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Their Five Stages

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Chapter 1 - Denial

Shion is a person of the past.

Nezumi had lost count of the number of times he has repeated this to himself in the past three years. It wasn't like it was working anyway. No matter what he was doing, Nezumi often caught himself talking to Shion in his mind. He would comment on his journey, the new places he discovered or the people he encountered, imagining what Shion's reactions would have been. When he first realized it, he tried to think of something else every time the white-haired boy popped into his head. But no matter how hard he tried, he had never been able to completely block Shion from his thoughts. After a while, Nezumi had just hoped this would change over time.

Shion is a person of the past.

Repeating these words over and over during all this time was merely a vain attempt to convince himself they were true. Now after 3 years, they had lost their meaning. The words sounded empty, yet somehow their melody was sickening. It was like those songs that become stuck inside your head and drive you crazy.

Nezumi almost let out a sigh but managed to stop himself midway. Looking up, he saw that he had arrived where he wanted. There were a few small mountains on the outskirts of No.2, and the one he had climbed was supposed to offer a nice view of the city and the ocean that lied beyond. Leaving the forest of pine trees he had just gone through, Nezumi settled himself on a huge rock which was overlooking the valley. He took out a few pieces of bread from his pocket and spread them next to him. The two little mice that had been sitting on his shoulder ran down to eat them, chirping happily. Hamlet and Cravat, those were the names Shion had given them. Although he had been annoyed with it at first, Nezumi had eventually gotten used to calling them like that.

Turning his head back towards the valley, he let his feet hang above the edge of the rock and took in the view. The sun was starting to get lower on the horizon and the city of No.2 was bathed in an orange light which almost made it look surreal.

No.2, just as all the other cities he had visited during his travels, was not surrounded by a huge hostile wall like No.6 used to be. It was a warm, welcoming place, with its lot of issues as any big citiy would be… but it wasn't debilitating its citizens, it accepted travelers, and people there were able to enjoy any form of art. If Nezumi used to spend most of his time reading back in the West Block, he had been able to enjoy much more during the past years. He visited museums, went to concerts, watched movies… luxuries that did not exist in the West Block. He had also been able to watch plays in actual theaters, and sometimes even play some secondary role whenever he heard about an audition.

Of course, Eve's success had always been limited to the West Block, and Nezumi perfectly knew there was no way an unknown newcomer would be allowed to start at the top. It didn't matter to him anyway, as he didn't plan to stay anywhere for more than a few months. He was content enough to be able to perform in such nice theaters, where the stage had an actual setting and the actors wore proper costumes. A slight grin formed on his lips as he thought of how Shion would react. The airhead had always been eager to watch him perform and had an unfaltering admiration for Eve's persona… He would probably tell Nezumi not to lower himself to unimportant roles and to fight for a part more fitting his talent.

His smile quickly faded though, as he remembered another side of Shion's personality. Sure, the airheaded boy would probably not beat up a stage manager for something as futile as a role in a play but still… Shion used to be awfully short tempered when it came to Nezumi, and that thought gave him chills.

Why do you even care so much Shion? I don't deserve you losing yourself over me.

The painful memories of what happened in the Correctional Facility were still coming back to haunt him from time to time. Retrospectively, he sure was grateful that Shion's actions had allowed them to stay alive; yet he knew that because of him, Shion would have to live out his life with the knowledge that he had killed another human being. Nezumi shook his head and clicked his tongue. He still hated himself for that… and besides, why was he even thinking about that right now.

The sun had now almost disappeared below the horizon, and the city had started to light up. From here he could make out the main streets of No.2, as well as a few landmarks. When he had arrived, he had found a part-time job at a small library in a quiet area of the city. In exchange for putting in more hours he had been allowed to live in a small room above the shop. The room was really cramped and he couldn't stand up everywhere as it was right under the roof, but it was good enough for sleeping. However, it made him enjoy even more the feeling of freedom brought in by the immense space in front of him.

His gaze lowered a little to look at Cravat and Hamlet. The two little mice were huddled together next to his thigh and seemed to be sleeping peacefully. They were quite old now though… it was actually incredible that they even managed to live that long. Nezumi wondered if Tsukiyo, the one that had stayed with Shion, was still alive as well. Shion would probably be inconsolable when he wouldn't have the small mouse as companion anymore.

With that thought, Nezumi's mind wandered back to Shion and No.6. Part of him tried to wonder whether the white-haired boy would enjoy this view, but Nezumi quickly dismissed this idea with an impatient "tsk". Instead, he aimed his thoughts at No.6… He was curious to know what kind of city it had become since he left. Had Shion been able to manage all the issues inherent to the rebuilding of a city? Did some ill-intentioned people try to manipulate him into giving them more power? Had he been able to stand his ground and not put too much trust in other people? What kind of city would Nezumi find if he came back there? More importantly, who will he find there? Would Shion still be the same person he knew back then? Would he still be waiting for him?

Shion is a person of the past, dammit!

Nezumi was sure his brain honestly believed that Shion belonged in the past. Sure, he would never forget him, or the time they spent together in the West Block… but he had no place in the present. Thus, it really annoyed him that the airhead was still comfortably settled in his mind. Not forgetting someone did not mean thinking about them several times a day, dammit.

I always knew you would be trouble.

"The closer you get, the heavier your shackles become." He had not meant to get close to Shion. If anything, he never wished to get close to anyone. But this guy had a way of capturing you without you even realizing it. He had broken through Nezumi's defenses way too easily, defenses he had spent every minute of his life building ever since the Mao massacre. Getting close to someone, allowing yourself to care for them, this is just the best way to get hurt when that person is eventually taken away from you.

And that's why he had left. Shion did not scare him because he couldn't understand him – no – what scared him was the way he was fascinated by his inability to grasp whatever was going on in Shion's mind. Most of the things the white-haired boy did or said felt completely absurd to Nezumi, and yet it mesmerized him. At some point, Nezumi realized that part of him actually wanted to stay with Shion and observe him. Not only to see how he would handle the reconstruction of No.6, but also to try and understand him… and maybe somewhere deep inside he just wanted to stay with him – although any idea of the sort was quickly dismissed. When these thoughts hit Nezumi, it scared him even more. That's when he knew he had to go. He would not be trapped by anyone. Whatever those feelings were, they had to disappear. Leaving was the right choice. At least, back then, Nezumi was convinced it was.

On the day he had actually left, he had cursed himself mentally for kissing Shion and promised him that their reunion would come. It had not been his brain acting or talking at this moment, and it took all of his willpower to turn away and start walking. He could feel Shion's eyes on his back for what seemed like forever, but he didn't turn back once. Not until he knew he was far enough to not even be able to see the broken walls of No.6.

There were two reasons he had not turned back at the time. For one, he perfectly knew Shion would be crying, and seeing how hard it had been to leave once, he wasn't sure he could handle doing it again if he saw Shion cry. The second reason was that almost as soon as he had started walking he could definitely feel tears running down his face. He was not sobbing; his voice did not catch in his throat… Those were silent, uncontrollable tears that kept flowing for a while. And no one would ever have to know about it.

The cold night wind made him shiver and brought him back to reality. It was time to go back to the city. He carefully took Hamlet and Cravat in his hands and they woke up just enough to settle themselves on his shoulder. It was pretty dark now, but it didn't matter, Nezumi was used to the obscurity. After looking down one last time at the lights of No.2, he turned around and went back in the forest.


Nezumi stopped in his tracks and focused on the music he was hearing. The melody was oddly familiar and he started walking silently towards its origin. Soon, he could make out the light of a campfire with a few people surrounding it – three, to be exact. Two of them were playing some kind of string instrument, and the last one played a steady rhythm on a small drum made of wood and what looked like the skin of some animal. Nezumi had definitely heard this music before, could it be that one of them was the bard he had met close to the playhouse, back in the West Block?

He stepped closer until his face was lit up by the fire. One of the musicians looked up at him and smiled, gesturing Nezumi to sit down. He was almost certain he was the same man as few years back; and it seemed he had recognized him as well. The music hadn't stopped, and as Nezumi sat down, he closed his eyes and started singing. The words came to him naturally, blending in with the melody and echoing throughout the night.

Time seemed to have stopped its course as Nezumi sang along with the musicians. When they stopped, it felt like he had been there for only a moment and forever at the same time. The men took out some drinks and meat that they started to cook on the fire. The one who invited Nezumi to join them turned to him.

"Want something to eat?"
"Do you always welcome people you don't know in the middle of nowhere?"

The man smiled, and spoke again softly.

"You definitely look older, but I do remember you. You're the young one who got into trouble for singing with me."
"Which confirms my first impression. I won't say no to some food then."

One of the other musicians handed him a plate and a glass, without a word. Neither he nor the third man had spoken yet, but their eyes were studying Nezumi intently, which made him a little uncomfortable. They looked much younger than the bard he had met in the West Block, and he wondered if they had only joined him recently.

"So, you finally left that dreadful place. Good for you that you managed to free yourself."
"I got what I wanted. There was nothing holding me back anymore."

Wasn't it?
Shut up.

"It was that city, wasn't it? I heard there was a big incident there three years ago."
"You heard right. The core of No.6 was exposed and destroyed. Now they have the opportunity to start over and build a decent place."
"How can you be so sure that they won't make the same mistakes?"

Nezumi lowered his gaze. Shion was in charge of the restructuration committee. He had seen firsthand the downfall of No.6. He had been downgraded from elite to a lower citizen, only to end up being labeled as a criminal and a fugitive. He had experienced the life in the West Block, and the horrors of the Hunt. There was no way Shion would allow that city to follow the same path again, not as long as he was alive.

"I know the person in charge. I trust him to make the right decisions."

The man didn't answer immediately. His eyes were staring into Nezumi's, as if he was trying to read his thoughts. A slight grin appeared on his lips and there was a mocking tone in his voice.

"Is that so? Good for you then."

Nezumi tensed up a little, and ate his food in silence. When he was done, he put down his empty plate and glass on the ground beside his feet, and stared up at the sky. It was a clear night, and the stars were shining brightly. Memories of another star-filled night came to his mind. That night when Shion had foolishly run to his rescue. The so-called goodnight kiss he had received later. Then, the next morning, when he made him promise never to give him a goodbye kiss again – only to be the one to give him one a few months later. Although technically he had told Shion that it wasn't a goodbye kiss. Truth is, he wasn't really sure what to say back then. He hadn't planned on kissing the white-haired boy, it just kinda… happened.

Before he could realize it, he had let out a long sigh. As his eyes went from the stars to the people around the fire, he noticed that the three musicians were staring at him. He felt really exposed for some reason and decided it was time to leave. He stood up and stretched his arms.

"Thank you for the meal."

He didn't have the time to turn around before the older musician started talking to him again.

"I don't think you've completely freed yourself. Actually, I don't think you can ever be truly free."
"What are you talking about?"
"You were thinking of someone. Probably the same person to whom you entrusted the future of the city you hated."

Nezumi's eyes were growing dark.

"So? If I trust him to do the right thing, then I can leave and do whatever I want."
"That burden you used to carry, it wasn't a small one. To be able to leave it into the hands of another person, it has to be someone special."
"Will you just cut the crap and get to the point?"
"You have ties with that person. You think you're free now, but eventually you will go back to them."

Nezumi snorted.

"What do you know about me to say that?"
"I'm pretty good at reading people. You are still young. Something happened to you before that forced you to grow up earlier than regular kids, but by doing that you closed yourself up emotionally. Still, you managed to let someone into your life and even trust them –"

He didn't want to hear it anymore. Nezumi spoke again before the man could finish.

"I've heard enough. Stop spewing shit about people you don't even know."

He lowered his head, and spoke very low, almost as if he was talking to himself.

"Besides, we're too different. There's no way we could live our lives together."

He turned around, and didn't stop to listen as the musician spoke once again.

"Being different doesn't make things impossible. It makes them interesting."

"Whatever", Nezumi muttered under his breath as he walked away. He was angry at himself for letting someone see through him. Did he soften a bit during the last years, far away from the West Block? Or maybe that guy was more trained at reading people than the average person but still… It really pissed him off.

"Shion is a person of the past." This time, he had said it out loud. He heard an insistent chirp coming from his shoulder. Hamlet seemed to disagree with that last statement.

"What, you think that guy was right?"

Again, Hamlet chirped vigorously.

"Tsk. You just want to see your friend again. Go to sleep."

The mouse let out a jaded sound and stayed silent all the way back to Nezumi's small room. As he entered, he gently put both mice down on the desk next to his bed, and let himself fall flat on his back. He could see the star-filled sky above his head through the roof window. He lied there for a while, replaying the bard's words in his mind over and over again. They were just words, idiotic ignorant words, uttered by someone who knew nothing about him or Shion… but they were haunting him.

He sure trusted Shion, and believed he was someone special. That said, he also believed in leaving the past behind and living however he wanted, going wherever he wanted.

Then… where do I want to go next?

By forcing himself not to go back there, was he really free? He thought back to how often Shion had popped into his mind during the last years. If he was truly honest with himself… He cringed and took his face in his hands. His brain was fighting against something deeper inside him. His brain didn't want to admit it. But somehow, maybe because the musician's words had just triggered something that was there for a long time, or maybe because he had just reached his limit… Somehow, Nezumi decided it was time to stop denying that other part of him.

Maybe… I would probably be ok with the hypothetical possibility of seeing Shion again.
It's a long way back to No.6 anyway.
I can still change my mind if I want to.
I can do whatever I want.

His hands left his face and he sat up. He turned his head to look at Hamlet and Cravat who hadn't stopped staring at him since they came back to the room. He had no idea if they could live long enough to make it there, but some encouragement could only benefit his struggling mind.

"So, how would you like to eat some of Karan's bread again?"

The two little mice chirped happily. Under the pale light from the window, a soft smile could be seen curving Nezumi's lips.

TO BE CONTINUED