Summary: Post-series. No matter how much time passes, they'll always be Nezumi's books.
Notes: I'm really not sure how this turned into a reunion fic, because it really didn't start out as one. But, well, if I keep writing different versions of Nezumi coming back, then… Maybe one of them will stick, right? :D Written for no6holiday on LJ, and the prompt "that old book smell". Comments and thoughts are always greatly appreciated. ^_^
vestige – a surviving mark, trace, or visible evidence of something that is no longer present
The smell of the bread from the bakery twists and curls up the stairs and into his room every morning and it's an amazing smell, really it is – fresh and warm and round, just like the loaves his mother bakes and that Shion arranges in neat rows behind the counter each day. Over time, he's gotten used to it all over again, to waking up surrounded by that smell.
But there's something missing in this tiny room, an inkling of something in the back of his mind - small, of course, when compared to the other, all-encompassing huge thing that's missing from his life, but it's there all the same. Like an itch that's just out of reach, or a dream he's forgotten upon waking, but keeps revisiting throughout the day in tiny, disjointed fragments.
It's the books, he realizes with certainty one afternoon, after the smell of the bread has mostly worn off, and he's left to his own devices in his room. It's that old book smell that Shion used to marvel at in Nezumi's room in the West Block that he misses so much right now. He used to spend hours and hours breathing in that wonderful mustiness, back when he had hours to just sit and read and think, back when Nezumi would leave in the morning and come back at night, after it was already dark, and they'd eat dinner with their shoulders pressed together on the couch, by the light of an old, rusting oil lamp. Shion had no idea where Nezumi had even found that lamp; it had felt like an anachronism, even then.
He doesn't have time to sit and think and read anymore. He's busy with the bakery, and the reconstruction, and seemingly endless committee work, and he supposes it's just as well, because if he had time, he'd surely just end up in the West Block, wandering those ruined streets, searching for something familiar, something tangible that he could hold in his hands and bring back with him.
The books he'd retrieved during those first few weeks after the fall of the city sit in several low stacks under his bed. Nezumi's room had been a complete disaster, but that hadn't stopped Shion from filling three huge bags full of books and then dragging them back here, up the stairs and into the cramped storage room. It had been late, and he'd been careful not to make too much noise and risk waking his mother up. He'd stacked them carefully under the bed that night, and now, months later, they lay untouched in the same place, a thick layer of dust having collected on the covers and the bindings, thin tendrils that line the outside of the pages and spines.
They're still Nezumi's books, of course. Even after months, after years, they'll still be Nezumi's books.
He thinks he might like to open them sometime, to breathe in the heady scent of the paper that smells like everything he's ever learned - like the world, and like Nezumi, like the past and the future at the same time - but for now he just removes the dust from the surface with a soft cloth, and returns them to their place under the bed.
"I did dust them," Shion says, but it's hard to concentrate with Nezumi's breath against his ear, warm and moist, and his arms wrapped around Shion's stomach as he teases, teases.
"I dusted them so many times," he protests. Nezumi is nipping at his ear, and Shion's insides are melting, his knees liquefying right where he stands. It feels so good, being this close to Nezumi; he could stay here forever and it still wouldn't be long enough.
"But you didn't read them," Nezumi says. "Books are meant to be read, Shion. Even an airhead like you should know that."
And then they're back in Nezumi's room in the West Block, and they're surrounded by hundreds of books, and Shion is lying on his back on the bed and Nezumi is above him and his hair is falling everywhere, like it used to when he returned from the shower, shaking his head out like a wet dog, sometimes.
"You can have them, you know," Nezumi says. "They're yours now."
This is where the dream ends, always, and Shion is grateful that he doesn't have to respond, because Nezumi is wrong, and Nezumi has never taken very well to being told that he's wrong. But no way is Shion calling those books his. He's holding onto them, that's all. He knows how hard it is to come back after everything's changed. How important it is to have something to hold onto, something familiar.
As Shion carves out a place for himself in this new world, the books come with him – stacked under the storage room's makeshift bed at first, and then shifted into boxes in preparation for their new home, then into a closet, and then, finally, onto a bookshelf of their own.
The space grows and fills up around them, and eventually, Shion can almost imagine that they are his books, that the weathered old copies of Hamlet and Macbeth and Ulysses and Faust and Paradise Lost belong to him. But they don't, they never have. He's just been borrowing them, keeping them safe. And their permanence, their unchanging presence, matters.
Tsukiyo, who had been so full of life at first, lasted only three months longer than Nezumi had in staying by Shion's side. He'd imagined how much Nezumi would have teased him for his tears then. Karan, too. Everything that's born into this world dies. Nothing lasts forever. Nezumi would have said something like that, probably, and he'd have been right.
Still, the permanence of ink on paper is something to be valued. Shion is sure that Nezumi realized this too.
Shion reads the books too, some of them multiple times so that he can't be accused, even in his dreams, of not taking their words to heart and of trying to understand them, to apply them. He breathes in the smell of the ink on the paper as he reads, and is careful with the pages, always, so that no matter how many times he turns them, they don't crack or crumble or crease.
And then, right around the time when Shion heart stops pounding in anticipation at every unexpected knock on his door from the postman, and right around the time when he stops opening his windows wider out onto the street when the wind comes through and rattles the shutters instead of closing them tight like a sensible person, he returns.
Nezumi shows up on Shion's doorstep just like the postman, or the boy who delivers the evening paper, standing there under the flickering, yellow light outside his door—it's triggered by motion, by movement—and Nezumi is just standing there. He's taller and his hair is different, shorter, and Shion thinks his voice might sound deeper now. His accent is a little strange, too, and there are so many things but the books jump to the front of Shion's mind and before Nezumi even has time to set down his bag in the entryway Shion is dragging him by the elbow around the corners of one small room and then another until they're in front of a tall bookcase. Nezumi's bag lands with a soft thump next to it.
Shion knows it's ridiculous, that there are a million things he needs to say, important things, with the proper words so that Nezumi finally understands, but instead he's just sniffling and staring at the books on the shelf. Eventually the words come, but when he speaks, he's not sure that he's making any sense. Nezumi is staring at him, his eyes wide and bright - nervous, maybe, though Shion has never known Nezumi to be nervous about anything. His eyes are the same shade of grey they had been the night they first met. Of course they are. How many years ago was that now?
"Eight," Nezumi says, and then he reaches his hand out in front of him to touch the spine of Macbeth. There's a soft expression on his face. "It will be eight years next month."
Shion just stares at him. There are little sounds happening in the silence that he's grateful for. The soft click of his neighbor's door closing—Mrs. Ozawa, who brings peaches back from the market for him sometimes; a car passing on the road opposite his bedroom window. Then there's the soft scuffle of Nezumi's toes against the floor – he's quietly moving his bag over to the left with his ankle, out of the way.
Nezumi lets out a breath – it's so loud, Shion almost jumps.
"Yeah, well. You asked. I answered. Granted, you were saying a lot of other meaningless things too, so it's possible that I misunderstood the question."
Then Nezumi's face takes on a familiar glow as he leans in closer to the books on the shelf. He used to look like this when he was reading, sometimes, Shion remembers. Like he'd been transported somewhere wonderful, somewhere far better than that tiny, cold little room with its concrete walls and so much danger lying in wait, just outside the door. Inside too, maybe.
"I didn't think I'd see these again," he says, tracing his fingers over the spines of the books gently. "They must have been heavy."
Shion considers this. "No, I don't think so."
"You don't think so? Weren't you the one who carried them here?"
"Yes, but-" He stops at the severity of the look on Nezumi's face; he can't tell if it's anger, or desire, or something else entirely that he's seeing reflected in Nezumi's eyes.
"Shion," Nezumi says, and in an instant, his face is so close to Shion's that his features blur in and out of focus. The image wavers in front of Shion's eyes, a bit like a mirage. Nezumi is warm; he can feel the warmth radiating from his body, but when his hands move to frame Shion's face, they're cold, just like he always remembered.
Nezumi's lips brush against his, and the touch is so feather-light at first that it's almost as if they've just leaned into each other, but then it turns into something more, something that feels incredibly familiar, even after all this time. Shion wonders if maybe a kiss is like a signature, if maybe his lips will always remember this feeling. It's as if something invisible had been etched into his skin, and is being traced now, recalled by touch.
A long, long time ago, Nezumi had promised Shion that he'd tell him his real name. Maybe this is it, Shion thinks, as his lips part and the kiss deepens, elongates, expands.
But in the end Shion figures that Nezumi is just Nezumi – Shion can't imagine calling him anything else, can't imagine any word, or signature, or name that would change Nezumi's Nezumi-ness from this. If Nezumi were a color, Shion realizes, he wouldn't be the color of his eyes; he wouldn't be grey at all, he'd be bright sky blue, without a cloud in sight. Like the sky above the clouds, maybe, brilliant and overwhelming and blanketing everything with color. At least that's what Shion sees now, behind his eyelids, and all around him.
"Three times," Shion says when Nezumi releases him.
"What?" Nezumi asks, and his voice is breathless in a way that Shion has never, ever heard before. It makes his stomach flop back and forth, makes his throat feel dry and cottony.
"I carried your books three times. I've moved," he explains, "twice."
"I know," Nezumi says, his voice composed again. "Took a bit of effort for me to find you. But you know I'm not really sure they're my books anymore." His cheeks are still tinged pink. He swallows, and Shion watches his Adam's apple bob. "I abandoned them, after all."
Shion shakes his head. "No. I knew you'd say that. But no. They're yours, Nezumi. Always."
"You're sure?" Nezumi asks, and the hesitation in his voice is jarring.
"Yes," Shion tells him. "Nothing you could say or do would ever convince me otherwise. This is non-negotiable."
At this, Nezumi smiles a little. Then he leans forward and rests his chin on Shion's shoulder. His body slumps against Shion, heavy and a little awkward, but Shion just lets his hips and his spine and his shoulder blades sink back against the bookshelf as he wraps his arms around Nezumi's back and stays there, unmoving and steady.
"I'm so glad," Nezumi says quietly, against the curve of his ear.
Shion can feel the spines of the books protruding against his back, as he breathes in that familiar scent, and closes his eyes.
"I love the way you look when you're reading," Shion says much later, though he really couldn't say how much later, because honestly he's lost track of time and a lot of other things since Nezumi showed up.
Nezumi looks up over the cover of The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes. He raises his eyebrows.
"And how's that, exactly?"
"Like you're happy," Shion says. "Like you're imagining that you're somewhere else."
Nezumi just watches him for a moment. "Funny, because for a long time, I was somewhere else. And I wasn't happy."
It's so quiet Shion swears he can hear his heart thumping in his chest. Nezumi's too, maybe. He can hear himself breathing, too sharply, too much.
Nezumi is propped up with his book on Shion's bed, and he's got one of Shion's pillows squashed up behind his back against the wall, and suddenly it feels like that's too much too, like it's too big – the room, the bed, the way his head and his heart feel like they might explode at any second. He looks away, down at the book on top of the desk, at the words staring up at him. They don't mean a thing, all garbled and blurring together like this.
He pushes himself away from the desk, and then up onto his feet, and he's grateful that it's barely two steps to the bed because his legs are going all wobbly; they're giving out on him, just like he fears his heart might, if he doesn't do something about this tingling in his chest, this clamoring need to close the distance between himself, and the only slightly taller now, only slightly lankier, person sitting there in the corner of his bed. He stops moving when his knees bump up against the side Nezumi's legs where he's stretched them out across the duvet.
"I won't let you leave quietly again," Shion says purposefully, with all the strength he can draw.
This, maybe more than anything else, is one of those important things that he'd meant to say, one of those things he'd wanted to say to Nezumi for years and years. It feels good to finally let it out.
"I know," Nezumi says and then there's a long moment of silence that spreads out between them like a shadow.
Shion sinks back onto his heels and his ankles splay out a little on either side, and Shion remembers how Nezumi had always told him how undignified (and sometimes how unladylike) he looked when he sat like this. Shion stares at Nezumi, and tries not to imagine what it might feel like to go through this all over again; to watch Nezumi get up from the bed, grab his bag, and leave from the same door he'd come in through. It's not easy to imagine, but at the same time, it's a whole lot easier than it should be.
"That's why I'm here," Nezumi says finally.
His book is lying open on his lap, sprawling, its pages gently flipping forward. He's losing his place, page by page. Nezumi pushes the cover closed and sets the book next to him on the bed. Then he finds Shion's hand. He leans back against the wall, and threads their fingers together. His long fingers reach almost to Shion's wrist. He's tugging at Shion's hand, gently at first, and then with a little more urgency. Shion watches him roll his eyes, and his stomach turns over and back again. How long had it been since he'd seen that expression?
"Will you get over here already?" Nezumi says, giving Shion's hand an impatient tug forward.
"Just shut up and come here."
"Nezumi," Shion says fervently, and his eyes are already blurring with all the tears he swore he wouldn't ever show Nezumi, simply because he knew Nezumi would be expecting them, and he'd wanted to prove him wrong, just once. "I really—"
"Yes, Shion, I know," Nezumi says, as he pulls him against his chest. "Just be quiet."
Shion tries to nod, but it's hard when Nezumi's arms are wrapped so tightly around him that he can barely move. He sniffles, and through the shuffling of fabric on fabric he can just barely make out Nezumi's heartbeat.
"Just shut up," Nezumi says, and Shion can feel Nezumi's chin pressed up against his hair. He tries to twist around so that he can see Nezumi's face but it's impossible.
"I didn't say—"
"I know, but you were thinking about it."
"That's hardly fair."
"Shion," Nezumi says, and Shion thinks it's the most wonderful thing in the world, really, hearing his name coming from Nezumi's lips like this. He'd forgotten what it sounded like, this exact inflection, this perfect intonation. He doesn't say anything else for a while, just listens to Nezumi's heart thumping against his ear. Nezumi's breath weaves slow patterns through his hair.
"Thanks for keeping them safe," Nezumi says after a long while, and it takes Shion a moment to realize he means the books.
"Well, they reminded me of you, so…"
"Still, you could have gotten rid of them. Forgotten about them."
"No," Shion says, and presses his cheek to Nezumi's chest again, feels Nezumi's heart quickening in time with his own. He locks onto that rhythm, holds it, feels it build to a perfect crescendo. "Never."