Shion's fingers dig into his arm and he is crying. He is crying but denying his tears. Nezumi thinks that now, more than ever, Shion looks like a child. Holding onto the very thing he wants, defying all logic and reasons why it can't be his and still wanting it.
For a crazy second Nezumi wants to give in. Just give Shion what he wants so much; so openly; so desperately. But it is madness and reason quickly cuts through the impossible idea like razor cuts through flesh it hurts, Nezumi notices but dismisses it almost immediately. He tucks away the feeling into the very depths of his black, black heart. They are like day and night, light and darkness, truth and lies and Nezumi can't stay by his side and he knows it but a part of him still wants to and that is exactly why he must leave.
And yet, he is forcing Shion's chin up, making him meet his gaze and kisses him. Tenderly, fiercely, passionately Shion looks sad when he pulls away. Maybe even more than he did before he kissed him. His crimson eyes sparkle with tears he rejects. He asks if that was his 'goodbye kiss' 'It's an oath' Nezumi says, defying all logic and reasons himself this time. He MUST go, he feels it with pressing urgency, with every passing moment, he must get away from this place, from Shion and his tearful, honest gaze he must get away from this madness but he is already promising his return.
Run Run Run you coward
Nezumi turns around and walks away Shion is watching him go and his gaze drills holes at his back. As he keeps putting one foot in front of the other he thinks he shouldn't feel it anymore but the holes go deeper. They are warm, searing hot, eating away at his insides. Nezumi knows Shion can no longer see him but he still feels his distant gaze somewhere deep in his heart. His vision is blurry and he can't breathe properly. It takes him quite a while to realize that he is crying.
He has never hated himself as much as he does at this very moment.
And he knows with absolute certainty that Shion is still standing there. Watching.
Nezumi feels like dead weight. His limbs feel anchored with gravity and he can't even move his fingers. Shion's hands holding onto him feels like sharp knives. Every inch of his body aches and Nezumi can't keep his eyes open. He uses all of his energy to stay conscious and with each second ticking by he feels like he is losing the battle.
Shion pants and swears under his breath. Nezumi vaguely notices that he is crying. He can't determine if they are tears of despair or of frustration. Shion is injured as well and yet he is carrying him. Carrying Nezumi out of hell. There is blood everywhere. On Shion's hands, his shirt, his pants even on his face but Shion doesn't stop to wipe it away. He keeps walking with Nezumi on his back. But the exit is too far away. Nezumi knows they can never make it. Not when it's like this.
He never wanted Shion to see all this. He never wanted him to change. Shion can't die like this Die because of him.
Nezumi uses the final bits of his remaining strength to push words out of his mouth. He is not sure if Shion can hear them, it may well be happening only in his mind. He tells him to escape, to leave him and save himself.
Shion yells at him.
Shion calls him an idiot.
Shion tells him to stop joking around He tells Nezumi to not look down on him so much
Shion no you don't understand
You must live.
I can't stand it if you die.
I can't stand it if you die because of me.
There is no meaning in a world without you Shion
Darkness engulfs him
He moves like a flower petal caught up in spring breeze. Nezumi pulls him and shifts and turns with him, his hand on his waist and Shion moves with ease. Surprisingly graceful and unexpectedly apt as he lends his body to Nezumi's lead. He stares into Nezumi's eyes and there is wonder in his expression.
Nezumi's lips move and he hums a cheerful melody. It feels natural and surreal at the same time. Shion glides and Nezumi's room expands around them. It expands under the clear sky and across the land to infinity. Only Nezumi's voice and the sound of their footsteps break the silence. It's an experience unparalleled to anything Nezumi knows of.
His Majesty stares at him, oblivious to the power of his gaze. The soft, snowy locks of his hair catches on the insufficient light coming from the single oil lamp. His grip is secure but not too strong. That's the same hand that pulled Nezumi out of the darkness just moments ago and it is just like how he remembers it from 4 years ago.
Firm but gentle.
Nezumi entwines their fingers and dances with him
Shion is warm
He is always so warm
Nezumi opens his eyes and the ceiling greets him. Aged and bloated wooden girders reach from wall to wall and between them; Nezumi watches tiny dust particles glow like peculiar bioluminescent orbs under the light coming through the narrow gap between the mold green curtains on his right, next to his bed.
It must be around 8 am, he thinks. But it looks like it could be 4 pm too. He simply doesn't care. He hasn't for a while.
Nezumi raises a hand over his eyes and rubs them with his fingers hoping it would clear away the remnants of his dream. But they remain imprinted behind his eyelids. Shion is looking up at him and there is still wonder in his crimson eyes And Nezumi feels like he can feel him in his arms.
His other hand clenches the starched sheets as he desperately tries to fight the illusion. His heartbeat picks up just thinking of him. The hair on his arms stands on its end. His dream crushes over him and Nezumi can't stop it, because he wants to see him. He wants to feel him and run his fingers through his hair. He wants to look into his eyes and see him openly look back at him.
You've gotta be kidding me.
Nezumi throws the sheets off of him and sits up. He wishes all of this was only physical but it isn't and he knows he can't just jerk off and get back to sleep. He knows because it has never helped before. This is something different. Something Nezumi doesn't know how to deal with it. He can't even name the feeling. He can only grimace at the sense of convulsion in the pit of his stomach and the compression in his chest.
Nezumi swings his legs from the side of the bed, ignoring his hard on and rests his elbows on his knees. Looking out through the gap between his ugly curtains he starts humming the same melody in his dream. It is supposed to be a lighthearted tune but with each note Nezumi feels worse. The compression in his chest threatens to overtake his heart and all of this angers him. It's simply frustrating. No that doesn't cut it. He is outraged and he just wants to break something.
Nezumi can hear people walking down the alley his lodging house is located on, talking to each other; some kids playing with a cat they found behind the vegetable crates across the street. His nose picks up the scent of over-baked bread and eggs. He needs to get up, get ready and go to the bookstore he works part-time as a clerk. There will be a shipment of books today from No.4 and he needs to register them and put them away on their new shelves. He'll probably see that cocky old man again exactly at 2pm, pestering him about classics and Shakespeare with half-assed knowledge and wiseacre interpretations, all because he wants to talk to him. Nezumi has known what the old man was looking for the moment he came through the door with a greasy smile and a husky voice, mumbling that he had never seen Nezumi around before and he knows he isn't looking for books. This isn't anything new to Nezumi. He knows a dozen ways to deal with him other than breaking his jaw and rearranging his facial features, most of which doesn't even require violence and can still be equally intimidating but he just doesn't care. He is so sick of it. He is so sick of all of it.
Chirp Chirp Chirp.
Hamlet stares at him from underneath the wardrobe across the room as if asking for permission. Nezumi extends his hand towards him and Hamlet climbs on it in an instant. It has a piece of bread in his mouth and it looks up at Nezumi curiously as if to ask him why he isn't eating.
"I'm not hungry. You go ahead and enjoy your breakfast." Nezumi says and watches the mouse on his leg eat as he strokes its head with his finger.
"Where is Cravat?" he asks after Hamlet finishes.
Chirp, chirp, chirp.
"He is sleeping? At this hour?"
Hamlet looks at him and squeaks slowly.
He is getting old. I keep forgetting they are eventually going to die.
"You keep an eye on him, okay?"
I wonder how Tsukiyo is doing. Though he is in No.6 with an overly worried Shion. He'll probably live longer than any rat in the history, knowing Shion. He'll take Tsukiyo to a veterinary whenever the poor thing does so much as oversleep.
On a second thought, I am even MORE worried about him now.
"Hamlet, do you miss Shion?"
Hamlet's grape colored eyes lock onto Nezumi's grey eyes. It stares at him without moving for long seconds then he slowly chirps.
"Such sentimentality. If I knew naming you would induce such loyalty, I'd have done it earlier myself... What the fuck?!"
Hamlet nibbles at his finger angrily. Although he doesn't bite hard enough to make him bleed, it still hurts.
"You actually bit me."
Chirp, chirp, chirp.
"I don't care he is your friend. You bit me!"
Chirp, chirp, chirp.
"Exactly. Only Shion would care being friends with mice anyway. I don't see why you are so proud."
Hamlet scurries over the bed and on top of Nezumi's shoulder, nuzzling at his cheek, it chirps excitedly.
Nezumi turns to glare at him. Hamlet doesn't budge and stubbornly meets his stare.
"I see where from you learned this nasty streak of shooting back. I am not really a rat you know."
Hamlet jumps down from his shoulder. The mouse looks almost smug when it stares back at him before disappearing under the wardrobe again, probably going to where Cravat is.
I can't believe I was told off by a damn mouse.
Nezumi lies back on the bed crossing his arms under his head to support it and he stares at the ceiling again.
IS he my friend though?
Hamlet seems to think so, if that stunt just now is any proof. But Nezumi doesn't know what a 'friend' is. It is as unknown a word to him as 'family', or 'love'. He has read about them, he knows their meanings, he has gotten on stage and acted like he feels them but he has always thought about those words as separate things from him. Just like how fish don't think about flying, or birds about swimming, Nezumi has never thought about making friends or having a family or loving someone. It was more of a bother than it was unnecessary and it was dangerous. That was what he always believed.
From everything he has read, he knows Shion is the closest thing he has ever had to a 'friend' but Nezumi also thinks the word as he knows it, is not quite enough to define whatever the bond between them is. He is not a fatalist so he doesn't believe in crap like fate or destiny but he also knows their meeting means more to him than it could ever mean to Shion. Not because Shion cares about him any less but because Nezumi's perspective is one Shion could never have. Shion was the one on the balcony and Nezumi was the one watching him from below. Shion doesn't know, he can never know what it means to be under that balcony. Even after 4 years, what he told Shion when they lived together remains true. Maybe even more so now.
It was indeed, a miracle.
Nezumi sits up and reaches for his backpack tucked securely between his bed and the nightstand next to it. Pulling the zipper he plunges a hand into the very depths of his bag and pulls out a shirt. An ordinary, white, buttoned up shirt which he would never wear the likes of. This one also doesn't belong to him. He only partially remembers how it ended up in his backpack in his haste and panic as he packed for his journey after leaving Shion on that hill. The reason for the haze in his memory isn't because he did it subconsciously but rather how hard he was crying as he did it and he prefers that memory forgotten. He doesn't remember any other moment in his life he felt so weak, so hideously pathetic as he sat on his heels and cried with Shion's shirt in his hand. He wanted to leave it behind, leave everything behind and never once look back but the idea of forgetting Shion meant forgetting himself. Shion wasn't something that could be forgotten with the absence of a shirt. Nezumi would remember him every time he looked at the mirror. He was a part of him. Shion was the most defining part of who he is.
And yet he couldn't leave it behind. He wanted something tangible to hold on to. Something to remind him of Shion's warmth, of his smell, of the promise Nezumi gave him.
As if he could ever forget
Nezumi raises the shirt to his face, feeling the same pang of weakness in the pit of his stomach. He buries his face in its folds and inhales deeply. What lingers behind after 4 years is only the lightest ghost of Shion's smell but Nezumi can still smell it. Smell is the strongest of all five senses in evoking memories and Nezumi thinks just how true it really is as Shion's smell fills his lungs and he feels like they are dancing again.
You are pathetic.
Nezumi puts the shirt down and looks up at the wall clock over his bed. He pulls a light grey long sleeve from his bag this time and throws it on his bed with Shion's shirt before he turns around and jumps in the shower.
10 minutes later he returns with damp hair falling over his shoulders and back and completely nude apart from a towel around his waist. He wears a pair of black boxer briefs and black cargo pants before pulling on his grey long sleeve. He then picks up Shion's shirt and holds it at arm's length narrowing his eyes. After a moment of hesitation he puts the shirt on over his grey long sleeve. The sleeves don't reach his wrists so Nezumi rolls them up to his elbows over the grey shirt. The moment he finishes wrapping his superfiber scarf around his neck and over his leather jacket, he hears a faint scurry of claws. Soon enough Hamlet appears underneath the wardrobe with Cravat following behind. They seem to know their master's intentions from the way they chirp excitedly.
Nezumi kneels on one knee and extends a hand towards Cravat. He climbs slowly and stands on his hind legs, staring at Nezumi.
"You alright, Cravat? Think you can run?"
The brown mouse chirps keenly.
"Okay then. But you are getting stuffed down my pocket the moment you start falling behind, deal?"
Nezumi grabs his backpack after letting Cravat jump down. He throws it at his back and walks out of the room. He glances back once before closing the door over the place he has lived in for the past 8 months.
Down the hallway and two flights of stairs Nezumi goes to the wooden reception desk and the toothless old lady with a flurry of white hair behind the desk smiles when she sees Nezumi.
"Good morning my boy. Leaving for work?"
"Yes. How much do I owe you for this month, Aria?"
"A little over 50. You still have one week to pay though my dear."
"I've got it now. It'll be one less worry in my head." Nezumi flashes a smile and the old lady blinks a several time before she regains her composure and takes the notes Nezumi pulled out from his pocket. Soon after she asks a little sheepishly,
"Do you want your sheets changed?"
"There is no need Aria. I'll do it myself." Nezumi replies kindly. He thanks her and leaves the lodging house. Hamlet and Cravat appear from a sever hole next to the building, considerately not running around anywhere where Aria can see them.
Nezumi stands on the steps of the lodging house and looks up at the sky. He slides both hands inside his jacket pockets and watches the spring clouds grow in the vast sky. He sighs and looks to his right. The children playing with the cat are gone. There is only an old man arranging his vegetable crates and spraying water on the greenery. That cobblestoned path leads to the Bookstore where a shipment of books is waiting to be registered. It leads to his chosen duties, his sane, acceptable, manageable life. To a life he doesn't care about but a life in which he is safe. It leads to solitude and to longing dreams. That cobblestoned path on his right leads to a life of hypocrisy, ignorance and cowardice.
Nezumi stares at his boots before his gaze reluctantly but inevitably turns to his left. A wide range of mountains stand guard outside the city. Unlike the path on his right which he has taken countless times, Nezumi has crossed this path only once. It leads to a long journey which will take weeks to end. It leads to danger, to emotions, to hopes to his greatest fears. It leads to a life of awareness, acceptance and surrender. It leads to his oath, to the most important thing he has ever had in his life, to the source of his hatred and to the core of his being. It is the path Nezumi avoided for 4 years. It is the path which makes his heart race just by looking at it. At the end of that path there are questions, doubts, fears there is also warmth there is company a life of commitment... There is Shion.
Nezumi whistles the cheerful tune from his dream. The old man rises from the crates to look at him. The tune spilling out from Nezumi's lips, echo in the narrow street, floating up in the sky and joining the wind's gentle shifting. It fits strangely well in this old street and in this suspended moment. A perfect tune for a fresh spring morning. The whistle slowly quiets into a soft hum. Nezumi raises his shoulders and nestles his jaw and nose into his scarf. From underneath it, Shion's smell fills his nostrils.
Nezumi doesn't know. He has had dreams of Shion before, many times over, but today, he just can't shake it off. His mind, his body, his soul even his heart is filled with him and Nezumi can hear his call.
Shion is calling.
I will never be fully ready to go back. It will never be an easy decision. No matter how long I wait how long I keep him waiting, that first step to the path on my left will never be easier.
"We will surely meet again, Shion."
Nezumi straightens himself up. Gesturing to his mice with his head, he descends the steps on to the cobblestoned path.
I might as well try to be ready when I am with him.
With that notion in mind, Nezumi takes the path on his left and starts the long journey which will take him back in time to a place he has long been trying to avoid; not once looking back at the path he left behind. His heart beats fast in his chest with each step but his feet feel surprisingly lighter.
Momentarily closing his eyes and allowing the feel of Shion from his dream fuel his legs, for the first time in 4 years, Nezumi genuinely smiles as he walks towards No.6.
Where Shion is waiting for him