This is the most I have heard you swear.”

“What?” Shion barked.

“Curse words, your highness. It seems like present company has rubbed off on you.”

Shion shook his head, his eyes incredulous. “You’re unbelievable! You criticize me. And then change the subject mid-way. Who the hell is running from things, huh?”

Now Nezumi’s eyes were cold. “I’m not finished with our conversation. And you can get angry, you can scream out at me, but it doesn’t change the fact that you are a goddamn coward who hides behind a mask of indifference.”

“I’m the coward?” Shion got right up in Nezumi’s face. “Since when do you show your emotions, your highness? You are like a lifeless stone at school. And I come home with you and find all sorts of emotions you’re hiding. How the hell can you accuse me of being a coward?”

“Perhaps because I can see what you can’t. Or rather, what you won’t. You are not happy or okay with what happened back there. You are desperately wanting a way out of your life, a way that doesn’t hurt anyone—not you, or your mother. You hide because you think there is no way out. And so to cope with it, you have taught yourself how to not feel.” The edge in Nezumi’s voice was softening.

“I—I do feel.”

“Bullshit! You had never been angry or sad or afraid. You are flat, Shion. A flat line. That’s what you are.”

Hot tears burned in his eyes. “Fuck you,” he whispered. Looking down at the ground, he watched the tears leave splash marks on the pavement.

He couldn’t stop himself from crying. Nezumi was right. He was right about everything. And Shion didn’t have a damn clue how to get out of his situation. He sure as hell would not abandon his mother. But he couldn’t help her, and she was only getting worse. Well, she had always been bad. But it was becoming apparent how much of a toll this was taking on him. He just didn’t think about it—didn’t let himself think about it.

A warm hand rested on his shoulder.

“At least that’s what you were.” Shion couldn’t look up at Nezumi, not with tears running down his face. When he first cried around Nezumi it was only a few tears, and it hadn’t felt like this. He was sobbing, choking on gasps. Now that he thought about it, it was the first time he ever cried like this in front of anyone that wasn’t family. And well, he couldn’t remember the last time he cried like this in front of his mother either.

“You used to be flat, Shion. You used to hide it all away. But you can’t now. You get angry. Sad. Jealous. Afraid. You can’t hide it anymore. And do you know why?” Shion shook his head, still unable to look up at Nezumi or stop the flow of tears. “Because you want to be let out. You want to escape from your cage. You just don’t know how.”

Two fingers hooked under his chin and forced him to look up. Shion shivered, letting out a small sniffle.

“You’re right,” Shion whispered. “About everything. You’re right.”

“If I am right, then you can do it, Shion. You already have started to do it. Let yourself feel. However painful. Just let yourself feel it. Get angry. Get sad. Cry. Yell. Don’t run away. No matter how hard life hurts, don’t turn from it. Only when death comes can you rest.”

“I don’t know what to do,” Shion whispered. “I can’t help my mom. And she’s suffering. And I can’t help her.”

Nezumi's hand still rested on his shoulder.

“I don’t want to feel, Nezumi. I don’t want to.”

“Yes, you do. That’s probably why you talked to me in all honesty.”

“Huh?”

“From getting to know you, I think I figured it out. The reason why you wanted to talk to me so badly. The reason you chased and chased after me.” Nezumi wiped the tears off of Shion’s cheek. “You wanted out. And to do so, you went for what was the most opposite from you,” Nezumi smirked. “I guess I am that opposite.”

“Really?” Shion let out a choked laugh. “And here I thought it was 'cause you’re hot.” Nezumi smiled at that, but then Shion sobered up.

“How do you see me, Nezumi?” Shion pulled back and studied Nezumi’s deep pools of gray. “How is it you can see me so well when we’ve known each other for so little?”

Nezumi smiled. “Who knows? All I know is what I see. That’s all. There is no secret.” He snorted. “You can’t exactly see yourself from the outside, so it’s understandable.”

“I’m afraid, Nezumi.” Shion held Nezumi’s gaze. “I’m afraid of all of these emotions. I felt them—the tips of them—and they’re too much. I don’t know if I can take it. If I’ll break. And then what will happen to my mom?”

“You won’t break, Shion.” Nezumi stroked his hair. “You’re stronger than you think.”

“You’re just saying that.”

“I never say what I don’t mean.”

“You think I am strong? I couldn’t even defend myself against Sam?”

“I’ve never thought of you as weak, Shion. There are lots of kinds of strengths. Maybe you can’t take down that 200 pound asshole, but you are strong. I see it.”

Shion released a breath.

“So don’t worry about breaking. You won’t. I know it.” Nezumi gave a half smile; not a smirk. “Besides, I won’t let you break anyway.”

Shion rested his head on Nezumi’s shoulder, silently asking for human warmth.

“Nezumi.”

This time Nezumi didn’t pull away. Instead he pulled Shion close and wrapped him in a gentle hug. Shion didn’t cry anymore though. He just let himself break open in Nezumi’s arms, leaning on the weight that supported him.

Chapter Text

Shion flopped down on his bed, trying to wind down after helping his mother to get to sleep.

He dragged out a sigh. Today had been a roller-coaster. He'd eaten with gypsies, nearly been beaten up, and ended up having sex with Nezumi.

His lips tingled when he remembered their kisses. Nezumi had been so deliciously warm. The way he licked into Shion’s mouth made his toes curl. Even now, he still felt Nezumi’s moan reverberating down his throat, sending tingles down his spine.

Nezumi had come on top of him. The slick wetness coating their joined bodies. Had he seriously made Nezumi come? Shion began to grow hard.

He was so in love now there was no stopping it. Nezumi moved the sun and moon around his world. He wanted to spend even more time with him. To learn everything about him. To make love to him.

He remembered his mother’s outbreak and his smile faded, taking his boner with it. This wasn’t the worst she’d been in the past, but tonight had still been bad. Thankfully Nezumi had been around.

In the end, it had all been Shion’s fault. He had caused his mother to worry. He would never do that again. When it came to Nezumi though, Shion forgot himself completely. Okay, he would have to try to not do that.

Looking at his phone he saw 17 missed calls. 20 text messages. The calls came from mostly his mother, then Safu, then there was a text from each of his friends. Except Shawn. No wait, there was Shawn’s. Shion opened it.

/Your mom’s looking for you/

That was all it said. Shion felt so furious at Shawn. He had semi-caused this.

Well, no. Shion couldn’t turn from reality. Couldn’t hide by blaming others. Shion had the responsibility of telling his mother, no one else. Although Shawn hadn’t helped any.

And he fucking didn’t help at all.

Anger coursed through him. Shawn had wanted his mother to get upset that he was with the gypsies, as if Shawn had wanted to break up his relationship with Nezumi. And what would do that more, then to have his mother forbid him to interact with Nezumi?

Shion wanted to punch his friend, and he never wanted to strike anyone. Right now, he did.

‘Get angry. Allow yourself to feel it. Anger is the truest emotion. It tells you when you’ve been wronged.’

And I have been wronged. Fucking Shawn. How dare he try to hurt my relationship with Nezumi? Try to hurt Nezumi. Damn him.

‘Don’t be ruled by it. Accept it, then choose what you want to do with it.’

I want to confront him about this tomorrow. There is no way I can let him get off on this. He knew I was going home with Nezumi, of all people Shawn knew! And he didn’t say anything. No. I can’t let him off for what he did.

But he wasn’t going to talk to Shawn tonight. He had to call Safu. And really, he was going to get an earful. So much for trying to wind down...

The moment he called, Safu picked up on the first ring.

“Shion!”

“Hi Safu.”

“Don’t hi Safu me. Where the hell have you been? We all looked for you. I was so afraid!”

“Shawn eventually told you I was with the gypsies, right?”

“He did?” Safu huffed. “He didn’t tell me anything. I spent a lot of time on the phone with your mom—who by the way was majorly flipping out. Shion, how can you do something like that to your mother?”

Shion was starting to get pissed. Why did he have to take this from Safu? She wasn’t his mother, why did she act like it?

“Stop yelling at me, Safu.” Anger teemed under the surface of his voice, and it stopped whatever she was about to say.

“Shion?”

“Look I know that you care. But I’ve had a very, very, very long day. I didn’t mean to not tell mom. And yes, she had one of her episodes, and I had to take care of her, and it was stressful. Like it always is, Safu. She drains the life out of me when she does that.” He never said disparaging things about his mother, and not to a friend. He couldn’t hide her behavior from Safu, but he never complained. Not even to himself. Maybe those emotions lurked inside him, but he couldn’t let himself see her as a burden.

Nezumi’s words replayed in his ear: ‘Let yourself feel it. Get angry. Get sad. Don’t run away.’

“Shion?” Something akin to surprise filled Safu’s voice. Her tone soft, concerned.

“I love my mom, but it hurts me. There I said it.” Shion’s relieved smile started out small. He felt like he had climbed a mountain. “Nezumi’s right. I can do this!”

“Nezumi?”

“Yeah. He was there during the episode, helped mom calm down. Mostly he helped with the fallout afterwards.”

“Shion, you never have a fallout afterwards?”

“Maybe I should.” Shion felt lighter inside. “Nezumi helped me see this.” He laughed out a sigh of relief. “I can do this. Nezumi believes in me. And I can do this. I know it!”

“Shion?” A myriad of emotions was contained in her one word. “What exactly happened?”

Shion shook his head, euphoria dispersing warmth throughout his body. He had done it! He had been able to speak out his feelings; moreover, he had let himself feel them.

“I gotta tell Nezumi!” Shion's face fell. “Oh, yeah, he doesn’t have a cell.”

“He doesn’t have a cell phone??”

“Nah, doesn’t like to be at someone’s beck and call.”

“Sure it’s not 'cause he can’t afford one?”

“What the hell is that supposed to mean?”

“Wow, Shion? It’s like you are a different person.”

Shion shook his head, emotions quieting inside him. “I’m sorry, Safu. It’s just…I feel like I have been—well, like my cage has been opened.”

“Your cage?”

“Yeah.”

“And Nezumi did this?’ Unmistakable sadness dampened her tone.

“Uh, yeah?” He had no idea what he’d said to make her upset. Maybe he shouldn’t have yelled at her. “I’m sorry Safu. I didn’t mean to take out my anger on you. People say such mean things about Nezumi and his family, and it couldn’t be further from the truth. Shawn told my mom that I was with gypsies.”

“What?”

“He saw me leave with Nezumi, but he didn’t tell mom that. Instead he told her I was with gypsies. And mom has heard all sorts of horror stories about them from her salon.”

“So, she flipped out?”

“Big time.” Shion balled his fists. “And he did that on purpose, he was trying to get mom to hate Nezumi.” Shion’s sigh veered into a growl. “You have no idea how angry that makes me!”

“Wow, Shion.”

Shion shut his mouth. “I’m so sorry Safu. I am being terrible to you. You were probably worried sick and here I am yelling and getting angry, and—”

“Get angry, Shion.”

“What?”

“Please, for God sake, get angry.”

“Safu?” Shion whispered.

“All our lives, you never seemed to feel anything. Nothing ever bothered you. Not your mom, not any of the kids who teased you about your mom. Not even your father who barely spoke to you, and when he did, he always told you, you weren’t good enough. And Shion, none of that bothered you. None of it.”

“Safu…”

“You were alive, but you weren’t.” Emotions dominated her tone, and yet Shion couldn’t decipher any of them. “Shion, you have no idea how happy it makes me to hear you actually feeling something. I was—I have always been—worried for you. And I…” Safu was shaking her head on the other side of the phone, Shion knew it from her voice. “I had kinda hoped I would be the one to help you open up, but…it was Nezumi.”

“Safu.” Shion wished he was over so he could hold her. “I love you, Safu. If I ever had the choice of a sister, it would be you.” He laughed into the phone. “My twin sister!”

Safu choked on a laugh, but it was clear it wasn’t that humorous to her.

“I’m sorry I shut down so much, but it wasn’t your fault. Nor should you blame yourself for not helping me get out of my shell or whatever.”

Safu sighed, and was rolling her eyes now, Shion was sure. Then she let out a frustrated growl. “No, Shion. That is not it! You never see it. Why the hell can’t you? I am right in front of you, and you can’t ever see it! I didn’t want to...damn it! You’re such an airhead! Why are you so blind to my feelings?”

“I see your feelings. You’re my best friend.”

“Look, Shion. I can’t do this tonight.” Safu sounded exhausted. “Let’s just talk tomorrow, okay?”

“Uh, ok,” Shion nodded. “Safu, I’m sorry, okay?”

“Sorry for what Shion?”

“I don’t know…not understanding you?” Shion was grabbing at straws here. He had no idea what had made her so upset.

Safu was shaking her head. He could see it as if she was here. “See, there you go, you don’t even see it. So, don’t apologize.”

“Well, then at least let me apologize for making you upset. I don’t ever want to hurt you, Safu.”

“Idiot…that’s all you ever do.” Safu talked too quietly for him to hear her last words.

“What was that last part?”

“Don’t worry about it, Shion. Let’s talk tomorrow.”

“Ok.” Shion didn’t want to hang up with them on bad terms. “Are you mad at me now?”

“Idiot. I can’t be mad at you for being an airhead. Can I?”

A laugh ripped from his throat. “I guess not?”

“Go to bed, Shion.” She was joking with him; he could hear the smile in her voice. Whatever had upset her wasn’t bothering her anymore. Now he could let her go knowing she wasn’t hurting.

“Ok. Good night, Safu.”

“Oh, and Shion?”

“Yeah?”

“I’m so, so glad you are starting to express your emotions. You have no idea how much that makes me happy.”

Shion smiled. He loved his friend. “Thank you, Safu. I’m so happy you’re always on my side.”

“Of course, idiot. You’d die without me.”

Shion laughed. “Probably.”

“Goodnight.”

“Goodnight, Safu.”

 

##

Shion lay in bed, way too many emotions and feelings for him and Sleep to be friends right now. He tried anyway. Nezumi was in his thoughts. He would think about Safu and their conversation. Then he would be back to thinking of Nezumi.

He thought of the gypsy camp. Going home with Nezumi, seeing where he lived. All Nezumi’s family. Learning that there was more to gypsies than any stereotype depicted, and every fearful rumor about them was unfounded. Here were people that took him in, accepted him, never ridiculing or pointing at his scar (that was probably because they had all known about Nezumi’s intervention. Still, he would have expected at least some stares, he never got any).

He'd nearly been beaten up today too. That in itself was strange. Up until now, he'd never even been in a fight. Of course, Nezumi was the one who fought. Once again, Nezumi saved him. 

“Nezumi.” He spoke the name out loud to the ceiling. “Are you thinking about me right now?”

‘Thank you for bringing Shion into this world. I can’t imagine my life without him now.’

Did Nezumi really feel that way about him?

Shion felt so unbelievably happy. Scared too. He wondered why he was feeling afraid.

At first, he wanted to run from the feeling. Fear was one of the things he ran from the most. This time he stopped. He stayed. He clung onto the image of Nezumi in his mind, holding his hand, giving him that confident smile.

‘Don’t run away, Shion.’

He was afraid of losing Nezumi. He was afraid that none of this was real—that somehow Nezumi didn’t really like him. Shion was terrified of this.

‘Thank you for bringing Shion into this world. I can’t imagine my life without him now.’

Shion took a deep breath, held it, and then let it go. Nezumi wants me in his life.

His mind wandered back to their time in the parked truck. Nezumi lay on top of him, the pressure grounding. They lay spent and satisfied. The silence broken only by their harsh breathing. Nezumi’s breathy words echoed in Shion’s mind.

‘I like you too, Shion.’

Perhaps it wasn’t only Shion who liked Nezumi. Maybe he liked him just as much. He had said he couldn’t imagine his life without Shion.

Shaking off his fear, he clung to those thoughts. His mind began to quiet down, sleep right around the corner.

Nezumi, I’m so glad you came into my world too. I wouldn’t be the same if you weren’t in my life.

 

##

The moment Shion entered their homeroom class he looked for Shawn. He was late, as usual.

When Shawn came in the door, Shion hustled him.

“Shawn.” Tiny shards of anger sliced through in his tone. Shawn looked at him like he'd grown a second head.

“Uh, Shion?”

“Why didn’t you tell my mom I was with Nezumi?”

“Um, I thought I did? I even texted to tell you she was looking for you.”

“No, you didn’t. Well yes, you did send the text. I mean, the message you left for my mom.”

Shion’s direct, loud tone caught a few people’s attention, but no one cared what he and his friend were arguing about.

Safu and Shanelle were in their class. Aiko and Akihiko had separate homerooms.

“You told my mom that I was with the gypsies.” At the word gypsies, more people turned to listen to their conversation.

“Well, you were?”

“Obviously. But why didn’t you tell her I went with Nezumi?”

“I thought that would’ve been obvious. I mean, didn’t she know he was a gypsy?”

“No.” Shion felt embarrassed saying this out loud. He hadn’t even thought about this angle.

“Well, why didn’t you tell her then?”

“I didn’t not tell her. I mean, I guess it just didn’t come up.”

“Well, then why are you blaming me for your absent-mindedness?”

Shion really was stumped; he hadn’t even thought of this possibility. “You didn’t tell her because you have something against Nezumi?”

“Shion? What would I possibly have against Nezumi? Besides, he’s fucking scary as hell, like I’d do something to make that guy hate me.”

Everything Shawn said rang true, all sound logic. Shawn didn’t seem like he was lying. There was real fear in his voice when he spoke about Nezumi.

Maybe in the end, this had all been Shion’s fault? His fault for failing to tell his mother where he was last night. His fault for never mentioning anything to her about Nezumi being a gypsy.

Why hadn’t he? Was it intentional? Did he really think somewhere deep down that she would forbid him from talking to Nezumi? Or, an even darker thought spoke, was he ashamed to have a gypsy for a friend?

“Earth to Shion?” Shawn snapped his fingers in front of Shion’s face, and Shion jumped out of his thoughts.

“Sorry.”

Sorry? See, there you go again? You can’t blame me if you’re going to be out to lunch like all the time. How is that fair? And trust me, I wouldn’t purposefully not tell your mom something. Especially 'cause of how worried she was. Shion, you believe me, right?”

Shion nodded. “Yeah. Sorry, the entire thing was my fault from the beginning to the end. I should have told my mom about Nezumi’s background right away. I have absolutely no idea why I didn’t. And I should have been the one to tell my mom that I was going to Nezumi’s. I’m sorry Shawn. I was wrong. Forgive me.”

“Uh, yeah, Shion, of course I forgive you.” Shawn scratched the back of his head. “Man, are you straightforward. Seriously dude. It’s kinda embarrassing.”

Shion smiled. “Nezumi is always saying that.”

“Nezumi, Nezumi, Nezumi.” Shawn rolled his eyes, his tone playful. “It’s always Nezumi with you. Isn’t it?”

“I like him,” Shion said without thinking. “I really like him. I want to spend every minute with him. I—” Shion’s grin widened. “I can’t wait to get out of bed in the morning because I can’t wait to see him. I love his eyes, they’re gray and beautiful and look right into my soul. I could—!”

“—you could seriously not be so straightforward.” Shawn covered Shion’s mouth. “Geez, Shion, fuck. Don’t spew all of that embarrassing crap first thing in the morning!” A few other girls who weren’t in their circle had started laughing.

Safu wasn’t laughing. Neither was Shanelle. She watched Safu with concerned brown eyes. Safu looked gloomy, but when Shion focused his attention to her, she smiled broadly.

“So Shion?” said one of the girls, named Soo Mi. “Did you really go to the gypsy camp?” A small group gathered around them eager to hear.

Shion felt defensive and protective of Nezumi. He wanted to snap at them, drive these vultures away. On the other hand, maybe this was a good thing? If he could show these people that the gypsies were nothing to be afraid of, maybe that would make things better for Nezumi and his family?

“Yeah. I went with Nezumi.”

“Woah, that guy’s scary.” Soo Mi’s eyebrows rose, an expression of amazement and fear on her face.

Shion smiled. “Not to me.” Murmurs erupted from that comment. He thought he heard a ‘well, it was you who he was standing up for’ from the group. Shion couldn’t be sure.

“But yeah, I went. And they are the nicest people you could ever meet. They welcomed me in, introduced me to everyone. Even invited me to stay for dinner.”

“Shion?” Shawn’s doubt in his voice. “When you say nice, are you meaning like nice, or are you meaning Shion’s version of nice?” Laughs came from that comment. “'Cause, hey, you are the guy who called that guy gentle?”

“Oh my god, you did?” Sakura gasped, she was Soo Mi’s friend, although shadow was more like it.

“Well, he’s gentle to me.” Shion cupped his chin, starting to think. He tried to stop himself from daydreaming. He needed to stay focused. Not think about the feel of Nezumi’s fingers gently wiping the tears off his cheeks. Or the soft kiss he gave him when they said good night.

“Shion?”

Shit, he had done it again. Jumping back to reality, Shion said:

“Yeah, Nezumi was scary with Sam, but that’s not the Nezumi who I know. And that’s certainly not how his family acts. These are good people. They have family dinners. Nezumi’s little cousins are these adorable little girls who I swear sound like little squirrels with their tiny voices. They even pray before meals. These people aren’t criminals; they are not going to rob you, or hurt you, or abduct your children or whatever else you might have heard about them. They were warm, and welcoming. And Nezumi is, well, normal there. He laughs, and gets teased by his cousin. He pouts when his aunt makes him do chores, and he’s obedient to his uncle. You guys just don’t know Nezumi. If you did, you’d like him too.”

Shawn was shaking his head. “Seriously, Shion, you need a filter, man! How do you manage to say all of that embarrassing stuff with a straight face?”

“I don’t know,” Soo Mi said thoughtfully, “It makes me want to get to know them. Personally, I like it that Shion isn’t afraid to speak out his thoughts.”

Safu smiled at that, but Shion could tell that something about Soo Mi bothered her. He couldn’t tell whether it was from Soo Mi’s words or Soo Mi herself.

“You really have it bad for that dude.” A guy name Jared gave Shion a bro-slap on the shoulder. “I’ll take your word for it that he’s a nice guy. Not what I saw. Then again Sam was being an asshole. So, maybe you’re right.”

“Ooo,” Tanya and her friend Tamika were giggling, “So, um, are you and Nezumi, like, a thing?” Tanya’s smile widened. “That would be like so hot if you were!”

Shion turned beat red. “Um, well, I um…” Thankfully he was saved from having to respond when their homeroom teacher came in and began to take roll.

 

##

Nezumi’s threat worked. Sam didn’t bother him when Shion passed him in the hall, nor did any of Sam’s goons. Other small fry bullies didn’t even try.

Shion walked to his third class of the day, Calculous 3. Safu had stayed behind to help Shanelle with an assignment, so he made the trek alone. Murmurs came from the crowd in front of him. A group of popular girls were clustered together, talking amongst themselves. Shion came into earshot.

“He’s scary. Did you see the look in his eyes?” said Britney, a brunette who wore tight shirts and lots of makeup.

“I don’t know, Sam was kinda asking for it,” April added. She was very tall and dyed her hair so much Shion had no idea her original color. Today she was a blond. “I mean,” she continued. “Didn’t Shion almost die? Who goes and punches someone like that? It’s like beating up a kid on make-a-wish.”

Shion grimaced. Great. Now he was going to be the school’s pity case. Right before he was out of earshot he heard Yuki say:

“I think he’s dark, in a mysterious way. Emily said he was great in bed.”

Shion felt his ears redden. Hot volcanic jealousy surged through his body. He didn’t want anyone else’s hands on Nezumi. Only he could see Nezumi’s eyes hooded with arousal, or feel the way he moaned into their kiss.

He imagined Nezumi with Emily. Her thighs around his waist, his hands supporting her ass. Shion wanted to slap Emily across the face and pull her off Nezumi. He also felt arousal blossoming inside of him. In his mind, he lingered on her fingers digging into Nezumi’s well-defined back. Nezumi’s strong hands steadied her waist and held her up as she rode his cock.

Shion blushed profusely. He was both angry and confused at himself. How could he be so horribly jealous—to the point where he wanted to hurt Emily—and yet find himself getting aroused over the idea of Nezumi having sex with a girl. These feelings were so contradictory, but these were the feelings he was experiencing. He told himself not to run from them. Not to push them away, or hide from them.

However, the majority of what they talked about hadn’t been about sex. They were talking about the fight yesterday. Shion remembered what Jared had said, and Shawn too: Nezumi’s scary.

Nezumi had threatened the entire school for him. Shion didn’t know how to take that. On one hand, he didn’t want anyone to get hurt. He didn’t want Nezumi to act like that. Nezumi was gentle, he had taken a risk to himself when he saved Shion. He saw Nezumi’s smile when he played with his cousins. His pout as his aunt whacked him upside the head. He was not a monster, and Shion didn’t want him to become anything that he wasn’t—and not for him.

On the other hand, Nezumi had done all of that for him. He hadn’t protected Emily, hadn’t fought for Emily. He’d fought for Shion. And that thought made Shion blush, and smile, and then feel upset at himself tenfold because he had been the one to drive Nezumi to go to such lengths.

 

##

Safu was quiet for most of the morning.

“You need to tell him,” Shanelle said taking her aside.

Safu shook her head. “It’s too late. He likes Nezumi.”

“You won’t know until you try. Go.”

Shion was getting his things from Calculous 3. “Safu? Did you get—?”

“You never talk to me anymore.”

“What? We talked on the phone last night?”

“That was one time. I’m talking about in general. We never talk. You are either distracted, or running off to sit with Nezumi.”

Shion looked shocked, Safu only noticed she was crying when tears spilled down her cheeks.

“Safu.” Shion put down his book bag. Going over, he put his hand on her shoulder and squeezed gently. “I’m sorry. I should have realized I was being a poor friend. Please forgive me.”

Safu sniffled, and hid her face against his shoulder.

Shion wrapped her in a hug. “Forgive me.” The next class was already starting to come in and steal their desks. “Come on, let’s go talk outside. Okay?”

Safu nodded and wiped her eyes.

 

##

Outside in the hall, Shion listened as Safu spilled her frustration. He had no idea he’d hurt her this much. He really was an airhead, so blind to her feelings.

“And you never sit with me anymore. You’ll run right past me to go and sit next to Nezumi.” Shion tugged the back of his hair. He had done that. He hadn’t meant to blow off Safu, but ever since he met Nezumi, he couldn’t stop thinking about him. Even so, that was no excuse. He had been neglectful.

When they entered Lit only a few students were there. Nezumi was not one of them. His typical spot at the back-left side of the auditorium was empty.

“This time I’ll sit here with you, okay, Safu?”

Safu gave him a weak smile. “You want to sit with Nezumi though?”

“Safu, you’re precious to me too. I have been a neglectful friend and didn’t even realize it. I think I can sit with you for a while. I’m sure Nezumi won’t care anyways.” Shion’s next words were uttered quietly, as if he feared they were true. “Will he even notice?”

“He’ll notice.”

Shion looked up at her. “Did I say that out loud?”

A pent-up laugh escaped her lips. “You really are absent-minded, Shion.”

Shion grimaced, “Sorry.”

Safu scoffed. “And here I was thinking you were purposefully blowing me off. You didn’t even realize you were doing it, did you? I don’t know whether to be upset, or to laugh at you and call you an idiot.”

“You are justified to do both, honestly.”

Safu shoved his shoulder. “Sit down, idiot.” She was smiling, and it made her black eyes sparkle. Shion found himself smiling back. It kinda felt like old times between them.

More people were coming into class, Nezumi included. Taking his normal seat, he took out his notebook though he never took any notes. Then he buried his nose in another book.

Shion felt Safu’s eyes on him. “I’m gonna tell him I’m sitting by you today. Okay?”

“You don’t have to Shion, if you don’t want to.”

Shion shook his head. “I want to. I haven’t been spending as much time with you.”

“I don’t want you to do it because you feel regret or obligation.”

“Safu.”

“What?”

“Shut up.” A smile tugged the corner of his mouth. “If I didn’t like spending time with you, then you wouldn’t be my best friend.”

Safu playfully shoved his shoulder. “Go and tell Nezumi, and get your butt back here.”

Shion took the steps two at a time. “Hey, Nezumi!”

Nezumi peered at him from over his book. “You’re a bit late.”

“Yeah. I was thinking of sitting with Safu today.”

Nezumi nodded. “About time you sat with your girlfriend.”

“She’s not my girlfriend, but I have been a neglectful friend lately.”

“You? Never.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“Figure it out for yourself, if you haven’t already.”

“It’s because I am absent-minded.”

“So, you do have some observation skills after all.”

Shion rolled his eyes. “Whatever.”

“That’s my line.”

Shion smiled. “Well, looks like you’re gonna have to miss me today.”

Nezumi snorted. Shion could hear the smile in his voice. “Go and sit with your girlfriend already.”

“She’s not my girlfriend. But, yeah, class is gonna start. See you later.”

Nezumi nodded.

When Shion returned to the aisle, he saw Safu quickly turn around in her seat. Guilt pooled in his chest. He had taken far too long talking with Nezumi—leaving Safu out again. He really was being a terrible friend.

“Hey,” he smiled and stepped over Safu’s book bag, taking a seat. He hoped to have time to talk to her too before class started. Thankfully, Claire had flagged Mr. Norbert down to ask him questions over last night’s homework. With Claire being such a chatter mouth, they would have loads of time.

“Took you long enough.”

Shion’s tone turned apologetic. “Yeah, sorry about that.”

Safu shook her head. “It’s okay. Let’s just sit together. And pretend it was how it used to be.”

“How it used to be?”

“Yeah. When you were always by my side.” Those words stung his chest. He felt Safu’s pain. If he had been dropped by the wayside by a precious friend…

“I’m sorry, Safu. I really have been a jerk to you lately.”

“And you’re gonna keep being a jerk to me. You can’t help it, Shion. He’ll show up and you’ll run off again.” Safu scoffed, before she let out a sigh, “I had accepted that was the person you were, Shion. Passive, agreeable, never holding any opinion.”

“I had an opinion.”

“You were agreeable. And always spacing out. You were never passionate about anything. Never had anything that really interested you.”

“That’s not true.”

“It’s true.” Safu sounded forlorn. “It’s what you were saying on the phone. I’m happy you are feeling now, not just going through the motions.” Safu’s tone took on a faraway sound. “Secretly, I always hoped you would come alive, and that…I’d be the one who would help you do it.”

“Safu.”

She had said something like this over the phone. When he told her it wasn’t her fault, that she was not responsible for him, she had gotten angry at him. Maybe she would clarify what she meant earlier, what he had failed to understand.

“Shion,” Safu’s face sobered. “I like you.”

Shion smiled. “I like you too. You’re my best friend.”

“No, Shion.” Safu shook her head. “I mean, yes, I do like you as a friend, but I also like you more than that.”

“Safu?”

“I love you, Shion.” Safu hung her head. She looked so small sitting in the fold-out, stadium seat.

“Safu.” The word rolled off his lips. Leaning in closer, he took her hand. “I’m—”

“Don’t say it.” Safu shook her head. “I can’t hear it. I know I need to, but I just can’t. I love you, Shion. More than anyone else. I love you, no one can love you as much as I do. I know that with all of my heart.”

Shion’s heart ached. He didn’t know what to say; Safu was pouring her heart out to him. “Safu. You’re precious to me. My one, irreplaceable Safu.” Safu looked at him with wide, watery eyes. “There will never be anyone that can fill your place in my heart.”

“You really feel that way?”

“I really feel that way.”

“These last few weeks I have seen sides of you I never thought existed. You’re alive, you’re passionate. And why…why couldn’t it have been for me?”

“Safu.” Shion pulled her into a hug.

Safu shook her head, and hugged him back tightly. “If only I could change the way you feel. But I can’t.” She pulled free of his arms, sitting up so they were face to face. Closing her eyes, she kissed him.

Shion blinked. Safu’s lips felt soft. And warm. It didn’t make his head feel hazy, didn’t drown him with feelings he couldn’t even name. Safu wasn’t Nezumi.

Nezumi? His stomach dropped. Was Nezumi watching this? What would Nezumi think about him and Safu? He teased Shion that Safu was his girlfriend, and Shion denied it, and now here they were kissing.

“Nothing.” Safu smiled sadly. “You feel nothing for me. Do you? Not like that.”

Shion knew this was going to hurt her. He didn’t want to be blunt. He wasn’t Nezumi, he couldn’t hurt someone like that. “Safu,” he took her hands in his. “You’re dear to me.”

“Oh, just say it, Shion! Why do you run about the bush? Tell me it’ll never happen. Stop trying to save my feelings, and say it already!”

“Say it? You just told me not to earlier.”

The teacher cleared his throat. At some point, class had started although they weren’t giving it much attention. “Safu, Shion? Unless there is something you wish to share with the class, please pay attention.”

Both Shion and Safu nodded, looking forward. Neither spoke as their teacher continued his lecture.

Finally, Safu sighed. “You really are an idiot, Shion. Such a child.” She spoke in a soft, whispered tone. A small smile lit her face. “But you don’t want to hurt me, and that’s—special to me.” She leaned her head against his shoulder.

Shion wrapped an arm around her shoulders. He still wondered what Nezumi thought about all of this.

Glancing back, he saw Nezumi talking with Emily and Yuki. They had taken seats on either side of him, and by the looks of it, he was making the girls laugh. Their conversation wasn’t loud enough for Shion to overhear.

Emily sat in Shion’s normal seat. She dangled a leg over Nezumi’s knee and leaned against his shoulder.

Shion’s palms got sweaty, his throat dried up. He started to get lightheaded. Breathing became difficult. 

Emily teased Nezumi’s long side bang that reached his chin, and he flashed her a smile.

“Shion?” Safu’s voice was somewhere miles away, at the bottom of a hill.

“Shion!” Her palm slapped his leg and Shion came back to reality. Her voice, while hushed, contained noticeable anger. Her eyes took him in and her expression softened to a look of concern. “Shion, I’m—”

Shion brushed it off. He had to be there for Safu. “It’s nothing. Let’s get back to the lesson.”

The teacher lectured about their latest read, his voice resounding through the speaker, but there was no way Shion could pay attention.

Nezumi sat off to the side some ways behind them, so Shion didn’t need to turn fully around to see them. He looked anyways.

Nezumi’s smile had Emily blushing. Yuki grabbed on to his other arm, and nuzzled his shoulder, before she shot Emily a competitive smirk.

“You can’t focus, can you Shion?” Safu’s voice was soft to not make noise while the teacher was talking.

“Umm.” Shion knew he couldn’t hide anything from her. She read him too well, and he’d never been what people called discrete. “Yeah. I guess I can’t.”

“'Cause of Nezumi?”

“Well…”

Shion glanced back.

Yuki whispered something into his ear. Nezumi glanced downward, something he did when focusing.

The lump in Shion’s throat grew. When it came to girls, Nezumi said he was just having fun. Maybe that was what he was doing now? Right? It didn’t mean anything.

What if it didn’t mean anything with Shion either? Last night’s fear came back to him. Was he going to lose Nezumi? His breath got trapped in his throat. His stomach thudded with dread.

What if Nezumi’s playing with me too? What if the entire thing’s casual? Like with them…do they think he’s serious? That they’re the center of his world?

Nezumi didn’t act like Shion did. He wasn’t excited to see Shion. He didn’t run after Shion. He didn’t pine for Shion. He didn’t wait desperately for the next time to see Shion. Shion wasn’t the reason Nezumi got up in the morning.

Then again, Nezumi had said he couldn’t imagine life without him. He'd told Shion he liked him. The way he had kissed Shion, that couldn’t have been all for fun?

‘Emily said he was great in bed.’

Had he kissed Emily with that passion he’d used with Shion? He hadn’t seen Nezumi with another lover. He was said to be good in bed. And, he was—oh god, he was. Maybe Nezumi made all his lovers feel this way?

Nezumi never says what he doesn’t mean. So, I must be someone special to him.

Another bitter thought sent chills slicing through his body. What if he said that solely to make mom feel better? He talks all nice when it comes to girls, like he’s simply playing out a role…What if he did that to mom too? Nezumi’s a brilliant actor.

What if…

Fear clutched his heart, dread making his stomach ache. Maybe it’s all in my head? Maybe none of it’s real? It’s only Nezumi having fun…

“Hey!” Safu’s outburst had Shion crashing back to reality. She wasn’t talking to him. She stood up, fuming, looking up to the back of the auditorium—to where Nezumi sat. The entire room got quiet.

“Safu?” Safu ignored the teacher’s startled voice. Storming up the stairs, she balled her fists at her side.

“Just what do you think you’re doing?”

“Excuse me?” Emily’s reply snarky.

“I’m not talking to you, bitch, so stay out of it.”

Shion got up, trying to pacify her. “Safu!”

“Why you...!” Emily started, but Safu cut her off.

“You’re despicable! He thinks about you constantly. The world doesn’t even exist when you come into the room. You’re his entire world, and here you are flirting with these sluts? You’re the worst!”

Emily and Yuki stood up, complaining. Safu shoved right past them and slapped Nezumi straight across the face.

The auditorium erupted in murmurs. Everyone feared Nezumi after what he did to Sam—the killing look he’d had in his eyes. And Safu had just slapped the guy in the face?!

“Stop playing with him.” Safu spun away from him, sinking down onto her knees. “Stop stringing him along. If you don’t love him. Just stop it. You’re cruel. So cruel.”

“Safu.” Shion had to get to her.

Nezumi got out of his seat.

Both Emily and Yuki stepped away from him, the two girls also seemed afraid of what Nezumi would do to someone who had the gall to hit him. Shion wasn’t afraid though. He knew Nezumi.

Going over to her, Nezumi placed a hand on her shoulder. Safu flinched as if he struck her.

Nezumi brushed her hair out of her eyes.

“Shh.” He helped her up, putting a comforting arm around her shoulders.

“Come on.” Nezumi directed them out of the aisle. “Mr. Norbert, mind if I borrow these two for a bit? This should only take a moment.”

The teacher looked shocked that Safu had had a breakdown in his classroom. Then he nodded.

Nezumi guided Safu down the auditorium steps with him, as he passed Shion he grabbed his wrist.

“Nezumi?” Shion stumbled, but caught his balance before he could fall. “Wa-wait! Wait!”

Nezumi didn’t answer, and dragging Shion along with them, exited the classroom.

Outside in the hall, Safu shoved her palms into her eyes to stop herself from crying.

“Safu.” Nezumi cupped her face. “I’m not playing with Shion.”

“But you…?”

“I honestly care about him. There’s no pretense here.”

Shion stood there flabbergasted.

“Then why flirt with them?”

Nezumi shrugged. “I’m not one to push girls away. Besides, I never got the impression that it bothered Shion. I know that I wouldn’t be bothered by women around Shion.”

“You wouldn’t?”

Nezumi shook his head. “I can’t be cruel to women. That’s not my way.” Nezumi smirked, “Now guys on the other hand...”

Safu choked on a laugh. “So, you weren’t jealous when I kissed him?”

“You kissed him?” Nezumi cocked an eyebrow, flashing Shion a smirk. “Shion, never knew you had it in you. And right in class too.”

Shion blushed.

“It bothers him, you know.” Safu’s tone turned serious. “He gets jealous.”

“I do?” Shion cut in. He looked down at his shoes. “Yeah, that is what I’m feeling.”

Safu laughed, tears from earlier still on her cheeks. “You really are an idiot, Shion, you know that?”

Nezumi burst out laughing. “Now that’s not new information.”

“I used to never experience jealousy, but now it’s overwhelming.” Shion’s words directed inward. “For a while, I didn’t know what I was feeling.”

Nezumi went over and messed up his hair. “You really are an airhead Shion.”

“That’s why he got sick before,” Safu cut in, “and that’s what he was feeling earlier, and I couldn’t take it. I can’t watch Shion be upset. I can’t. I want Shion to be happy.”

Nezumi’s voice turned soft. “Sorry. I didn’t mean to upset either of you.”

“That was jealousy?” Confirmation grew in Shion’s voice like he had the revelation of the century. “I really was feeling jealousy?”

“Yes!” both Nezumi and Safu answered, then looked at each other, before they both started laughing.

“Shion, stop talking,” Nezumi said when he had laughed himself dry. Going over he placed fingers on Shion’s chin, and made him look up at him. “You have to tell me what you like and what you don’t.”

Shion got lost in those mesmerizing gray eyes, and the words slipped off his lips. “I don’t want to see you with those girls.”

“Ok.” Nezumi’s thumb rubbed across Shion’s lips before he leaned in and kissed him softly, merely a flutter of skin on skin. Nezumi’s lips warm, and so soft. Shion wanted more.

Nezumi’s pupils darted to Shion’s lips as he licked his own. He reclaimed Shion’s mouth, his fingers fanned Shion’s cheeks and grabbed his chin. Shion moaned into Nezumi’s mouth. Slipping inside, Nezumi’s tongue stroked his. Thoroughly, he explored Shion with deep-mouthed kisses. When they broke for air, Nezumi pulled away and released Shion’s chin.

Shion tried to catch his breath. When he remembered Safu had been present through all of this, he blushed hard.

Turning to Safu, he was about to apologize when he took in the state of her. What was that expression on her face? She didn’t look disgusted. Her cheeks were flushed. She didn’t look angry though, so did that mean she wasn’t feeling jealousy? What emotion was making her blush hard and chew her bottom lip? And by the look of it, even she was surprised by her reaction.

Nezumi smiled at her. “So, milady, do you accept my humble apology?” He bowed his head low.

Safu smirked at his antics. “You’re an idiot too, Nezumi.” She was smiling. “Just don’t hurt him, or I won’t forgive you.”

“I swear on my honor that will never happen, milady.”

Shion tried to process all this information. Nezumi’s feelings were genuine. He said that he’d never hurt him. Moreover, Nezumi had agreed to stop flirting with the girls for him.

Shion stared at Nezumi’s beautiful countenance, not knowing what to do.

“Good,” Nezumi released him and went for the door. “Are you good, Safu?”

Safu seemed troubled by a myriad of emotions.

Shion went over and took her hand. “Safu?”

She nodded, and squeezed his hand. “I can’t help my feelings for you, Shion. They won’t simply disappear. I’m sorry.”

“Don’t be sorry, Safu. I’m the one who should be apologizing.”

“No,” Safu’s tone firm. “You can’t help who you love any more than I can.” Safu’s eyes watered. “At least let me stay by your side, Shion. Don’t forget about me.”

Shion hugged her. “How can I forget about you, Safu? I’ll stop being so neglectful. I don’t mean to push you away. Please forgive me.”

Safu smiled into his shirt, and closed her eyes, hugging him back.

Nezumi seemed content to let them have their moment, waiting by the door patiently.

Finally, Safu pulled away, and this time her smile reached her eyes. She squeezed Shion’s hand.

Nezumi had been leaning against the door. “All right, I think we’ve been off stage too long. Time to make our big entrance.”

Fear and embarrassment ripped through Shion. After making such a scene, he did not want to go back in there. His face burned. He wanted to take the rest of the class off.

“Um...yeah, about that. I’m thinking I’m just gonna…”

Nezumi went over and grabbed the back of his head, holding him still, their foreheads touching.

“No running away, Shion.”

“Yeah, but…?”

“Don’t hide from reality. Stand and face it, whatever it will be.”

Shion closed his eyes, grabbing Nezumi’s hands that cupped his face. He released a heavy breath, trying to compose himself. “Okay.”

Releasing him, Nezumi opened the door and slipped inside. His face composed, he didn’t look embarrassed in the least. Safu and Shion, on the other hand…Safu’s cheeks were pink, and Shion was trying to think of everything ever said to overcome stage fright: picturing the class naked—he’d regretted that the moment it sprang into his mind—pretending the room was empty, pretending he didn’t care. He tried everything. Nothing worked.

“Ah, good,” the teacher said as they walked in. “Hopefully you three took care of your love triangle, and we can expect to have no more interruptions.”

Shion and Safu—both pink—went to their seats. Nezumi passed them. He smirked at the teacher’s comment. For how much Nezumi complained about Shion’s embarrassing words, right now it was like Nezumi’s embarrassment filter was broken. Maybe he gave a big ‘fuck you’ to the world for he didn’t seem effected. Maybe this was part of the stoic face Nezumi wore in public. He had gotten embarrassed in front of his family, in front of Shion. Nezumi had his guard up now, perhaps that was why not a trace of embarrassment could be seen on his face.

The two girls by his seat glared at Safu. Nezumi took his seat in-between them.

Shion looked out of the corner of his eye, slanting ever so slightly to try and peek at Nezumi. He was saying something to the girls, and they didn’t look happy. Both were pouting if Shion’s view was correct. Was Nezumi telling the girls he was no longer going to flirt with them? Shion felt incredibly happy he could barely sit in his seat. Nezumi’s warm kiss was still on his lips, Nezumi’s breath intermixing with his own, those piercing gray eyes holding him captive.

 

##

Nezumi sat down in-between Yuki and Emily, the latter he had previously slept with. That kind of made what he was going to say awkward. He hadn’t toyed with her feelings. He had tried to make sure they were on the same page. And he expected they were, but it was hard to say. He hated the fact that he was that jerk. He didn’t want to use women and leave. He hadn’t felt like he was doing that at the time. It kind of did now.

But it bothered Shion. He never would have guessed that. He had seen Safu kiss Shion. It intrigued him. There was a part of him that wondered what Shion’s life would have been if he never met him. Would Safu be the one Shion loved? Maybe Nezumi did get a little jealous. Maybe he shouldn’t have been too surprised over Shion’s behavior.

Then Nezumi remembered Shion’s reaction to Emily earlier in the year. How had he even forgotten about that? That event had confirmed Nezumi’s suspicion that Shion was in love with him. With all that had happened with Shion getting sick and Nezumi finding out that he could heal people like his father, Nezumi had forgotten all about that incident.

Still, Nezumi wasn’t threatened by women. He would never be cruel to them if he could help it. And Safu was sweet. Nezumi remembered the slap she’d given him. He hadn’t expected that. She had spirit, strong in heart. She was one of those girls you met only once in a lifetime. Shion was turning down something he probably would never find again. However, Shion didn’t seem to possess any sexual feelings for Safu, so it was best he didn’t lead them into heartache territory.

He hoped she stayed friends with Shion. Nezumi had no intension of getting in the way of that. Shion could be such an airhead, and got swept up in his own little world. Maybe he would have to remind Shion not to neglect his friends.

“What happened?” Emily asked.

“Safu has some nerve!” Yuki grumbled and glared at Safu.

“She was only sticking up for a friend, you can’t really blame her.”

“Yeah right! Did you hear what she called us?”

“Yeah, how dare you take her side?”

“You’re not sluts. So, forget about what she said.” Nezumi wasn’t so sure he was speaking the truth. He had had sex with Emily, so it seemed hypocritical to judge her and not himself. Nezumi didn’t do hypocritical. He didn’t think of himself as a slut so he offered Emily, and Yuki too, the same treatment.

Emily smiled, her fingers crawling up his shirt before she had put her arm around him.

This was the part he was not looking forward to.

As gently as he could, Nezumi dislodged her arm. Patting her hand, he placed it in her lap. “Sorry ladies, unfortunately I’m gonna have to stop playing around. You’re both lovely, nevertheless my heart is captured by another. I’m sure you both can find a much better guy to have fun with than me.”

“Are you really dating Shion?” Yuki asked before she left Nezumi’s row.

“Dating?” Nezumi snorted. “Who knows?”

“Why, Nezumi?” Emily’s anger-filled whisper held pain. “And for that white-haired freak!?” Her eyes darkened. “Have fun with your albino fag, asshole. I won’t forget this!”

Nezumi’s eyes grew cold, before they softened and he smirked. “Careful, milady. Heat not a furnace for your foe so hot that it do singe yourself.”

Emily hesitated before she stormed off, taking a seat towards the center of the auditorium.

Nezumi saw Sam shift in his seat before he went over and sat by her. He couldn’t help wondering if this was the last he would see of those two, or if Sam would show up again, this time to defend his lady’s honor.

Chapter Text

Nezumi was silent all through Lit. He dodged all Shion’s attempts at conversation and when class ended he packed up his stuff without a word. They had parted at the door, Nezumi nodded to Shion’s goodbye, and headed off.

Shion had one more class before the end of the day. Nezumi wasn’t in it.

As he walked through the empty hall, Shion was lost in his thoughts. Something was going on with Nezumi, but what? Was it something he had done? But Nezumi didn’t sound angry, rather he was preoccupied, distant and apathetic. He wished Nezumi would talk to him, but that was never going to happen.

Heated breaths ghosted over his ear. Shion shivered.

He was crowded from behind. A firm, warm body held him close. He didn’t have to look to know who had grabbed him. He knew the feel of his lover’s body.

Nezumi’s intoxicating, rich scent washed over Shion’s senses. Nezumi’s soft nose nuzzled his neck before he licked his lobe then nipped the shell of Shion’s ear.

Shion trembled; Nezumi’s heady pants tickling his neck. He was going to be late for class, but he was frozen in place. The hall was empty, except a single student racing in the opposite direction.

“What’s this? Not going to class, milord?”

“You’re not letting me.” Shion’s heart pounded, shaky breaths escaped his lips.

“No, I’m not.” Nezumi’s hands groped Shion’s chest, his elegant fingers ran down Shion’s abdomen and entered his pants. “I want something from you. Can you guess what?”

Shion swallowed.

“Can you give me what I want?” Nezumi whispered into his ear. “Shion?”

Slowly, Shion nodded.

Without another word, Nezumi freed his hand from Shion’s pants and grabbed his wrist. At the end of the hall was a broom closet.

Shion knew where this was heading. His tummy fluttered, his palms started to sweat, that intoxicating high of arousal stirred up inside of him, making his brain hazy.

Would he end up becoming Nezumi’s on the floor of that broom closet, not an hour before school got out?

The door opened and Shion was shoved inside.

Nezumi kicked the bucket holding a mop and two brooms against the back of the closet, making as much space for the two them as he could.

Shion’s back was pulled against a strong chest, Nezumi kissing his neck—licking, sucking—holding him firmly. Nezumi released him enough to yank Shion’s shirt up over his head.

“Nezumi?” Shion gasped. Nezumi turned Shion’s head and silenced him by a kiss. “You okay?”

Nezumi paused and Shion was turned to face him.

“Do you not want to do this?” Nezumi’s voice winded, but he started to sound like himself again.

“I don’t want you to stop.” Shion smiled as Nezumi’s expression went from concerned to pure lust. “Do whatever you want to me, Nezumi.”

Nezumi smirked. He cupped Shion’s neck and pulled him in for a deep, painfully firm kiss. Shion didn’t fight it; he let Nezumi mold his lips how he desired, let Nezumi nip his bottom lip. Nezumi’s hand invaded inside his shorts, grabbing fistfuls of his ass.

“Nezumi.” Shion’s voice breathy and desperate, so turned on he could barely think.

Nezumi smirked. In one swift movement he freed Shion from his shorts.

Pushed up against the wall not cluttered with mops, Shion was kissed senseless. Nezumi’s lips plied Shion’s mouth open wide, his forceful tongue mapping inside.

Nezumi trailed kisses down his chin; Shion’s mouth tingled, phantom kisses lingering on his lips.

Surrendering, Shion tilted his head to provide better access. Nezumi nibbled his shoulder, and peppered his collarbone with little pecks—the touches soft and loving, but lust and need simmered beneath the surface.

Nezumi’s wet tongue licked Shion’s scar that crossed his neck. He nipped and sucked the pink skin, making it swell red as blood drew to the surface. Littering Shion’s neck with red welts, Nezumi staked his claim on him. Each mark making Shion belong more to him. Shion groaned, the pleasure making his toes curl.

Nezumi kissed down his body. Trailing his nose over his underwear, Nezumi mouthed him through the fabric.

Shion stumbled and grabbed Nezumi’s head for support. Nezumi smirked and inhaled Shion’s scent. He kissed over Shion’s thickening bulge, and cupped his balls gently. Shion inhaled sharply.

One swift movement had Shion’s underwear down to his ankles. He’d barely stepped out of them, when Nezumi blew hot air against his growing erection.

A moan escaped his lips. He’d never before been touched this way. It was thrilling and scary. Nezumi’s warm tongue licked from base to tip. Shion jerked. Nezumi grabbed his thigh to stable him.

He sucked the head of his shaft, his beautiful gray eyes teasing and playful, before they darkened with arousal. Slowly he took Shion into his mouth.

As he swallowed, Nezumi’s throat constricted around his flesh. Pleasure bursts behind Shion’s lidded eyes and he gripped Nezumi’s hair.

Nezumi rested; he’d taken Shion deep into his throat. Swallowing a small gag, his eyes closed, lips stretched around Shion’s thickness. Shion wiped the sweaty strands of Nezumi’s hair off his face.

Nezumi’s lips released Shion down to the head. Then bobbing his head up and down, he sucked Shion off—giving Shion his first ever blowjob.

Shion couldn’t hold back his cries. Nothing had ever felt this amazing. Nezumi kept a strong hand on Shion’s thigh and prevented him from moving his hips. His other grabbed handfuls of Shion’s ass before he let go and fisted Shion’s erection, pumping his cock. Lewd lapping sounds reverberated inside the closet. Nezumi moaned loud and needy, the sound vibrating Shion’s flesh.

Shion gasped, Nezumi smirked up at him, licking his shaft, rolling his tongue around it, teasing.

Shoving him against the wall, Nezumi got into a better angle. Now free to devour his lover, Nezumi got lost in his own world. His tongue wickedly skillful, driving Shion to the edge.

He was about to fall off into bliss when Nezumi pulled back. Looking up, he smirked as he rolled his tongue around the head.

Shion groaned and tugged Nezumi’s ponytail. “Please Nezumi.”

Nezumi freed his hair and nuzzled Shion’s palm before kissing it. Antagonistically slow, he continued to mouth-fuck Shion. 

“Ple-ase Nezu-mi…”

Nezumi picked up speed, and it was everything Shion needed right now.

“I- I can’t Nezumi, I’m gonna—ahh!” Body trembling, Shion fell over the edge, yanking Nezumi’s hair. Pleasure washed over his body, dancing along his skin, making him jerk and tremble. Moaning so loud he had to have been heard in the hall. 

Nezumi groaned around his cock, and Shion felt him swallow—moaning into his throat as Shion’s load continued to fill his mouth.

When finally spent, Shion sagged against Nezumi. He’d have fallen to his knees, but Nezumi held him up. Licking him clean, Nezumi kissed him as he softened. He nuzzled Shion’s crotch, inhaling the scent. Shion blushed hard, embarrassment replacing lust now that he was coming down.

“Beautiful,” Nezumi whispered, talking like Shion couldn’t hear him. “Perfect.” Then he rested his head against Shion’s tummy. Shion wrapped him in a gentle hug, one hand petting his hair.

Finally, Nezumi pushed away and helped Shion sit down.

Leaning against the wall, Nezumi pulled Shion into his lap, Shion’s back resting against his chest. Their heavy pants seemed louder in the tiny closet.

Shion let out a soft laugh. “Think we missed class?”

Nezumi’s laugh sounded beautiful. “Mmm.” He nuzzled his head into Shion’s neck. “I don’t care though.” Shion cuddled against him, looking at him as much as their position allowed.

“Me neither.”

They sat there for a while. Nezumi fully clothed, holding his naked lover. Shion was trembling as his body recovered. He shivered as his skin cooled; his lack of clothing working against him. Nezumi rubbed at Shion’s arms, trying to chase away the goosebumps. He pressed a kissed against Shion’s head.

“We should get up. You’re gonna turned to ice otherwise.”

Shion smiled. “Then you’d have a Shion-sickle.”

Nezumi quirked an eyebrow. “I’m gonna pretend something that lame didn’t just come out of your mouth.”

“I didn’t think it was lame.” Shion grumbled as they got to their feet. Nezumi collected Shion’s shirt and threw it to him before he found Shion’s underwear and shorts.

“It was lame, Shion.” Nezumi rolled his eyes.

“Nuh huh.”

“Seriously? You’re such a little kid.”

“You are!”

“Just shut up,” Nezumi said, giving him a lopsided smirk.

Shion smiled wide. “Oh yeah, make me!”

Nezumi grabbed him so quickly Shion only saw a blur of movement before he was caught in strong arms. “Yeah.” A laugh broke Nezumi’s breathy tone. “That what you want, Shion?”

“Ummm,” Shion sighed, turning his head to nuzzled Nezumi’s neck. “Yeah, this. So warm.”

“Idiot.” Nezumi pressed another kiss to Shion’s temple.

~-~-~

“Nezumi?” Shion walked through the seemingly endless woods that led up to the gypsy camp, Nezumi by his side. He kept thinking about what happened in that broom closet at school.

“Hmm?”

“Why is it that you are the only one in your family that goes to school?”

“It’s ‘cause of my uncle.”

“Hanzi? Then why doesn’t he—?”

“Not Hanzi. My uncle Nic on my dad’s side. The one that sends me books.”

“Oh.”

“Yeah, one of the agreements he made with Ka when I went to live with them was that I continue going to school, even after the rest of the kids stopped.”

“Oh? So then your cousins had gone to school?”

“Well yeah.” Nezumi actually sounded tired today. It was a new thing to hear. But little by little Shion noticed Nezumi revealing weakness around him. The fact that Nezumi trusted him enough to let his guard down spoke volumes. “If my cousins didn’t go to school at all I think Ka and Bee would have gotten in trouble with the law. However stupid that is. But most of them went until, I don’t know, grade school?”

 “Like middle school?”

“No, I think primary school. Maybe some went to middle school, I’m not sure.”

“Really? But how do they plan on having a successful future without any schooling, or higher education?”

“My family doesn’t like to mingle, so they teach my cousins at home mostly.”

“Like homeschool?”

“I guess. I haven’t really cared enough to ask, honestly.”

“Are they okay with, you know, us being friends?”

Nezumi stopped and gave Shion a funny look. “Idiot. If they weren’t okay, I wouldn’t be bringing you home.”

Shion smiled, albeit sheepishly. “Yeah, Hanzi was very welcoming.”

“Yeah.” Nezumi started walking again.

This time in the gypsy camp Shion knew a lot more what to expect, and how to behave. The camp had a different feel to it today. Shion couldn’t put his finger on it. The moment they walked down the hill and entered the camp, the scent of Nezumi awashed Shion’s senses—the one he associated with Nezumi that came from the incense burnt around the camp.

 “Nezumi? I’ve been meaning to ask. What is the incense for?”

“Keeping things away, like bugs and stuff.”

“And stuff?”

“I don’t know, bad omens and stuff like that.”

“Like demons?”

Nezumi snorted. “Yeah. I guess. It’s also just ‘cause we like the scent.”

Shion inhaled deeply. “I love the scent. It’s one of the first things that drew me to you. I love the way you smell, it’s intoxicating. So I—” A hand clasp over his mouth.

“Seriously Shion, do you know how not to be embarrassing?” Nezumi grumbled. Pouted maybe? Either way it was adorable.

Shion tried to speak, but Nezumi’s hand blocked him. He grabbed at the hand, but Nezumi’s grip was tight.

“Okay, I’ll let you go if you keep those thoughts to yourself. Got it? No more embarrassing crap better come out of your mouth.”

Shion nodded. Slowly, Nezumi let go.

“Nezumi?”

“Shit. What?” His hand threatened to cover Shion’s mouth again. “There better not be anything embarrassing in that question, or so help me God, Shion—”

“Nezumi?” It was one of Sasori’s sons. The younger one who could be a year or so younger than them.

“What?” Nezumi looked annoyed. “I just got in, what now?”

His cousin snorted. “Well, that’s too bad, ‘cause Da and Simon want you to help with the shop today.”

“Fuck that. I told them I’m not getting under any stupid car and meddling with it. Definitely not my thing.”

“Seriously? If you say that pansy stuff about not wanting to get dirty—?”

“Pansy? I could wipe the floor with your ass,” Nezumi smirked. “Barely lifting a finger.”

Nezumi’s cousin bared his teeth. “So? That’s not my thing.” His snarky tone matched his death glare.

“Well, then we’re even. You go and do what you’re good at, while I’ll stick to what I do best.” Nezumi smirked over to Shion. “Which, at this point, I’d like it to be this guy right here.”

Shion went beet red. His entire body burned with embarrassment.

“Sick, Nezumi,” Nezumi’s cousin said—Shion was searching his mental banks for the guy’s name. “Don’t put gross stuff in my head.”

Nezumi shrugged. “Not my fault you’re still here.”

“Stop playing around, Nezumi. We know you’re not doing shit with the gadje.” Another voice joined in, Nezumi’s other cousin, the eldest of Sasori’s children.

“Isao! That’s it.” All three guys turned to Shion, Nezumi interrupted in what he was going to say. “Oh, sorry,” Shion said when he saw all eyes on him. He turned to Nezumi’s younger cousin. “I just remembered your name, that’s all.”

“You aren’t the brightest are you, gadje?” Isao said.

“Believe it or not he’s as bright as they come, but also the biggest airhead you’re ever gonna meet.”

“Uh, thanks I guess. Not sure how to take that,” Shion responded.

“Idiot, you aren’t supposed to take that in any way; it’s called sarcasm.” Nezumi smirked. “See, told yah he’s an airhead.”

“Nezumi?” Shion started.

“Shion, I warned you—!”

“It’s nothing like that. I was wondering, does your family own a mechanic shop or something?”

“Nah. We just fix up old cars and sell them to used car dealers.”

“Oh, I see.”

“Nezumi, why’d you bring him again?” Isao bunched his nose up in disgust, and Shion was immediately reminded of the boy’s father doing the exact same thing.

Nezumi let out an annoyed sigh. “I don’t want to deal with your bullshit today. Just get lost Isao. And tell Sasori, I’m busy.”

“Busy? What the hell are you doing?”

“Being a good host. Now go.”

“Kako Hanzi isn’t here,” this eldest of Sasori’s sons spoke again. He didn’t look at Shion at all, like Shion didn’t exist. “So if my Da wants to, he can throw him out. He’s a gadje, and knives always find their way into the backs of outsiders—”

Nezumi gave a laugh. “Stop talking like you’ve got a fucking clue how to use a knife.” Nezumi grabbed Shion’s elbow to get him to follow.

Sasori’s son narrowed his thick eyebrows. “Da will hear of this.”

Nezumi smirked, waving him off. “I’m terrified.”

Shion glanced between Nezumi and his cousin—of whom, Shion had yet to recall his name. He wasn’t sure if he should be afraid for his safety or not. He guessed he probably should, since Nezumi’s cousin had threatened him with a knife to the back, but strangely Shion didn’t feel any fear. He felt safe in the gypsy camp. Maybe it was Nezumi by his side, or maybe it was the warmth he had received from them the first time he visited. He also really liked Hanzi, and not for a second time, wished that Hanzi was his uncle too.

As they neared the family’s trailer, Shion saw another familiar face. Kash was watching the TV again, but this time by himself. Luca was nowhere to be found. The closer Shion got, he began to hear Sponge Bob speaking on the TV, the static made his voice sound off.

“White snake’s back?” Kash grumbled. “Nezumi, you need to stop bringing outsiders here.”

“Shut up.” Nezumi walked right passed him. “You just wanna pawn off chores on me again.”

“That’s not it!”

“Whatever. Come on, Shion.” Nezumi headed for the house. Shion hadn’t seen Nezumi this tired. He wasn’t even taking the bait Kash left out.

“Right,” Shion said before he looked at Kash. “Nice to see you again, Kash.”

“Yeah, yeah,” Kash said.

When Nezumi opened the door of the trailer and began to take off his shoes, Shion was greeted by a loud. “Oh, welcome back, Shion!” Tsura’s wide smile and sparkling eyes were a balm of relief after being treated coldly by the last three members of Nezumi’s family.

“Bee, can you get Kash to stop being an ass to Shion? I don’t have the energy to deal with his shit today.” Shion was again taken back. Nezumi really was exhausted if he was asking his aunt to take care of his problems. Perhaps there was something else there? Something else that was bothering him? Nezumi was extremely quiet and antisocial today, even more than his usual self. Shion had gotten Nezumi to sit with his friends at lunch. But although Nezumi sat there, he didn’t say a word, just read from his book and fished his food as he usually did.

“Kash’s doing what?!” A heavy frown appear on Tsura’s face as her brows narrowed.

“Yeah, when is he not being a little shit? I just don’t feel like dealing with him all night.”

Tsura smiled at Shion. “Excuse me, will you.”

“KASH!” Tsura didn’t even wait until the trailer door closed before she was screaming at her son. “If I hear you say another mean word to Shion, I’ll whip your ass right here.” Kash grumbled.

“Why did he have to bring him dya?” Kash whined. “I don’t wanna be the only one doing the damn table again!”

“I told you it was ‘cause his lazy ass didn’t want to do work,” Nezumi said and Shion turned to look at them.

“Don’t be a lazy little shit.” Tsura’s hands were on her hips. “I don’t give one hoot of a care what your reasons are, you don’t treat guests like that. Is that understood?”

“But dya?” Kash whined.

“Is. that. understood?” Tsura’s voice strained.

Kash let out a sigh. “Fine.”

“I mean it, one more crack out of you and your da will hear about this? You got that?”

“Come on, Shion,” Nezumi said, grabbing Shion’s elbow again. Shion stumbled only a little before he caught his balance, and followed Nezumi into his room.

“Uh, Nezumi?”

“What?” Nezumi’s tone a little short.

“I wanted to ask, all day really, but—?”

“Just get to it already, Shion. I’m too tired for bullshit right now.”

“Well, yeah, you are tired. I mean, I’ve never seen you like this. Are you okay?”

Nezumi went to the closet and started removing his clothes.

Shion sucked in a breath. He remembered feeling Nezumi’s warm body on top of him. That soft, pale skin like velvet against his own.

“You’re a white-haired tomato again,” Nezumi laughed. “But at least this time you’re not running for the door.”

“I didn’t run for the door last time. Just asked you if you wanted privacy.”

“And now I don’t need it?” A taunting flair entered Nezumi’s voice.

“I—I didn’t… I mean. I—”

“Wanna invade my personal space, Shion?”

Brain growing heady, Shion’s body started to feel heavy. Vivid memories surfaced: Nezumi’s hands on his body, that warm tongue rolling down his skin, Nezumi’s deep, open-mouthed kisses stealing his breath away. Without thinking he nodded.

Nezumi hadn’t put on a shirt. “Come here.”

Simply walking there felt like a rush; his limbs heavy, the body-high made his heart speed up. His breath quickened. “Nezumi.”

Nezumi gave him a half smile.

Shion navigated through the maze of books, thinking only of Nezumi’s hands, his mouth, his gorgeous body.

The moment he came close, he expected Nezumi to yank him into the bed. But Nezumi didn’t. Instead he sat on the edge, watching Shion with those mesmerizing pools of gray.

“Sit down.” His tone a soft caress. Shion obeyed and sat down next to him. Turning to him, Nezumi cupped his cheek. His touch gentle, his hand warm. Nezumi pressed a kiss to Shion’s temple then pulled back, his hot breath danced over Shion’s eyebrows. Warm lips moved down Shion’s nose before they hovered above his own.

“Nezumi,” Shion whispered. “Kiss me. Please.”

Two fingers tipped his chin upward and Nezumi’s warm lips covered his own.

Heat flowed from the kiss and dispersed throughout his body. Shion was floating. His fingers trailed up Nezumi’s bare shoulders enjoying the smooth, soft skin, before he rested his arms around Nezumi’s neck.

When they broke for air, Shion whispered soft words into Nezumi’s mouth. “You really did mean that. Didn’t you, Nezumi?”

“Mean what?” Nezumi whispered back.

“You’d be doing me.”

Lust pooled into Nezumi’s gray orbs. “Yeah? Can I?”

Shion nodded. He had never had penetrative sex before, but he wanted Nezumi to be his first. He wanted Nezumi to show him.

Nezumi pushed Shion onto the bed, deepening their kiss. He moved towards the center, Shion crawling back on his hands.

When they stopped at the pillows, Nezumi kissed him all the way down until Shion lay on the mattress feeling the comforting weight of his lover on top of him.

Shion ran his hands up and down Nezumi’s sides. When they ran along the defined muscles of his back, Shion tried to be gentle as he traced Nezumi’s scars. Nezumi didn’t seem to care where Shion touched, so he took that as an invitation and continued to caress every bit of Nezumi’s skin he could reach.

Nezumi mouthed his neck, trailing his tongue along Shion’s scar.

A knock resounded on the door.

“Fuck.” Nezumi let out a sigh. “What the fuck now?”

“Nezumi? I need to speak with you.”

Shion didn’t recognize that voice at first. It certainly wasn’t Nezumi’s aunt, it belonged to a man.

“What the fuck does he want?” Nezumi grumbled as he got off Shion and yelled over to the door. “Can it wait? I’m busy right now.”

“Right…entertaining your guest…”

“Yes, if you must know, so leave it until later.”

The door cracked open and Sasori’s large frame was haloed by the hall light. Shion’s face burned feverishly hot with embarrassment.

“As you can see, kako, we’re busy.” Nezumi’s tone snarky. “So whatever it is can wait.”

“Not this time, Nezumi.” Sasori’s lip curled in disgust as his eyes narrowed at Shion. “Simon wants you to help out in the yard.”

“And I fucking told you guys I am not doing it. What the hell? It’ll take me hours to get that crap out from under my fingernails, and if it gets into my hair…!”

Shion let out a giggle. Nezumi leveled him with a death glare. “What? I’m just…well, who’d’ve imagined the great Nezumi worried ‘bout his nails and messing up his hair?”

“Fucking shut up,” Nezumi grumbled. “I happen to appreciate not looking like a grease monkey.” Shion laughed again, and this time Nezumi grabbed him and pinned him to the bed. Shion sucked in a breath as Nezumi’s bare skin pressed into his clothed shirt. He wanted his own clothes off, he wanted Nezumi’s smooth, warm skin against his. “Listen you. If you wanna go out there and bathe in that grease by all means. But I take care of my looks and there is no fucking way I am getting under that car.”

“Your eyes look fiery when you’re mad.” Shion would’ve brushed his fingers along Nezumi’s cheek if not for the tight grip around his wrist.

“Nezumi. Get out of bed. Stop playing with your friend, and get out here. If you do not want to work, take that up with Hanzi. Now move it.”

Nezumi looked over his shoulder at Sasori, glaring. “Ka’s not home for another hour. Why the fuck should I come out until then? I’ll take it up with him when he gets home.”

Sasori walked into the room. “I’ll drag you out, if I have to.”

The air around Nezumi shifted. He was alert. Shion could almost feel the energy pulsing from his skin. Nezumi was preparing to fight. He let go of Shion’s hands.

“Fucking try it.” Nezumi’s tone was cold.

Sasori smirked. “Been a long time since we did this indoors. Sure your Bee will appreciate the kind of mess we’re gonna make.”

Nezumi got up off the bed. Shion wanted to get up, but he was a little afraid, honestly. A feather could have sliced through the tension in the air. Shion could barely breathe. He had seen Nezumi fight once at school, but this was going to be different. A lot different. Shion got the feeling Sasori was going to be a hell of a lot more of an opponent than Sam.

“Fine. Let’s take this outside.”

Shion got up. “Wait, Nezumi!” He grabbed Nezumi’s arm. “Look I don’t mind helping out. How about I work in your place, at least until your uncle gets here? Please, Nezumi. You said you were tired. Don’t fight.”

“Stay out of this gadje,” Sasori’s threatened.

“Don’t talk to him like that.” Nezumi brushed Shion’s hand off.

Sasori snorted. “No one wants this gadje here when Hanzi’s not around.”

“Just what the hell is going on in here?” Tsura stood in the door frame. “Oh hell no, you two are not! Not in my house. Get the hell out before you both start.”

“We were just about to,” Sasori said.

“Wait!” Shion said. “Tsura, they are going to fight. Please stop them.”

Tsura’s lopsided grimace spoke volumes. “They do this a lot. So, there’s nothing to worry about Shion sweetie.”

“They do?”

“Yes. This is something an outsider like you could not understand.”

“Sasori.” Tsura’s tone dropped to ice. “Don’t insult our family. You treat our guest with respect, and don’t you dare speak about him in that tone.” Tsura let out a tired-frustrated sigh. “Stop being such a shit example!” she snorted. “This where Kash gets his rude behavior.”

Sasori glared at his sister. “You both just don’t see the dangers of bringing in outsiders…especially those that look like him.”

The slap of skin against skin was loud in the tiny room. Tsura’s hand was still raised near Sasori’s cheek. “How many goddamn times do I have to tell you to stop embarrassing this family?”

Ire glowed red in his brown-green eyes, and his hand jerked by his side; for a moment Shion thought Sasori might strike her back. Nezumi was right there though, stepping in front of his aunt.

“Well, are we gonna do this or not?”

“In other words,” Tsura snapped, “get the hell out!”

Sasori pushed past them. Nezumi followed him and didn’t look back once. He was still shirtless. Shion raced after him. Nezumi and his uncle were gone.

Wow, they put on their shoes fast!

Shion tugged on his shoes, when he felt a hand on his shoulder. Tsura was there, giving him a comforting smile.

“Don’t worry about what you’re gonna see out there. Ok, sweetie?” Now Shion was getting nervous. “My brother has been a pain in the ass since we were kids. But he doesn’t represent all of us. In fact, he’s in his own little boat of shame. Rest of us don’t have anything against outsiders. Sasori is just stuck in his hatred.”

Shion nodded. The aluminum trailer door did little to hide the noises coming from outside. Nezumi and his uncle had started their fight.

“Goddamnit, wish they’d save this ‘til when the kids are asleep.” Shion followed Tsura outside.

Nezumi and Sasori had taken their fight onto the dirt road, and now stood facing each other.

Nezumi barefoot, Sasori as well. The tense air a calm before the storm.

Sasori charged. That same instant, Nezumi sprang at him.

Battle cries filling the air, they clashed together. Just when Sasori's fist wailed into his side. Nezumi's kick whammed into his uncle’s chest. The impact plummeting them in opposite directions.

As he hit the dirt, Nezumi turned his falling into rolling. Dust clouded the air. With feline finesse, he was on his feet.

Sasori used the force of the impact. Back-flipping, he landed on the ground. His feet skidding on pebbles.

Nezumi assailed his uncle. But Sasori had a head start. He came in swinging. Nezumi’s uppercut blocked every hit.

Nezumi sacrificed an opening. Taking a blow to the cheek. Next time Sasori punched, Nezumi grabbed it. Using the same technique he did with Sam, he flipped his uncle over his shoulder.

Sasori rolled to his feet.

Nezumi smirked. “Heh? Old man losing his touch?”

Punches sliced the air. Each missed his target by mere moments.

Nezumi locked elbows with his uncle. Using the man’s own weight, he back-flipped to the ground. His legs wrapped around Sasori's neck. Taking him down, Nezumi choked his uncle with his knees.

Sasori wiggled on the ground like bait on a hook. Trying to dislodge himself from Nezumi’s hold. Lifting his hips, he got his fingers between his neck and Nezumi’s knee. Barely space to turn his head, Sasori sank his canines into Nezumi’s thigh. The bite mark red and shiny.

Nezumi cried out. Sasori pushed off the ground. His head bashing into Nezumi’s mouth. Blood spilt from Nezumi’s busted lip.

Now Sasori's broad back crushed Nezumi into the dirt. He still had Sasori in a chokehold. A head-butt to the face loosened his grip. Sasori rolled off him. Amazingly enough, Nezumi’s nose wasn’t broken. It still looked like it hurt a lot.

In a blur of motion, Nezumi was up on his feet.

Slowly, they circled each other.

On a quilt covering the grass, Kash watched the fight. Although long forgotten, Sponge Bob still played on the retro TV sitting out on the lawn. Isao sat on one of the nearby, worn out chairs. Two more of Nezumi’s cousins—Luca and Nadya—came over and joined Kash on the quilt.

Nezumi barely dodged two blows to the face. Sasori kicked at his stomach. Nezumi prepared to block. At the last minute, Sasori switched directions. The side of his heel caught Nezumi straight in the cheek. Leaving a reddish-purple bruise.

Sasori didn’t wait for Nezumi to recover. Nezumi blocked a punch coming in low. With a quick jab he pushed Sasori off. Dodging his head to the side, Nezumi ducked a double sidekick.

Sasori kicked Nezumi’s shoulder. Nezumi deflected it with his elbow. Knocking Sasori off balance. Sasori rolled into a crouch, narrowly avoiding hitting the ground. Nezumi smirked. Sasori returned it with dust-stained teeth.

Almost too quick to see, Sasori sprang up. He elbowed Nezumi in the chin; taking him down to the dirt. Nezumi crawled backward on his hands. Sasori was too quick. He sat on Nezumi’s chest. Raining punches to his face.

Nezumi protected his face, blocking with his forearms. Sasori jerked him up. Before slamming him repeatedly into the ground.

“Nezumi!” Concern strained Shion’s voice. “Tsura? Can’t we stop them?”

Tsura gave a shake of her head. “Don’t worry about it. They’ll tired themselves out.”

“But Nezumi?”

“Nezumi’s been fighting for a long time. Sasori was the one who taught him, so if anything this is just a normal day for them.”

“Sasori taught Nezumi how to fight?”

Tsura nodded. “Hanzi is okay with this. It’s Nezumi’s uncle on his father’s side that’s never approved.”

“Oh?”

“Yeah, Nic’s always been a forward-thinker, even when he lived with the family. In a lot of ways he and Hanzi hit heads. But they both care for Nezumi, so it works out in the end.”

“But Sasori? I mean, they could seriously hurt each other.”

“Sasori’s an asshole, but he too cares for Nezumi. He taught ‘im how to fight for a variety of reasons. Hate to say it, but sometimes the world isn’t too kind to those who’er different. And Sasori felt that Nezumi shouldn’t be defenseless. That’s why Hanzi agreed, and why Nic tolerates it.”

“I see.”

Giving him one last thud, Sasori caught Nezumi’s throat and started choking him.

In one move, Nezumi grabbed his arm from underneath; dislodging Sasori's grip. Using his hip, he flipped their positions. To catch his fall, Sasori had to let go. Roles reversed, Nezumi punched. Giving Sasori no time to block. Repeatedly, he took blows to the stomach. Sasori gasped. He caught hold of Nezumi’s wrist and sent him tumbling over his shoulder. Nezumi grazed the ground. Smoothly rolling up on to his feet. Sasori used that time to surface; the corner of his mouth bled. Nezumi’s forearms dirty and bruised.

Both on their feet. They faced off again, circling each other. Each looked for an opening.

Sasori crouched low. Propelling off the ground, he flung dirt into Nezumi’s eyes. His mammoth-sized fist jabbed at Nezumi’s face. Nezumi ducked, and slugged his uncle in the gut. Grabbing Sasori’s bicep, Nezumi flipped him over his shoulder. Sasori thudded into the ground, stirring up a cloud of dust.

Sasori lunged and grabbed Nezumi’s ankle. Face-first, Nezumi smacked the ground. Narrowly catching himself on his hands. Sasori sprang onto his back, tugging his ponytail. Nezumi yelped at that. He hammer-fisted Sasori’s jaw, knocking him off.

Hair free, Nezumi rolled into a crouch—only to get a face full of dirt. Sasori smirked, dirt pile still in hand. Nezumi coughed, backing away. Sasori advanced. He aimed another pile at Nezumi.

Nezumi lunged forward. Grabbing Sasori’s shirt, he kneed him in the gut. Sasori staggered, clutching his stomach. Nezumi's punch nailed Sasori in the face.

“Stupid Nezumi,” Isao grumbled. “Don’t know why he thinks this is better than working the shop.” He yelled over to Nezumi, “You’re getting your precious hair dirty now? How is this any different?”

“Worlds different,” Nezumi answered. Roundhouse kicking his uncle. Simultaneously he avoided the man’s attack. “That is if this asshole’d stop trying to rip my hair off.”

Sasori stepped back. Avoiding Nezumi’s front kick. His retaliatory jab narrowly missed its target.

Sasori stayed low. Nezumi’s roundhouse kick grazed his hair. He sprang up. Elbowing Nezumi in the chest. Nezumi blocked, but the force knocked him back.

Now Sasori had the edge. His frontal jabs turned to blocks. Nezumi countering them with his own. Sasori found an opening. He elbowed Nezumi’s solar plexus. Nezumi gasped, stumbling. Where he was hit, his pale-white skin bruised. The mark plainly visible without his shirt on.

Using Nezumi’s hair, Sasori flipped Nezumi forward onto the floor. Nezumi hissed in pain. His scalp pulled.

Sasori smirked. “Then don’t let me get your hair, boy.”

“Boy?” Nezumi arched an eyebrow. He somersaulted into a stance. Sasori flew at him. Nezumi rolled out of the way. Feline finesse landing him on his feet. “That’s a low blow, even for you, kako.”

Nezumi sent a low kick. Sasori easily deflecting it with the back of his arm. He punched at Nezumi’s face. It almost hit its target, but Nezumi leaned back in time.

Nezumi jabbed at his uncle’s abdomen. Sasori's uppercut sent it flying off to the side. Grabbing Nezumi’s arm, Sasori threw him over his shoulder. Slamming Nezumi into the floor.

Sasori’s smile widened. “A soft spot, Nezumi?” His tone turned harsh. “I warned you about those…soft spots. They’re openings. And openings are costly.”

Sasori stomped down at Nezumi’s chest. But Nezumi was gone—hair of a second moving his body out of the way. Sasori tried to stomp his nephew to death. Stubbornly, Nezumi avoided his pounding feet.

“Not any of your business, Sasori.” Nezumi's voice winded.

They weren’t talking about Sasori’s comment earlier. This wasn’t about Nezumi not wanting to be called a child. Shion had no doubt that this was about him.

Nezumi rolled into a crouching position. Sasori came in low. He socked him in the stomach. Nezumi stumbled.

“You’re slower. Weaker,” Sasori taunted.

As he fell backward, Nezumi blocked a punch to his face. He caught himself on his hands. Back-flipping to his feet.

Sasori charged at Nezumi.

Nezumi crouched low. Sasori’s own momentum carried him over Nezumi’s back, and onto the floor.

Sasori swiped at Nezumi’s feet. He jumped it.

Sasori smirked. “That’s better.”

Nezumi smirked at the compliment.

On his back, Sasori used his knees. He sprang up into a stance. His feet just touched ground, when Nezumi’s elbow rammed his chin. Sending him right back down. Sasori dodged Nezumi’s kick. The move putting some distance between them. Sasori rolled into a crouch, weight on his knees. Dirt mixed with blood on his chin. Then he was on his feet.

Nezumi charged. Using a bolly kick, he spiraled off the ground. Heading straight for Sasori’s face. Just in time, Sasori caught his foot and threw him. But he never hit the dirt. Just rolled off it and landed on his feet.

“Cool,” Kash said. Shion couldn’t agree more. He still worried for Nezumi, who had been acting strangely all day. He had said he was tired. Engaging his uncle in a death match hardly seemed like a way to wind down.

Taking their fight to the grass. Sasori threw Nezumi over his shoulder, hanging onto his hand. He pinned Nezumi’s arm behind his back. Nezumi knew a counter move. Soon, he was free. Then they were at it again.

Shion always knew Nezumi could fight, but this? This was amazing. Nezumi could have torn Sam to shreds. Compared to this fight, Sam had gotten off easy.

The sharp sound of a blade drawing pierced the air. Evening sun glinted off Sasori’s knife.

“What?” Terror knotted Shion’s gut. “Nezumi!”

Sasori lunged. His hammer-fist sliced the air. The knife approaching Nezumi’s neck. In a flash, Nezumi drew his own blade and blocked the fatal blow.

“Shit,” Shion gasped, anxiety stealing his breath. Tsura put her hand on his shoulder.

“How about we come inside? This has to be distressing to you, sweetie. For me, for Kash, no one is fazed. Like I said, Sasori and Nezumi do this constantly. They’ll eventually tire out. And believe me, none of them is actually tryin’ to kill each other.”

“That isn’t what it looks like to me. If Nezumi hadn’t blocked, Sasori would have slit his neck open.” There was no way Shion could go inside. “Sorry, I’d be worse inside. At least here I can see what’s happening.”

The knife fight had begun. Both Sasori and Nezumi looked tired. But neither backed down. Smirking like madmen, they lunged at each other.

“Nezumi is amazing,” Shion said as he watched Nezumi simultaneously block Sasori’s knife before sending an attack of his own.

Tsura nodded her head. “He’s got a knack for it. Like his da. He was brilliant with the knife.”

“Really?”

Tsura nodded. “Nezumi looks just like him when he fights.” Tsura sighed. “I’m sure this gives a bad impression of us. I’m sorry for that.”

“What? No.” Shion shook his head. “Only Sasori has been unkind to me—well, and his sons—but everyone else has been more than welcoming. Besides, I already knew Nezumi could fight.”

“You did?”

Shion nodded. “I fell into some trouble with a kid at school, and Nezumi stepped in.”

“Oh? That kid all right?”

Shion cracked a smile, before he laughed outright. He’d have thought Tsura would be more concerned about Nezumi when she heard about that fight. Any other parental figure would’ve worried first about her child’s welfare. Though—Shion surveyed the fight again—given Nezumi’s incredible skills, Tsura’s reaction wasn’t really surprising.

“Sam? Yeah, Nezumi let him off easy, if this is how he normally fights.”

Tsura shook her head. “I'mma have to give him a talkin’ to for that. He knows he shouldn’ be fighting.”

“Please, don’t,” Shion pleaded. “Nezumi didn’t really hurt him. More like threatened him.” Shion’s nerves spiked; had he gotten Nezumi in trouble? “Nezumi was merely defending me. I mean, if he hadn’t stepped in, I would have been in trouble. And he had to fight. Sam’s not a guy who you can reason with. Please don’t get mad at him. He really saved me there.”

Tsura gave him a look that said I’m totally gonna regret this.

Right then, Shion took a moment to survey the fight.

Nezumi and Sasori had dropped their knives. Now they rustled on the floor. There was something erotic about it. Nezumi still wasn’t wearing a shirt. Sasori’s wife-beater drenched with sweat, revealed his rip, mountainous physique.

Nezumi had Sasori pinned on the ground, strangling him. To get a better hold, he crawled over Sasori. He would have been sitting on his face, if not for the space between them. Sasori grabbed his thigh and shoved him off, rolling over with Nezumi until he pinned him. It looked like they were play wrestling, if not for their dialog.

Sasori threw comments on how Nezumi’s form was wrong. How he had too many openings. Shion again got the suspicion they were talking about him, not Nezumi’s moves. But Sasori all over Nezumi was making Shion want to go over there and throw him off.

Nezumi had been about to make love to him before Sasori barged in. Now Sasori was the one rolling in the dirt with Nezumi. Also, and maybe Shion was overthinking this, but Sasori seemed to enjoy pinning Nezumi down. Of course, Nezumi’s smirk when he gained the upper hand did little to deter Shion’s jealousy.

“All right,” Tsura sighed, reclaiming Shion’s attention. “You convinced me. But,” she nodded her head over to them, “as you can plainly see, I can’t have Nezumi fightin’ like that in school. And if he brings out that knife…he’s gonna be in heaps of trouble.” She shook her head. “And unfortunately not just from me.”

“He didn’t. Honestly, until he almost used it on Kash, I didn’t know he even carried a weapon. I think it’s crazy how he can get it past the metal detector.”

“I’d tell ‘im to leave it behind, but…well, Nezumi...” She shook her head, searching for words. “I don’t know how to say this. Nezumi needs to be on his guard.”

“Does this have something to do with Nezumi’s involvement with my illness?”

“Oh, that’s right! You know all this. ‘Course you would after what happened.” She gave him a pitying look. “But yeah, Nezumi shouldn’t let his guard down. After what happened to his father, Sasori was right to teach him.”

“How did Sasori learn to fight like this? If you don’t mind my asking?”

“Ask away, sweetie.” Tsura smiled. “He studied up. He has his heart in the right place, for the buffoon he is. He wants to protect the family. And that’s his way of doing it. Oh! Looks like the boys are finishing up.”

The moment Shion looked over his heart stopped.

Sasori sat on Nezumi's stomach. His muscular legs fought to hold down Nezumi’s thighs. Nezumi lay on his wrists, the loose black rope coming from underneath confirmed it.

The thin, black rope trailed over Nezumi’s naked chest until it snaked his neck. Sasori yanked the ends, choking the life from him. Nezumi gagged. His mouth open, desperately gasping for breath.

“Nezumi!” Shion charged them.

“Oyi, Shion! It’s okay.” Tsura called to him.

Nezumi’s face reddened, still struggling to get Sasori off.

“That it?” Sasori hissed. “That all you got?”

“Get the hell off of him!” Shion flew at Sasori and barely budged his large frame. Sasori shoved him off. Shion hit the ground hard. Forgetting the pain, Shion grabbed up a medium size rock. Quickly he got to his feet.

“This how you wanna die, boy?” Sasori tightened the rope. Nezumi cocked his hips and finally dislodged Sasori’s legs. Before he regained his hold, Nezumi head banged Sasori’s chin. Sasori’s grip slacked. Fists pushing up off the ground, Nezumi rolled into his hip and flipped their positions, then ducked under the hanging rope.

With feline finesse, Nezumi rolled off his uncle and over to his knife on the floor. He freed his wrists. Sasori tackled him. Nezumi pressed the knife to his throat.

Sasori smirked and rolled off. “Not bad.”

Shion stood frozen, the rock in his hand dropping to the ground with a soft plop. His body starting to shake.

Nezumi lay staring up at the sky, his labored breaths shook his shoulders. Then he got to his feet. Pocketing his knife, he gave Sasori a tired smirk. His voice horse and breathy, still audible, but barely.

“Enough to get me out of rolling in grease?” As he smirked, blood spilt down his chin.

Winded and still on the ground, Sasori snorted. “Possibly, it depends on what Hanzi thinks when he gets home.”

“What?” Nezumi whined as much as his horse voice allowed. “Seriously! We had a deal!”

“I told you to leave your room, you challenged me. That was the deal.” Sasori’s deep voice held mirth. “But for now, I’ll let you off the hook at least until he gets home.”

Nezumi dragged out a sigh. “Thank fuck.”

“Nezumi!” Shion dashed to his side, panting. “Fuck.” Shion’s voice shaky. He took in Nezumi’s state. “You’re bleeding!” Wiping the back of this thumb over Nezumi’s broken lip, he started probing Nezumi’s face checking for broken bones.

Nezumi, still breathing hard, huffed out a laugh. “Idiot. I’m fine. Just a little tired.”

“A little tired? He almost killed you!” Shion glared at Sasori. Fear and ire warred in his voice. “He could have crushed your windpipe doing that!”

“Seriously Shion, I’m fine. I’m used to it.”

Shion started digging through Nezumi’s disheveled hair, pressing his fingers against the scalp as he searched for bruises.

Nezumi sighed in annoyance. “I said I was fine. Would you quit already?”

Shion stepped back and his eyes landed on Nezumi’s neck. “Your neck! There’s a red mark!” With gentle fingers Shion traced the mark. “You’re hurt?”

“And fuck are you mothering!” Nezumi pinned Shion’s hands in a firm hold. “Geez, you’re like an annoying mother hen.”

“Nezum—!”

“Shion! Stop.”

Shion flinched, his tirade trapped in his throat. Nezumi panted heavily still holding Shion’s wrists.

Tears prickled in Shion’s eyes before hot wetness rolled down his cheeks. He shook his head.

“Don’t. Don’t just say you’re used to it. He was hurting you, Nezumi.” Since he couldn’t cover his face as Nezumi still captured his hands, Shion looked down and cried into his shirt. Shoulders shaking, sobs escaped his lips.

Nezumi released a breath. “Hey.” His tone gentle. “Shhh, it’s okay.”

Releasing his wrists, Nezumi began to clean Shion’s cheeks with his thumbs.

“Shion. I’m fine. Yeah, I got the shit kicked out of me a lot in that fight. But I did my fair share of ass kicking. Yeah, it hurts. But I can handle it, I promise.”

“Nezumi.” Shion looked up at him. “It’s just, I…I thought you were gonna die…”

“Shhh.” Nezumi cupped his chin, holding eye contact. “I’m sorry, Shion. I shouldn’t have done that. You’re not used to seeing that. I’m sorry. Forgive me.”

A new wave of tears slipped down Shion’s cheeks, and now Nezumi shamelessly wiped them away. Grabbing the back of Shion’s head, Nezumi brought their foreheads together.

“Shhh, it’s okay. I promise, Shion. It’s okay.”

Shion sobbed harder, clutching onto Nezumi’s forearms, trying to catch his breath. “I thought I was gonna lose you,” he whispered, “Nezumi.”

“Shit. I’m an idiot.” Nezumi pulled Shion into a hug. “I’m sorry. I wasn’t thinking. It’s okay, I promise.”

“It’s not okay.” Shion clung to him. “You do this all the time? What if he kills you?” Shion had no way of stopping the torrent gushing down his cheeks, wetting Nezumi’s naked and dirty chest. Dirt and dust were getting all over Shion’s face and into his eyes, but his tears washed them out. “Don’t. Please don’t do that. I can’t bare it.”

Tsura’s gentle voice interrupted them. “Hey, it’s okay, Shion.”

“No!” Shion snapped. “It’s not okay. It’s not fucking okay.” He pulled back and started examining Nezumi’s neck. This time, Nezumi didn’t stop him.

Shion’s fingers were gentle as he pressed against the red skin. Nezumi hissed in a breath. “Does it hurt here?”

“A little, but I’ll live.”

The sound of skin slapping skin was loud as Shion slapped Nezumi across the face. “Stop saying that! Stop! Please.” Shion erupted in fits of sobs. “Nezumi, I can’t lose you.” Shion murmured into Nezumi’s chest. “I can’t…I love you.”

Shion’s teary gasps filled the silence of the camp. Even Kash was quiet.

Nezumi pulled him into a hug. He dragged out a heavy sigh.

“I’m sorry, Shion.” Pressing a kiss against Shion’s temple, Nezumi held him close. “It’s okay.”

A snort came from behind them.

“This is why outsiders do not belong in our camp.” Sasori’s voice was cold.

Shion pushed off of Nezumi’s chest, and spun around. He advanced towards Sasori. Shion’s eyes hellish red.

“Don’t fucking touch him again! If you do, I’ll kill you!”

Nezumi’s eyes widened, unable to move.

Shion barred his teeth. “You think I’m a demon? I’ll show you a goddamn demon. You ever do a thing like that to him again, and I’ll tear your fucking throat out!”

Sasori was also taken aback, clearly not expecting this from a guy balling his eyes out earlier.

“I don’t care if you are his uncle. You lay another hand on him and I’ll kill you. You got that!”

“Shion.” Nezumi’s tone was soft. “Shion, stop. Come back, Shion. Come back to me.”

Shion fumed with anger, large, salty tears seeped down his cheeks.

“Shion, let go of it. Let go of the anger, and come back to me.”

Shion stood frozen. His harsh breaths calming into soft pants. Nezumi went over and hugged him from behind.

“Shhh.” Nose in Shion’s hair, Nezumi closed his eyes. “Shhh, it’s okay. Shion, come back. It’s okay. I promise.” Shion’s faint pants were barely audible. The rest of the family stood nearby, shell-shocked.

“I’m right here, Shion. You’re never gonna loose me. You got that.” Nezumi kissed the side of his head. “Shh, it’s okay.” Shion hugged the arms around him and closed his eyes, leaning into the touch. “I’m right here. I love you too.”

A dusty, once white truck rolled into camp. Its presence awakening the silent group. Shion and Nezumi seemed to have gone off into their own little world. Luca, Kash, Nadya and Isao were staring between them and Tsura and Sasori. Tsura had her head in her hand. She radiated an aura of embarrassment, sadness and helplessness. It was almost as if she blamed herself for the fight. Sasori narrowed his eyes as he watched Nezumi holding Shion, whispering soothing words into Shion’s ear. If not for tiny sniffles and sobs ghosting his lips, Shion could have been sleeping, eyes closed, clinging to Nezumi.

Hanzi stopped the truck in the same spot as yesterday. Getting out of his car, he approached the group. A smile on his face.

“Ah, Shion, welcome back.” Then the melancholy mood hit him. “What’s happened here?”

Shion didn’t respond, neither did Nezumi, still holding him. Tsura was the one to answer.

“Sasori and Nezumi had a fight—it was usual for them, except for the end there where Sasori got more…” She searched for words. “Dramatic.”

“Oh?” Hanzi looked to Sasori. “What did you do? And in front of a guest no less?”

“He was choking Nezumi with a rope,” Kash answered. “It was a pretty good hold. But Nezumi got free, ‘cause he’s awesome like that! But Shion saw that and sorta flipped out.”

Hanzi went over to Shion and Nezumi. Placing a hand on Shion’s shoulder.

“Shion?” His tone was gentle, the timbre matching Nezumi’s exactly.

A shaky sob escaped his lips and Shion opened his eyes.

“Hanzi?” His faraway voice was soft like he had awoken from a dream.

“I’m sorry you had to witness that.” Hanzi rubbed Shion’s shoulder, before he looked to Nezumi. “How bad is it, Nezumi?”

Nezumi shrugged. “I’ll live…It was stupid, I shouldn’t have fought like that in front of Shion.”

Shion for his part was eerily silent, like all life had left him.

“Come here,” Hanzi beckoned to Nezumi with a shake of his head.

Nezumi sighed, but stepped forward.

Hanzi’s fingers trailed the red mark on Nezumi’s neck. He released a heavy sigh.

“Lift up.”

Nezumi grumbled. “I said I was fine.”

“That’s enough.” Hanzi’s stern tone stopped Nezumi complaining and he lifted his head up. Hanzi pressed on his throat, stopping at places where Nezumi winced. He let out another sigh, this one out of relief. “Nothing looks broken or damaged. You’ll be all right. Thankfully.”

He rested a hand on top of Nezumi’s head.

Nezumi looked away, peeved. He didn’t say anything though, because this was his uncle and he obeyed absolutely. Shion’s current state also made Nezumi more docile.

“Never again, Nezumi. That was way too much force. You hear me?” Nezumi nodded in reply. Hanzi turned to Sasori, his eyes cold.

“What the hell were you thinking? At first fighting in front of guests. And then, were you actually trying to kill Nezumi?”

Hanzi’s words brought Shion back to reality like a cool balm after nearly dehydrating in the desert.

“I trusted you when I let you spar with him. And to think you go and do something like this? You could have killed my nephew!”

Sasori let out a sigh, talking in his usual gruff voice. “Nezumi can handle it. ‘Sides he has been slacking off because of that outsider. I needed to wake him up some.”

“By strangling him?” Hanzi let out a sigh. “You give us a bad name, Sasori. And you bring shame onto our family. Until I feel otherwise, you won’t spar with Nezumi.”

“But Ka?” Nezumi interrupted. “Can’t we just tone it down some? We went too far, that’s all.”

“Nezumi, it’s not you I don’t trust.” Then he leveled Nezumi with a stare. “You will respect my wishes in this matter. Is that clear?”

Nezumi looked like he wanted to argue, but instead he nodded. “Yes, kako.”

“My apologies, Hanzi,” Sasori said, “I didn’t mean to take it too far. I certainly do not want to harm Nezumi. It is in my opinion that he is more than able to handle these situations. It was a tough hold, but he was able to break from it. I would not have kept him there for much longer, even if he hadn’t manage to escape.”

While still gruff, Sasori’s tone lacked edge. There were even hints of genuine remorse, especially what he said about not wanting to harm Nezumi.

Hanzi studied Sasori. His eyes didn’t betray his emotions.

“We can discuss this later. For now what I said is final. You both won’t be fighting again until I allow it.”

Sasori nodded. “As you wish.”

“Good.” Hanzi dragged out a sigh. “Jeez, I stay an extra hour and all hell breaks loose.” Walking back over to Shion, Hanzi put his hand on his shoulder.

“Again, I am sorry you had to witness something like this. This is the first time Nezumi has received such an injury, if that is any comfort.”

Shion couldn’t reply. But after hearing Hanzi forbid Nezumi from fighting, he was starting to breathe easier.

Hanzi smiled warmly. “You really are a good friend to Nezumi. I imagine you tried to save him?”

Shion nodded. “I couldn’t just watch him die.”

Hanzi closed his eyes as if to compose himself, his sigh releasing his anger. “I’m very sorry you had to witness that. Please forgive our family’s rudeness.”

Shion found himself nodding.

“Please don’t hold this against us. Nezumi is strong willed, and a brilliant fighter. Sasori has been teaching him, but clearly needs to learn restraint. I will do all in my power to prevent this from happening again.”

Shion was amazed by Hanzi. He came home, took control of the situation and handled it. Just like that. And now, Hanzi was apologizing to him? This was clearly the reason why Hanzi led the group.

Shion nodded. “Thank you.”

Hanzi gave his shoulder a squeeze and then turned to the family.

“All right. I believe Simon requested extra help with repairs.”

“He specifically wanted Nezumi to help out,” Sasori responded.

Hanzi nodded. “Kash will take over for today as Nezumi has a guest over.”

“Ah, da,” Kash whined. “Do I have to?”

“Yes, you have to. Simon needs the help.”

“See! This is why Nezumi does it. He just wants to get out of doing repairs!”

“Naturally,” Nezumi taunted. “As if I want to get covered in grease. Seriously, I can’t be that good at it anyways, why does Simon always have to call me over when those two are out?” If he been in a better mood, Shion would have found Nezumi’s whining endearing. It was strange how quickly Nezumi bounced back.

“You can help me unload stuff from the truck. And then you get to the shower. You’re filthy.”

“All right.” Nezumi put his arm around Shion. “Come on.” His tone was drastically softer. He pressed another kiss against Shion’s temple. Shion leaned into the touch.

“Ok,” Shion was trying to return to himself as easily as Nezumi did. But he couldn’t. Although, he did take comfort that this wasn’t a typical match for Nezumi and his uncle. That made him wonder why Sasori had done that. Either way their fighting was brutal. Nezumi did hold his own, and he even managed to escape that death trap. He was amazing really.

But he was still mortal. Shion couldn’t lose Nezumi. He realized this while as he raced to Nezumi choking on the grass. He couldn’t lose this person. Nezumi was irreplaceable. He was so precious. Shion’s heart ached; Nezumi could have been ripped away from him. Just like that.

But then Hanzi came in and saved the day. Shion would always love Nezumi’s uncle after this point. There was no adult he admired more than Hanzi. He was gentle when he needed to be, and firm and commanding when it was called for, and moreover he really, truly cared about Nezumi. As long as Hanzi was here, Shion could rest easy knowing that Nezumi was protected, that the horrid nightmare he had witnessed would never be played out again.

Nezumi chuckled into his ear. “Spacing out again, milord?”

Shion gave him an annoyed huff. “I’ve got a lot on my mind, so excuse me if I’m not that talkative.”

“I am sorry. I really should have thought that one through. I was just…” Nezumi looked away. “Today is…well, I hate this day. I didn’t want to go through it. Fighting at the end of it was the best thing to take my mind off it actually.”

“That’s what’s been bothering you, hasn’t it?”

Nezumi sighed. “You noticed…I was hoping you wouldn’t.”

“Well, you actually looked tired today. You’ve never looked like that before.”

“It’s not physical fatigue. I really could handle my uncle.” At Nezumi’s words, Shion looked away, ire simmered beneath the surface of his emotions. “Don’t worry, don’t worry, I won’t fight him again until Ka is okay with it.”

Shion released a breath and turned back smiling.

“Well, that made you happy.”

“Of course, I absolutely love your uncle now. He saved us. He is the nicest person, and he can completely take charge of a situation. I’m so happy he came home when he did.”

“Careful there, otherwise I’m gonna start thinking I’ve got some competition.”

Shion choked out a laugh. “Maybe you do?’

“Gross. Don’t put retarded thoughts like that in my head. I am hoping to eat tonight.”

“Can you though?” Worry colored Shion’s tone. “With your throat, do you think you’ll be able to?”

Nezumi looked thoughtful, then shrugged. “Yeah, probably. I’ll rest up for a bit. We’ve some time left until dinner.”

“You’re not immortal, Nezumi. Just know that.”

“I know.”

“By the way, you never got to telling me why you hate today.”

“It’s my little sister’s birthday.”

Shion hadn’t been expecting that. Shouldn’t that make Nezumi happy, or sad? But to hate it?

“Why do you hate it?”

Nezumi looked away, and took Shion’s hand taking him over behind the truck away from others. Closing his eyes he rested their foreheads together. It was such an intimate display of emotions, and trust, Shion savored it, wanting to offer Nezumi comfort and protection to speak his heart.

“That day she died… She died. And I lived.”

Shion stroked Nezumi’s hair, waiting for him to continue.

“My mom told me to protect her. And I…failed.”

Nezumi’s voice broke. Shion stroked his cheek; he would have wiped tears off Nezumi’s cheek if he actually cried. Shion assumed he would, given his soft, broken tone, but he didn’t.

“I’m sure you did everything in your power to save her, Nezumi. I’m sure neither your mother, nor your little sister would blame you.”

“But they should,” Nezumi growled. “I let her die.”

“What do you mean you let her die?”

“I had to cover her, had to make sure it didn’t get to her.”

“And you didn’t do it?”

Nezumi shook his head. “I did. I did do it. And…she died anyway.”

Shion really wanted Nezumi to elaborate on how his family died.

“Nezumi, what happened? That day your parents were killed?”

Nezumi sucked in a breath. “We burned to death…”

“That’s how your back got those scars?”

Nezumi nodded.

“Do you want to tell me more?”

Nezumi shook his head. “Talking about it always makes me…well, I relive it, Shion. I see their faces. I hear their cries. I can’t do that, not today, Shion. It’ll kill me.”

Shion hugged him. “It’s okay. You don’t have to. You can tell me when you’re ready, or not at all. I want to be there for you, however you need me to be.”

Nezumi pulled back, and cupped Shion’s face. A soft smile played on his lips. Tilting his head, he fitted their mouths together, gently kissing Shion. They were out in the open, visible for all of Nezumi’s family to see. And Nezumi kissed him regardless. Shion’s arms wound around Nezumi’s shoulders, giving all of himself as he kissed back.

 

There wasn’t a lot to take off the truck today. Sales must have been good. Afterwards, Hanzi commanded Nezumi to take care of Shion—as he scraped his elbow when Sasori pushed him into the dirt—as well as take a shower.

At the back of the trailer, on the opposite of Nezumi’s room was the bathroom. Saying it was tiny was an understatement. Shion and Nezumi fit but just barely. Shion sat on the closed toilet seat while Nezumi got out some cotton squares and alcohol.

“Thanks.” Shion offered Nezumi the wash cloth he’d used to clean his face. Nezumi dropped it into the sink, then went back to his task. Shion watched him, the way his elegant fingers moved. Pouring liquid onto a piece of cotton should not have looked so graceful. But Nezumi did that. Everything he did looked elegant, done with finesse.

“Nezumi?”

“Hmm?” Nezumi turned to him, and Shion offered him his elbow. “This will probably sting. So no crying like a baby?”

“I think I can handle a sting, geez.”

Nezumi smirked. “I thought you’d be balling right now, milord.”

“Again with the milord. Nezumi, stop calling me that.”

Nezumi dabbed Shion’s elbow. Shion flinched at the sting.  Nezumi chuckled. It warmed Shion’s heart at how careful Nezumi was being with him.

“Sorry.” Nezumi’s voice grew soft.

“Don’t have to apologize, just stop calling me that. Ok?”

“Not about that, milord. As if I could address his highness so informally.”

Shion gave him an evil glare.

“That look doesn’t go well with your normal airheaded expression.”

“Did you just start talking to tease me? I thought you were apologizing?”

Nezumi smirk faded. “Yeah. I’m sorry you got hurt by Sasori.”

“I got hurt?” Disbelief bit his tone. “You are the one with an ugly red mark on your neck. I barely got a scratch.”

“Still, I don’t like it that he hurt you.”

Words died on his lips, Shion forgetting his indignation.

He smiled. “Did you mean it?”

“What? That he shouldn’t hurt you? Hell yeah.”

“No, not that. Though I’m happy you care so much. It’s nice, actually.”

Nezumi had finished dabbing Shion’s elbow and was now applying the bandage. He just hummed in reply before a smile broke on his face, teasing as always.

“There you go, your highness, all better!”

“Thanks, my squire. Good to hear you are my faithful servant.”

Nezumi’s eyes lit up at that. Looking at each other for a moment, they burst out laughing.

“Getting better on those comebacks.” Nezumi’s smirk slipped from his face, and he leaned in and kissed Shion’s hand. “I live to serve you.”

Shion stroked his face, running his fingers into Nezumi’s hair.

“Don’t.” Nezumi grabbed his hand. Shion felt hurt until Nezumi said, “I’m a mess. Wait until after I shower to molest me.”

Nezumi’s smile was contagious. Shion smirked at that.

“I plan to.” He turned serious. “But Nezumi, what I wanted to ask you was if you meant it? Outside when you told me that you loved me.”

Nezumi got up and went over to put the cotton squares away into the built-in medicine cabinet. He put the alcohol in the bottommost row, not looking at Shion. “I never say what I don’t mean.”

Warmth flooded Shion’s tummy. Taking a shaky breath, Shion’s eyes prickled. “I meant it too.”

Nezumi nodded. “I know.”

“Nezumi? Come back to me?”

“I haven’t left.”

“But you’re far away.”

Nezumi smirked. “In this bathroom? I take a step and we’ll be occupying the same space.”

“Maybe I want that right now.” Shion’s tone broke, and it made Nezumi look over at him. A few tears trailed down Shion’s cheeks.

“Shion?” Nezumi whispered. Coming over he knelt and cupped Shion’s cheek. His thumb traced Shion’s mouth before he leaned in and kissed him gently. Nezumi’s mouth was so warm, and there was an earthy taste on his lips, probably from rolling around in the dirt. Calloused thumbs wiped Shion’s cheeks, taking the tears with them. “You’re such a crybaby,” Nezumi whispered against Shion’s parted lips. “Such a little child.”

Shion smirked. “But not a flat line now?”

Nezumi’s mouth curved into a low smile. “No. No, you’re not.” Then he was kissing Shion hard. Hands tugging in Shion’s hair, pulling him close, holding him still. Shion really wanted to touch, but whenever he went to, Nezumi stopped him. Grumbling into the kiss, Shion relented his control to Nezumi and his grip went lax. To reward him, Nezumi nipped his bottom lip, flicking his tongue against it, before his warm, forceful tongue parted Shion’s lips and mapped out his mouth. Shion moaned in his throat, no sounds able to spill from his lips with Nezumi ravishing him like this.

Someone cleared their throat. Nezumi and Shion broke apart, a thin trail of saliva connected them before it broke. Nezumi’s hands were still in Shion’s hair.

Sasori’s large frame looked gigantic in the doorway.

“You need to shower.” His tone cold, and he didn’t even direct his eyes at Shion.

“What are you, my dad?”

Sasori’s lip curled at that. “I should be.” Those words were too soft for Shion to verify that he heard the man correctly. “Does your kako know what you are doing this with his gadje?”

“Is this your concern?”

“Don’t lip me, boy.”

“Fuck, don’t call me that. Or we’ll take it back outside.”

Sasori’s smile told Shion that he had gotten what he came here for. He had stolen Nezumi’s attention off of Shion. Maybe Shion was imagining things, but the last time Sasori looked pleased like that was when he had gotten Nezumi up from the bed, and away from Shion.

“No.” Shion grabbed Nezumi’s arm. “Hanzi said you can’t fight. So, you can’t, Sasori.”

“Do you dare talk to me in that tone, gadje?”

“Or what the hell will you do, Sasori?” Nezumi cut in. “Think Hanzi will let you touch our guest?”

Sasori snorted. “You are foolish.”

“And you keep butting your nose in things that don’t concern you.”

“We’ll see.” Sasori left the hall back towards the main room, the trailer shook from the thick-muscled man’s movements.

“Nezumi?” Nezumi glared at the spot where Sasori once stood. “Sasori is huge. How are you able to fight him like you do? You made it look so easy?

Nezumi shrugged. “I’ve been doing this since I was thirteen. I’m used to fighting him. Sure he’s got the weight on him, but if you know what points to hit it doesn’t matter.” Nezumi smirked. “It’s physics, so it’s right up your alley.”

“Yeah?” Shion was curious. “Can you show me something?”

“You wanna learn to fight then?”

“Well, I don’t know...” Shion tugged the back of his hair. “I’m not a fighter. I’d rather dialog with someone. But, I guess that isn’t the reason you learn to fight, is it?” Nezumi watched him. “You learn it to protect yourself,” Shion continued. “So, yeah, I guess I do want to learn.”

Nezumi messed up his hair. “As you wish, milord.”

Shion sighed in annoyance. “Okay, palace slave.”

“Ooo, got demoted to slave already? You’re fierce. Or maybe your perverted ass just wants to jump me?”

“Obviously. You’re beauty itself.”

Nezumi raised an eyebrow at that. “You’re weird. I’m gonna shower.”

Nezumi had to back out so Shion could get out of the bathroom. He was hoping Nezumi would keep the close distance, but he completely got out of Shion’s way. He was serious about the whole staying clean thing.

“You can hang out in my room if you want. To avoid Sasori. Oh yeah, he starts anything, call my uncle or aunt. Don’t stay in a room alone with him, okay?”

“Well aren’t you a worried mother hen?”

“Shut up, Shion. I’m serious. He won’t hesitate. He’s ruthless like that. I don’t want him hurting you.”

There was that tone again, Nezumi’s serious tone, speaking in such a protective manner, making Shion feel loved and special.

Shion nodded. “Okay. I won’t be alone with him. I’ll stay in your room. Ok?”

“Ok.” Nezumi’s tone was back to mocking. “Maybe you can lose some of your airheadness if you read my books.”

Shion grumbled. “Or maybe I’ll discover your secret Shion shrine you’ve been hiding.”

Nezumi laughed. “You’re getting much harder to control, Shion. I think I’ve unleashed the hounds of hell!”

“With red demonic eyes and everything!” Shion smiled, it felt great to be able to laugh with Nezumi. He had wanted this, back when he had first watched Nezumi from a far. “All right, go and take your shower, princess.”

Nezumi’s eyes widened. “Yup, definitely unleashed a monster.” With another laugh, he ducked into the bathroom and closed the door.

Shion wanted to stop the door from closing. He imagined putting his foot between it. Seeing Nezumi’s naked back as he looked over his shoulder. Going over and licking a wet trail up Nezumi’s shoulder. Sucking, marking, licking the beads of sweat that coated Nezumi’s skin. He didn’t do any of that though. Nezumi would probably stop him, giving him a lecture about how he was unclean. Sighing, Shion went down the hall back towards Nezumi’s room.

Voices came from the main room. Shion froze when he heard his name.

“Shion is a very good friend to Nezumi, and a good influence,” Hanzi’s voice said. “He’s a good kid.”

“This is not just friendship, Hanzi. This is perversion.” That was Sasori’s voice. Shion had an urge to rush out there and scream, what the hell do you know? Or maybe, there’s nothing perverse about the way I love Nezumi! Instead he stood there, frozen. They couldn’t see him, and his gait wasn’t heavy like Sasori’s so most likely they hadn’t heard him walking down the hall.

“They are not just friends. You had to have seen that today.”

“What I saw today was the choke mark on Nezumi’s neck.” Hanzi’s tone was cold, and Shion wanted to cheer up and down. He really, really, really appreciated Nezumi’s uncle. “What the hell was that about? Never in all of the times you have sparred with him have you honestly tried to hurt him.”

“I wasn’t trying to hurt him.”

“Oh no? Then what was that?”

“He can handle it.”

“It doesn’t take much to kill a person by strangulation. You of all people should know this Sasori. No, what I saw out there was you losing control. And you’ve never done that before. What’s going on? I don’t know what happened today. Or what happened between you and Nezumi. But I can’t trust you again, if this is where that leads to.”

Sasori was silent.

“I promised Jaelle I’d take care of him.” Hanzi’s soft voice was a bit difficult for Shion to hear at first.  “And today I almost failed in that.”

“I didn’t mean to hurt him the way I did.” Sasori sounded different, remorseful? His next words took on a faraway tone. “He looks so much like her. It’s like she’s come back to life.”

“So what happened? Why did you lose control?”

“I caught the two of them in Nezumi’s bed earlier. I had to get him out of that room, and away from that boy.”

“Hm.” Hanzi sounded like he was considering something. “And that made you lose control like that?”

“I was thinking of my daughter. For him to engage in such acts defiles her.”

That instant the trailer door opened. Shion panicked. If Tsura came back here he would be exposed as an eavesdropper.

“Tsura?” Hanzi said. “Sasori has been saying that Nezumi and Shion are physically intimate. What do you—?”

“Of course.” Tsura’s light nonchalant tone had a hit of teasing. “Oh sweetie, did you honestly not know?”

Hanzi hummed.

“Wait, Tsu, you knew about this?” Sasori sounded shocked.

“Of course, do you think anything goes on in my home without me knowing about it?”

“And you let him…with that outsider?”

“Well, a boy is a boy, so Shion being an outsider doesn’t matter much.” Tsura’s smirk was in her voice. “I have no objections. I like him, and Nezumi’s actually happy. Since when does that happened?”

“So they are physically intimate?” Hanzi mulled over the words, off in his own little world.

“Of course, dear.”

“Why didn’t you at least tell your husband, Tsu,” Sasori grumbled, “and be a good wife for a change?”

Tsura’s sigh didn’t sound remorseful. “It’s not really that big a deal, is it?”

“Not that big a deal?” Sasori echoed in dismay. “Your nephew is defiling himself with an unclean outsider, doing perverse things under your very roof, and you think it’s no big deal?’’

“So quick to throw those purity laws now, aren’t yah, bro?” Tsura wasn’t angry but her tone was growing confrontational. “When you want Nezumi to roll all over the ground, then it’s those laws are outdated. When you’re both puttin’ yer feet all over each other’s chests, then it’s we need to adjust to modern times. But now, suddenly you are quoting dogma?”

“Well, I…this is different. I’m thinking of my daughter. Nezumi’s relationship with that boy insults her. The fact that he even lays a hand on another person defiles her.”

“This isn’t about Nadya, Sasori. So stop pulling your daughter into it.” Now Tsura sounded annoyed.

“Not about Nadya? You want my daughter to marry a man who has dirtied himself with another man??”

Marry? What did that mean? Did that mean that Nadya was Nezumi’s fiancé? Nadya was so beautiful, intimidatingly so…

Hanzi’s sigh disrupted Shion’s thoughts. “I wasn’t aware of their relationship being this way.” Icy fear pierced Shion’s heart. What if Hanzi forbid Nezumi from being with him. Nezumi was absolutely obedient to his uncle. Would Nezumi break up with him? Just like that?

But Nezumi loved him, right?

“That being said, Tsura is right,” Hanzi continued, “I’ve never seen Nezumi this happy. He’s lived through such tragedy, I don’t want to take away anymore from him. Nezumi never opens up to anyone. But he has to Shion.”

“But do you know what they are doing together? How grotesque their acts are!”

Shion wanted to go punch Sasori, but he held his anger at bay. There was no way he could come out. He was committed now. If he appeared, all the good things Hanzi and Tsura had been saying about him would be moot.

“That’s enough,” Tsura cut him off. “Why now are you so concerned with purity? You could say the same thing if Nezumi were to be with a girl—at least Daj certainly would!”

Hanzi sighed. “All right, you two. Getting into a quid pro quo argument is not helpful right now.” He continued. “I’m not very aware with how two men lay together, but I do know that Shion is a good kid, and Nezumi is happy. I don’t want to interfere with that.”

All Shion’s thoughts came to a standstill, so overwhelmed by Hanzi’s words. He had practically blessed their relationship.

“Besides, Sas, you’re taking this far too seriously,” Tsura said, “They’re young. Let them enjoy their youth. Nezumi isn’t thinking about marriage. And if he doesn’t finish school Nic will rain hell, I’m sure.”

“What about Nadya?”

“Well, honestly I’m liking this more than if he had brought a girl home.” Tsura’s voice thoughtful. “Don’t have to worry about pregnancy. That would be a hindrance to Nadya.”

Sasori let out an angry sigh. “I can’t accept this.”

“Was this why you lashed out on Nezumi?” Hanzi’s return to the beginning of their conversation seemed to puzzle both siblings. Tsura was the first to recover.

“You did what?” There was actual denial in her voice. “Please don’t tell me, Sas, you were actually trying to hurt Nezumi? Please do not tell me that?”

“That wasn’t my intension.”

“Not your intension perhaps, but still brought about by your lack of control,” Hanzi said, “And given how angry you are at Nezumi for his relationship with Shion, it’s not surprising your sparring session turned out like it did.”

“Sasori.” Tsura’s whisper was soft, and Shion wondered how he had managed to hear it. “You won’t be doin’ that again.” Fire burned in those words. “I’m not caring what Nezumi thinks about this, how can I ever trust you?”

“It was a temporary lapse in judgement. And the first time this has ever happened. I won’t let it happen again.”

“First? First can easily be last.”

“Tsura.” Hanzi's calm voice interrupted her. He dragged out a heavy sigh. “I don’t think that request is a reasonable one.”

“You don’t?” Tsura was shocked. “It was you who said you’re putting a stop to it?”

“And for now that will be the way it is. But eventually Nezumi will want to go back to it. I’m not sure it’s a battle we can win, honestly.”

“And what about this loose cannon? We just let him kill our son?”

“He isn’t your son, Tsura,” Sasori said flatly.

“The hell he isn’t! You haven’t raised him, you’re not a mother, you know nothing in this area, so don’t even open your mouth!” Shion had to smile. Tsura was laying in on Sasori. And moreover, it was sweet that she thought of Nezumi as her son. He wondered what Nezumi would think. That was when he realized that Nezumi was still in the shower. Geez, how long did it take to shower?

“Calm down, Tsura. Nezumi, will probably hear you. He’s bound to be done with that shower by now.” Hanzi’s calm voice drastically contrasted his wife’s loudness.

“I don’t care if he does.”

“Tsura,” it was Sasori who talked. “You are not the only one who cares for Nezumi. I won’t lose control again. There is much at stake if I do, and you are right to not want me near him. But he is gifted in this area. He’s strong. And I can make him even stronger.”

“How strong does he need to be already? He’s just a kid, Sasori. Honestly, maybe Nic was right about this.”

“Nic? What the hell does that gadje-loving traitor know?”

“Now that is going too far, Sasori,” Hanzi warned. That’s when Nezumi’s shower turned off.

Shion was in one hell of a predicament. If he stayed here Nezumi would catch him and say something, and he’d be found to be an eavesdropper listening to the entire conversation. If he tried to make a dash for Nezumi’s room, he most likely would be seen by Nezumi’s family anyway. Really, Shion didn’t see an outcome where he could win. He went to the bathroom door.

The door opened. Shion acted on instinct. As soon as Nezumi stepped out, Shion was right there. Nezumi wasn’t that much taller than him, so Shion didn’t have to look up too much.

Nezumi’s eyes widened; before he could speak Shion captured his lips in an urgent kiss. Nezumi moaned against Shion’s mouth, and Shion’s entire body heated up. He could feel Nezumi’s nakedness from underneath his thin, white towel; there was barely anything between Shion and Nezumi’s naked body. Nezumi’s erection pressed into his hip. Shion’s arms circled Nezumi’s shoulders, feeling the droplets of water roll down his skin.

Nezumi whispered into Shion’s mouth when they broke for air. “Hello to you too...”

“Shhhhh, don’t make a sound.”

Confusion warred with suspicion in Nezumi’s eyes.

“Very long story,” Shion whispered. “Short version—”

“What are you two doing?” Sasori’s voice boomed in the trailer hall, the aluminum vibrating. “You,” he pointed a thick finger at Shion. “You were spying, weren’t you, gadje? Nezumi entered that bathroom alone. And I didn’t see you cross by.” For a thick guy, Sasori wasn’t a meathead, he was putting everything together nicely.

“Uh…well…” Shion stuttered. Nezumi pulled Shion tighter.

“Man, are you bothersome.” Nezumi gave an annoyed sigh. “Where do you think he was?”

Sasori’s eyebrow rose. “There’s no way both of you can fit in that shower?”

“Who said he was in it?” Nezumi’s smile widened. “What can I say? My boy loves to watch.” Shion’s face flamed, Nezumi laughed and pulled him tighter against him. Shion wondered if he was the only thing holding up Nezumi’s towel at this point. “Now if you don’t mind, kako, I’d like to put on clothes.”

Sasori actually looked like he wouldn’t move out of the way. “You made a promise to Nadya, do you think I can sit by and allow this?”

“Correction, you and Ka made a promise to Nadya, not me. So, I’m under no obligation to follow something I haven’t agreed to.”

“Why you! What do you think you are doing?”

“Standing in the hall, dripping water all over the floor. Seriously, Sasori move your ass. All of your bullshit can wait until I at least have clothing on. Fucking Christ.”

“Watch your mouth.”

“Come off it, like you give a damn about Jesus.”

“You need to wash your mouth out as well.”

Nezumi smirked. “Well maybe you can do it for me next time.”

Sasori’s eyes narrowed.

Nezumi snorted. “I’m not an idiot, Sasori. I know what you’re doing. So fuck off.”

Sasori backed out of their way. Shion wondered what Nezumi had been referring to. Nezumi held up his towel, wrapping it securely around his waist again. “Come on.” He directed Shion to his room by a hand on the small of Shion’s back.

Sasori grabbed Nezumi’s arm, his thick muscles looked far too dark compared to Nezumi’s snow white complexion.

“What the fuck? Get the hell off of me, asshole.” Nezumi shoved his hand off. But Sasori grip was tight, Nezumi flipped his wrist and freed himself from Sasori’s fist. “Seriously? Do I have to deal with this shit now? Fuck, I’m tired and I just wanna go to bed. And now you’re gonna be an asshole again.”

“Get off him!” Shion couldn’t believe the rush of anger that swarmed him.

“Sasori.” Hanzi’s voice came from the main room. “It’s time for you to go to your own house.”

“But Nezumi and that boy cannot be left alone together. They—”

“Are under my charge, your own children need their father. Now go.”

Sasori, who had grabbed Nezumi’s arm again, finally released him.

Nezumi shoved him away. “Come on Shion.” Grabbing Shion’s hand he tugged him off to his room. But not before Shion heard Hanzi’s voice.

“You need to let this go, Sasori.” He couldn’t hear Sasori’s reply.

The moment they were in his room Nezumi leaned back against the door. His thin, white towel clung to his hips. “Fucking asshole. I’m so tired of his bullshit. It’s always like this. Why can’t he fucking leave it in the past?”

“Leave what in the past?” Shion was between two columns of books watching Nezumi.

Nezumi’s shoulders drooped as he dragged out a breath. “Forget it. You don’t want to know.”

“No, I do want to know.”

“You really don’t.” That tiredness in Nezumi’s voice was back. “And I can’t take an argument right now. Please, drop it.” Nezumi’s tone turned into a plea. Shion found himself nodding instinctively.

“Ok. I’ll let it go for now.”

“So what were you doing in the hall anyways?”

“Eavesdropping.”

Nezumi smirked before he was laughing his head off.

“I didn’t mean to.” Shion rushed on. “I was going to your room and I heard Hanzi and Sasori talking.”

“Talking? About what?”

“You actually.”

Nezumi sighed. “Now why am I not surprised? What were they saying?”

“Sasori was trying to convince Hanzi that we shouldn’t be around each other anymore. He told Hanzi that we were lovers, not just friends.”

“Shit, he did? How did Ka take that?” Nezumi’s worried tone scared Shion.

“He was surprised. I guess up until then he didn’t have a clue.”

Nezumi sighed. “Yeah, sounds like him. Bet he didn’t know shit about how two guys do it, either.”

“Actually yeah.”

Nezumi snorted before a smile broke on his face.

“I don’t think he would have believed Sasori if your aunt didn’t come in and confirm it.”

“Yeah, Bee knows. Hard to pull anything past her. She’s got a nose for it. But she was cool with it, so I wasn’t worried. She even wanted me to invite you over, long before you invited yourself.” Nezumi smiled.

“So you did talk about me to them?” Shion’s confirmation in his voice.

Nezumi blushed. “Not really.”

“Uh huh.”

“Shut up, Shion.”

Shion laughed. “You’re so cute, Nezumi.”

“I’m what? Cute?” Nezumi looked like he wanted to beat him up, but his eyes were playful.

“Yeah.”

Nezumi rolled his eyes. “Idiot.” He turned serious. “So how did it end? Is Ka upset? He didn’t want us to stop seeing each other, did he?”

Shion shook his head. “Nope. He just wants you to be happy. I told you he was awesome. I really wish he was my uncle!”

Nezumi sighed in relief. “Well, at least now it’s out in the open. I honestly had no idea how to tell him. I was either hoping Bee would do it, or else he just wouldn’t ever find out.”

“Really?”

Nezumi shook his head. “I can’t talk about stuff like that with him. It’s awkward.”

“I never had to do that honestly. I’m guessing mom knows about you. She reads me like a book, but she hasn’t confronted me with it. But given how much she loves you at this point, I doubt she’ll have any objections.”

Nezumi smiled. Before a thought hit him. “And Sasori?”

“He wasn’t too pleased. Honestly, I think he’ll trouble us more from now on. He really is hell-bent on us not being together, said it was disgusting and immoral and all.” Shion’s forehead bunched with confusion. “Oddly never would have taken him to be a moral man.”

Nezumi huffed. “He’s not being moral. He’s being a sore loser. Fucking always. I really wanna kick his ass again.” Shion’s brows rose, fear and anger waring. “Which I won’t until Ka gives the go ahead. Geez, Shion I’m not that much of a wimp, I can take him. Yeah, it got a little close—and I really am sorry about that—but I did win in the end, well, it was a draw. But he didn’t win, that’s for sure.”

“I don’t care who wins! He could have killed you.”

“Yeah, yeah.”

“Nezumi!”

Nezumi’s sighed in defeat. “I know. It’s okay. I won’t do that again—probably for an eternity from the look on Ka’s face. I really am sorry that I hurt you.”

“I was more hurt that you were hurt, honestly.” Shion’s smile went soft. “I don’t ever want someone to hurt you like that.”

Nezumi stared at him.

“Ok, prince charming.” Nezumi broke the serious moment. “So, where were we?”

Arousal pulsed through Shion’s body. The breath he let out was more of a whimper, a moan. It made Nezumi’s eyes go dark with arousal. And then he was in front of him, hand on the back of Shion’s neck, bringing them together. Shion tilted his head and Nezumi’s mouth fitted against his. Nezumi walked them back to the bed, Shion trusting that Nezumi wouldn’t let him trip and break his neck over the horde of books cluttering the floor. He was right to trust, for Nezumi maneuvered them around the columns perfectly. Shion’s calves made contact with the mattress. He let out another breathy moan.

“Nezumi.”

Nezumi kissed him, open mouthed and eager, taking Shion down onto the bed. “Fuck, I want you.”

“I want you too.”

Nezumi, wearing nothing but a towel as he lay on top of him, had him flat against the bed. Shion ran his fingers down Nezumi’s still damp skin, his digits brushing away water droplets. Trailing his hands down Nezumi’s sides he found his towel and tugged it. Nezumi sat up and Shion sent it to the floor. Or at least he would have. Nezumi caught it.

Shion gave him a confused look. Nezumi blushed, and looked away. “It’s stupid but I can’t seem to break out of it.” Nezumi draped the towel over the head of the bed.

“Oh. The whole thing about not touching where your feet have been. Right?”

“Yeah.” Nezumi didn’t make eye contact. “It’s stupid given all of the fighting I do, and really my family doesn’t really do that anymore...it’s just…”

“It’s okay, don’t worry about it. It’s kinda cute.”

Nezumi made a face, his eye brow raised. “What did I tell you about being embarrassing?”

Shion’s smile widened. “To keep doing it? To keep spilling out my heart for you? To make your heart flutter—mmph!”

Nezumi was on him in a flash and his hand held firm over Shion’s mouth.

Shion licked Nezumi’s palm tasting sweat and skin.

“Shion.” Nezumi’s eyes darkened with lust. “Looks like I’m gonna have to teach you a lesson.” Nezumi pressed into him, his thickness warm and inviting, and Shion wanted to flip them. But hearing the pure sex in Nezumi’s voice, he hesitated. Nezumi’s hand had barely left his mouth when Shion’s lips were trapped again, Nezumi’s tongue invading his mouth, forceful and possessive. He whimpered, his own tongue playing with Nezumi’s. “I’m gonna make you regret it.” Nezumi’s breathy words danced on Shion’s lips. 

Shion licked Nezumi’s bottom lip. “Yeah?” he whispered.

“Yeah.” Nezumi stopped before he put some space between them, sitting up. Shion’s confusion probably showed on his face. “I wanted it—” Nezumi blushed again.

“Wanted what?” Shion sat up and made Nezumi look at him. “What do you want, Nezumi?”

“Just your skin on mine.” Nezumi ran his fingers through Shion’s hair. “I want to...be gentle this time.” Shion would have exploded if he was actually able to do something like that. Nezumi was blushing, looking away, and saying the cutest, most embarrassing thing ever.

He couldn’t ridicule him, even though given the way Nezumi was avoiding eye contact, it seemed that was what he was expecting. Shion made him look at him again and tenderly kissed him.

“Okay.” Their kisses were gentle and the atmosphere shifted from heat to caring, to safety, to love. Nezumi pulled Shion’s shirt above his head, and hung it next to his towel. Then he leaned over Shion, and kissing him, he gently lowered them to the bed, and began to shower soft kisses on Shion’s shoulder. Tiny nips tingled Shion’s neck and he shivered. “Nezumi.” Shion spoke his name with reverence, like it was a prayer.

“Hm?” Nezumi didn’t stop kissing him. Shion tilted his neck to the side to allow Nezumi more access. Nezumi’s tongue rolled along Shion’s scar. A moan slipped from his lips. Nezumi felt too good. His skill, his finesse, the gentleness he was showing to Shion right now. But Shion wanted more. Nezumi said he was tired. He even asked for it to be gentle, Shion wanted to be the one giving tonight.

“Nezumi?”

“Yeah?”

“I wanna top.”

Nezumi’s eyes widened. “But I thought—? “

“Not that,” Shion smirked. “Not yet.”

He petted Nezumi’s hair.

“I want to please you. Come on, let me.” Shion pushed at them and flipped their positions, Nezumi didn’t fight him. “I want to explore every inch of your beautiful skin. I’ve wanted to—I need,” Shion sighed. “Nezumi.”

Nezumi’s eyes were soft, and he pressed a kiss to Shion’s forehead. This was the most lovey dovey they had ever been and Shion was going to milk every second of it. Nezumi’s docile mood was no doubt brought on by his feelings over his sister’s death. Or perhaps it was brought on by his guilt over what happened with Sasori. Maybe? Or maybe not? Maybe this was another part Nezumi hid underneath his mask. This tender, loving side. Nezumi wanted to be loved, he wanted to be gentle. Shion couldn’t deny him anything.

Shion kissed Nezumi’s forehead and along his brow, over his eyebrows. They were the color of Nezumi’s hair, but a shade bit darker. He kissed down Nezumi’s straight nose, it was beautiful, perfect. It was delicate, but still managed to look masculine. Nezumi’s appearance flip flopped between genders. But right now, laying underneath Shion, Nezumi was all man, every inch.

When his mouth brushed over Nezumi’s lips, he lingered and kissed him tenderly, lovingly.

“I love you,” He whispered into Nezumi’s parted lips. Nezumi closed his eyes, his head falling back against the pillow. Shion wanted to cry, Nezumi was so open, so naked before him. So unguarded. This was a side of Nezumi that no one knew but Shion. Right now he could see into Nezumi’s heart, see all of the tenderness, the love, the hurt.

A soft smile played on his lips as he kissed Nezumi’s cheek, then the other cheek. Before he brushed his lips over the soft cartilage of Nezumi’s ear. Nipping the shell, he tore a sigh from Nezumi’s lips. Shion leaned back, cupping Nezumi’s face, kissing him thoroughly. Running his hands through Nezumi’s freshly washed hair. The color of twilight, shimmering, shining, and velvet to the touch. Shion inhaled as he pressed a kiss to Nezumi’s forehead. The floral smell that entered his nose made him sigh. He couldn’t believe how wonderful Nezumi smelled. Nezumi’s hand was in his hair, his fingers trailing over Shion’s white locks.

Shion kissed down Nezumi’s nose again, and this time traveled down his chin and along his throat, feeling the bob of Nezumi’s Adam’s apple when he swallowed, hitching in a breath. Was Nezumi ticklish? Shion smiled, but then his eyes found the ugly red mark circling Nezumi’s neck.

Ire overwhelmed him momentarily, making him see red. He wanted to go out there and kill Sasori. Nezumi’s hands gently stroked his hair, before they trailed down Shion’s face.

“Forgive me, Shion.”

All anger released him; its absence making him feel lightheaded, like he was floating. Shion kissed the red, ugly skin. Softly he began to kiss along it; his tongue massaging it. Nezumi sighed with an exhale of breath.

“Just don’t let anyone hurt you like this again,” Shion said without thinking. “I couldn’t take it. I’d have to kill him.”

Nezumi’s laugh reverberated in his throat. “Promise it is.”

Shion smiled, breathing against his lover's skin. Nezumi jerked. He was ticklish. Shion's grin turned teasing.

“Never knew you were ticklish?”

“I’m not,” Nezumi said quickly.

“Uh huh.” Shion kissed him, and blew against Nezumi’s neck. Nezumi fidgeted, giggled. Shion was about to die from cute overload. Nezumi’s light laugh, free from all distain, all mockery. It was so precious to him. He had to hear it again.

He blew on Nezumi's neck again. This time, Nezumi tried to jerk away, laughing outright.

“You were saying?” Shion’s smile turned cocky.

“Yeah, yeah. It’s not ‘cause I’m ticklish. I just—“

Shion did it again, and laughed as Nezumi lost the battle and was giggling in his arms. Nezumi grabbed Shion’s head and held him off. Shion smiled down at his beautiful lover.

Nezumi grumbled, a pout on his face. “Tell anyone about this, and I’ll pound you into the floor.”

Arousal flushed his cheeks. “Please do.”

Slowly Nezumi released him.

Shion leaned down and kissed him hard. He had to have every bit of Nezumi. Every single pore on Nezumi’s skin. He wanted it all.

Leaving his lips Shion kissed down his chest, and flicked his nipple.

Nezumi sucked in a breath. Shion looked up at him, Nezumi had shut his eyes. Shion flicked his tongue again, causing the pink bud to harden. He pulled it between his teeth and Nezumi fisted the sheets. Shion tugged it, rolling his tongue around it from inside his mouth. Nezumi’s loud moan went straight to Shion’s groin, tingles fluttered in his stomach, stabs of pleasure dancing down his spine. He had to make Nezumi sound like that again. Shion went to Nezumi’s other pink nub, it had already started hardening. Shion bit it gently, and tugged it between his teeth.

Light moans spilled from Nezumi’s lips as his back arched off the bed. Shion cupped his arm underneath Nezumi’s body, holding him, feeling Nezumi’s back arch off the mattress. Shion continued to pleasure Nezumi’s nipples, savoring every little sound, feeling the soft skin over firm muscle of Nezumi’s back and slender waist.

Nezumi was hard, leaking against Shion’s thigh. Shion had to taste him. He kissed down Nezumi’s chest, and along his stomach, circling the rim of his belly button, before he trailed down Nezumi’s abdomen. Nezumi didn’t have a six-pack. But his muscles were beautiful underneath his soft skin, taunt and firm, and well defined. Nezumi was gorgeous.

Kissing down Nezumi’s jutted hip bone, Shion mouthed his skin and sucked a mark shining against the whiteness of Nezumi’s skin. He wanted to mark Nezumi, wanted to make Nezumi belong even more to him.

Nezumi didn’t have a lot of body hair in general, but kissing his thigh and down his shin, Shion felt the coarse hairs with his tongue. Kissing his way back up, he hovered between Nezumi’s legs, inhaling the scent of his body. He was freshly washed, so Nezumi smelled like his body wash, and in combination with his own scent, it was heavenly.

“Shion. You don’t have to—” Shion licked Nezumi’s tip, collecting the precum on his tongue, tasting it. And was bummed when he didn’t find any taste at all. “Shion—” Shion took Nezumi into his mouth. Nezumi’s protests died on his lips, his back arching as his head fell against the pillow. “...Fuck.”

Shion smirked around Nezumi’s cock and licked his skin, swirling his tongue around, making Nezumi squirm. Moan out his name.

“Ahh, Shion.” Nezumi broke apart in Shion’s arms. Shion held his hips down and continued to devour his lover, sucking him, swallowing any essence that spilt from the tip.

“Love you,” Shion got out, the words tingling against Nezumi’s shaft.

“Ahh...” Nezumi was lost to a wave of moans, gasps. His hands found Shion’s hair and he tugged on the tufts. Shion groaned against the pain, but he wouldn’t tell Nezumi to let go. Not ever. He wanted him to surrender. He wanted Nezumi to beg, to moan out his name. He wanted to take Nezumi so deep in love, he’d never get out of it.

Feeling the rush of power, Shion pulled away. Holding Nezumi’s hips firmly as Nezumi bucked and wreathed.

“Shion,” Nezumi moaned.

“What is it you want, Nezumi?”

“Ahh,” Nezumi was barely coherent. “You. Shion.”

“What do you want from me?” Shion smirked against Nezumi’s flesh.

Nezumi’s forceful grip in his hair almost made him comply but he wasn’t going to touch until Nezumi completely let go.

“Tell me?”

“You. God, Shion.” A beautiful expression of need on his face, Nezumi’s eyes clenched shut, and his lips parted, tension in his features. Shion drank it all in.

“Tell me, Nezumi.” Shion pressed a kiss to Nezumi’s tip. “Tell me what you want.”

“God, Shion. You. I want you. Please.” Nezumi’s fingers were painful, Shion’s scalp hurt, but all he heard was that single word on Nezumi’s lips.

“Please. Shion. Please.”

Shion downed Nezumi’s cock deep into his throat and bobbed his head up and down, feeling the drag of Nezumi’s thickness along his throat, against his lips.

“Ahh.” Nezumi bit his arm when he started to get loud. Shion knew he wasn’t going to last long. A desperate tug on his hair, and Nezumi cried, “Shion, stop. Or you’ll—”

Shion pulled back and let Nezumi’s length slip from his lips. “I want to taste you, Nezumi,” Shion said, sucking Nezumi back into his mouth and sucking hard.

Nezumi’s fingers dug into his hair. Crying into his arm, he spilled into Shion’s mouth, the thickness coating down Shion’s throat. It was heavy and Shion almost gagged but he turned his mind off of that, and breathed through his nose. He wanted to taste Nezumi. To know what every inch of Nezumi tasted like.

Nezumi did have a flavor, unlike the tasteless precum. It was bitter and harsh, but it was Nezumi’s and Shion drank it in. Savoring the uniqueness of it. The tangy, almost salty essence that came from Nezumi’s body, and now it was inside Shion. Nezumi was inside of Shion.

All Shion could do was moan around Nezumi’s dick. Watching his beautiful face, Shion refused to shut his eyes. He refused to not take in every second of this moment.

Arm blocking his face, Nezumi lay panting. He was beautiful, all spent, he looked innocent. Almost like a child. None of the harshness he normally projected. Simple, and pure, and all his. Shion knew in his heart that he could never let Nezumi go. Not as long as he lived.

When Shion had swallowed all of the essence, he cleaned Nezumi’s body. The sucking caused Nezumi to squirm. He knew from his own experience that it was painful to be touched after an orgasm, so he let Nezumi’s shaft slip from his lips. Smiling he looked up at Nezumi who was studying him with mesmerizing gray eyes.

Shion crawled up Nezumi’s body and leaned over him. Rubbing their noses together, Shion rested his forehead against Nezumi’s. “I love you.”

Nezumi petted Shion’s hair with languid strokes. His soft exhale was a gentle laugh.

“You too,” He whispered, his eyes closed. “Shion.”

Shion could die happy. He wasn’t even caring about his own release, even though he was pressing firmly into Nezumi’s thigh.

“Who’d thought you’d be so good at this?” Nezumi’s mocking tone lacked its edge.

“I learned from the best,” Shion smirked. “Besides, told you there were things about me you didn’t know.”

“Obviously.” Nezumi exhaled, his tone already less winded. In one swift motion, he flipped them and Shion was underneath his well-defined lover, feeling fervent skin against his own, Nezumi had warmed the bed where he lay.

Nezumi smirked, “My turn.”

For a guy thoroughly spent only a few minutes ago, Nezumi’s voice rang out strong, his motions confident. He kissed down Shion’s neck, nipping Shion’s scar, kissing along the scar until it disappeared around Shion’s neck. Nezumi leaned over him and kissed him thoroughly, before he licked the scar under Shion’s eye.

“So cute,” he whispered.

Shion felt his cheeks flush. He couldn’t stop Nezumi from calling him that. He couldn’t stop Nezumi at all. From the one with all the power, now he lay helpless underneath Nezumi who easily took over.

 Shion’s heart thudded hard, threatening to break out of his chest. Nezumi nipped the shell of his ear, before his tongue slipped inside. Shion’s mouth opened, a silent moan on his lips, but he couldn’t speak – so under Nezumi’s spell. Nezumi rolled his tongue over Shion’s lobe, before he was down, pressing kisses to Shion’s collarbone. Nipping the skin. When he got to Shion’s shoulder he sucked hard, leaving a large red welt on Shion’s peachy skin. Shion’s fingers dug into Nezumi’s silky, long hair. It hung freely down his back, some spilling over his shoulders. He so rarely saw Nezumi without his pony tail, Shion savored it.

Nezumi’s tongue flicked his nipple; it was wet, and it was Nezumi, so Shion shivered. It didn’t rip the moans from him the way he had for Nezumi.

“Does it feel good?” Nezumi asked, warm breath tickling Shion’s soft skin.

“It feels as good as everywhere else you touch me.” Shion closed his eyes. “I love your mouth on me. I love being yours, Nezumi.”

Nezumi swallowed at that. Then he was face to face with Shion, before his lips crashed over Shion’s trembling ones and his forceful tongue plied Shion’s mouth open. Shion captured Nezumi’s neck, pulling him close. His own arousal making him thrust against Nezumi.

Nezumi growled into his mouth, before his lips turned soft and he was tenderly kissing Shion.

“You want it?” he whispered. Shion nodded, staring up into those captivating eyes. Captured by Nezumi’s soul-searching gray.

Nezumi smiled. “I live to serve you, milord.”

Shion let out a little laugh, and then Nezumi was kissing him again.

Nezumi broke away and trailed down Shion’s body, going straight for the goal, kissing down Shion’s chest and abdomen, and licked from the base of Shion’s shaft all the way to the tip. Shion gasped.

Nezumi’s tongue was wet, and warm, but that was nothing to the sweltering heat of Nezumi’s mouth.

Shion moan-screamed up at the ceiling, he covered his arm over his mouth, doing what Nezumi had done to hide the sound. At this rate, he’d be having to keep his arm up for the entire duration. The warmth of Nezumi’s mouth when he sucked Shion was so pleasurable. So strong. Stars danced behind his closed eyelids—Shion’s world dissolved into pure sensations.

Nezumi sucked gently, before he slowly released Shion and kissed the tip. His tongue teasing the slit, he sucked the head, and Shion cried into his arm again. Nezumi was talented in this area. Tongue dancing down Shion’s length, before he took Shion down into his throat.

“Nezumi,” Shion got out, “Your throat?”

Nezumi groaned against his cock, and Shion choked on a cry. Arousal spiking him hard, his brain becoming so heady he could no longer think, tingles of pleasure spasmed through his body. His lips shivering.

Nezumi kissed his tip again. “I’m okay. I’ll go a bit gentler than I would otherwise.”

Today in the broom closet Shion’s mind had been blown away by Nezumi going all out. The world had ceased to exist. Nezumi’s gentle still blew Shion’s mind, and the world once again faded until there was only Nezumi’s mouth, his breath, his tongue, the way his sigh reverberated off Shion’s skin.

Nezumi sucked on the head again, and then a wet warm hand enclosed Shion’s shaft and was jerking him in motion to Nezumi’s sucking. Shion cried out again, almost unable to hide the sound into his arm.

Nezumi took Shion deeper into his mouth, but not all the way inside. Where his mouth ended, his skillful hand took over, and Shion shivered and moaned and abandoned himself completely in Nezumi’s movements. He dug his fingers into Nezumi’s locks, tugging his hair—hurting him, by the groan of pleasure-pain he let out. Shion stopped. He wondered if the bruises on Nezumi’s head hurt him.

Nezumi’s eyes found him. “Do what you want. I’m fine. I want you to. Do it.”

Shion didn’t need to be told again, he clung to Nezumi’s hair, feeling special, and privileged—no one else would be able to touch Nezumi like this. Pulling Nezumi’s precious hair? This was not something Nezumi would ever allow. But he allowed Shion—he wanted Shion to do it. The pleasure that consumed Shion’s body birthing from these thoughts drowned out all reason, and he became only feeling, sensations, need and desire—falling apart easily in Nezumi’s hands.

When the pleasure spiked in his gut, and danced up his back, Shion knew he was close.

“Nezumi,” Shion tugged Nezumi’s shoulder with his free hand. “Pull back.”

Nezumi smirked and shook his head.

Shion’s head fell against the pillows, back arching. Nezumi wanted to take him in. Nezumi wanted all of him, Shion was lost on the high, the utter feelings of passion and want and love. Never in his life had he felt more alive than at this moment.

He coated Nezumi’s throat with his essence, though he only became aware of this when he came back to earth to gentle licks cleaning him of cum.

Afterwards Nezumi took his time and explored Shion’s body. Licking the scar crossing one of Shion’s hipbones. Shion’s fingers gently carded through his long hair. Nezumi took his hand away, and kissing his fingers, he rubbed his face into Shion’s palm.

“Shion,” Nezumi whispered against Shion’s stomach, kissing downward. “I love you.”

Shion sent open-mouthed pants up to the ceiling as the words of Nezumi’s feelings washed over him. Nezumi continued to love every part of his body.

Finally, Nezumi was face to face with him, laying firmly on top of him. Smiling, they kissed slow and deep. Neither of them in a hurry.

 

##

Shion was on a cloud. His feet floated. His entire body tingled. His mind lost in the remembrance of warm lips kissing his thigh, gliding along his shaft. Nezumi's voice whispering against his skin.

‘Shion, I love you.’

He had made love to Nezumi, exploring all of his lover’s gorgeous body, making Nezumi beg. Surrender. And Nezumi had drove him to the brink of insanity. And then Nezumi had kissed every inch of his body, whispering sweet nothings over Shion’s skin before they had kissed and held each other. And everything in the world was right. For a day that had turned into a nightmare, it had ended in a sweet dream.

He and Nezumi had slept past dinner. And when Tsura finally roused them, Shion had blushed profusely. The blankets pooled around their naked chests. Nezumi had fallen asleep with his nose in Shion’s neck, Shion held him securely, kissed the top of his head, and Nezumi slept like that. Like an angel. And only Shion had seen such. Only Shion. No one else.

“Wow, someone’s in an awesome mood today,” Aiko said over his shoulder before she was smiling in front of him. Shanelle and Safu had joined them. Shion couldn’t have stopped the wide smile on his face even if he wanted to. “You guys had sex.”

Shion crimsoned. Safu was right there, and her sober expression made Shion realize how this must have felt like for her.

“Safu.” He took her hand.

Safu shook her head. “It’s okay, Shion. I mean, I knew at some point you two would. I just…”

Shion hugged her. “I’m sorry.”

“Idiot, I said don’t apologize.”

“Well, how was it?” Aiko said when Safu and Shion had finally let go of each other.

“Aiko!”

“Oh come on Shion, he’s so hot. How sexy does he look in bed? Did you get to play with his long hair? Does he give good head? Is he big? A good kisser, what?”

Shion looked like a white-haired radish, he was sure. “Hey, as if I would tell you guys any of that. Geez, give a guy some privacy.”

“Hey, you brought it up,” Shanelle chimed in, her eyes still sympathetic to Safu.

“I didn’t bring it up; that would be Aiko.”

Aiko grinned shamelessly. “I’m sorry but that must have been wickedly hot, and from the look on your face, he was just as good as they said he was.”

“They?” Shion’s smile faded. “Who? Who’s talking that way about Nezumi?”

This time it was Safu who answered. “Obviously Yuki. And she’s such a slut, but don’t worry Nezumi said he was serious about you. Yuki is making up crap, little slut; want me to beat her up for you?” Safu sounded so serious, Shion let out a laugh.

“I’m good thanks. I think I have enough of that with Nezumi.” Shion’s smile left him. “Yeah, yesterday ended so amazing I forgot about the horror of the afternoon.”

“Horror?” Safu asked. Shion went about explaining what had happened between Sasori and Nezumi. “Oh wow. So he was holding back when he fought Sam?”

“A lot.” Shion growled as he thought of Sasori and the ugly mark on Nezumi’s neck. “I wanted to kill him. Thankfully Nezumi’s uncle is so, so awesome!”

“Yeah, they don’t sound like they are related,” Shawn said skeptically.

Shion laughed.

“You guys went dark,” Aiko whined. “I was hoping to hear more about Shion’s night with Nezumi.”

“He told me he loved me.” All of his friends went silent.

A soft little smile broke out on Aiko’s face.

“Well, you did it, I guess,” Shanelle said. “You wanted him, and you got him to love you.”

“Wow, a real romantic you are, Shanelle,” Aiko grumbled, rolling her eyes. “But this is big, no wonder you’re on cloud nine!”

Shion smiled. “He was so sincere, and I could feel it, the way he touched me like I was precious.”

“Dude...TMI.” Shawn grumbled.

“Then leave.” Aiko hooked elbows with Shion. “Sooooo, good kisser? Yes?”

Shion’s smile widened. “The best. It’s like I numb out to the rest of the world and all I can feel is him.”

Safu’s cheeks reddened.

“Oh sweetie.” Shanelle put her arm around her. “Geez, Shion have some tact. Or should I say Aiko, have some tact.”

Safu rapidly shook her head. “No, it’s not that...it’s um, well um...” Safu looked away, her fingers tapping together subconsciously. “Thinking of you, Shion…with him…the way you would look, how you’d sound. Did he make you moan? Cry out? Thinking of seeing you…well, it’s sexy.”

Shawn’s face was red. Shanelle’s face also growing rosy. Aiko’s smile threatened to spill over her entire face. Akihiko had actually looked up from his 3DS XL, staring at Safu with wide eyes. His glasses did nothing to conceal the painted red on his cheeks.

Shion released a breath. “Safu.”

Safu smiled. “You must have looked beautiful Shion. How could he not love you?”

Shion held her hand tightly. “Safu.”

Giggling came from three lockers down.

“Yuki, you slut!” April laughed. “So how was he? Was Emily right?”

“Oh hell yeah. You know what they say…” Another group of people passed them and loud talking blocked Shion from hearing more of Yuki and April’s conversation.

Shanelle looked over and back at Shion. “She could be talking about anyone, Shion. Don’t worry.”

“So are gypsies good with their hands?”

 “Um hummm, and tongues.” Yuki peaked her tongue out from beneath her teeth.

“You double slut!”

Shion’s pleasant mood fragmented into tiny shards of melancholy. Yuki and her group of girls headed off laughing.

Safu barred her teeth. “Stupid, slut. She just wishes she was with Nezumi. Don’t listen to that bitch, not one word, Shion. Nezumi’s faithful.” She balled her fists. “He better be, else I’ll kill him!”

Shion laughed at Safu’s gruff expression. His friends were so dear to him.

“Thanks, Safu.”

An arm rested against the locker next to him, the clanking sound hard as the hand struck the metal.

Shion looked up. It was Mike, one of Sam’s jock friends – one of the guys who kicked Shion’s folder down the hall.

“Mike, what do you want?” Shion felt a tingling of fear, but it wasn’t for himself. Nezumi could get in trouble if he fought them. “Listen, you really don’t want to mess with Nezumi. He wasn’t playing. And really, there’s no way I’m worth a broken neck.”

“No joke, man,” Shawn said. “Apparently that guy took on a man size of a mountain and lived.”

“Wait, wait, Shion,” Mike said. “You think I’m here to fight?”

“Uh, yeah?” Shion studied the situation. Mike’s arm was blocking Shion’s path; Mike was way too close. It sure looked like the start of a fight, or bullying. Either way, Nezumi would rip this guy apart.

“No, sorry. I don’t want to fight you. Sorry, I didn’t mean to scare you.”

“Well, nothing says hello like a hand slamming against the locker?” Shion’s friends laughed at his joke. Nezumi really had rubbed off on him. And the play of words had Shion’s cheeks flaming.

“Sorry, I um…You know, I wanted to get your attention.”

“A simple hello would have sufficed.”

“Uh, ok, sorry.” Mike was such a stereotypical jock. A meathead. And unlike Sasori, not a clever one at all. “Uh, so, well, I was wondering if you want to go grab and movie?”

“If I what? Wait…what?” Shion was shocked. “A movie? With me?”

Mike nodded.

“But, I thought you hated me. You guys wanted to kick my ass. Wait a sec, are you trying to play a trick on me? If you are, Nezumi will—”

“No, seriously Shion. I’ve liked you for a while. But, you know, Sam’s the man, so I couldn’t say anything then. But Sam’s backed off, and well, I like you and now that I know you swing that way—”

“How do you know which way I swing?”

“There’s a rumor going around about you and that gypsy.”

“Nezumi.” Shion’s tone darkened. “Call him by his name.”

“Well, yeah, Nezumi or whatever.”

“Ok, well,” Shanelle cut in. “If you heard that Shion was with Nezumi—the guy who wiped the floor with Sam the man—why are you asking Shion out on a date?”

“Well…” Mike sounded so much like a surfer dude, it made him sound even less intelligent. “I believed them, but then I saw Nezumi with Yuki and a few other girls being all flirty and stuff, yah? I figured he was playing with you. And well, I wanna treat you right.”

“Says the guy who teased and bullied me—wait, you saw Nezumi with Yuki???”

“Well, yeah.” Mike looked away. “There he is now. See? He’s with girls, yah? So I assumed you’re free, and I’ve wanted to hit on you for a while now.”

Mike’s voice faded into the background. Nezumi stood by his locker some distance away—but close enough that Shion’s ears picked up high giggles. Three girls surrounded him. Nezumi was smiling at them, being his usual charming self like he normally was around women.

Yuki came over. She slid through the girls, her friends all followed her lead and let her get right up next to Nezumi. She put her arms around his neck.

Shion couldn’t even hear anything anymore. The world was spinning, people were talking around him, but it sounded like murmurs far away through a tunnel.

Suddenly his head thudded against the locker and Mike crowded him with his weight, and then wet lips closed over his in a sloppy kiss.

Shion balled his fist and slugged Mike straight in the cheek.

“What the hell?” he fumed, “Don’t touch me without my permission!”

Shion’s yell carried down the hall and all motion stopped. He looked up to see Nezumi’s gray eyes on him. The girls were still around him. Yuki no longer hugged him, but she suddenly grabbed his arm and clung to him, giving Shion a smirk.

Shion shoved away from Mike and took off running. He didn’t care that some jock had kissed him. Well he hated that, but that wasn’t the reason why he ran away.

“Wait Shion!” Mike’s loud cry came behind him. Then he heard Nezumi’s.

“Shion!”

Shion didn’t stop running, tears stung his eyes and his vision clouded. He had scarcely made it out into the side corridor when he collapsed onto his knees and sobbed. His heart felt like it had been removed, cut straight out of his chest.

Nezumi said he loved me.

Nezumi held me. He kissed me.

He told me. He said he loved me.

Was it all lies?

Shion cried harder.

The door behind him opened. Shion feared it was Mike, but the moment the presence entered, he knew it was Nezumi.

“Shion?” Nezumi’s soft tone was questioning and worried.

“Go away.” Shion covered his face and hid it against his knees, hugging them.

“No. What happened? Did he hurt you?”

Shion jumped to his knees fuming, his anger so strong it was blinding. “Him? What, the asshole who kissed me? No more than I hurt him!”

“He did what?” Nezumi’s tone darkening.

Shion cut him off. “He wasn’t what hurt me, Nezumi, you did!”

“Me?” Nezumi’s eyes waivered as if he was remembering something. “Oh, those girls…”

“Brilliant deduction genius, ten out of ten!”

Nezumi let out a sigh. “I didn’t do anything with those girls.”

“Bullshit, Yuki was all over you, I saw that!”

“She hugged me, and I took her arms off. The other girls were there. I’m not going to scare them away, Shion. I can’t be cruel to women. I wasn’t raised that way.”

“'Course not, you just fuck ‘em instead!”

“I didn’t fuck any of those girls. They came to talk to me, I responded to them. I’m polite to women and I treat them kindly, but I tried not to flirt. You told me it bothered you, remember?”

Shion snorted. “Perfectly. I also remember you with Yuki’s arms around you!”

Nezumi barred his teeth. “I told you, she hugged me, I took her arms off. Shit, if you were watching, why did you fail to see that part? Airhead.”

“Don’t. Don’t fucking start with me, Nezumi.” Shion laughed bitterly. “I am an airhead. An airhead for thinking you were serious with me, that I could trust you. That you ever loved me at all.”

Nezumi’s open palm slap didn’t so much as hurt as it shocked him into silence.

“Stop.” Nezumi grabbed Shion’s wrists and shook him hard. “I have never said one dishonest word to you. Not in all of the time I’ve know you. And fuck you if you don’t believe that I love you.”

Shion was captured by those angry gray eyes, the thin line of Nezumi’s mouth. Nostrils flaring.

He couldn’t speak. Tears slipped down his cheeks.

They stared at each other. Shion’s wrists still captive in Nezumi’s hands.

Nezumi released a breath.

“Idiot. I don’t love any of those girls. I don’t care about any of them. I’ll be kind to them, but that’s it. You’re the one I want. The one I think about. Your airheaded ass is all I can think about. I want to be with you constantly. You live inside my head, you’re always there. And I…I can’t even imagine how I became like this. So don’t. Don’t you dare say that I don’t love you!”

“But-but.”

“NO buts. Those girls talked to me first. Yuki hugged me first. I removed her arms. I didn’t flirt with them.”

“But I heard Yuki—“

“Heard what? What did she say?”

“That you were a good lay. That you had a good tongue.”

“How the fuck would she know anything about my tongue? I certainly didn’t fuck her. So unless there’s my doppelganger out there, she’s full of shit.”

“But- how can I? Trust—”

“Have I ever said anything to lose your trust?”

Shion thought about it. Nezumi had never lied to him, even when the truth hurt, and Nezumi was so blunt it was painful. He never shielded Shion from the truth.

“No,” Shion whispered, sagging against Nezumi’s chest. He heard Nezumi’s sharp breath near his ear. He thought Nezumi might shove him away, but instead he was enveloped in Nezumi’s strong arms, and the intoxicating scent of Nezumi invaded his scents. He clung to Nezumi and buried his face into Nezumi’s shirt.

“Idiot. You should know, I never say anything I don’t mean. And I said I love you, so I mean it. So don’t you doubt it! Don’t you fucking doubt it! You got that?”

Shion nodded and hugged tighter. Nezumi stroked his hair lovingly until Shion’s cries had quieted down.

“All better?” Nezumi’s eyes were soft when Shion pulled back.

“Yeah.” Shion gave him a half smile. “But Nezumi, Yuki—”

“I’ve never slept with Yuki. And I never will, so don’t listen to anything she says.”

“But, they know you.”

“Who?”

“Those girls. The ones who you’ve slept with. They know sides of you that I can’t. And I can’t stand it. You say you don’t see women as threats, well I do! The fact that they have something to give you that I can’t tears me apart!”

Nezumi’s fingers were quick as they cupped his chin and silenced him with a kiss. The kiss took everything out of him, and when Nezumi pulled away, he left Shion winded and trapped under Nezumi’s spell. Heavily, he leaned on Nezumi, palms flat against his chest.

“I’ve slept with five women,” Nezumi said, taking Shion’s hand. He walked them over to the side of the building and sat down, directing Shion to do likewise. “Other than you, I’ve been with two guys. Well, one barely counts, but whatever.”

“Five women?” Shion whispered.

Nezumi nodded. “Two of those were after I came here.”

“Emily?”

Nezumi nodded. Shion’s heart clenched.

“She approached me after you started talking to me. I guess she figured that I wasn’t a murdering thief.” Nezumi smirked, then his tone returned somber. “It was only a few times, and we were just having fun. You and I weren’t together then, Shion. Though, you reacted so strongly to it. That was when I realized your like meant a lot more.”

Shion sniffled, and a few more tears leaked down his cheek. Nezumi wiped them away.

“I didn’t know you then like I do now. I didn’t love you like I do now. I won’t sleep with her again. But it did happen. Those are the facts. The truth.”

“And the other girl?” Shion got out. “Was it Yuki?”

Nezumi gave an irritated exhale. “I told you I did not sleep with her. So why do you expect it to be her? Are you calling me a liar?”

Shion looked away. Letting out a sigh. “No. Sorry….but I’m not like you, Nezumi. I do see women as threats. They are. Every time I hear Yuki talking about you like that, I want to go over and slap her. Tug her hair, tell her off. Tell her that I know how you kiss, and I know how good you are in bed. And I’ve had your tongue on me. That’s...” Shion was breathing heavily. “That’s what I want to say.”

Nezumi smirked. “Good in bed, huh?”

Shion blushed.

“I have put my tongue all over you, Shion.” Nezumi pulled Shion closer by the back of his head. “I’ve fucked your mouth, and had you down my throat.”

“Nezumi.” Shion felt his body trembling.

“You are the one I want. Not Yuki. I want to bury myself inside of you. I want to make you cry out my name. I want you to be so out of it that all you can think of is me. I want to do that to you, Shion. Not her. I want you.” Nezumi cupped Shion’s chin and brought him in for another kiss. Shion shamelessly moaned against his lips. Nezumi’s tongue traced Shion’s lips when he pulled away. “So, my adorable, little airhead, stop worrying about Yuki. She’s nothing to me, you are.”

Shion couldn’t tear his eyes away from him: his troublesome, dangerous, beautiful Nezumi.

“The other girl I slept with wasn’t a student.”

“What?” Shion was slapped back into reality. “Not a student? Who?”

“Ms. McNamara.”

“McNamara? The drama teacher?”

Nezumi nodded. “We hit it off. And she’s gorgeous.”

“I know but, Nezumi, that’s illegal! She raped you according to the law.”

Nezumi smirked out a sigh. “She didn’t rape me. It was mutual. I liked her, she liked me.”

Shion felt another flare of jealousy. Even though he had only taken one elective with her back when he first entered high school, he had always liked Ms. McNamara. He never thought he would be feeling competition with her that was for sure.

“Yeah, the rest of the kids were shit when it came to Shakespeare, so I'd help her read through the script once so the idiots could understand it." Nezumi smiled. "Our literary interests were similar, so we always ended up talking after class. Rebecca and I got to know each other. And it just happened.”

“Rebecca?”

“We’ve had sex Shion, we’re definitely on a first name basis.”

“But you? But she’s?”

“It’s over.” Nezumi didn’t look sad, and his voice held a hint of finality. “We got together for a few times, and then she wanted to stop. Didn’t want to put her career in jeopardy, and I could respect that.” Shion watched his lover, shocked. He had no idea Nezumi had had a relationship with his drama teacher, nothing either Nezumi or Ms. McNamara did ever gave the faintest hint about this.

“I didn’t know.”

“Well, of course. That would have gotten her fired.” Nezumi took his hand. “I think she even has a fiancé in the military. So even if we managed to not get caught, it wasn’t like it would ever lead anywhere. But she’s beautiful and she wanted it, and I wanted her right back. So...”

“So.” Shion felt sad inside, and a bit pouty. He wanted to feel sorry for himself. But then it hit him. Nezumi was sharing his sexual history with him. This was big. This meant that Shion was important, they were serious about each other.

“Who were the other three?”

“One was a girl I met in another camp. A lot of family on my dad’s side live there. I met her, and I fell for her. She was really cute, and had these freckles on her cheeks and her smile…she was adorable.” Shion had never before heard a wistful tone in Nezumi’s voice. “She was my first love.”

“How old were you?”

“Fifteen.”

“What happened?”

“Her family moved away. But I got the feeling someone drove her away. I think I know who, but I could never prove it.”

“Where’s she now? Ever thought about going to find her?”

Nezumi shook his head. “Nah, we’re too different. We want different things. She wants the whole marriage and kids thing. I don’t see myself ever wanting that.”

Shion never knew that about Nezumi. Well, Shion had never thought about children and a family before. But apparently Nezumi had.

“I heard she got married. It was arranged, but they were in love, so it didn’t matter. Either way, I hope she’s happy.” Nezumi had fondness in his tone. Shion realized that this girl really had been special to him. Nezumi’s first love. He was jealous, but at the same time, he was touched. He knew more about Nezumi, just a little bit more.

“The other one, and you’re not gonna believe this, was Em.”

“Wait? Your cousin Daiki’s Em who makes the vases?”

Nezumi nodded. “We grew up together. She came from another camp. But we traveled with them for a while. Ka and Bee and her parents arranged Daiki to marry her older sister. Em’s my age. You are right Shion. She should be in school with us. There was a large age gap between her and Daiki. But she always liked him. Ever since we were little. She was cute, so eventually when I stopped finding her annoying, I started to like her. But she never gave me the time of day, she was always chasing after my cousin. One point though, when Daiki and her sister’s wedding was approaching, Em came to me. I was crushing on her at this point, so when she offered, I didn’t refuse her. She’s always been beautiful and nothing’s changed there.”

“What happened? I mean, she is married to your cousin. How did that end up happening?”

“After we spent the night together, she regretted it. She went to our house and proclaimed her love for Daiki. Her older sister never had much feeling for my cousin, and since it was a camp alliance our families were happy for Em to take her sister’s place. So yeah, it was arranged but Em had her hand it in. Rather, she made it happened.” Nezumi’s tone became bitter. “Em has hated me ever since that night. She blamed me for what happened. Even though, it was she who came to me, and she who asked. She somehow wanted to make it my fault. I never liked you. I was just distraught over Daiki’s upcoming wedding. You knew my feelings for him. You took advantage of the situation. You took advantage of me when I was vulnerable.

Bitterness weighed heavy in his tone, Shion hadn’t ever heard Nezumi sound like this.

“Fuck her. I didn’t pursue her. I wasn’t waiting around to snatch her up once my cousin was out of the picture. She just couldn’t handle her own guilt and needed someone to blame for it. She hates me now, and well the feeling’s mutual. Fucking bitch. I can’t stand her.”

“And that’s why even though she is a girl, you don’t treat her very nicely.”

“Well she brings it on herself. I wouldn’t even care anymore. I mean that was years ago. But Em hasn’t let it go. Won’t let it go. To her, I’m this evil tempter who led her astray.”

“That is wrong. She really can’t take responsibility for her actions.”

“Nope.” Nezumi balled his fists. “You know before her wedding she pulled me aside and threatened me. Told me that if I told Daiki about what happened she would make my life miserable.” Nezumi snorted. “As if I cared that much to tell him anyway.” Nezumi’s smile softened. “We’ve always been close. But who he chooses to marry isn’t my problem. I didn’t need her to threaten me not to do it. I wouldn’t have wanted to hurt my brother’s happiness for anything.” Nezumi corrected himself. “My cousin’s. I meant my cousin. Sometimes I forget he’s not my brother.”

“I thought the same thing, you guys look so similar.”

“Well, yeah," Nezumi smirked. "At some point I figure she either told him or something changed, and now while she’s still a bitch to me, she’s not so cutthroat like she used to be.”

“Do you think your cousin knows?”

“Who knows?”

“He must not have if he didn’t confront you, right?”

“Not necessarily. It wouldn’t be his way to confront me even if he did know. It’s not like I purposefully wanted to hurt Em. And my cousin’s always been gentle and understanding. I’m sure the fact that she wasn’t a virgin wasn’t the end of the world to him. Either way, they’re happy, I’m happy. Life worked out. Still we hate each other and I doubt that’ll change.”

“Nezumi?”

“Hm?”

“Thank you for telling me this.”

“Yeah, well, we can’t have your airheaded mind getting swept up and thinking even more retarded things.”

Shion grumbled, “Thanks.”

“The last woman I was with wasn’t much of a relationship. She was another woman from our camps, so you wouldn’t know her. She was much older than me, and man, was she beautiful. When she came over and took me back with her to her tent, I didn’t even think of resisting.”

Shion let out a sigh. “You’ve had so many beautiful women…you have to miss them. I mean, I can’t imagine I can compare to that.”

Nezumi flicked his nose. “Earth to Shion, now’s not the time to go off into self-pity land. I want to be with you. And I think I should be the one to know my own happiness.”

“What happened to her?”

Nezumi shrugged. “No idea. She was married, and it was only that one time. We didn’t camp with them long. They were gone in the morning. I do remember parting with her though. It was like one of those Shakespearean moments. We acted like lovers, even though we both knew we’d never seen each other after that.”

“That sounds...well, sad. I mean, weren’t you devastated?”

Nezumi shook his head. “Nah, she was beautiful and it was fun. But I had just met her. This was right after the girl I loved had moved away. So if anything, it was a nice distraction from my current heartache.”

“I see.”

“And that’s it. Those are all of the women I have slept with. So the next time some cunt starts saying I slept with her, or she knows my dick size, or whatever the fuck else she talks about, you can know she is full of shit.”

Shion smiled. “Ok.”

“I’ve been with guys too, just not as many. I’m not drawn in by guys like I am with women. But then a certain airhead showed up and I can’t keep my hands off his ass.”

Shion blushed. “Who were the guys? Anyone here?”

Nezumi shook his head. “One of them didn’t really amount to much. So, we are at a truck station while traveling here from Canada, and this guy approaches me.”

“No, Nezumi, please don’t tell me you just let some stranger fuck you?”

“Fuck me? Hell no. But he wanted to suck me off, so well, I’m not stupid to refuse free head. And he wasn't bad looking,” Nezumi said. “So we went into the restroom’s stall and he got on his knees and sucked me off.”

Shion shook his head in amazement turned fear. “That was dangerous Nezumi, what if he tried to hurt you? There are straight guys who pretend to pick up gay guys then beat them up in the bathroom.”

Nezumi smirked. “I think I can handle a trucker, thank you very much. So yeah, if he were to try anything I would have broken his face. But he didn’t. He wanted to fuck me afterwards, but I declined the offer. As if I’d let some stranger do something so compromising.” Nezumi snorted.

“So then, you never actually had penetrative sex with a guy?’ Shion felt hopeful, at least in this regard he could be Nezumi’s first.

Nezumi shook his head. “No, I’ve fucked a guy, and let him do me.”

Red tendrils of jealousy flared in his heart, loud and piercing. Nezumi had let someone penetrate him. Nezumi had entered another guy. For some reason that hurt more than the women. And that was weird. But it did. Maybe because Shion was hoping he could have done what none of those women could—be the first and only guy for Nezumi. But even there he had competition. Even in this area, Shion would not be Nezumi’s first.

“Now, this one will be hard for you to hear, but I don’t want to shield you from the truth. Nothing good comes from turning your eyes away from reality, Shion.”

Anxiety was growing thick inside him. Shion wished Nezumi would skip all of the buildup and just hit him with the information.

“Just tell me.”

Nezumi nodded. “Sasori.”

“What?” Shion must’ve not heard Nezumi correctly.

“I slept with Sasori.”

Shion felt like the floor had been yanked from under him, and he was crashing hard. “No.”

“It was when I was much younger, and stupider.”

“Younger?” The world was caving in around him fast.

“Around I don’t know, thirteen maybe?” Nezumi thought. “Yeah, I started training with him at thirteen, and it was a few months after that things turned physical. I might’ve hit fourteen before we did anything. I don’t know, it was a long time ago. I can’t remember.”

“Thirteen? Fourteen? Nezumi? Did he force himself on you?”

Nezumi shook his head.

“It’s okay, I won’t think less of you if that happened.”

“He didn’t force me. It was consensual.”

Shion shook his head. “You were so much younger. And well, he’s a pretty big guy, so it’s understandable if...”

“Shion!” Nezumi grabbed Shion's wrists and held him still. “He did not force anything on me.” He pronounced it slowly, punctuating every word.

“But? But?”

“Shion, no one would be able to get me to do something I didn’t want to do.”

“But he’s crazy at fighting. You were only thirteen, he could have overpowered you.”

“Guess he could have. But he didn’t.”

Shion shook his head. He didn’t want to believe this. “Wh—but why?”

Nezumi shrugged. “I don’t know. I was curious. It felt good. Everything was always so physical when he was teaching me, I don’t know, it excited me.”

“So—so wait? Sasori? But he’s your uncle?”

Nezumi laughed. “Really? I never noticed?’

“Hanzi wouldn’t have stood for this?”

“Probably not. But I never told him and neither did Sasori.”

Shion felt betrayed.

“But he’s a monster?” His words becoming a whisper. “And you-you hate him? And he’s cruel and he tried to hurt you, and he is—” Shion’s mind connected the dots, “…Jealous. He’s jealous of me and you together. I wasn’t wrong when I read that. He interrupts you and me so he can get your attention, can take it off of me and put it on him. And here I was thinking that no mattered how much he claimed you as family, it was me who knew you really. I knew this side of you he’d never get to know. That’s what I felt inside, whenever he seemed competitive…”

Nezumi studied him but remained silent.

“And now, he—he had you. Wait, you fucked him too?”

Nezumi nodded. “I was curious.”

“I can’t see that. He’s so big, I can’t see him being like that, or letting you.”

Nezumi shrugged. “He did. Honestly, he taught me a lot, not just about fighting but about sex.”

Shion shook his head. “Stop. Stop it!”

Nezumi took in a breath, held it and exhaled. “I told you this would be hard to hear.”

“Last night. That was what you accused Sasori of not being able to let go of, the thing you didn’t want to tell me ‘cause it would start a fight?”

Nezumi snorted. “And was I wrong?”

“No. I-but-I…” Shion couldn’t get his mouth to execute all of the many thoughts in his brain. “Why?” The word rang out in the small alley. “Why?” Shion's eyes prickled. “For god’s sake, Nezumi. Why?"

Nezumi put a hand on his shoulder. Shion brushed it off.

“Shion, it was a long, long time ago. I was young, I was curious. I hadn’t ever had sex before so I—”

“Wait wait wait. He was your first!” Shion wanted to scream at the top of his lungs. He wanted to lay on the ground and kick until his legs fell off.

Nezumi’s one and only first was taken by none other than…

Sasori!

“Shion.” Nezumi sighed. “You put too much weight on firsts. Most times the first time sucks. You’re clumsy and awkward and don’t know your asshole from your eyeball.”

“Not mine!”

“That’s ‘cause I am walking you through it. I am there, helping you. I have experience. I help balance us.”

“And that’s what he did to you?” Shion grabbed at his hair, letting out a silent cry then ended up ripping from his throat.

“Shion. Stop. Getting angry about the past won’t make it go away.”

“Fuck! Why? Goddamn it! Why? He’s an asshole! He’s an—an—”

“Shh, geez, Shion. This is why I didn’t want to tell you. And thank God I didn’t last night. It would have turned out wonderfully. Man! If Ka and Bee hadn’t known before, they sure as hell would now.”

“Maybe they should know!”

“Don’t.” Nezumi’s tone turned dark, but there was a pleading edge in it. “Don’t you dare?”

“Why?” Shion was breaking. Falling into tiny pieces. “That asshole should be punished! How dare he touch you? How dare him!”

“It was mutual, consensual. I wanted it as much as he did. You can’t just shift blame on to him because he was older.”

“Is that supposed to make me feel better?”

“Fuck your feelings!” Nezumi was at his breaking point. “If you want to get angry over something that happened years ago before I even knew you, then fuck you Shion.”

Shion didn’t know where all of this bitterness was coming from, he felt it bubbling up inside of him. Getting right in his face, Shion glared at Nezumi. “Seems like you’ve fucked the whole goddamn world, already.” Nezumi balled his fists, returning Shion’s glare.

The bell ringing stole their attention.

For one moment it looked like they were going to say fuck you to the bell too and break out into an all-out fist fight. But the moment passed. It was Nezumi who broke away first. Grabbing up his book bag, he left without a word, not looking back once. Shion was left there with his aching heart, strung up nerves and globs and globs of wrath raging beneath his skin. He wanted to kill someone. Right now he was that angry. And the worst of it all was he knew that he was the one being illogical.

He shouldn’t have gotten upset over this—especially because it was in the past. And now to make things worse, he had actually said some pretty terrible things to Nezumi. He even threatened to reveal the private information Nezumi was telling him, and all because he was jealous.

Shion felt like a total shit. Nezumi had opened up to him, and that was how Shion repaid him—with anger and threats. He didn’t even feel like going to class. Instead, staying out here in the gloomy, cloudy morning seemed like the best thing to do right now. But his first period teacher would not agree, nor would the detention that would be waiting for him, so Shion collected his things and headed inside.

He didn’t expect anyone to be out there, so when Mike came around the corner Shion almost jumped out of his skin.

“Christ.” He dragged out a sigh. “You scared the hell out of me.” That was when it dawned on him who he was talking to. “What do you want Mike? And I swear, if you try and kiss me again, so help me God, I will kill you!”

“Sorry, Shion.” Mike sounded contrite. “I really read you wrong there? Didn’t I?”

“Is that why you’re out here? To apologize?”

“Well, yeah. I mean, I guess I came on too strong.” Mike looked away. “I um, kinda really like you, Shion.”

“Oh.” Shion didn’t know what to do with this information. “Look, um, well, I’m…”

“If I took it slow, would you at least give me a chance?”

“Chance? But I’m already with—” He saw Sasori’s face in his mind. Sasori’s thick hands roaming over Nezumi’s body. They were wrestling on the floor, like what he saw yesterday, only they were naked and Nezumi’s eyes were hooded in arousal, his hair long. They were kissing and—

“Shion?” Mike’s voice snapped Shion back into reality. But he returned with an itch, and a pouty feeling. He wanted to make Nezumi see what that felt like. He wanted to get even.

“Uh, fine. I guess.”

“Really?”

“Uh sure, I suppose.” Shion looked away, that inner voice growing, and already he was feeling the first hints of shame, and guilt. They had made love last night. He had learned Nezumi loved him. Even now, Shion remembered the fire that blazed behind Nezumi’s gray when as he said, ‘And fuck you if you don’t believe that I love you.’

Nezumi had opened up to him, told him about his past.

No. What Shion was doing was wrong.

Mike grinned broadly. “All right! How about I pick you up tonight. I mean, it’s Friday.”

Shion’s head wasn’t back from his thoughts yet, so his response was slow. “Um, well, on second thought—“

“Great!” Mike clapped his shoulder. “This’ll be fun! I promise you’ll like it way better than spending time with that gypsy.”

“Don’t call him that.”

“Huh?”

“Nezumi.” Shion’s low voice stopped Mike mid-sentence. “Don’t call him that gypsy. He has a name, and it’s Nezumi.”

“Fine. Nezumi.” Mike grumbled, making a face. “Geez Shion. After the way he treats you and all, why do you still care so much about him?”

“The way he treats me?”

“Yeah, I heard you guys arguing.”

“You were listening to our conversation?”

“Well, it was behind the door, so I couldn’t really hear much, but he made you upset. Didn’t he?”

Shion shook his head. “If anything I was the one making myself upset. He was trying to calm me down.” That was exactly what Nezumi was trying to do, and speaking this out loud made it finally drill in.

There was no way Shion was letting their conversation end this way, he had to go and apologize. Class be damned.

“So, well, anyways. Friday night then?”

Shion shook his head. “No, Mike. I’m sorry. I was angry at Nezumi when I said that. You’re right, we did argue, but I was the one in the wrong. I see that now.”

“Seriously? Fuck! He’s the one treating you badly and yet you’re blaming yourself!”

“You were right, you didn’t hear our conversation, because if you did, you would have realized that Nezumi had been trying to reassure me, and I was the one flipping out. Yeah, he got me upset. But that was because he was being honest with me. He is always honest with me. So, no, I can’t go behind his back on a date with you.”

“So, you are dating?”

“Uh, yeah.” Shion shook his head. “That is if I haven’t already ruined it by acting like a child. Sorry Mike, I gotta run!” Shion spun on his heal, before he turned and looked over his shoulder. “Thanks by the way, you really helped me see through my stupidity. Sorry for punching you.” And with that Shion raced down the hall not even waiting for Mike’s reply.

Nezumi had psychology for his first period; Shion should have been in his history class, but right now talking to Nezumi was more important. The question was, how would he be able to get Nezumi out of class and able to hear his apology?

The teacher who ran the psychology class was a psychotic case himself. There was a running joke in the school that he had learned all of his information from working inside a loony bin, where he had spent his time torturing people. No one dared to speak these things to his face, though. He was the kind of teacher that would rip you apart in front of the class simply because he could. And the worst thing was, he didn’t yell. He never yelled. He found a weakness, picked at it until it was exposed for all to see, and then ridiculed you for it. Shion couldn’t understand why the school hadn’t sacked him long ago.

Shion peered through the door window, quickly pulling away so he didn’t get noticed. He could hear Mr. Tollerman talking. The man sounded like a droning bell, but it wasn’t monotonous. Instead, it was like how a butler in one of those haunted mansions might sound. Mr. Tollerman always spoke with command, as if he were about to start an interrogation.

Nezumi sat near the back of the room, watching the teacher. Again, his notebook was out, but he didn’t take notes. Two girls stared at him blatantly. They were sitting a few seats down from him.

Shion felt a stab of jealousy. Immediately he regretted it. Damn his jealousy! It’s what got them to this mess. He couldn’t be constantly ruled by his emotions. He had to experience them, while not letting them make his decisions. That was what Nezumi had said. But feeling emotions – letting himself feel emotions – was new. It was a heck of a lot easier said than done.

Time droned on, Mr. Tollerman’s voice seemed like it would go on forever. And the more minutes that went by, the more anxious Shion got.

At this very moment, he could be losing Nezumi. Hell, he may already have at this point.

And those girls… Nezumi had noticed them, and gave them a simple smile before he turned back to the teacher. But his smile was enough to make both girls blush hard. They probably thought they had a chance. And well, now maybe they did. Nezumi had said that Shion was the one he wanted. But after Shion’s childish behavior was that still the case?

One of the girls wrote something on a note and passed it over to Nezumi – all the kids involved trying not to be noticed. Nezumi stealthily took it, not opening it right away. When he finally did, his lips quirked into a smile. He enjoyed reading it. That was the expression he made whenever he was reading something he liked.

Shion was losing him. Maybe he already had? He couldn’t take it anymore.

Opening up the door, he walked in. The entire class paused, Mr. Tollerman’s voice finally being brought to a halt.

“I do hope you have a good reason for barging into my classroom, Mr. Takahashi.”

Good reason? Well, not likely. In fact, the chances of his mind coming up with some kind of save right now was 500 to 1, but he had to try anyways.

“I need to speak with Nezumi.”

“Oh? Might I ask why?”

Shion steadied himself. He didn’t want to lie. “It’s personal.”

Mr. Tollerman’s thin, pencil shaped brows rose. “It’s Shion, isn’t it?” Shion nodded. He had yet to have a class with Mr. Tollerman. “That’s right, I have yet to have someone of your, uniqueness in my class.”

“My uniqueness?”

“Yes, well, your sharp wit has been talked about by your teachers. Although, walking into the middle of a classroom that is not your own hardly sounds like what a bright boy should be doing.” Mr. Tollerman’s lazy smile had the hairs on the back of his neck rising. Going over to the board Tollerman continued, “I think I will grant your request.”

“Oh okay, thanks sir.”

“Do you know what I was discussing before you carelessly walked into my classroom?”

Shion shook his head.

Mr. Tollerman's soft smile grew. “I needed a volunteer, and now one has walked through my door.”

Shion didn’t like where this was going, but if it got him to speak with Nezumi then it was what he was going to do. Besides, he doubted he could get out of it, not without taking a detention.

“How good, come stand in the front please.”

Shion obeyed. His eyes found Nezumi, who was looking intently at Mr. Tollerman before returning to him.

“We are discussing Histrionic Personality Disorder.”

“I see.” Shion had no idea what that was. Mental Health was Safu’s area.

“Ironically, you are the perfect volunteer in this situation. Do you know why?”

Shion shook his head.

“Can you guess?”

This cat and mouse game was unnerving. Shion would have preferred a detention at this rate.

“I’m sorry sir, but I have no idea. I’m not even familiar with that disorder. I’m sorry.”

“Oh? Given that you have had intimate knowledge of this particular disorder.” Shion bunched his eyebrows in confusion. “Let me tell you what I remember.”

“Remember?” Shion’s gut was telling him to get out of here but he couldn’t leave, and besides he had to apologize to Nezumi.

“One word, Collerhan Institution.”

The color left Shion’s face. “How do you…?”

“That scene in the waiting room was burned into my mind, I’m afraid. Such noise she made. Disturbed all of the other patients. It was the very reason why I refused her to be treated there.”

Shion clenched his fists.

“You see class,” Mr. Tollerman directed his attention to the class. “The first time I was in the presence of such an extreme case was when Shion’s dear mother came to our institution.”

“You better stop talking right now.” Shion could barely swallow the anger. “If you were at that institution then you have no right to divulge any information about your patients. “

“But she wasn’t a patient, was she, Shion? She was loud, crying for attention, even beating her own breasts. In all my time I had never seen someone put on such a spectacle.”

“How dare you?” Shion barred his teeth. “Stop talking, you don’t know anything.”

“I know that there was nothing wrong with that woman for her to bring on such a scene. No, what I was witnessing was a child in a throws of tantrum. And now it seems...”

Shion was so angry he couldn’t think.

“You too have inherited that from your mother. Though, that shouldn’t be surprising given your father’s little involvement. But, living with such a woman. Do you know that after her attempt of suicide, your father begged me to approve her entrance?”

Shion’s stomach dropped, his body suddenly feeling cold.

How the hell does he…how does he know this?

“I told you to stop talking right now.” Rage built in Shion’s voice. “My mother didn’t try to commit suicide.” That was not true. He still remembered it. The conversation he had heard from his father’s sister—a one-sided conversation, but he knew they were talking about his mother.

‘What a selfish, silly woman!’ His aunt’s voice had lacked any compassion. ‘Please don’t tell me this is going to take even more time, I’m already tired of watching him.’ Her voice was interrupted by a man’s deeper tones on the other end, even though Shion could only hear his aunt’s side of the phone call. ‘Yeah, I keep him in his room. But the sooner that bat-crazy woman gets better, the sooner you can send him home.’ Tomoka gave a sigh. ‘I don’t want him romping through the halls touching things.’

Mr. Tollerman’s voice reclaimed Shion’s attention, his eyes, an eerie blue color, looking pitying and cruel. “Now, lying is yet another symptom of this condition, Shion.”

“I’m not lying,” Shion seethed, his body trembling. “Shut the hell up.”

Mr. Tollerman’s words dragged up memories that brought an icy feeling in his chest. His mind got pulled into his thoughts, memories returning as if he were present. He remembered running down the stairway so fast he almost tripped on his yukata, thankfully the rail saved him.

‘Aunt Tomoka? My mother, what happened to her?’

‘What are you doing out of your room?’

 ‘Yes, he’s down here.’ Tomoka sounded peeved. ‘Why are you leaving me with him? He’s your son, Shion.’ Then she focused her frustration at him. ‘I told you to stay up in your room.’

“Please! Aunt Tomoka, my mom, what happened to my mom?’

“You see, class. That is another thing about attention-seekers.” Mr. Tollerman’s tone resounded in Shion’s memories, making them all the more real. “They’re always doing the most reckless things.”

The entire class grew silent. Each watching the scene with a mixture of horror. No one wanted to be on the end of Mr. Tollerman’s torture. This was one thing that every student agreed on.

In his mind, Shion could hear his father’s voice muffled over the phone like he had that night. He remembered it because the man hadn’t sounded worried or even sad. He didn’t even sound angry.

‘For god’s sake Tomoko, put him on the phone and be done with it. I’ve got calls to make.’

The moment Shion grabbed the phone the words had escaped his lips in a torrent. ‘Dad! What happened to mom? Is she hurt?’

A sigh came over the phone. ‘She’s all right, so stop causing your aunt trouble. She was being the silly woman that she is. And for goodness sake Jr., stop making such a racket. Honestly, you’re such an embarrassment, you sound as neurotic as your crazy mother.’

“You see, class, Shion’s attention-seeking mother—”

“Knock it the fuck off.” Nezumi stood up, his voice unfeeling and contained a faint undercurrent of anger. He approached the front of the class. “Shion’s mother wailing in an institution? Shion’s father begging you to commit her? All things that a community college dropout like yourself would have no fucking clue about. You’re not an institution medical doctor, you’re a washed out, fucking fraud.”

“Nezumi…” The gratitude he felt at Nezumi standing up for him warred with the concern he had about Nezumi getting in trouble.

“Nezumi? The gypsy? I’ve been waiting for you to speak up.”

Nezumi smirked. “Why, so you could do your little serenade of bullshit on me too? Don’t make me laugh.”

“A drop out? Let’s talk about your brothers and sisters at your gypsy camp? Have they ever seen the entrance to a high school?”

“That’s it?” Nezumi laughed. “That’s your big come at me? My fucking cousins going to school? You really are more of a loser than I thought.”

 “And what would a—”

“Enjoying your little throne a bit too much, aren’t you? After all, I’m sure a poorly paid high school teacher has to have one highlight. Your washed out little ego needed a boost.”

 

##

In the end, both he and Nezumi ended up with detention. But it had felt satisfying to hear Nezumi put that arrogant asshole in his place.

“He’ll probably try to give you hell for the remainder of the year. Maybe you shouldn’t have stood up for me.”

Nezumi snorted. “Leave it to you to complain about that, too.”

“I’m not complaining. I’m just sorry.”

“Sorry?”

“Yeah. Sorry for everything.” Shion rushed on. “I shouldn’t have said what I said, I was out of line. You’re right. It was a very long time ago, and I acted like a child with my jealousy. Forgive me?”

Nezumi watched him carefully. “Why?”

“Why? Because I didn’t mean to hurt you—well, I guess I did. I was angry and jealous and I wanted to throw some pain your way. I did mean to hurt you, and that makes it even more terrible what I did. Please forgive me?”

When Nezumi didn’t speak, Shion continued. “I just, I really dislike Sasori. I know he’s your uncle, but he’s rude to me, and he has it in his head to take you away from me. And to find out that of all people, he was your first.”

“There you go with that stupid first thing again.”

“Well, it means a lot to me. Just hearing that you were intimate with someone like that was hurtful. And I know, it was a long time ago. I was in the wrong for taking out my anger on you.”

Nezumi sighed. “Shion.”

“Please, Nezumi. I don’t want to lose you. If I could take it back I would. I would never have threatened to tell your uncle and aunt, nor would I have said that rude comment at the end.”

“Shion, just calm down already. Will yah?”

Shion blinked.

“You’re acting like you killed my pet or something. Sure, you flipped out like a fucking, little brat, but honestly it’s even more annoying that you’re groveling at my feet.”

Shion’s head snapped up. “I’m not groveling. I’m trying to be contrite. I hurt you, and I—”

“You didn’t hurt me.” Nezumi’s voice cut him off. “You annoyed me, sure. But, hurt me? Seriously Shion not everyone's as soft as you are.”

“I’m not soft! I’m not—what I said was rude. Why wouldn’t you be hurt by it?”

“Because it wasn’t you saying it, idiot. And it wasn’t even true regardless. I haven’t slept with half the world, nor would you have the balls to tell my family any of that.”

“So you underestimated me and looked down upon me.”

“If you don’t wanna be looked down on, then don’t do things that'll make people look down upon you.”

Shion bunched his teeth together. “I said I was sorry!”

“And I’ll forgive you if you need it, but seriously Shion, I wasn’t all that worked up over it. You were acting like an idiot and a spoiled brat, and that was annoying. So, I’m glad you’ve come to your senses, and pulled your head out of your ass.”

“You know, for a person who I said such terrible things to, you make it awfully hard to not want to keep saying even more rude things to! How are you so haughty? Haven’t you ever said the wrong things to someone out of jealousy? Or anger? Wasn’t it you, who told me to let myself feel it? And now I’m this ridiculous child who you look down upon when I do. I said I was sorry, and I still am, but goddamn it, Nezumi, I’m not just someone you can keep insulting all of the time. I’m allowed to make mistakes and I’m allowed to learn from them, and I’m allowed to have stupid moments, without you holding them against me.”

“I’m not holding anything against you.”

“The hell you aren’t!”

“I said you were acting like a child, and you were. That’s it. I’m not holding anything against you.”

“But you looked down on me! You said so!”

“No, you put those words in my mouth.”

Shion stuttered to a halt. “I did not.”

“I said, I knew that everything you were saying was out of emotions and not something you were really meaning. You took that as me looking down on you.”

“But—but weren’t you? You said you couldn’t believe I acted like that.”

“And I still can’t.”

“Then how is that not looking down at me?”

“It’s calling out a behavior, idiot. Not you as a person. Geez.”

“Well,” Shion searched for words, not ready to admit defeat. “Well, you should stop being cruel to me all of the time. You’re always teasing and taunting me, how the heck am I supposed to know that you’re not criticizing me but my behaviors? It certainly doesn’t sound that way to me.”

“That’s ‘cause you’re an idiot.”

“And you’re a rude jerk.”

Nezumi just stared at him, neither spoke, silence engulfing them.

“Yeah,” Nezumi said out of the blue. “I am. I told you that since the beginning.”

“And I told you the solution was simple, just not be one.”

Nezumi sighed. “It’s like you being an airhead, it’s not something I can fix.”

“If that’s so true, why are you trying to help me all of the time? You’re not practicing what you preach. Either that, or you can’t see that in yourself?"

Nezumi grabbed Shion up by the shirt. “Are you calling me a hypocrite?”

“Maybe. But not if you can’t see it. Then it means I can see a side of you, you can’t.”

Nezumi was so close to him that his scent invaded Shion’s nostrils and was starting to calm Shion down.

“You can barely see yourself, how the hell do you think you can see me?”

“I don’t know. I just can.” Shion held eye contact like a bloodhound, and refused to let go.

Nezumi’s hand on his collar pulled him closer. “You don’t know anything about me.”

Shion nodded. “Yes, in a lot of ways you’re still mysterious to me, Nezumi. But in others, I know more about you than you think, and maybe more than you know about yourself.”

Nezumi snorted.

“You like to mock people, you’re a complete slob, and you read more than just about anyone I know.”

Nezumi snorted. “How the hell is this something I can’t see?”                      

“You hide behind that wall of yours. You barely let anyone in, family included. You don’t hide because you're afraid to get hurt. It’s more than that; you hide because you feel you’ve nothing left to give.”

“Shut. The fuck. Up.” Nezumi’s whisper was soft and dangerous.

“That’s why you are rude to people. You hope to push them away first, so they won’t see that underneath it all, you are tired and drawn thin.”

“I’m warning you Shion.”

“But that is where you are lying to yourself. Or is it that you just can’t see it? You’re not unable to give back. You just don’t realize this. You still think you’re fragile and about to break.”

Nezumi’s hand tighten on Shion’s collar, lifting him off of the ground so that Shion had to go on his tip toes.

“And that’s it, isn’t it? You’re starting to realize that you do have a lot to give. That you do want people in your world, and that scares you. I scare you.”

“Why the fuck would I be afraid of someone like you?”

“Because I got inside of you. I was able to do so. The only one who was able to, it seems. I got inside and I saw what you don’t even want to see.”

“And what is that?”

“That you are ready to let people in now, Nezumi. That you are healed, and ready to move on.”

“And why the hell would that make me afraid? And afraid of you?”

“Because you don’t want to let yourself move on, Nezumi. You want to mourn forever. You feel guilty for being alive when your family is not.”

“Shut up.”

“You can get angry at me, you can yell at me. But that doesn’t change the fact that you fear me because I have noticed this too, and I validate it, and you don’t want to see it, but I do, so that means now you’ve got no choice but to see it.”

Letting go of his collar with one hand, Nezumi drew back his fist ready to punch.

Shion didn’t struggle. “Hitting me won’t change your reality, Nezumi.”

Nezumi tightened his grip on Shion’s collar. Letting out a low yell, he made to punch Shion’s chest, but he didn’t hit him. Instead he grabbed his shirt, bunching up the fabric. “Fucking, idiot. I thought you were apologizing.”

Nezumi rested his head on Shion’s shoulder.

Shion hugged him, but remained silent.

“I’m not ready to move on; I can’t move on. Not until it’s over, Shion.”

“What’s over?”

The sound Nezumi let out was between a laugh and a sigh. “I don’t know. This feeling, guilt, my life maybe.”

“Well, that’s probably where you are going wrong.”

Nezumi scoffed. “You think?”

“Yeah, because you’re already giving back. You’re no longer at a place where you’ve got nothing to give. You think you’re still there, but you’re not. You just can’t see it.”

“I can see it.”

“Hm?”

“I see you.” Nezumi pulled back and held Shion's gaze. “You’re right. I am afraid of you. You’re different. Fucking persistent. You drew me out of my cave, and you did it so subtly. You are such a pushy bastard. And now I’m out in the open, I don’t feel I should be. It’s not right. They should be here—she should be here. I shouldn’t just go on with my life like nothing’s happened.”

“But you don’t, and you won’t. You always keep them near, but now you’re doing that out in the open. Your family, they already see you. You aren’t completely hidden. They see all sides of you, and now I do too, because you let me in. You've been out living life, enjoying it long before I came into the picture. I just made you realize this, and that scares you.”

“Terrifies me.”

“Well, I am a red demon, with red eyes and all.”

Nezumi smirked. “Idiot.”

“Yeah, I guess I am in a lot of ways.”

“And in others you’re too damn smart.”

Shion smirked, and rested his head against Nezumi’s. “So?”

“So?” Nezumi had closed his eyes, sighing into the moment. Neither of them in a hurry to move.

“Do you forgive me now? Are we back together?”

Nezumi smirked, before his smile grew into a laugh. “Since when were we broken up?”

“Does…? Well, does that mean we’re a couple? Like boyfriends?”

“Okay, now that sounds weird. Boyfriends?” Nezumi laughed before he sobered up. “Do you want to be?”

“What kind of question is that? There’s nothing I want more!”

“You really are an idiot.”

“But I’m your idiot?”

Nezumi smirked. “My idiot boyfriend?”

Shion’s smile turned soft. “Yeah, your idiot boyfriend.”

Chapter Text

Given the frequency Shion visited the Gypsy camp, he became less of a guest and more of a resident, so he helped out with chores. After dinner, Nezumi washed dishes in a large outdoor sink that looked like the ones found in camping grounds. Shion held a hand towel waiting to dry them.

“Nezumi?”

“Hm?” Nezumi scrubbed a pot with a large bar of homemade soap. Shion later found out that Sasori’s wife and two of Nezumi’s other aunts made these and sold them at markets.

“Gonna ask that question? Or did I lose you to Shionland?”

“It’s your hands, see?” Shion put his hand over one of Nezumi’s and stilled his scrubbing.

“What about them?”

“They’re so elegant. Everything you do is elegant. It’s beautiful.”

“Shion.” Nezumi stopped washing and shoved Shion’s hand away. “What did I tell you about saying embarrassing shit?”

“Hmm?” Shion cupped his chin. “To keep doing it? That it makes your tummy all fluttery! Gives you—mmgh!”

Nezumi’s wet, soapy hand covered his mouth. “Yeah, that’d be about the opposite of what I said, brat.” He smirked. “Hey, maybe washing your mouth out with soap will fix it?”

“Mmmmh,” Shion grabbed at Nezumi’s hand, but Nezumi’s grip was too good.

“Sooo?” Nezumi grinned in triumph. “Think you’re gonna do as I tell you and quit it with the embarrassing crap? Or do I have to cover your mouth all night?” There was an undercurrent to his words and Shion shivered before he could stop it. “Maybe later,” Nezumi whispered, and then Shion’s mouth was free.

“Yuck! Now I taste soap!”

“I can fix that.” Nezumi cupped some water and flung it at him.

Shion barely dodged it. “Jerk! Now I have to wash soap off my face, if you don’t mind.”

“Hey, I warned you to stop with that crap.”

“Yeah, yeah.” Shion used water to take the soap off, and dried his face with the hand towel.

Nezumi had gone back to washing the pot.

“Nezumi?”

Nezumi exhaled sharply. “Shion? Are you looking to take a shower?”

“No, it’s nothing like that.”

Nezumi gave him an upturned eyebrow.

“Seriously, I just gotta question.”

Nezumi shook his head. “You and your questions. All right, go for it.”

“It’s about Nadya?”

“What about her?”

“Well, Sasori has mentioned this, as has your aunt and uncle and even you have.”

“Which is?”

“Are you really engaged to her?”

Nezumi handed the washed pot to Shion before he grabbed another pot off the top of the stack of dirty dishes piling by the sink. “Depends on who you asked. Ka and Bee? Not sure what they think about it anymore. Bee knows marriage isn’t something I want. And Ka, if he knows me at all, would say the same. But who knows, he might still have that idea.”

Shion nodded.

“Ask Sasori or Lyra, and of course, we’re practically newlyweds.”

“And you?” Shion met Nezumi’s eyes.

Nezumi snorted. “Of course not.” When Shion failed to respond Nezumi said, “Besides, you’ve got nothing to worry about even if I did want her—which I don’t. Grant you she’s beautiful, but marriage? No, thank you. But as I was saying,” Nezumi continued, “you don’t have to worry about anything ‘cause even if I did want it, Nadya doesn’t.”

“What?”

“Nadya doesn’t like me that way. She doesn’t want to marry me, and she sure as heck doesn’t see us as newlyweds.”

“Bullshit.”

“Another swear word, milord? Your present company certainly has worn off on you.”

“What girl wouldn’t like you, Nezumi?”

“I know right? I’m seriously hot.”

Shion’s words died on his lips. “Are you serious? Did you just say that with a straight face?”

“Why not? I’m not joking.”

“Seriously? Never took you for a narcissist.”

Nezumi shrugged. “I happened to have a realistic perception of how I look, and beauty is beauty.”

Shion shook his head incredulously. “You’re unbelievable.” Then he giggled. “I’ve learned another thing about you. That makes me happy.”

“Learning that I’m a narcissist makes you happy?”

“Well, it’s another bit of you that I get to see, get to learn about. Yeah, that makes me happy.”

“Shion,” Nezumi groaned. “You’re doing it again. Want more soap?”

Shion shook his head. “Well, okay then stop telling me I have nothing to fear, when I clearly do.”

“I told you she’s not into me like that.”

“And I told you bullshit, and then I found out how narcissistic you are.”

“Let’s just say no man alive can win her heart.”

Shion’s confusion must have shown on his face.

“She’s gay, Shion.”

“Really?”

“No, I just made that up.” Nezumi shook his head. “Of course, really.”

“How do you know?”

“I caught her with a girl from a neighboring camp.”

“Woah, really?”

“What are you, a gossiping middle school girl?” Nezumi laughed. “Seriously, what’s with the tone?”

“It’s wow…just...wow, I can’t imagine Sasori is going to be very happy about this.”

“Hell no. He’s gonna loose his shit, as always. But I’ve got her back, she knows that.”

“So,” Shion mulled it over. “When you say she isn’t interested, she really isn’t interested? Huh.”

“I know right,” Nezumi leered. “A woman turning down this level of beauty, pretty shocking I know.”

“Shut up before I put soap in your precious hair.”

“I fucking dare you.”

Shion giggled. “Now that sounds like a challenge.”

“It sure as hell does not. I do not want to spend tonight working on my hair.”

Shion snickered. “Seriously, I can’t get over how much of a primadonna you are!”

 

##

After chores were finished, Ava and Hana wanted to play with them again. Nezumi had taken down his hair from his ponytail, and because Hanna and Ava wanted to, had let them make braids. Nadya had helped them put some flowers in it.

It was so adorable how Nezumi was wrapped around their little fingers.

Shion kept thinking about he and Nezumi’s earlier conversation while dish washing. He had learned that Nadya was Nezumi’s betroth according to their parents, even though Nezumi didn’t think as much. But the fact was that to some people, Nadya was Nezumi’s future wife. Shion wasn’t sure how to take that. Nezumi’s reassurance helped a lot though.

“See Hana?” Nadya said, a sweet smile on her lovely face. “You did it!”

“I did it!” Hana chirped. Shion was again reminded of a squirrel.

“And now?” Nadya drew out the words.

'“Now we put see’ons in Nez'mi’s hair!”  *A shion is a purple flower, for ya'll that don't already know that!

“See’ons!” Ava cut in.

Nadya smiled at Shion. “Hmm, do we have any shions?”

Nezumi bowed to them. “Wanna go and collect some with me, my dear ladies?” As soon as he was at their level they both crawled onto his shoulders.

“Yay!” Hanna cried.

“Yay!” Ava chirped.

Nezumi had one girl in each arm, so that they each had a shoulder. “Shion, you coming? Can’t find your flower without you?”

Shion smiled, getting up he held out his hand for Nadya. He was trying to not see her as a threat, especially after what Nezumi had said.

 

Shion and Nadya followed Nezumi carrying the girls into the tall grass. It was so tall, both little girls would be swallowed by it if not for Nezumi holding them on his shoulders. It was so adorable seeing this side of Nezumi.

They had succeeded in finding some purple flowers, which the girls called shions even though they weren’t. But Shion didn’t have it in him to correct them. Nadya had helped Hana and Ava weave the flowers into Nezumi’s hair.

“Can I make one?” Shion asked. Nezumi’s upturned eyebrow and incredulous stare made him laugh.

“Oh?” Nadya teased. “I suppose someone has to make you an official member of our camp.” She had a nice smile. “And well, making bracelets is the most cliché way I can think of.”

Shion grinned. “Well, I have three amazing teachers here to help me.”

“You’re not seriously gonna put something in my hair, Shion?” Nezumi’s annoyed voice was kind of adorable.

“Nez'mi! Nez'mi! See’on has to too!” Hana squealed.

Ava joining her. “See’on See’on!”

“Majority wins,” Nadya beamed. “Sorry, Nezumi. But looks like the gadje is taking a go at your hair.”

Nezumi sighed. “You guys are evil.”

“Yay!” Ava and Hanna were bouncing around, thrilled out of their little minds that Shion would be joining them.

It was quite something to touch Nezumi’s hair like this.

He had pulled Nezumi’s dark strands during fellatio, and ran fingers through them when Nezumi laid on top of him, but he had never touched his hair in this way. He felt unbelievably happy. Nezumi’s eyes found his, and a smile ghosted his lips before he was back fake pouting about his hair, and being too adorable for Shion to stand it. He had to work extra hard at not jumping his lover right in front of Nezumi’s little cousins.

After that, it was chase the fireflies. Nadya holding Ava, with Hana by her side, went out into a clearer part of the field and were trying to catch them. He and Nezumi had found a blanket—Tsura handed it to them when Shion mentioned he wanted to sit down and look at the stars. At first, he hadn’t wanted to take a blanket, but Tsura wouldn’t have it. Shion had an idea it had something to do with their purity laws. But regardless, a blanket was perfect for keeping grass out of his shorts, or other compromising places.

When Shion was unfolding it, he saw it was a quilt, once again handmade by Nezumi’s family. They made everything they used. It was amazing. They were amazing. These weren’t thieves or crooks. These were aunts and uncles who wove intricate designs into fabrics and carved beautiful furniture. Never had a people been so misunderstood then the gypsies, Nezumi’s family.

Nezumi helped him spread the blanket and they both sat down. Shion had barely gotten comfortable when Nezumi laid on his back and put his head in Shion’s lap.

Breath left him taking with it all of his words and thoughts, only feelings, sensations remained. Nezumi was warm, and his hair was silky, and he was breathing, his heart beating, his scent intoxicating. So beautiful, so intricate, Shion had only one word for what he was feeling: love.

The fireflies danced in the sky, before they would settle on the ends of the stalks, giving the tall blades of grass mini lanterns. Nezumi’s head was warm against his thighs. The blanket underneath was velvety, their body heat keeping it warm.

Resting his weight on his hands, Shion gazed up at the stars; twinkling fireflies teased the eye like the stars were playing in the heavens.

“Nezumi,” Shion said, “Ever wished on a star?”

Nezumi snorted. Looking up at Shion, Nezumi smirked, “Please tell me you’re not planning on singing Wish Upon a Star?” Shion snickered. “Don’t.”

Shion's smile softened. “When I was younger, my father’s family had wanted me to come and stay with them.” Nezumi’s teasing smile faded. “I later found out that they weren’t the ones who offered, rather my father wanted to have my mother examined so he needed somewhere to store me. Needless to say his family didn’t want me there. Most of the time they kept me in my room, saying that they didn’t want me roaming around the house and breaking things. They didn’t want me outside much either, saying I could get lost or in some other way cause trouble.” Bitterness laced Shion’s smile. “Let’s just say, I became very familiar with that room. My favorite parts of my time staying there were at night, when I looked out my window and could see the stars. My dad’s family had a large estate and didn’t have a lot of light pollution, so the stars were really breathtaking.” Shion looked up at the stars. “I used to wish on those stars.”

“What did you wish for?” Nezumi’s mesmerizing gray eyes were a night sky all on their own.

“That I could go home. That I could see my mom, Safu.”

Nezumi trailed his fingers down Shion’s cheek. “Looks like your wish came true.”

Shion gently touched Nezumi’s hair. The strand that Nadya made was the only professional looking braid. It was intricate and delicate looking but actually pretty woven in, flowers and threads making it beautiful. Hana and Ava’s were both loose, wrapped with big ties. The girls were adorable though, how their gray eyes lit up in triumph. Nezumi had been impressed, and complimented his little cousins.

Then there was Shion’s. He had used a combination of blue, purple and gray threads. He was leaps and bounds beneath Nadya’s skill, but there was something painfully intimate about holding Nezumi’s soft lock of hair, weaving thread through it. Like he was leaving something with Nezumi, something for him to remember him by.

“What’s going on in that absentminded head of yours?” Nezumi’s teasing tone was tender, and sweet.

Shion smiled fondly. “Just thinking that I’ve been lucky.”

“Oh?”

“That wasn’t the only time I’ve looked out my window and wished.”

“And what did you wish for the second time?”

Shion shifted his weight so he was no longer leaning back, and spread his arms wide—like he was flying, or welcoming the day—and looked up at the sky full of stars, smiling.

“Freedom.” The wind rustled his hair. “So it was like my last wish, both times I wished for freedom. This time it was just a different kind of freedom.”

“And you got that wish too?”

Shion looked down, and lovingly ran his fingers over Nezumi’s cheek and into his hair, taking his braid. Playing with it. Feeling the contrast of silky hair and coarse thread. “Yeah.”

“I’m glad.” Nezumi smiled and he caught Shion’s hand. His other hand cupped Shion’s neck and brought him down until they met in a chaste kiss.

Shion glanced down for a moment before he tipped Nezumi’s chin up and deepened their kiss. He was surprised Nezumi let him and didn’t try to take the lead like he normally did. But this time Nezumi seemed content to lay in Shion’s lap and receive everything Shion offered.

Shion used very little tongue, relishing in supple lips against his, moistening them, tasting him. Nezumi sighed into the kiss. Shion’s arousal spiked, intensifying their kiss, turning it heated.

“Nezumi,” he whispered, he pulled Nezumi close with a hand on his chin the other supporting his head.

Suddenly giggling came from over their shoulder.

“Oooooo, Nez'mi and See’on!”

“See’on! Nez’mi!” Ava echoed her sister.

“Ooooo,” Hana giggled. “Nez'mi and See’on are kissing!”

Nadya was behind them with a wicked grin on her face. Shion was glad it was nighttime because he must have looked redder than his ruby eyes. Looking down he also found Nezumi blushing. Nezumi smirked to rid himself of some of the embarrassment as he got up out of Shion’s lap.

“Why you!” Nezumi charged the girls, who took off giggling. Nezumi purposefully gave them a head start before he chased after them.

Nadya sat down on the blanket next to him. Her smile still there. Shion blushed hard.

“Well, looks like Nezumi and I were properly paired up after all.”

Shion looked over confused.

“I’m sure Nezumi has told you about my orientation.”

“Oh, yeah, right.”

“I knew since I was seven years old. Believe it or not.”

“Well, I don’t know if I’d call Nezumi gay or anything. He has been with a lot of women.”

“And men too.”

“Oh.” Shion looked over at her. Had she really known about her father and Nezumi’s relationship? No…that couldn’t be right?

“I used to tell myself that it was my trump card if da and dya really did try to force me into marriage.” Nadya shook her head. “But I couldn’t do that to Nezumi. He has always been there for me. I couldn’t reveal something that might get him in trouble, too. And of course, da may be gruff and really unfriendly to those who aren’t family, but he’s still my father.”

“So, you knew?”

“And by the sound of it, so do you.”

Shion nodded. “I can’t believe how angry I got at Nezumi for it.” After he said it, Shion wondered if he had made a mistake. This was Sasori’s daughter after all.

“I know what you mean. When I first saw them, I was so mad. Mostly at my dad, ‘cause what about my mom? But at Nezumi, too. Though, I shouldn’t have been so surprised. We all know da favors Nezumi.”

“You mean you and your brothers?”

Nadya nodded.

“Before da married dya he was in love with Nezumi’s mother. He wanted to run away with her. But, in the end, she married Nezumi’s dad. I’m not sure she ever returned da’s feelings. He won’t talk about it obviously. Ironically though, Nezumi’s mom eventually did leave, but not with him.”

This was the first time Shion had heard something like this. Sasori had been in love with Nezumi’s mother?

“Da once said that sometimes when he looks at Nezumi it’s like Jaelle is alive again.”

“And that’s why he pursued Nezumi?”

“That’s my guess. Even before they, you know, my da always favored Nezumi. My older brother wanted to learn to fight, but da was always busy teaching Nezumi. Da said Durril didn’t have the knack for it, and that’s why he didn’t teach him. Isao never wanted to fight so that worked. And he has always looked up to Nezumi, but Durril… This is why I am fairly confident that I’m the only one who found out about da and Nezumi.”

“And I take it your mother doesn’t know.”

“Goodness no! She’d have cooked my dad in one of those pots by now.”

Shion chuckled.

“They were arranged. I’m sure they care about each other, but she’d have to be blind to not notice how he loved Nezumi’s mother.”

“Sorry,” Shion said. Nadya looked confused. “I imagine this has been hard for you. So, I’m sorry for your pain.”

Nadya smiled. “You’re sweet,” she tittered. “Too sweet for Nezumi!”

Shion laughed.

“Oyi!” Tsura’s voice called from down the hill. “The fire’s up! Come on back!”

Nadya gave him a smile and the two of them collected the blanket and headed over to the large fire pit in the center of the camp. The fire wasn’t the only light. Sticks of burning incense lit the surrounding area making it warm and visible.

Nezumi came out of the tall grass, Hanna on one shoulder, Ava the other. Hana was having a serious conversation about clouds being marshmallows and if so, how could she get some.

Tsura laughed. “Right here! Picked one up out of the sky, just for you.” She had a roasting stick and had threaded a marshmallow on it for Hana. Nezumi put both of them down and they bounded over to Tsura.

“Not too fast, girls, around the fire.”

“Sorry bee,” Hana said.

“Sowy bee,” Ava echoed.

Shion couldn’t believe how adorable those two were.

“Shion, want one?” Nezumi sifted through a collection of sticks.

Shion nodded. “Sure.”

“Nezumi!" Kash complained. "I was doing that!”

“Well, not my fault your ass left.” Nezumi smirked. “I could always throw you yours, can’t promise it won’t end up as kindling though.”

“Stupid jerk!”

“Kash, Nezumi,” Tsura sighed. “Just pretend you like each other. Just for tonight.” She and Sasori’s wife were talking. Another one of Nezumi’s aunts was making popcorn over the fire. The uncles sat in chairs some ways away from the fire, the kids playing in between them and the women, who were closest to the fire, scolding any child who wasn’t sitting properly by the fire.

Shion wasn’t used to having this much family around. Most nights, he and his mom just turned on Netflix. They had never gone camping. He still loved watching TV with his mom. Monday nights played their show. And reruns of some classics were the best to watch with his mother.

Nezumi whacked Shion on the back of the head playfully. “Not good to space out by a fire.”

“Ow.” Shion rubbed his head. “I wasn’t spacing out.”

Nezumi gave him a look that said yeah right.

“Okay, but I was thinking, too. I mean, I’ve never been camping before. And I was thinking that this was what it would be like to go camping.”

“Well, milord, sit on down, looks like I’ve got a lot of ground to cover.” Nezumi patted the floor next to him, and Shion sat down. The heat from the fire warmed his face and every so often he had to look away to cool down his skin.

“Ok, marshmallow.” Nezumi held up the marshmallow. “Goes on the stick, not too close to the end, so you’ve enough room to hold it. And make sure you stick it through the middle or you’re gonna feed the fire.”

The firelight danced off Nezumi’s face and Shion was captivated. Nezumi was so unbelievably beautiful. Even in mockery there was no one more enchanting.

“Earth to Shion.” Nezumi snorted. “Don’t go crying when your marshmallow gets eaten by the fire.”

“No, I was listening.”

Nezumi raised an eyebrow.

“I was. Only a little distracted, but not enough that I didn’t hear what you said. I have a good memory, remember?”

Nezumi smirked. “Not like I could forget that one.”

“Well, it gets me out of trouble in times like this.” Shion’s smile spread.

“Idiot.”

Shion recalled Nezumi, images of Nezumi lined the walls of his mind.  He followed his instructions as best he could.

Nezumi gave a low whistle. “You really have honed your craft, milord.”

“Keep quiet, palace slave, unless you want to get me another marshmallow.”

“Not here, Shion. Save all that for the bedroom.”

Shion went completely red. Isao and Nadya cracked up along with Nezumi.

“Nezumi!” Embarrassed as all hell, he fumed. “You jerk! Next time I’ll roast you on a stick!”

Nezumi laughed. “Now you wanna roast me, kinky, Shion.”

Shion shook his head. “You’re impossible.”

Nezumi smiled at him. “Not really.” He tugged Shion’s shirt to bring him closer and whispered, “You can have me.” Shion swallowed. “Just not in front of the kids.”

Shion didn’t think he could blush any further.

“Nezumi, keep a proper distance from the fire, will yah?” Tsura shook her head. “If you fall in, you’ve no one to blame but your dumb ass.”

“Sorry, Bee.” Nezumi didn’t sound sorry at all.

“Sorry, Tsura.” Shion felt the need to apologize as well.

“Not you sweetie, you’re fine. It’s that butthead who’s gonna cause an accident.”

Nezumi smirked. “Me? I’m the epitome of graceful according to this guy. So, there’s no way I’d fall into the fire.”

“Nezumi!” Was it possible for him to get any redder? Shion had no idea, but from the burn of his skin he must have rivaled an apple tree at this point. Stupid Nezumi.

The strumming of a guitar came from over his shoulder. Spinning around, he found three of Nezumi’s uncles holding guitars.

“Da!” Hana clamped her little hands.

Ava echoing her. “Pay! Pay!”

Stefan strummed a few chords, before it formed a lively tune. Upon closer inspection, Shion noticed that one guitar, held by Hanzi, was not a guitar at all, but a mandolin.

When Stefan made it to what Shion guessed to be the chorus, Lyu, Sasori’s wife started singing. Her voice was a low alto, the tambour deep and clear. Another voice joined in, this one soprano. Nadya sang with her mother. Their harmonic voices sounded like one voice, singing in different octaves. It was beautiful. This was certainly Nezumi’s family. Shion had been awe struck by Nezumi’s voice when he’d tagged along with Shanelle to her Chorus class. The lyrics the women sang didn’t sound like English, but maybe it was the brisk notes that made Shion unable to follow what they were saying.

The second guitar joined in. Shion recognized the man playing the guitar to be Simon, one of the more distant uncles. He was the man who was responsible for the car repairs, who Nezumi had complained had made him work. Simon only resembled Nezumi by hair color. His eyes were onyx, and his build opposite to Nezumi—where Nezumi was fit, Simon had a round belly. Mechanic grease permanently stained his fingers and nails. After seeing the grease, Shion had more of an understanding for Nezumi not wanting to be involved.

People began snapping their fingers in time with the music, creating a solid beat.

Simon sure could play the guitar! He and Stefan were off sync in a way that sounded so perfect they must have been doing it on purpose. A low thumping joined the snapping. Shion turned to see a rectangular drum, which looked more like a cinderblock than a drum. It kept time nicely, the drumming tapping out a brisk pace. The bounciness of the song had Shion tapping his foot before he realized he was doing it.

A man’s voice sang out. It was Nezumi’s cousin, Daiki (who Shion called Nezumi’s brother for their similar looks), the one married to Em; she was sitting by his side. The three singers started trading the chorus back and forth. The women would start the chorus while Daiki took a verse, then they swapped. The melody fit well together.

“Nezumi?” Daiki called. “Join in!”

“Go on Nezumi, the tenors getting washed out,” One of Nezumi’s aunts said with a laugh.

Nezumi rolled his eyes. “Fine.” He sat up straight, and when Daiki hit the chorus, Nezumi join him.

Shion was transfixed by Nezumi’s voice, the world molded into the picture his song was painting. In his mind, Shion saw flowers and fields. People dancing in colorful skirts and beautiful maidens making the men chase after them, children laughing, and the wind breezing through the fields.

His family’s music was very different than the songs Nezumi had sang at school. Here there was something untamed to the music. Daiki tripped up the second verse, Nezumi pausing and tripping up right along with him. They were laughing, and jumped in to verses midway, improvising if they forgot the words. At some point, they started making up new verses. If they were improvised, then Nadya and Lya were brilliant at adapting. When the girls created a verse of their own, Daiki and Nezumi shared a look before attempting to tackle it, the higher parts ending in a trill. As they echoed it back, Nezumi took on the higher roles (he had a wide range, which was amazing), Daiki would go lower. It was playful and free. Silly. The complete opposite of the formal chorus songs.

The sound of the mandolin rang out. Hanzi had started playing.

Tsura looked back at the men. “Was wonderin’ when you’d chime in.”

“You joining in, sweetie?”

Tsura smiled and jumped in on the next chorus. Aunts and uncles started to participate, each chorus gaining more of them. The verses were still sang only by the original four—Nezumi and Daiki trading off with Lya and Naydathen the rest of the family joined back in at the chorus. Even Nezumi’s cousins had started singing. Kash was next to his father, singing. Luca on the other side, but unlike Kash he wasn’t trying to sing. Shion was too far away to hear Kash’s voice, but he wondered how he sounded. Hana was singing too and it was the cutest sound.

Two aunts had brought in instruments. One was a wooden flute, no doubt made by the family. The other was a sitar? Shion looked again. It really was a sitar. Hearing the sitar with the mandolin made the music sound even more Indian.

Some of his family were silent. Sasori being one of them. And his two sons as well.

Nezumi’s grandmother, Lala—she had asked him to call her Daj—was sitting at the center, so far very quiet. She was the epitome of serenity as she looked around at her children and grandchildren, a gentle smile of adoration on her face. Shion again couldn’t help thinking she was magical. Maybe Nezumi was wrong and his grandmother really was ethereal? The old man next to her, Nezumi’s paternal grandfather was nodding to the music but not singing.

When the last strings of music rung out, and started to fade, Daj began to sing. It was a melancholy song, almost mournful. Her voice tugged at Shion’s soul. It was pure and beautiful, like the wind itself. This was where Nezumi got his gift.

The air became somber as she sung. On her second verse, the flute accompanied her, Nezumi’s aunt’s eyes closed as she played.

Daj opened her eyes and gestured to Nezumi. He went over to her, and sitting beside her, took up the duet. Shion didn’t have words to describe what he was hearing. So beautiful, almost like he was in another universe where beautiful songs were how people communicated.

Again a picture was enveloping Shion’s mind, now he saw a single night sky above a beautiful lake, lonely, but strong and unyielding. Shion felt the soul of these people, the rejection they found from the places they wandered. Yet the hope in their hearts for peace, for welcoming. The sturdiness of the love of family. Nezumi had taken his grandmother’s hand, leaning their foreheads together they sang, their voices harmonizing. Shion couldn’t tear his eyes off Nezumi. It wasn’t until he felt the trail down his cheek that he realized he had been crying. Quickly he wiped his eyes.

When their last note ended, the family clapped. Shion saw Sasori watching them with a softness in his eyes. He had to look again because soft looks and Sasori seemed to be mutually exclusive. He wasn’t the only one looking at Sasori. Sasori’s eldest son, Darril was watching his father, before his eyes trailed to Nezumi, who was talking to his grandmother.

Only the girl cousins and the aunts started to sing, background music filling in, but the guys held out. Nezumi kissed his grandmother’s forehead and went back over to Shion.

Shion forgot entirely about Sasori. “Wow,” he whispered when Nezumi sat by his side. “Your family is amazing.”

Nezumi smirked. “Well, without TV, we’re seriously lacking in things to do, so, as you can see? We’ve made do.”

Daj started singing again. This song was lively, like the one before. Surveying the group, Shion saw most of the women were singing. A few weren’t. The one who had given him a nasty stare, Chika was not singing but she held her daughter on her lap, and that was when Shion noticed that she was trying to teach her daughter the lyrics.

The music died down, and Shion thought that would be the end of it, but then Tsura said, “Em! Shall we?”

Em’s smile grew as she stood up. Tsura and Em started dancing. The guys now took over singing, the women stopping. But then the women sung in answer to the men. They would trade off. The guys starting something, then the women continuing the song. A few more girl cousins joined Em and Tsura. The song and dance fitted each other perfectly. Shion guessed they were made together.

Nezumi’s beautiful voice carried, and Shion wanted to get lost in it. Scooting closer, he laid his head in Nezumi’s lap. Nezumi looked down at him, and gave him a smile. Seconds later, Nezumi pet his hair with lazy strokes, his movements nonchalant and natural. Shion closed his eyes. He opened them again because the ground trembled a little, and the sight too interesting for him to not take in. Most of the women were dancing, the girls following. Em and Tsura led the dance. Nezumi was right, Em was still beautiful.

An image of Nezumi and her together surfaced in his mind. The firelight played shadows on their naked bodies. Nezumi’s strong arms holding her up, as she wrapped her legs around his waist. Her arms around his neck. Shion imagined the sounds they would make. Her sighs, whimpers maybe? Nezumi moaning. He felt hot, the fire heating up his skin, he wasn’t sure what he was feeling. It should have been jealousy, but it wasn’t. Laying in Nezumi’s lap, Shion watched Em dance, feeling…arousal.

“Daiki!” She called to Nezumi’s brother.

“Ahh, I’m horrible at this. You know Nezumi is the dancer here, I’ve got two left feet.”

“Come on, Daiki,” Nezumi sniggered. “Don’t wanna risk the wrath of Em.”

“You’ll get my wrath, if you say another word!”

Nezumi smirked.

Daiki was right. He was a terrible dancer.

Sasori stood up and offered Em his hand. Shion was flabbergasted when she took it, a smile tugging her lips. Sasori actually could dance. Shion looked up at Nezumi who was watching Sasori and Em with a small smile.

“Nez'mi! Nez'mi!” Hana came over, “Dance wit me! Nez'mi!”

Nezumi sighed. “Shall I indulge the lady, Shion?”

Shion smiled. “By all means.” Getting up he freed Nezumi who took his cousin’s hand.

Daiki was also right, Nezumi was the dancer of the two of them. His little cousin was adorable, trying to follow the steps, Nezumi carrying her at the spinning parts. There was something about the dance that had an ethnic, Hindu flair to it, with the twirls and the taking turns between the guys and the girls. It was like watching a folk version of an Indian dance.

“See’on! See’on!” Ava was in front of him. “Das! Das wit me! See’on!”

Shion smiled. “Well, I’m not that great of a dancer.”

She jutted her bottom lip. “See’on,” she whined. “Pees!”

How could he ever say no to that?

“Of course.” Shion smiled to her. “But you’ll have to teach me the steps.”

“Otey!” Ava’s tiny hand grabbed his. She bounded around trying to match the adults. Shion looked over to Nezumi who had picked up Hana and spun her around. Nezumi’s eyes found him, as if he could detect he was being watched.

Nezumi’s smile reached his eyes. Coming over, he said, “So, what did I tell you? They’ve got you now. You’re never gonna be able to say no.”

“I’d say,” Shion said. “And I really shouldn’t be up here. I’m just floundering around like an idiot.”

“I’d say more like a fish flopping on the ground.” Nezumi’s smile widened. “Hana, Ava, it looks like Shion here doesn’t know how to dance.”

Ava put her hands on her hips. “Dats why hes messin me up!”

Nezumi burst out laughing. “Shall I show him how it’s done?”

Hana and Ava giggled. Nezumi gave him a mock bow.

“Milord.”

“Nezumi,” Shion warned. “I don’t dance.”

“Obviously. Flopping fish, that’s what I said.” Nezumi steadied him with a hand on the small of his back, taking Shion’s other hand ballroom dancing style. “Seriously Shion, thought you wanted to become a camp member?”

Shion grimaced. “I think all I’m doing is providing entertainment.” Nezumi chuckled. The moment they started the song turned mellow. Shion sighed relieved. They had to stop now…or so he thought. Nezumi merely changed flows. And then he was leading Shion in a very tranquil dance. It had an ethnic flare, but also semi-resembled a ballroom style dance.

Nezumi released Shion and directed their hands in a circular motion as if waving at each other, gently guiding Shion's fingers with his own.

Nezumi took Shion under his arms, turning Shion until was in front of him, their arms crossing. “See, flopping’s dying down,” he whispered into Shion’s ear.

Shion shivered. “That’s just ‘cause you’re dragging me around.”

With slow movements, Nezumi spun him around and they were face to face again.

Nezumi smiled at him gently, not teasingly as his usually were. Shion was mesmerized by the way the firelight reflected in Nezumi’s eyes, how it haloed Nezumi’s hair. Shion couldn’t tear his eyes away. Nezumi was the most beautiful person he would ever meet.

Finally the dance ended. Nezumi still held him. “See, no more flopping fish? I’d definitely say you advanced.”

“To what?”

“Dying fish.”

“You’re impossible.”

The music was lively again. Sasori stood before them. His smirk challenging.

“Remember this one, boy?”

Boy?” Nezumi grumbled and took the bait, hook, line and sinker. “I remember you’re doing it wrong, old man.”

“Wrong? I believe you might have been a bit too young to remember this.”

“Fuck no. This is how it’s done.” Nezumi's smirked, challengingly. Sasori had succeeded and Nezumi and he were dancing. It was such a ploy trick, Shion was left gaping. He had only just danced with Nezumi, and now this asshole of an uncle had stolen his boyfriend away.

“You’re the one I want.” He heard Nezumi say, the conversation they shared in the alley of the school returning in his memory, the look of sincerity in those soul-searching gray eyes as Nezumi spoke them. “I don’t want her. I want you. I think about you all the time.”

He was still agitated, but a big smile broke out on his face. Nezumi was his. Nezumi wanted him. Not Sasori. It didn’t matter what that man did, he was in Nezumi’s past. Shion was the present. At that moment, Sasori looked over to him, there was that look of challenge in his eyes, but he faltered at Shion’s grin. Shion didn’t hold eye contact with the man, instead went back to his seat, ready to sit down, when Ava and Hanna dragged him back out to dance.

Chapter Text

Shion had just finished with the last of his homework when his cell rang. It wasn’t a number he recognized, but he picked it up anyway.

“Shion, take a shower and meet me outside a few places down.”

“Nezumi?” Shion said. “How did you get my number? Wait a sec, you have a cell phone? Thought you didn’t like those?”

“Borrowed it, and you gave me your cell number.” Nezumi smirked, “Don’t tell me you forgot?”

Shion hadn’t forgotten. He had followed Nezumi a good portion of the day and had finally gave him his number only to discover that Nezumi didn’t carry a phone. At first, he had thought Nezumi was lying.

“Oh, yeah, I remember.” Shion’s tone grew hazy. “You kept it then?”

“It’s no big deal, I just forgot to throw it out…” Nezumi went silent. “Yeah, I kept it.” His last words soft.

Shion smiled. “I love you.”

Nezumi’s exhale sounded like a laugh. “Obviously.”

They grew silent, Shion listening to the sound of Nezumi’s breathing.

“Anyway, shower. Meet me outside your house at ten.”

“Ten? My mom won’t let me go anywhere at ten?”

“So don’t tell her.” Nezumi’s voice went from teasing to querying. “Okay, when are you supposed to go to sleep?”

“Um…around eleven I guess.”

“And your mom?”

“When I do, we normally watch a show before bed.”

“Okay, then wait until she is asleep and sneak out.”

“Where are we going?”

“Someplace where we can be alone.”

“Oh.” Shion’s stomach fluttered with butterflies. “Okay.” Was Nezumi implying what Shion thought he was? The heady feelings that started from his stomach spread throughout his body, making him lightheaded. “Sure, yeah. Let’s do it.”

Nezumi laughed into the phone. “Idiot.” He spoke the word with endearment, and Shion’s smile grew wider.

“Okay, I’ll shower and meet you around midnight.”

“Sounds good. See yah.” And with that Nezumi hung up.

After one show with his mom, he said he wanted to take a shower and go to bed early. He spent the entire time in the shower daydreaming.

##

Finally, he heard his mother close her door. His heart beat loudly in his chest. He had to wait until she fell asleep else when he opened the front door she would wake up. Around midnight, Shion leaned his ear against her door. He couldn’t hear anything going on within. Now was the time for him to meet Nezumi.

Sneaking out of the house, trying to open and close the front door as gently as possible, Shion looked for Nezumi’s truck. Sure enough, there it was parked three houses down. It was where they had stopped that night, the first time they had had sex. Tonight, they were going to have a different kind of sex. Shion bit his lip, noticing he was trembling as he made his way over to the truck.

Nezumi leaned over and opened the door for him before he had a chance to do it himself.

“Hey.”

Shion smiled. “Hi.” He stood there for one awkward second, until he climbed in. He didn’t stop at the seat, but instead leaned over and kissed Nezumi. Nezumi’s long, agile fingers felt wonderful in his hair, petting him, massaging his scalp.

When they needed air, they broke apart.

“Come on,” Nezumi whispered against his mouth. “Let’s go.”

Shion closed the truck door and Nezumi started the engine. They drove in silence for the first five minutes, Shion looking out the window, feeling the heat of Nezumi nearby, smelling his alluring scent. Lips tingling with remembrance of their kisses.

“So, um, where are we going?”

Nezumi smirked. “Are you afraid?”

“Of you?” Shion said. “No, ‘course not.”

“Not of me, airhead,” Nezumi smirked. “Although, maybe you should be afraid of me.”

Shion laughed. “Yeah right.”

Nezumi grabbed Shion’s knee. Shion inhaled sharply.

“So, are you?”

Shion bit his lip. “You know I am. You can feel it.”

“Yeah.” Nezumi’s tone was soft. “You’re trembling.”

“Right.” Shion had been looking straight ahead, but now he turned to look at Nezumi. The soft look in Nezumi’s eyes held a million promises and emotions, and flooded Shion’s tummy with warmth.

Finally, the truck parked on the side of the road in the middle of the woods. There was a sign out front of what looked like a trail.

“A nature trail?”

Nezumi nodded. “I’ve found a spot where nobody will be bothering us.”

“What?” Shion smirked. “Not interested in giving them a show, palace slave?”

Nezumi looked at him for half a second, before he burst out laughing. “I see there is no stopping you now, huh?” He sighed dramatically in resignation. “Seems tonight I’m at your service, milord.”

The space behind the seat of the truck was small and clearly meant to carry the few things that didn’t belong outside in the back. Inside was a quilt and a small wooden box. Nezumi grabbed both.

“What’s in that?” Shion eyed the wooden box as Nezumi closed the door. Nezumi smirked at him.

“Maybe this palace slave wants to keep his lord in suspense.”

Shion smirked and bit his lip. He followed Nezumi down the trail. With a sky filled with hundreds of thousands of stars, they didn’t need a light. The moon was out in a crescent, dulling out some of the weaker ones, and adding to the natural illumination.

The walk down the trail didn’t seem all that long before Nezumi diverged from the path and led them into a wide-open field. Surrounding it was thick patches of forest, even though the field itself was treeless. Instead the wild grass looked soft, and white and yellow flowers shown in the moonlight.

“Wow.” Shion’s breath taken away by the beauty of it.

“Yeah.” Nezumi led him out into the field. “I found this when I needed to clear my head and thought I’d check out this trail.”

Shion smiled. “I can see, coming here seems like it would do just that.”

“Clearing your head?” Nezumi smirked. “Or spacing out?”

Shion gave him a sour look, rolling his eyes. Nezumi laughed.

When Nezumi had brought them roughly to the center, he spread the quilt on the floor, Shion went about helping him. Nezumi sat down and removed his shoes. Shion assumed that was out of habit, but he did the same, and crawled onto the blanket beside Nezumi, who had just placed the wooden box off to the side on the corner of the quilt. Now that they were here, Shion didn’t know what to do. It felt awkward with nothing to say.

Gentle fingers ran along his cheek. Nezumi’s finger pads were slightly calloused, probably from fighting. Shion closed his eyes at the touch. Nezumi wrinkled the quilt as he moved closer, his body radiating heat. He tilted Shion’s chin up and covered his mouth with warm lips.

Shion sighed into the kiss and grabbed Nezumi’s bicep. The space around them filling up, not with awkwardness, but a heady warmth as their kisses thickened.

Shion leaned closer to Nezumi, resting his weight on his palm. Nezumi was in front of him doing the same.

“You smell clean,” Nezumi said when they broke for air.

“‘Course, you told me to shower.”

“Does milord listen to the words of but a palace slave?”

Shion smiled. “If it’s you, I’ll listen to anything you say.”

Nezumi paused. Shion expected to be mocked but instead he was kissed and then pushed back. He wrapped one arm around Nezumi’s neck and used the other to lower to the blanket. Nezumi didn’t break the kiss once as he laid them down. And when Shion’s back was flat against the blanket, Nezumi leaned over him and held his face, continuing to work Shion’s mouth open with deep, thorough kisses. Shion parted for Nezumi’s tongue as it swiped the seam of his lips.

Nezumi’s fingers went under the hem of Shion’s shirt. Shion sat up, and together they freed him from his clothes.

He didn’t feel self-conscious, even though Nezumi was looking at him, and had called him scrawny. Nezumi’s eyes didn’t look like they found him scrawny now. They were soft and held pools of lust. Shion cupped the back of Nezumi’s neck and pulled him in for a kiss. Nezumi’s startled moan sparked warmth in his tummy. Pleasurable tingles danced up and down his spine. He shivered again, this time making his teeth chatter. He longed to feel Nezumi’s bare skin against his own. His groin ached. He needed Nezumi.

“Nezumi, you too.”

Leaning up enough to remove his shirt, Nezumi yanked it off and tossed it somewhere onto the blanket. Shion sucked in a breath. Nezumi’s alabaster skin appeared soft in the moonlight, his firm body well defined.

When their naked skin touched, Nezumi’s breath hitched. His heat penetrated into Shion’s body.

Shion explored his lover’s skin, fingertips traveling every place he could reach.

He was about to make love to Nezumi.

Nezumi broke away and kissed his chin, trailing down his throat. Shion knew where he was headed, and he tingled with anticipation. Nezumi wasn’t in a rush. When Shion arched his neck back, Nezumi kissed along the pink scar, mouthing Shion’s skin, bringing more blood to the surface, turning it red.

He licked the hollow of Shion’s throat.

“Hmmm, you smell like body wash,” Nezumi’s breath tickled Shion’s skin. “Underneath it all, is your taste. I like it.”

Nezumi lingered on his collar bone and Shion whimpered. His neck always felt so sensitive. Nezumi cupped Shion’s face, making him look down. He devoured his mouth, dominating the kiss. Shion could do nothing but moan, barely able to follow his lead, let alone take control. He raked his fingers into Nezumi’s hair, tugging his ponytail as their kisses turned passionate.

“I want you,” Nezumi whispered, still holding his face, looking into his eyes.

“Please!” Shion moaned into Nezumi’s mouth. His fingers snagged in Nezumi’s hair. Nezumi hissed in pain. “Sorry.”

“It doesn’t really bother me.” Nezumi nibbled Shion’s neck. “So, don’t worry about doing it again, okay? I can take it.”

Shion would have protested if not for the needy look in Nezumi’s eyes. “Nezumi, god, you—mmgh!”

Nezumi silenced him with a kiss. Shion’s heart beat faster. He needed to learn every bit of Nezumi’s creamy white skin. Wanted to mark it with his teeth. Longed to hear his name in Nezumi’s moans. Pushing up against Nezumi, Shion flipped their positions. Nezumi looked a little shocked, a smile creeping onto his face. Shion kissed it off, thrusting his tongue into the warm cavern of Nezumi’s mouth, the little sounds he pulled from his lover drove him crazy.

Breaking their kiss, Shion trailed down his jaw, and then he nipped Nezumi’s collar bone. Small pants escaped Nezumi’s lips. His cheeks flushed, his eyes hooded in arousal.

“Cute,” Shion whispered. “You’re cute.”

Nezumi chuckled softly. “Idiot.”

Shion mouthed Nezumi’s skin, placing soft kisses along Nezumi’s neck. Moaning, he rolled his tongue along the warm skin, before he sucked on it, hard. He wanted to mark Nezumi. He wanted to leave a part of himself on him, never to come off. That last part would not be true, but it didn’t stop Shion from wishing.

“Nezumi, will you let me do you?”

Nezumi cupped the back of his head. With a laugh, he flipped their positions. “Think I’m gonna let a virgin like you near my ass?” He brought Shion in for a kiss. “His highness needs some schooling first.” Shion made a face, about to reply, when Nezumi traced the snake-like scar that ran under Shion’s eye along his cheek.

“I was right,” Nezumi said with panted, soft words. His tone no longer teasing. “It’s charming.”

Shion was captured by those beautiful, gray pools in which he could see his own reflection.

Nezumi pulled back and unhooked the button of Shion’s jeans, unzipping them. Shion started to do the same. Both trying to get the other’s clothes off first, their hands mostly getting in the way and that made Shion laugh, Nezumi smirking alongside him.

“Lift up.”

Shion followed his direction and lifted his hips. In one swift movement, Nezumi freed him from his shorts, pulling his underwear along with it. Shion rested back against the quilt as Nezumi pulled them the remaining way off his legs.

Warm air caressed his skin. His cheeks flushed. It was embarrassing and different to be naked out in the open like this. Instead of focusing on it, he grabbed at Nezumi’s jeans. Nezumi had to get up to remove them, but he did it quickly and with such finesse. Soon he was completely naked before Shion’s hungry gaze.

Nezumi didn’t have much body hair, his chest completely bare. Starting below his belly button, his body hair got heavier, and trailed down like an arrow to his groin. His pubic hair was slightly darker than his normal hair color; it complimented his body handsomely. His cock curved upward and was a shade darker than his skin; arousal making him erect, glistening white precum streaked his shaft.

When Shion looked up, he found Nezumi studying him.

He blushed hard, suddenly feeling very self-conscious. His red scar didn’t mark his genitals, but it was as close as it could be without hitting them, curving down his inner hip.

Nezumi’s eyes contained no mockery. He leaned over Shion’s body, lowering himself down on top of him until their cocks pressed against each other. He slipped a hand in-between their bodies, his fingers brushing over Shion’s coarse, white hairs. He tugged on the curls gently, before he fisted both their shafts. Jerking them at a satisfying pace, his thumb collected precum that pooled from their tips, and used it as coating. He rested his face against Shion’s cheek.

When the clear precum ran along his length, Shion couldn’t help trembling. He hid his face in Nezumi’s hair.

“Shion,” Nezumi whispered. Shion leaned back so he could peer into his eyes. Nezumi smiled at him and kissed him gently, and soon it turned heated.

Breaking the kiss, Nezumi traversed his body, rubbing his cheek against Shion’s skin in the most intimate gesture. He lingered on the red scar that crossed Shion’s chest, before he kissed around Shion’s belly button.

With his tongue he traced the section of Shion’s scar running along his inner hip.

“I wanted to do this to you in that dressing room the first time I saw this on you.” It sounded like Nezumi didn’t realize he was saying this aloud. “I wanted you so much.”

Shion released a breath and savored Nezumi’s words. Nezumi wanted him, craved him by his pleading, desperate tone. Never in his life did Shion feel more special, more loved.

Nezumi’s breath was warm against Shion’s shaft, and when Shion was taken into the heated cavern of his mouth, he cried out and grabbed Nezumi’s head, needing to cling to something. Nezumi didn’t stop him, nor did he seem to mind Shion’s fingers occasionally pulling his hair as they snagged against a tangle.

When Nezumi moaned around his cock, Shion almost came right there.

“Nezumi,” Shion moaned, barely able to get the word out. “I’m not—I’m not…Nezumi, I need you, now.”

Nezumi looked up and pressed one more kiss against the tip. “Don’t let go now, we haven’t gotten to the best part yet.”

Shion was breathing harshly. “Then don’t—don’t make me let go.”

Nezumi smiled and sat up. He reached for the small wooden box at the corner of the quilt. Shion watched him intently. After Nezumi’s heated breath against his skin, the cool air was helping to make his mind clear.

“Daj gave me this lotion awhile back. It’s supposed to ward off evil.” Nezumi sounded like he thought Shion would mock him at any moment. Shion didn’t. How could he mock Nezumi when he was leaving himself so open, so bare, so naked in front of Shion’s eyes.

Nezumi opened the lid. No sooner had it came off when Shion’s senses were washed with the sweet smells of jasmine and pine. Shion inhaled and released a breathy sigh.

“Heavenly,” he whispered.

“Yeah,” Nezumi said softly against Shion’s parted lips. He placed the box next to them and kissed him thoroughly.

Nezumi’s hand trailed down Shion’s body, along his defined hipbone. He scooped a generous amount of lotion onto his fingers, but instead of going to Shion’s ass, he wrapped his hand around both of them again. Shion nearly lost it to the sensations of being held by that warm, slippery hand. The friction had him crying out. The slippery wetness felt amazing against his skin.

Nezumi played with them for a little bit longer before he scooped up more lotion.

He came up to lay beside Shion, his hand going in-between Shion’s thighs. His fingers brushed against Shion’s entrance. Shion whimpered, embarrassed. Nezumi kissed him silent, and Shion got lost in his demanding tongue entering his mouth. As Nezumi’s tongue played with his, Nezumi’s fingers entered him. Spreading him, working him open.

Nezumi played his body like a lute, his long, delicate fingers stroking his insides until they struck something that stoked his pleasure tenfold. Shion’s head fell back against the quilt, breaking their kiss, his mouth opening into a silent scream. He had no control over his moans. Nezumi leaned over him, watching him, gently kissing him. Over his closed eyelids. Along his cheeks. Down his jaw.

Shion lost himself to a world where only Nezumi’s fingers existed. All he could see was colors, shapes, sounds, pleasure. He swore he saw pleasure behind his closed eye lids.

Nezumi’s fingers stopped. He crawled over him and aligned their cocks, stroking them together in a tight fist, making them both moan. He angled against Shion’s entrance, pressing his thickness into Shion’s body.

Shion grew fearful. He clung onto Nezumi’s shoulders. He wasn’t sure something as big as Nezumi could fit inside his tiny entrance.

“Nezumi?” Shion whispered like a kid about to reveal a secret. “I’ve never had anyone before.”

“Idiot.” Nezumi smiled playfully, “Like I didn’t know that.”

Shion tried to relax but he couldn't stop shivering.

“Shh, it’s okay. I’ll be as gentle as I can.” Nezumi kissed his brow, and Shion closed his eyes as kisses trailed over his eyelids and down his nose. “I won’t hurt you. I promise.” Nezumi covered Shion’s mouth with his own.

Shion broke away; Nezumi mere breaths from giving him another kiss. “Wait, Nezumi. Don’t we need a condom?”

“I don’t get sick. I mean, my blood heals…”

“Oh right.” Shion remembered how the doctor had said that his body seemed completely cleansed of all past viruses and held no trace of the one that had infected him. “Yeah, okay.”

“Now just relax.” Nezumi’s smile was one Shion hadn’t seen before. Gentle and reassuring. He savored it and pocketed it—yet another beautiful memory of the one he loved.

Shion took a breath, trying to calm himself and do what Nezumi was requesting.

Nezumi kissed him again, and his fingers were loving as they cupped his chin and massaged his cheek, his thumb brushing over Shion’s bottom lip.

“Okay, do it.” He wanted Nezumi inside of him. Wanted to know what it felt like. He wanted Nezumi to take this part of himself. To be the person who took his virginity.

Nezumi entered him in a smooth, confident manner.

Shion sucked in a breath and Nezumi paused. “Shh, it’s okay. You can take it. Just relax.” Nezumi smirked, “I’m gonna make you feel amazing.”

Tingles danced down Shion’s spine making him shiver and then relax, and that was all that was needed for Nezumi to go further inside of him.

Shion was being spread open, stretched to the brim. He let everything he was feeling escape as a moan. His grip slacked on the blanket, his head lolling back. A myriad of emotions and sensations drowned out his reality. His insides inflamed. Pain and pleasure warred for dominion. His back arched against the quilt. A silent scream on his lips. The stars blurred, his eyes barely registered normal sight.

It was quiet, and Shion opened his eyes. Nezumi looked at him with flushed cheeks, his bottom lip parted.

“God Shion,” he whispered, and it sounded like surrender. “You’re beautiful.”

Pushing all the way in, Nezumi lowered himself on top of Shion, pinning him between the earth and his body with just the right amount of weight.

Shion shut his eyes. Nezumi settled into him, embracing him firmly as they combined into one. His hands cupped the back of Shion’s head, supporting him, holding him close, elevating him to another plane of existence consisting of only them two.

They rested, both panting.

“Shion? Shion, look at me.”

Shion peeked at Nezumi, before he was trapped in his lover’s deep, gray gaze. He felt himself trembling, but it may have been Nezumi. Right now, there was no divide between them. He brought his hands up to hold Nezumi’s face.

“Are you okay?” Nezumi brought their foreheads together, before he nuzzled his nose.

Shion nodded, breathy. “Yeah, you’re inside me.” Those words felt incredulous and beautiful.

“Yeah.” Nezumi kissed him softly. “Can I move?” Shion thrust his hips and Nezumi groaned. “Please?”

Shion nodded. “Yeah, move…go.”

Still holding eye contact, Nezumi started to move, creating little thrusts that were slowly killing Shion’s rational mind. Moaning, Shion's body heating up, pleasure overload—along his back, into his tummy, across his fingertips, down to the tips of his toes, behind his closed eyelids.

“Nezumi…” Each thrust melted Shion's mind further into mush. “Ahh…”

“Like it?” Nezumi grunted in pleasure, his whisper sounding more like a pant.

“Yeah,” Shion's voice broke, “God...yeah…!”

Nezumi thrust deeper, quicker, and all Shion could do was fall apart in Nezumi’s arms.

Hot, wet pants reverberated in Shion’s ears, all the little sounds Nezumi made, drove Shion crazy.

Nezumi rocked into him; the friction stirring up something wonderful inside him. His entire body vibrated with pleasure the more Nezumi worked him up.

“God…ahh, Nezumi!”

Nezumi’s breaths spilled into moans when he picked up speed. Shion clutched the back of Nezumi’s head. His other hand gripped Nezumi’s shoulder, digging his fingers into his skin.

He could barely hold on, so high on Nezumi’s spell. “Nezumi! I’m—!”

“Close?” Nezumi’s word pained.

It was Nezumi’s moans that finally tipped Shion over the edge. Nezumi crying out his name, freely enjoying Shion’s body. Seeing Nezumi’s lips parted, his eyes closed. Feeling Nezumi holding him tightly, supporting his head. Shion gripped Nezumi’s shoulders tightly, his fingernails breaking skin as he fell over the edge. Whitewashed in pleasure-pain, arousal and release, Shion spilled his cum all over their joined abdomens. His mind shattering into tiny fragments of reality. There might have been tears of release rolling down his cheeks, for they felt damp.

Nezumi’s features strained, and it was the most beautiful sight Shion had ever witnessed. Inside him, Shion felt wetness. Part of Nezumi was now inside of him, the thought making Shion’s heart ache.

Nezumi collapsed on top of him, breathing hard. Shion hugged him in a protective manner. An overwhelming need to protect Nezumi surged inside him. He always wanted to be by Nezumi’s side, experiencing life with him. All of it: happiness, excitement, anger, sadness, fear, anxiety, love, lust. Shion wanted it all.

They held each other for what could have been a lifetime. Soon the sounds of crickets began to drown out their heavy breathing.

Nezumi leaned up, and brushed Shion’s sweaty hair off his forehead. His movements gentle, loving, causing Shion to tear up—water droplets glistening on his eye lashes.

“I love you.” Nezumi spoke the words softly.

Shion swallowed. Before, Nezumi had said this only in reply to Shion’s words. He never initiated, nor had he maintained eye contact then. This was big. Shion captured those three little words and hid them in a safe place in his heart—where no one could hurt or take them away. He hugged Nezumi tighter, more tears prickled his eyes as emotions overwhelmed him.

“I love you too,” he whispered into Nezumi’s damp, sweaty hair.

Nezumi smiled, caring. “You okay?”

Shion sniffled.

“Shion.” Nezumi’s tone both compassionate and chastising. “Don’t cry.”

He wiped Shion’s tears with his thumbs. The motion gentle, intimate, making Shion feel cherished.

“I’m not...” Shion let out another sniffle.

Nezumi smiled, “Yes, you are, Shion.”

Shion shook his head. “Well, it’s your fault.”

“My fault?”

“Yeah. You made me happy.”

 

##

That night after Nezumi dropped him off back at his house, Shion lay awake in bed staring up at the ceiling, watching the fan spinning. A small smile played on his lips. He could still feel Nezumi touching him, moving inside him, moaning out his name. He wanted Nezumi to sleep next to him.

He didn’t want to be apart right now. He wanted to hold Nezumi close, kiss his forehead.

He remembered that time they fell asleep in Nezumi’s bed. How Nezumi had hid his face in Shion's neck. He never thought Nezumi would sleep like that. Free of stoicism, Nezumi no longer hid behind mockery. He had been as raw and honest as the condensation hitting Shion’s neck as Nezumi breathed.

Remembering the feel of Nezumi in his arms caused his stomach to clench painfully. He choked on a sob. He missed Nezumi terribly. Yet, at the same time, he was so happy and dizzy from the high of arousal, of being in love.

Somehow, he drifted to sleep, yet thoughts of Nezumi were never far from his mind.