WARNING: This fic focuses on a loving relationship between two males, although if you've been in the fandom awhile I'd imagine that's not too surprising. If you are used to my "non-slash" works, though, you might want to steer clear of this one if you aren't interested.
Disclaimer: I do not own these boys or their universe; that belongs to Asano Atsuko.
Author's Note: Eesh ::rubs head sheepishly::, it's been awhile. Sorry about that—real life definitely causes some difficulties with fanfiction, but I did discover this amazing fandom so I guess it's a good trade-off, huh ? I really like the relationship between Shion and Nezumi, as well as the characters themselves. I've read the translations of both the manga and the light novels (although I am still working through that part), and I have seen the entire anime at least three times ::grins::; suffice it to say…I am definitely hooked.
This is a post-series, reunion fic, so spoilers for the end of the light novels and anime if you haven't read and/or seen them all yet. I may also delve into Shion and Nezumi's world post-No. 6—specifically, Nezumi's background as one of the forest folk. I didn't get nearly enough information on that from the anime, so I am hoping the manga and the novels will help. Please enjoy!
Rating: T/M (for language, certain issues, and later chapters)
Summary: Almost exactly three years after No. 6's downfall, the wandering star returns home…(Post-Series. Reunion-fic. Multi-chapter.)
Personal Thoughts/Memories (Italics)
.:No More Farewells:.
By Sentimental Star
Chapter One: Like the Spring Wind
"Ma'am! Ma'am! Look!"
Karan glances up from where she has just put out a fresh tray of blueberry scones, a smile on her face. "What is it, Lili?"
Standing and wiping her hands on her apron, Karan walks over to the little girl where the eight-year-old is bent diligently over a platter of chocolate cupcakes, her small tongue sticking out of the corner of her mouth as she ices them. "See! How did I do?"
Karan beams as she sees that all of the cupcakes have been iced (if rather messily). "Why…that's wonderful, Lili! Would you like to decorate them?"
Lili looks up, dark eyes gleaming. "May I?" she cries.
"Of course!" Karan laughs softly, carefully standing up to go fetch her colored frostings.
"I want to draw a mouse, just like Hamlet!"
Karan halts so suddenly that Lili, who has gone back to frosting the cupcakes, jumps a little. "Ma'am?" she asks.
The woman brushes a stray piece of brown hair behind her ear and glances up the stairs at the closed door sitting at the top. "No," she murmurs, "…It's nothing."
It is still early afternoon when he arrives, and Lili has gone home to get lunch. Karan has just removed another empty tray from the shelf in front of her and replaced it with a third, topped with freshly baked cherry cake, when the bell above the door tinkles.
She turns, expecting it to be a customer looking for a lunch of their own, and smiles a brilliant greeting, "Welcome! How may I-?"
Her voice stutters to a halt, catching in her throat. Her hands, still holding the empty tray, tremble.
The object of her scrutiny is a young man, not much older than Shion (a few months, only). His hair is dark, almost a raven black…long, and twisted back into an elegant ponytail whose ends tickle his shoulders. Bangs frame a set of twilight gray eyes, falling to curve gently around his face. He wears a superfiber scarf coiled snugly around his shoulders and dust from the road lightly coats his boots.
His eyes are unmistakable.
"They are like moonlight, 'Kaasan. Trapped moonlight."
It is the only description her son has ever given her of the boy who saved his life.
Tears flood Karan's eyes and eventually trickle down her cheeks. Nezumi notices her gaze and blushes softly, turning away and rubbing shyly at the back of his neck. His next words only further confirm his identity, "…Is Shion home?"
The tray drops to the floor with a loud clatter. Before Nezumi is even able to process her movement, he finds himself locked in Karan's arms with the woman's damp face pressed up against his shoulder. Over and over into the leather of his jacket she murmurs, "Thank you…Thank you, thank you, thank you!"
Fighting down the urge to blush and his body's demand that he flee, Nezumi freezes, awkwardly patting her back, but otherwise unsure what to do, much less how the hell he should respond.
He could never push this woman away, but he has no clear memories of how to react to such affection. Even with Shion—
"Welcome home," Karan's voice is a choked mix, between a sob and a laugh, "oh sweet heavens, welcome home!"
At her words, a barrage of memories and warmth assault Nezumi, memories of Shion uttering those same exact words…only now, it is Karan who is saying them, Shion's mother—the one whom he has wronged almost as much as Shion himself.
"I'm…back?" his response is quiet and bewildered, uncertain to the point of being painful.
Karan merely pulls back with a sniff and a laugh, wiping her eyes with her apron, but smiling so, so happily. "Kami, look at me…where are my manners! Come in, Nezumi, please! You must be tired, and hungry, and…o-oh, Gods, I'm doing it again, aren't I?"
Indeed, she is still crying. Nezumi feels a lump clog his throat and his own eyes burn at the utter joy this woman feels at his return.
No one has ever…only Shion…a-and he's…he's…
"Thank you," Nezumi surprises himself by whispering, even more so when he realizes he is choking back a sob. "Thank you…for welcoming me so warmly into your house…thank you."
Shion…is this where you get it from? The ability to love and trust so unreservedly? Gods, how could you stand leaving this behind? How could I have ever—
But now is not the time for "what-ifs," because Karan hugs him again and this time Nezumi, much to his own surprise, is able to return it.
Once they have both calmed, Karan leads him into the back room which functions as both kitchen and bakery. Nezumi sits at the small wooden table, unable to recall whether Shion had ever described the home he'd been forced to leave when he came to live with Nezumi.
…He probably hadn't, considering Nezumi's insistence on cutting away all ties to his former life. Nor had Nezumi ever asked, determined to remain unattached.
Which, of course, I failed spectacularly at. We were connected from the very beginning, and it took me three fucking years to realize that.
It is a cozy kitchen, only large enough to house two stacked ovens (which, even now, have delicious smells wafting out of them), a counter for preparation, a kitchen sink, a two burner stove, this table, four chairs (one of which he is sitting in), and a small variety of shelves and cabinets.
It isn't much bigger than the room they shared three years ago, but Nezumi loves it.
Karan sees his wandering eyes and smiles faintly, setting out a whole cherry cake on the counter. "It isn't much, I know," she offers, "but it's home." She indicates the cake, "Would you like some? Something tells me you like it almost as much as Shion does."
Nezumi swallows thickly, praying that his voice will come out as something louder than a whisper—he hopes, "Probably even more, Ma'am."
Karan's smile widens, as if he's just confirmed something she's suspected all along.
Which, Nezumi realizes, he probably has. He glances down at the slice of cherry cake she has just placed in front of him: if Karan is anything like her son, she'll have known an instant why he likes cherry cake so much, even though he hasn't had it in close to seven years.
The woman's cheerful voice breaks into his reverie, "Go ahead and eat." She smiles at him, brushing back a strand of her hair, "And please, call me Karan, Nezumi. You've more than earned the right."
Like son, like mother.
Nezumi makes no move to pick up the fork she has placed beside his plate. His throat has gone dry and he can barely croak out the next sentence, "…You aren't angry?"
She knows I was the VC all those years ago. She knows I'm the reason why they are where they are now, so why—
Karan's smile widens and warms, "I will be if you don't start eating soon."
A soft blush creeps into Nezumi's cheeks. Dutifully, he picks up the fork and starts eating…and oh, the cherry cake is just how he remembers it: warm and sweet and full, full to bursting with sweetness and flavor.
When he finishes that slice, polishing it off in a matter of minutes as politely as he can, Karan laughs. She fetches him another piece, this time bringing over a croissant and several scones, as well.
Once he is full, she hands him a cup of tea and plops into a chair beside him, holding her own cup and letting out a sigh of relief as she eases off her feet. It is only then that Nezumi realizes she wants to talk, and suddenly has difficulty swallowing his tea.
Karan seems to sense his discomfort, for she reaches out and interweaves their fingers with a gentle smile, lightly squeezing his hand. "It's really all right, Nezumi, I'm not angry. I never was to begin with, really." She withdraws her hand and takes a sip of her tea.
Why? he wonders miserably. Why? I ruined your life…and Shion…
Karan must be able to read where his thoughts are taking him because she eyes him tenderly, smiling slightly as she sips at her tea. "I was proud of him, Nezumi. I am even prouder of him now. He's making a difference…he made a difference for you…and…I don't really miss it, that life we had in Chronos."
Nezumi tenses and it is the only indication Karan has that he has realized she's known who he is all along. Shaking her head, she moves to stroke back a piece of his hair, as she has done countless times to comfort Shion. "Don't misunderstand me, Nezumi. It was a good life, free of worry, but…" for the first time she hesitates, "it wasn't…it wasn't happy. Sometimes, it felt rather like being a caged bird." She sighs at the memory as she reflects back on that time, eyes a touch sad, "I know Shion felt it, too, perhaps even more than I did. Yes, we were stripped of our privileges, and sometimes it was hard not having the same access to medicines and other services that we were used to. But in the end…it was really a blessing in disguise. I love my life here."
Nezumi's hands clutch at his cup in a vain attempt to hide their trembling, and he bends his head forward, hiding his eyes behind his bangs, "…What about Shion?"
He remembers what he's seen, the struggles his rats allowed him to be privy to, in the years before they met again. He doesn't think that qualifies as happy, but…
"He's never regretted helping you for an instant."
Karan's reply is so sudden, so prompt, and so very sure that Nezumi jerks his head up, staring at her in stunned disbelief.
He…seriously doesn't? But…wait, he told me that, too, didn't he? It was the night Inukashi had her dogs teach me a "special lesson," the night before he intended to save Safu…that night…
"That" night is one he doesn't particularly care to remember, mainly because the emotions he felt back then were so damned raw that they terrified him. They still terrify him, but if he is able to stay by Shion's side as a result…
That was the first night I cried. The first night I realized I still knew how to cry…
Nezumi swallows again, thickly, "If he hadn't met me…If he hadn't saved me…"
…He would never have lost his innocence. He would never have had to learn what "reality" really is. He would never have had to kill…or have been killed…
A shudder wracks Nezumi's frame, unwelcome memories rushing to the surface.
Karan sighs, and it hitches at the end as she contemplates that possibility. Her hand resumes its gentle strokes through his hair, "You wouldn't have survived, Nezumi," she whispers, "and he would never have been saved."
Her reply is so succinct, so simple…Nezumi wonders if that's really all there is to it. Karan's voice warms, "However you look at it, you still saved him. I know you will believe this better coming from him, but…" she gives a tender laugh, "he's at the orphanage right now, so I hope you will at least listen. You are the best thing that could ever have happened to him, and one day…I hope you will believe the same."
The bell over the bakery door goes off a few minutes later and Karan gives a small laugh. "Oh, well. Back to business as usual," she sighs, but Nezumi, for the first time, actually hears the happiness behind it.
Karan is still speaking as she stands up, and it takes all of Nezumi's considerable self-control not to bolt when she suddenly leans down and kisses the crown of his forehead. "Never regret living, Nezumi," she murmurs. "Never regret meeting him. For he is more alive than I have ever seen him."
She pulls back with a smile and a moment later she's gone, ducking out into the bakery through the curtain that separates that room from this. He hears her muffled voice asking someone how she might serve them.
Once he is alone, Nezumi drops his forehead against his clenched fists, shoulders trembling. He fights back the heat that wants to stream down his cheeks and manages to do so—just barely.
Two concerned inquiries come from the pockets of his jacket, and two quivering noses cautiously poke out. Nezumi manages a crooked smile, "It's all right…you can come out now. I'm sure Shion's mama won't mind."
Cravat and Tsukiyo wriggle out of his pockets and scamper up onto the table top, whiskers twitching as they sit on their hind legs and gaze up at him. Nezumi gives a thick laugh, "I'm sure if you're patient she'll give you a nice treat later."
There are two disappointed chirps. Nezumi chuckles again, "No, I don't think now would be the right time to see her. She's a little busy."
Cravat seems satisfied with this answer and, turning thrice, curls up and falls asleep.
Nezumi sighs quietly through his nose, running a gentle finger down the mouse's spine.
Well, it's only natural I suppose. We have been traveling since dawn…
Cheep, chirp, cheep.
Nezumi blinks down at Tsukiyo, slightly startled by her insistent little voice. "Something wrong?"
Cheep, chirp, cheep!
He raises his head and shakes it, glancing away and out into the bakery where he can see Karan hard at work. "I'm fine."
...I'm fine. It's just…I'd really like to see Shion right now. I-It hurts, and I've only been waiting half an hour. He's been waiting for three years…
The first of many tears slides down his cheeks. Roughly, Nezumi scrubs the heel of his palm across his eyes.
"Oh! Is that Tsukiyo?"
Nezumi stiffens as Karan's delighted voice suddenly comes from behind him. He doesn't turn around, conscious of the tears marring his cheeks and the burning of his eyes. He does nod, though, praying his voice won't break when he speaks, "I-It is, M—Karan."
Karan's gaze is soft and steady, resting on his back. Nezumi senses it and his cheeks flush.
This is what they call "mother's intuition," I suppose.
But he's had so little experience in the field that he isn't sure.
Fortunately, when Karan's arm slides around his shoulders and lightly squeezes him, he already half-expects it and so, doesn't flinch. "You must be tired," she murmurs gently. "Why don't you head upstairs and sleep? Shion should be home soon. He always goes to read at the orphanage on his days off, so he shouldn't be much longer."
Nezumi is surprised for a moment, but then he remembers little Karan and her brother Rico, and the memory of Shion's clear, quiet voice ringing out in their underground hovel washes over him on the cusp of a powerful wave of nostalgia.
The words are past his lips before he even registers them, "W-Which room is his?"
Karan laughs, bright and warm, and Nezumi's cheeks burn, but he can't take the words back now, "Up the stairs and to the right." She shoos him towards the staircase once he stands, "Go on now, I'll take care of Cravat and Tsukiyo."
Unsure how to thank her, Nezumi nods and turns. Placing his foot on the bottom step once she relieves him of his traveling pack, he starts to head upstairs.
A bed…sounds really good right now.
He doesn't make it any further than the threshold of Shion's room.
The scent lingering everywhere—Shion's scent—unchanged and unmistakable, would have been enough to freeze Nezumi in his steps. It isn't that preciously held memory that causes him to cling white-knuckled to the threshold of Shion's room, though:
Haphazardly piled, scattered across every available surface, are the books that Nezumi has treasured above every other material possession that he owns.
Shion…saved my books. He carried them here…alone?
A lump swells in his throat. The tears he has been fighting since leaving the kitchen now well up, snaking down his cheeks in hot, salty rivulets.
Shion saved my books.
Nezumi can't get that thought out of his head.
Swallowing back more tears, he unsteadily pushes himself off of the doorway and slips into the room. At one point it must have been (and still is, he notes, taking stock of the other objects cluttered around it) a storage room. Now it is a makeshift library and Shion's bedroom.
As he gingerly steps between the piles of books on his way towards Shion's bed, he reaches out and runs his hands along the spines of the stories he passes:
Candide…Les Misérables…The Odyssey…
Old friends he knows almost as well as the one who rescued them.
Hamlet…Macbeth…The Happy Prince…
Tears spark again in Nezumi's eyes when he reaches the bed.
They're all here.
Feeling his knees buckle and give way, Nezumi immediately collapses onto the bed, leaning his head forward and pressing his fingers tightly against his eyes.
They're all here, every one of them.
He has only felt this scared a few times in his life. He isn't used to feeling so much emotion, much less accepting that they are his emotions.
He knows emotions exist, he knows their various names and how various authors claim they feel, but until he met Shion, he never knew he was capable of feeling this much, so much more than simple anger or hatred.
It is, once again, something he isn't sure he'll ever be able to thank Shion for.
Completely wrung out, Nezumi curls up in Shion's bed not long after, clutching the other boy's pillow to his chest. Everywhere, surrounding him, cradling him, is Shion's scent. It mixes with that of old books and dust, permeating the air and shrouding him like a blanket.
With a choked sigh, Nezumi finally gives into his exhaustion, heedless of the fact that he is still in his traveling clothes. By the time Karan climbs the stairs to check on him, Cravat and Tsukiyo nestled snugly in her collar, he is well and truly asleep.
Hushing the mice as they chirp quietly, she leans down with a faint smile and gently pulls up the covers, tucking the blanket underneath his chin. Brushing a stray strand of dark hair out of his eyes, Karan presses a light kiss to his forehead.
Feeling the feathered touch of her lips on his skin, Nezumi stirs faintly, but by then Karan is already gone, heading downstairs to the kitchen.
Shion is due home in a couple of hours, after all, and she wants to have dinner waiting.