A/N: It's me again! I can't stay away from this pairing. At any rate, I thought it would be fun to explore the secrets and silences that exist between Shion and Nezumi, as well as their devotion to each other in spite of those things; this is a re-imagining of what I imagine as one of many attempts on their part to reconcile those things. My last fic stemmed largely from Shion's POV; this fic centers mostly on Nezumi's perspective. I also intend to write an M-rated fic for these two in the near future.
Thanks for all the very kind reviews on my previous No. 6 fic; I hope to respond to all of them soon and they definitely encourage me to write more.
I do not own the anime/novels/manga or the characters therein; I just take them out for writing funtimes.
Nezumi, his hands tucked behind his head, glares darkly at the ceiling. Outside, a howling wind promises a violent storm; soon rain will drench the west district, channel through the filth and sewage, leave scattered tree limbs and debris in its wake.
Shion's such an idiot.
The object of Nezumi's current irritation sleeps like he loves: peacefully, trustingly. With a sigh, Nezumi shifts in bed and lets his gaze wander over the smaller boy dozing nearby, over tousled ivory hair and slightly parted lips, the vivid scar that marks his cheek. Shion. Do you know how much danger you're in? Do you care? Can you even fully understand the nature of No. 6?
Sometimes Nezumi wants very much to explain—to try, anyway. The peal of thunder outside reminds him of four years ago, of the warm wet storm and blood sleeping through his thin shirt and hunger and sadness and Shion hanging over his balcony shrieking into the gale. Beautiful, Nezumi thinks, that discordant knowing part of you is the most beautiful, but he knows this too is only a half-truth: there's no part of Shion that is not exquisite. You hungered even then for something, so surely you suspect that something's amiss, don't you? Surely you know that holy city is an abomination.
Nearby, Shion sighs and clutches his pillow tightly. His features are innocent in repose; his small graceful hands bear no calluses or blisters. How, Nezumi wonders, is it possible to explain the monstrosity of No.6 to one raised inside its walls? Quietly he reaches out, smoothes a hand over Shion's sleep-tumbled hair. Anyone who spends a lifetime in sunshine can't understand the darkness; how can I ever expect him to understand?
With a sigh, he turns his gaze back to the ceiling.
Soon enough, he'll leave. Nezumi's jaw tenses and his silver eyes narrow; his fists clench at the thought that returns every night to haunt him. Shion has bonds, family: a mother for whom he worries and that strange girl Safu too. He'll go back to her; he'll go back to them. Soon enough, he'll choose that city over me, no matter what he promises. And then I'll be alo—
A quiet moan draws him from his thoughts.
"Hey," he mutters sleepily, "shut up," and nudges Shion hard with his foot, but when Shion whimpers—an inarticulate, mindless expression of pain—cold fear knifes through him and he sits up in bed frowning. "Shion?"
Shion mumbles something sleepy and unintelligible in response and Nezumi notices for the first time that fever flushes his friend's pale cheeks and sweat dampens his ivory hair. Nezumi's gray eyes darken with resolve; he immediately checks Shion's neck with questing fingertips for any signs of a parasite. I'll cut it out of you again if I must. Jaw tightening, he steels himself to what might be necessary and tries not to think of Shion's tears and cries of pain, the blood, the ugly mottled pupa extracted from vulnerable flesh. If it means saving you, I'll do whatever I have to do.
To his great relief, though, Shion's skin is smooth; the smaller boy stirs beneath the gentle inspection. "Nezumi," he whispers sleepily, and opens heavy-lidded dark eyes. His voice is cracked, raspy. "Nezumi, it's so hot in here."
"You're sick," Nezumi tells him, calmly. And he's not really surprised—Shion's probably especially vulnerable to the viruses and diseases that run rampant in the west district—but he aches anyway at the confusion in Shion's eyes, the thick worry in his tone. Gently he strokes the smaller boy's hair. Something about Shion's vulnerability corrodes his resolve, destroys all the promises he makes to himself about being unattached and independent and wary of others. "I'll take care of you," he promises, and draws Shion up to a sitting position as gently as he can. Because you need me.
Immediately trusting, Shion relaxes expectantly in his arms and gazes up at him with honest, gentle eyes. On a normal day Nezumi would storm out and slam the door just to get away from that gaze, to get away from him, but right now Shion's burning up with fever and Nezumi doesn't dare run. Why? Why do you believe in me so much? You trust too easily, Shion. You give your heart away too easily. The world only hurts people who do that.
Still, thoughts and feelings don't matter right now; action does. Carefully he slides a hand under Shion's thin nightshirt, presses his palm to the flushed, heated skin of the smaller boy's back. Warm. He's always so warm. "You have a fever," he explains.
Shion seems disconcerted, concerned; his brow knits in worry. "Did…did it come back?" Even now he can't mention the parasite insects without obvious discomfort; absently he reaches up to touch the scar on his cheek and his hand trembles the slightest bit. "Do you have to—"
"No," Nezumi says gently, and fills a small cup with water. Don't think about that, Shion. "It's just a virus of some sort." He sees the flash of relief in Shion's eyes, followed by a confusion that means but I never got sick in No. 6; he restraints a faint sigh as he cradles the back of Shion's head with his hand. Didn't you ever wonder about any of these things? Didn't it ever seem too perfect to you? "Here, drink a little."
Shion takes small desperate sips of water; he's thirsty, and water escapes the cup to trickle from the corner of his mouth. His tired smile of gratitude brightens his drawn features, banishes the shadows beneath his eyes for a moment. "Thanks, Nezumi."
Nezumi ignores him. He hates when Shion looks at him that way, hates the ache in his own heart in response to the loving trust in those eyes, hates that his lies to himself about how he feels become more and more apparent by the day. "I've got medicine."
The tiny packets of powder are a precious commodity in the district, smuggled in only infrequently; Nezumi knows exactly what each packet is worth. Thirty-two performances, he thinks as he pours the pale powder into the cup and waits for it to dissolve. Thirty-two performances for the pleasure of leering eyes. Thirty-two performances that not so long ago begot fourteen separate fights when some of the more enthusiastic fans forgot Eve's cardinal rule: keep your hands to yourself.
Shion, how could you ever understand this life?
Carefully, he tilts the cup to Shion's lips and supports the smaller boy's head with his other hand. Shion swallows immediately once, twice, and then three times, and when his nose wrinkles at the taste Nezumi can't help a smile. "Good," he murmurs encouragingly, and tries to ignore the tenderness in his own tone.
"I'm cold," Shion whispers. And he's not, not really: fever flushes his cheeks and gives his eyes a worrisome luster. But Nezumi can feel the tremors in his friend's body, the chills from sickness, and finds himself thinking back to that night four years ago, his only precious memory from the endless nightmare of his childhood: the simple pleasure of dozing off, feverish and chilled, beside the comforting heat of Shion's body.
Wordlessly he slides back into bed, wraps his arms tightly around Shion to blanket him with warmth, and pulls him close. He tells himself that he owes Shion at least this much, that this is the simple payment of a debt he incurred four years ago. That's all this is. Nothing more. "Go to sleep," he says quietly. "You'll feel better soon."
And Shion complies, but not before sleepily, earnestly seeking Nezumi's hands with his own. Their palms meet and their fingers knit together; in only moments the smaller boy stills and relaxes, his breathing deep and even.
Eyes closed, Nezumi smiles and falls asleep to the sounds of the storm.
Three days later, Shion feels well enough to read again.
He remembers his illness only in blurry fragments: chills and heated skin, the coolness of water against his parched throat, Nezumi's hands cradling his head, stroking his hair, pressing cool damp rags against his fevered brow. He saved me again, Shion thinks as he turns pages absently and only barely pays attention to Hamlet's travails. Nezumi always takes care of me, no matter what.
When he glances up to rest his eyes, he finds himself unnerved by the solitude.
Silence echoes throughout the small dwelling they share; only a small golden lantern on the table nearby banishes the evening dimness. Nezumi's away at work and Shion's aware, suddenly, of how empty this place can feel, how lonely with nothing but rows and rows of books and mice for company.
Is this…how Nezumi lived, all this time?
Shion thinks of his mother, of her warm hugs and her kind smile, and of Safu's frank earnestness and bright dark eyes. I've never been alone, he thinks, not ever. Even when I left my family and friends, Nezumi was there with me. He closes his eyes and tries to conceive of such an existence, a life in which no hands exist to soothe away his pain or comfort his fevered brow, and suddenly the realization of what Nezumi endured to this point overwhelms him;he can't imagine being young and afraid and alone, can't imagine four years of solitary life in this strange and exotic place.
How did he survive? How did he bear it?
Troubled, Shion sets the book aside. He knows so little of the tall, moody boy who functions as the center of his universe. Nezumi doesn't abide questions; discussions about No. 6 leave him evasive and often irritable. More often than not, Shion simply avoids the topic. He doesn't want to disrupt the harmony of their lives here, and even if he wonders sometimes about the scarred skin on Nezumi's back or the boy's seething hatred for No. 6, he knows better than to ask. But now…
Consumed by an urge he doesn't fully understand, he tentatively walks the perimeter of the room, runs his fingers over the frayed bindings of books. Clues, he realizes. I'm looking for clues about who he is. But Nezumi has no real personal effects; he carries most of his treasured possessions—jacket and cowl, that wicked-looking knife—on his person. Shion's search produces only the most ordinary of items: cheap metal cups, lanterns, the rumpled blankets on the bed. Even when he crouches and runs a hand under the bed and pries at the floorboard he finds nothing that might illuminate the central mystery of his days here.
Maybe…maybe I'll never know anything unless he decides to tell me.
With a sigh, he picks up Hamlet again and returns to his seat. He finds the revelation dissatisfying; he wants to know Nezumi, to hear about the life and history and feelings of this acerbic, demanding boy to whom he owes not only his life, but this whole new wonderful world. Frustrated, he rubs a thumb over the page. I don't understand Nezumi at all. He won't answer any of my questions. I don't know anything about his past or where he came from or his life before now. But…
But Nezumi sings to dying dogs. And Nezumi's hands make soup and offer medicine, soothe away hurts, move gracefully on the stage as he works for medicine and chicken and vegetables and bread so that they can survive. He's saved me more times than I can count. Even if I don't always understand him…
…I know how much he cares. I know that it must have been lonely here all these years. And maybe that's all I need to know.
The lingering effects of his illness make it difficult to concentrate; Shion abandons his troubled thoughts and finally surrenders to his exhaustion. Stretching out on the bed, he tugs the thin blanket around his shoulders and closes his eyes. Soon Nezumi will be back, and the cadence of his sharp, knowing voice will fill the empty silence. I'm so glad I'm not alone, Shion thinks drowsily.
Nezumi. I won't ever let you be alone again, either.
Nezumi emerges from his bath late that night in good spirits.
He's uncharacteristically relaxed; his mood leads him to the bookshelf and a dog-eared copy of Lady Windermere's Fan. Warm and loose-limbed from hot water and a productive day's work, he collapses on the bed with the chosen tome, opens it and then eyes Shion curiously from behind the pages.
What's on his mind?
The smaller boy, awake now after his nap, hasn't turned the pages of the book in his lap for the past twenty minutes. His brow furrows faintly as he strokes Cravat's tiny head. He's thinking about something, thinking hard, and Nezumi suppresses a sigh in response as he turns his attention to the words on the page. He doesn't want to dampen his cheer tonight with thoughts about No. 6; he starts reading diligently in the hopes that the appearance of intellectual engagement will ward off conversations he doesn't want to have.
"Nezumi." Shion looks determined; his honest eyes are clear and resolute.
Well, shit. Carefully casual, Nezumi keeps his eyes on the page. "What is it?" If he's preoccupied enough, Shion will leave well enough alone; they won't have to talk about parasite insects and No. 6 and he won't have to declare, again, how much he anticipates the death of everyone in that debauched excuse for a holy city. He'll be spared, at least for tonight, the sadness in Shion's eyes and the nagging feelings of guilt.
"I wanted to talk to you." Shion sets his book aside firmly, decision made, and then comes to his feet; hesitation clouds his gaze for a moment before he walks over to sit beside his friend. "I wanted to talk to you about No. 6."
No, Nezumi thinks, no, no, no, and he hopes that his heavy sigh and the way he snaps his book shut will close the matter to further questions. "I'm tired. Can't you talk about something else?"
Shion regards him thoughtfully for long moments, then glances down at his lap. "No," he whispers, and then adds, "I've been thinking about this all day long, Nezumi. Can't we talk just a little?"
He's going to leave. Nezumi forgets the book entirely as his mood darkens; he knows he's scowling, knows his anger shows in his silver glare. He's going to leave and go back to them, go back to that place. And then—
"I wish," Shion says quietly, "that you'd tell me more about who you are." He looks small somehow, and awkward; he picks at the sleeves of his soft sweater. "There's so much I don't know about you, Nezumi, and I want to know. I want to know everything." His smile is wistful. "Because I care about you so much."
"Stop throwing those kinds of words around," Nezumi snaps. He closes his eyes briefly and contemplates feigning sleep or exhaustion as he wills the conversation to end. Why? Why does he say these things? "You don't even know what they mean."
Shion, as always, seems neither irritated nor perturbed by the interruption. "But I do," he says, with the simple stubbornness that unnerves Nezumi more than the threat of any weapon. "I do care about you, a lot, and so I want to know. I want to know all about where you came from and how you ended up here and why you hate No. 6. I want to know you."
Nezumi hates that tender, seeking, honest look in his eyes. You don't understand, he thinks, and knows his own gaze is cold, unyielding, that his irritation shows plainly on his features. Shion, you don't understand. What good will it do for you to know? Either way the truth will cause you pain, and you'll leave. You'll leave and—
"But," Shion continues, and his calm, measured tones slice through Nezumi's scattered thoughts, "if you can't tell me right now, then I'll live with it." His dark eyes soften. "You take such good care of me. I want to take care of you, too." He finds Nezumi's hands and gives them a gentle squeeze. "So until you decide to tell me, I'll wait, and no matter what, I won't abandon you. I love No. 6, but home is where you are."
Stop, Nezumi thinks desperately. Don't say things like that, Shion. The words leave him feeling raw and exposed; he moves to push the smaller boy away before he can believe them. He doesn't trust Shion, doesn't trust people, and knows from bitter experience that attachments and affection cause nothing but pain.
You mean nothing to me.
Yes, that's it. Those are the words that will make Shion leave him alone, that will create a safe distance between them, that will end this stupid, stupid talk about home and affection and feeling. You mean nothing to me, Nezumi thinks again with as much conviction as he can muster, and thrusts his face close to Shion's to spit out the words, to sever this…this bond…before it can hurt either of them any more than it already has.
But he can't.
He can't because he's looking into Shion's warm unguarded eyes, because he can feel the slope of Shion's shoulders beneath his palms, because suddenly he can't imagine a world without Shion's presence to brighten it. Whether he allows himself to admit it or not, he likes Shion's company and all the sundry moments they share: the nights spent dancing to no music between the crowded bookshelves, arguing over plays, sharing bread and soup. Go away, he thinks miserably, but he can't bring himself to say it because he feels...he feels...
The gentle brush of his lips against Shion's spares him the confession.
Soft. Soft and warm. And suddenly Nezumi can't breathe, because Shion, pliant and willing in his arms, parts his lips and kisses back with a gentle intensity and trusting openness that somehow paralyzes all of Nezumi's fears. The chaste kiss softens, deepens into something eager and tender and passionate, and Nezumi can't resist the closeness any more. Shion.
He finds it so easy, at moments like these, to forget.
Here in the golden glow of the lanterns, they're safe, surrounded by books and tucked away from the world; No. 6 doesn't really exist. They're just two boys in each other's arms, kissing with a tenderness all their shared hurt shouldn't allow, and for the time being it's safe to believe that this is real.
"Nezumi," Shion whispers breathlessly, and the taller boy breaks the kiss to search kind dark eyes for signs of fear or reticence. He finds none. We should stop, he realizes with the part of his mind that can still think. Before—
Shion offers a sunny smile that untangles Nezumi's thoughts. "It's really good that you're taller than me," he observes enthusiastically, "for things like this. I like it."
The words dissolve Nezumi's reticence; he fights not to laugh. Idiot, he thinks fondly, such an idiot, and finds his mood suddenly buoyant; he pokes Shion in the side with teasing fingers, watches the smaller boy squirm and laugh, and in only moments they're tussling like children, sending books and blankets to the floor in a heap as they wrestle playfully on the bed.
Nezumi wins, of course.
Triumphant, he straddles the smaller boy, surprised as always by the way Shion simply seems to relax, unthreatened, in these circumstances. Do you really trust me so much? He loosens his grip on Shion's small wrists; the smaller boy is flushed with amusement and good humor, his dark eyes sparkling. Why do you have so much faith in me?
"Your eyes are so pretty, Nezumi," Shion whispers. He's rapt, wide-eyed with genuine appreciation and wonder. "I've liked them ever since we met the first time. They remind me of moonlight, or—"
And Nezumi has no idea what to say to that kind of nonsense, because he's sure that Shion means it and he's equally unsure of how to receive such a compliment, so he leans down and kisses Shion to shut him up. And it's good, as the tangle of their bodies gentles into an embrace, so good—because right now Shion feels like his.
I watched you for so long. Nezumi's kiss is possessive, demanding; it's sweet to taste Shion like this, to draw out soft, needing sounds from him, to know that this trusting boy—with his pure heart and his bright eyes and his sweet smile—chooses to be here. Mine, Nezumi thinks, and tightens his embrace around the one person whom he has watched and protected with unwavering devotion for the past four lonely years. Mine. Shion's hands tangle in his hair and work it free of its binding; the kiss lingers and the smaller boy sighs soft surrender as Nezumi presses himself closer.
Nezumi stills when Shion's hands leave his hair to slide under his shirt and then stroke, with careful curiosity, the scarred skin on his back. The touch makes him want to stiffen, summons dark memories that threaten to destroy the moment. Don't, he thinks urgently, don't—
—but Shion breaks away from the kiss to gaze up at him with loving dark eyes. He says nothing about No. 6; he asks no questions. He simply presses his warm hand against Nezumi's back and kisses the taller boy's brow. "I'm glad you survived," he says, with a quiet and honest sweetness, and Nezumi finds that he doesn't know what to say.
I'm glad that you survived too. But he trusts his body to speak for him instead as he nudges up Shion's sweater with a gentle hand and lowers his mouth to the slender, vivid scar that snakes Shion's pale chest. He hears Shion gasp and tense in his arms as he traces the mark with lips and tongue; he's fond of this marker of Shion's difference, the promise that they do have something in common, after all.
"Nezumi," Shion manages, and he's flushed, eyes wide, his fingers tightening near-painfully in Nezumi's hair in a way that means please don't stop and I've never felt like this before. It's beautiful, he's beautiful, and Nezumi nuzzles the soft skin of Shion's chest as the smaller boy's hands slide down to cup his face.
If I lost you…
He can't bear to think of it, turns his face to Shion's palm, instead, breathes against his skin, plants a kiss there. I won't. No matter what, I won't lose you. I'll do whatever I have to do. Eagerly seeking more contact, he returns to Shion's mouth, presses the smaller boy against the sheets as they kiss. His hands slide under Shion's shirt; the skin is soft and warm, so very warm, and Nezumi allows himself to be as unashamedly tender as he wants to be, to indulge in the sheer joy of so much sensation.
Outside, another storm threatens; in his arms Shion stirs, then wraps arms around his shoulders to draw him close. "Nezumi," he whispers, "I'm happy," and Nezumi ignores the peals of thunder, the threat of rain: everything important is here, right here in his arms.
Tonight, the only thing that matters is us.