Scars, they slept in the gym with the dogs and talked about the pasts that had been carved into their skin. ShiNezuShi.

A/N: This is the last part of my Fall 2012 portfolio, a sign that my semester is well and truly finished! Well, almost. I have an exam in the morning, another tomorrow afternoon, and one thursday night, but they're just tests. They aren't "go write a novel, you future depends on this". They're just tests, with questions that actually have correct answers... anyway, I'm rambling. The prompt this time was " 'they slept in what had once been the gymnasium' with a focus on meta-storytelling & intimate interpersonal communication" so ENJOY this last NezuShi piece of the Semester, with a special appearance from Inukashi!

They slept in what had once been the gymnasium of some long forgotten school. The structure had been almost entirely buried with the dusts of time spent abandoned, but the bubble of warmth and safety that was the gym was mostly clear of debris. There was a dusting of sand on the floor, but nothing that couldn't be covered up by the tarps in the dogs' packs, and the dryness of it ensured that the wood of the bleachers wasn't rotten.

Dinner was warmed over a fire fueled by those ancient bleachers with Nezumi tending to the stew while Shion and Inukashi made sure the dogs were all settled and fed. Nezumi made sure to fuss and complain and fidget the whole time. This was Inukashi's dumb trip out into the middle of nowhere. It had nothing to do with him and Shion was an idiot for dragging him along.

Shion frowned and pulled a puppy into his lap. "If you really didn't want to come . . ." he started. Looking away from Nezumi and focusing solely on the creature in his lap, Shion admitted, "I just thought . . . since you don't have work this weekend . . . that we could all spend some time together, like a class trip."

Beside him, Inukashi cracked up. Amid the breaths in her laughing fit she shouted, "Nee, sewer-rat, I think your little pet wants to play pretend! Like we're one big happy family on vacation or somethin'!"

"Oi!" Shion shouted at Inukashi, trying to hide his embarrassment in anger like his friends always did. He was far less successful at it than they were.

From his place by the fire, Nezumi snickered. "What's the matter, bitch? I'd have thought you'd jump at the thought of a happy family. You know, one with actual humans in it instead of just your fleabag hounds."

"You bastard!" Inukashi howled. The dogs by her side turned their noses towards Nezumi and began to growl. Even the puppy in Shion's lap made an effort to show its teeth. "I ought to skin you for that, here and now."

"Aw, look how scary," Nezumi mocked. "The little bitch is growling at me with her army of fluffy stink-bags."

Pleading, Shion called, "At least wait until after dinner! Please! It'll get cold again . . ."

There was a moment of silence before Inukashi laughed again. "You are one crazy pup, Shion, making us all eat together. You should eat if you have food, not wait for others to come sit with you. Doesn't make any sense."

"Yes, it does!" Shion defended. "Besides, I wanna do something special tonight!"

"Special? Special how?" Inukashi pressed, squinting suspiciously at Shion.

Shion smiled brightly at her. "I wanna play a game!"

"What kind of game?"

"A campfire game! I used to play it when I was in school and we'd go on class trips. It was meant to make us all better friends! We have to take turns telling stories, about whatever we're asked about!" Shion explained, his voice even more chipper than usual and brimming with excited curiosity.

"That's the dumbest thing I've ever heard!" Inukashi yelled, throwing herself back and clutching her stomach as she rolled about. Her bare feet kicked high into the air.

Shion glared at her, pouting unconsciously. He thought it would be nice to hear stories from his friends, seeing as he honestly knew very little about them and their pasts.

"Dinner's ready," Nezumi's words came as he sat down beside Shion and passed him a bowl of stew. He leaned back nonchalantly and sipped at his own serving while watching Inukashi struggle to breathe. Smirking, he mocked, "Look how much fun the bitch is having with your little game, Shion. But don't get too happy, I hear she'll wag her tail for just about anyone!"

"You slimy rat!" Inukashi was about to tear Nezumi a new one when Shion intervened by handing her a bowl of stew. She squinted at him, but as always, all she saw was his sincere smile.

"You should go first, Inukashi!" Shion suggested. "I'll go easy on you and say that you can tell us any story you want, so long as we haven't heard it already!"

"Eh? I'm not gonna tell you a story. What do I look like, your granny?"

"C'mon, please? It'll be fun!"

Inukashi snorted. "Get the rat to do it. I don't wanna."

"I refuse," Nezumi announced pre-emptively.

"Ne~zu~mi!" Shion whined.

Completely indifferent, Nezumi stared Shion down. "Stories are unimportant, sentimental; they hold you back. I don't have any."

"That's not true," Shion said, his voice quiet and serious for once.


"That's not true, you have to have stories," Shion explained. "And they don't hold you back. They're good."

Nezumi was unmoved. "I don't have any."

"Really, Eve?" Inukashi barked, "You don't have any stories? Then what's that shit you parade in front of people on stage?"

"Those stories aren't mine, idiot," Nezumi countered. "Shakespeare, Moliere, Racine, Ovid, Virgil, poets have stories. Dead poets, from long ago. But I wouldn't expect a mongrel like you to understand a complicated concept like poetry."

"It's just like a rat to be sticking his nose into useless things!" Inukashi shouted back.

Nezumi laughed. "I seem to make an awful good living off useless things."

"By sleazing them off with a bit of gold paint! You steal useless things from dead people and make yourself out to be so noble! Just what I'd expected from a sewer-rat," Inukashi shouted. She hardly ever wasn't shouting, but when she was yelling at Nezumi she was always especially loud and irritating.

Shion sighed as the conversation devolved again into the usual yelling match between Nezumi and Inukashi. He couldn't quite resist a smile though, for as loudly and continually as the pair professed to hate each other, their bickering was definitely affectionate. Deep down they were good friends. Probably.

In the long moment Shion spent reflecting on the rocky relationship of his dearest companions, their cyclical argument came to its usual temporary calm. They both turned their attention to the boy sighing into his soup.

Nezumi just observed him quietly, but Inukashi yipped brashly, "Nee, Shi-puppy. Why don't you tell us a story! I've always wanted to hear about that scar of yours, you know, the one the rat doesn't like people staring at." She leveled Nezumi with a challenging stare as she spoke.

Blinking, Shion responded, "Eh? Oh, that one." Shion's hand lifted to brush his left cheek, the skin-soft ridge of the scar whose red refused to fade met his fingertips. On some days, Shion almost forgot that he'd once lived without it, that he'd once had brown hair and brown eyes and hadn't been caught up in this whole mess with the City and its evils.

It seemed like so long ago that he'd first gotten it, been stricken by this plague that was nature's revenge on No.6. Shion half-smiled, remembering that when he'd first woken up with this new face, he hadn't wanted it. He'd been devastated.

The only reason he'd been able to move on was that Nezumi had knocked some sense into him, quite literally. Nezumi had knocked him around quite a bit that first week Shion had spent in the West Block and it was something Shion would be eternally thankful for. It was most of why he'd managed to live this long out here.

Inukashi was staring at him doubtfully, wondering if she'd pushed the joke too far. Shion almost never just stopped talking, even when he daydreamed while washing the dogs he would usually be murmuring something to them. He just couldn't stop from running that mouth of his.

Hearing him this quiet was almost unnerving.

Then he smiled and said, "It was the very first night I spent in the West Block."

His words broke the spell on Inukashi and she relaxed into the big white dog lying down behind her. Shion glanced quickly to Nezumi, aware that he wasn't fond of remembering that night. Nezumi shrugged, he didn't care what Shion chose to tell the bitch.

"Nezumi had just saved my life a dozen times over, escaping from No.6," Shion went on.

"This guy? Saved you? Inside No.6? That's shit you can't make up," Inukashi jumped in, whistling with sarcastic appreciation of Nezumi's heroics.

Nodding Shion continued, "He'd taken me to his house, let me look at all his books and use his shower to clean up, and fed me dinner."

"Nezumi? Are you sure we're talking about the same rat here?"

"Definitely! Nezumi's the greatest!"

Arching an eyebrow suspiciously, Inukashi demanded, "What on earth would make him be so helpful?" She'd known them long enough to know the effect Shion had on Nezumi, but she could hardly believe that Shion's pull had been so strong from the very beginning.

"Well, it was originally because he owed me for saving his life."

"You did? When was that?"

Nezumi cut in sharply, "Aren't listeners supposed to listen? Nosey bitches should learn to hold their tongues when someone's trying to tell them a story."

"Ooh, touchy. Now, I'm really curious," Inukashi hummed.

Shion just laughed. "That's an entirely different story! I thought you wanted to know about the scar?"

"I changed my mind," Inukashi replied with a shrug.

"Too late! You asked for the scar story and now I'm gonna tell you the scar story!" Shion chirped. Then he went on, "Now, where was I? Oh, right! So, Nezumi was making fun of me for not knowing anything about his books or their authors or anything. He's was actually being really mean, now that I think about it."

Inukashi laughed. "Now that sounds more like the sewer-rat I know!"

Laughing along with her, Shion said, "He was sort of right, though he could have been a lot nicer about it."

Nezumi just shrugged and Shion continued his story, "Anyway, I tried to head-butt him and it didn't really work and we tripped and fell and hit a bookcase and were nearly crushed by poetry books . . . I was really pathetic back then."

"You're still pathetically soft-hearted and defenseless," Nezumi mentioned.

"It's true," Inukashi chimed in when Shion tried to stand up for himself.

Sighing, Shion let it go. He supposed that in comparison to Inukashi and Nezumi he was still pretty defenseless.

Inukashi eyed him. "You're telling me that your red-snake scar is just from rolling around in a pile of books? Then why doesn't the rat have one?"

"No, the books were just the set up. It was when we were picking the fallen books up that Nezumi noticed that my hands had weird black splotches on them."


"So," Nezumi jumped in, "Even though you might not think it's strange to be filthy, normal, civilized people wash their hands on the odd occasion."

Inukashi growled. Preventing her retort, Shion mentioned, "Besides, I had just taken a shower, not even an hour before. And the splotches were there anyway, black and rash-like and clearly under the skin."

"So what were they?"

"We don't know exactly. It had something to do with the bees," Shion said seriously. Then thoughtfully he continued, "I think it might have been an allergic reaction. Possibly to the bee pupa itself, or maybe it was a result of a No.6 citizen leaving the city . . . like the pupa could sense it and released a toxin to start feeding early or something."

"No way! You had a creepy killer parasite bee inside you?" Inukashi asked, her lip curled back in disgust.

Nodding gravely, Shion moved his hand to the back of his neck, recalling the feel of the blister beneath his fingers and resisting the urge to shiver. "Yeah. I'd noticed the blister on my neck when we were escaping No.6, but I didn't quite make the connection between it and the bees. Mine didn't itch at all, and after running for my life all day and swimming in the sewers . . . It wasn't like my skin didn't have a reason to be irritated. But once the black rash started to spread under my skin, the blister began to itch painfully and I figured out pretty quickly that the pupa was starting to feed on me."

Inukashi shivered. "That's disgusting."

"I was freaking out when it happened, screaming and clawing at my neck like I was insane because I thought I was going to die after having finally reached the West Block after escaping all of the authorities that wanted to kill me."

"How did the rat react to your screaming?" Inukashi asked, her genuine curiosity outweighing her malicious teasing.

"He was really worried about it, especially when I started screaming that it hurt," Shion explained. "He wanted to get a doctor or something, but I knew I didn't have time for that. He needed to cut the pupa out of my neck immediately or I would die for sure."

"He did it right?"

"I think it took him a minute to get it done, but yeah, he did it," Shion said, beaming. The light faded from his smile as she added, "That didn't stop the pain, though. Actually, taking the pupa out made the pain from the rash worse because my body began fighting the toxins."

"Is that when the black rash turned into your red scar?"

"I think so, I wasn't really conscious for most of it," Shion admitted. "There was a point when it hurt so much that I wanted to give up. Nezumi stayed with me the whole night, making sure that I didn't let the toxins just take me over after everything we'd done to stay alive while we were escaping. He gave me back the will to live."

There was a moment of silence as Inukashi absorbed the information and Nezumi and Shion reflected on their memories of that terrifying night.

"The worst of the fever had passed by morning and Nezumi let me fall asleep. Apparently I was out for a few days. When I woke up, my hair had turned white and my eyes and gotten this reddish color, and the black rash was gone. The red scar traced where it had been, but it was much more like a snake than the rash had been."

"You didn't always have the white hair?"

"Nope. It used to be brown."

Inukashi stared hard at him, blinking a few times in concentration.

"I can't picture it. You wouldn't look right with brown hair."

"Yeah, I think so too," Shion admitted with a smile.

Nezumi scoffed. "It stands out in a crowd too much, makes for too easy a target."

Ignoring Nezumi's grumping, as Shion knew perfectly well that Nezumi preferred his current appearance, his battle scars, Shion turned to Inukashi. "So, what about you?"

"Eh? What about me?"

"It's your turn to tell a cool scar-story!"

"What? I never agreed to that!"

Discounting Inukashi's protest, Shion prompted, "C'mon, spill!"

Inukashi pouted. "I don't have one."

"Sure you do! You've got way too many scars not to have at least one interesting story about them!"

Looking down at herself, Inukashi thought a moment. Then she grinned. "I do have one!" She pulled up the hem of her shirt, exposing her light tan belly. On the right side of it was a massive scar that dragged from her belly button to her ribcage in a jagged arc. "The rat gave it to me," she added with a sneer at Nezumi.

"Wah! Really?"

"Yep! The shady bastard was trying to rob me! But I didn't let 'im do it!"

Turning harshly on Nezumi, Shion demanded, "Nezumi! Did you stab her?"

"Of course. I've stabbed her a few times," Nezumi replied, completely unbothered by Shion's look of disapproval.

"You can't tell me he hasn't stabbed you yet, nee, Shion?" Inukashi asked, suspicious. "For this guy, stabbing people is as common as it is for normal people to say hello."

Rubbing at his neck lightly, Shion murmured, "I guess Nezumi has used his knife on me once or twice."

"Glad to know you're not an exception to everything where the rat's involved." Gesturing to her scar again, Inukashi informed Shion, "This one's from the first time me and that guy'd met at all. I was only just more than a pup so it must have been almost five years ago."

"That must have been only a short time after Nezumi escaped No.6!" Shion exclaimed.

Inukashi nodded. "Mentioning that he seemed new to this town is what got me stabbed," she said with a laugh. "He didn't know how things worked around here yet. Thinking he could steal from the Dogkeeper! What a laugh!"

"I did get your pocket money, bitch, just not the money in the safe," Nezumi mentioned.

With a shrug, Inukashi replied, "Meh, whatever. I'm still the only person in the West Block to have been able to keep the rat from sticking his slimy nose anyplace he wants to."

"What happened?" Shion wondered.

"Well, the hotel was still a pretty new deal, see, so all the dogs and I stuck pretty close together. We liked to sleep altogether in the big room in the east wing, you know, the one with all the rugs and blankets and shit," Inukashi began enthusiastically. Telling Shion anything was always an intriguing experience, he was just so excited to hear about his friends' lives.

"But the safe's upstairs in the office!"

"Yep, and the rat knew it. He went straight there in the middle of the night when my cousin, the dog on watch that night, was on his round at the other end of the building," Inukashi explained, "When he woke me with news of an intruder, I almost didn't believe it! By the time I got to the office, the rat had nearly broken into the safe, but not quite. I jumped on him before he managed to get the last number in place."

Picturing the scene in his head, Shion asked avidly, "You were on his back? I can't believe you snuck up on him!"

"I didn't. He'd turned around before I'd even leaped," Inukashi admitted.

"You were just so noisy," Nezumi commented mockingly.

Willing to cede that, when she was younger at least, she'd been stupid to try sneaking up on Nezumi, Inukashi told Shion, "He knocked me clean across the room. I was back on my feet real quick though."

"Quick enough for me to hear your pockets jingle," Nezumi harried.

Inukashi huffed. "Just because you were a little bit taller than me you think you were so much better at everything than I was. I got you good in that fight."

"You barely broke the skin. It was your fleabag friend that actually got me," Nezumi countered.

"While you were busy getting handsy with my hard-earned coins, you failed to notice the massive wolfhound sneak up on you," Inukashi teased.

Nezumi laughed. "It let go of me when I pulled a knife on you though, so really it was just a miscalculation on my part. I didn't know then how stupid your mutts were. I thought they could tell that I could kill you, even without an obvious weapon."

"I'm glad you didn't kill her," Shion whispered.

"I never planned to," Nezumi replied. "Not worth the effort."

Inukashi scoffed. "Like you could have managed it anyway!"

"It would have been simple! Actually, I was surprised you'd lived even though it was your fault I stabbed you. If you hadn't been so wriggly and pathetic, I might not have even needed the knife," Nezumi mentioned. "If you'd held still like a normal person, tried to attack like a human being instead of a hound with two legs, my blade would have never touched you."

"I'm not letting you off the hook because you keep saying it was an accident," Inukashi affirmed, crossing her arms over her chest in a huff.

Remembering how awful the scar had looked, Shion asked, "How did you survive?"

"Mostly luck, I guess," Inukashi said. She shrugged and stroked the dog she was leaning against absently behind the ear as she went on, "Mama was out to kill the rat, chased him clear across town. But my aunt went to get a doctor; one of our tenants at the time had been one when he'd lived in No.6. That had been a long time ago though an' by the time he got around to stitchin' me up, he'd been drunk for near on ten years. I'll never get over being surprised that he had enough medical trappings to keep my guts inside me."

"He had a medical needle? And the proper suturing thread?" Shion asked amazed.

Inukashi nodded. "Must've been the last of it too, cuz the next day he just upped and left. Went straight into the heart of the West Block to get more med stuff from No.6 so he could start bein' a real doc again."

Shion looked over at Nezumi. The night he and Shion had first met, Nezumi had stolen Shion's first aid kit. It was Shion's guess that he still had it by the time he'd encountered Inukashi and whether he'd dropped some of it or left it on purpose, he'd saved her life with the same kit Shion had used to save his. And then that same med kit had motivated a drunkard to pick up his life and become a person that the West Block sorely needed.

Nezumi was smiling slightly. It was hidden under his usual stoic expression, but Shion could see it. Nezumi was thinking the same thing that he was, that it was kind of amazing how far the ripples on one little act of kindness could reach.

Looking at the boys, Inukashi wanted to puke. They were so cutesy it was sickening. Even her dogs didn't talk half so much in body language as those two did. They weren't even like together or anything, aside from the fact that they lived together in that hovel of a tiny little place Nezumi had out on the farthest outskirts of town. But there was this weird thing between them, the whole saving each other's lives all the time and Nezumi miraculously keeping Shion alive somehow and talking to him without words and Shion making the Rat of the West Block into some soft-hearted pet mouse and maybe they really were together and this was something she definitely didn't want to be thinking about right now.

Inukashi huffed. The she shouted at Nezumi, "Oi! It's your turn, you filthy rat, tell us one of your little sob stories about how it was just luck that my dogs got their teeth into you!"

"It's always just luck when your mutts manage the feat, or don't you remember how rarely it's happened?" Nezumi chided.

"You wanna test that theory of yours? I'm sure you won't be smirking at the end. C'mon. Here and now, let's just have it out," Inukashi bated.

"I'd rather not bother myself with it."

"Then you have to tell a story," Shion announced.

Sighing heavily, Nezumi looked back as Inukashi, "No dogs, no knives, no teeth?"

"How much of a sap have you become? Taking all the fun out it like that, I'd say you've lost your edge entirely!" Inukashi yowled with amusement. "You're just a pampered little house-mouse these days, aren't you Nezumi?"

Nezumi laughed harshly. "You can only dream. I'd be fine slicing you up for supper, but we'd both find it rather inconvenient to wind up bleeding."

"How so?"

"Shion's squeamish." To illustrate his point, Nezumi whipped out his knife and slid the blade across his finger, so shallow that it wouldn't scar, but deep enough to draw blood.

Shion reacted immediately. "NEZUMI. Why would you do that? Both of you should know by now that I'm not squeamish. I just don't like seeing you guys get hurt." Shion's crestfallen expression at not only having been made the butt of a joke, but at having been involved somehow in the responsibility for Nezumi's new injury caught Inukashi off guard.

Her cousin nosed at Shion's hand, worried.

"It's just a papercut, pup. Geez, you don't have to cry or nothin' about it," Inukashi muttered. She looked to Nezumi whose insufferable smirk had reached a new level of irritating. Grumbling, the Dogkeeper went on, "Fine, no dogs, no knives, no teeth."

"Fine by me," Nezumi said, rising to his feet. He slipped out of his coat, letting it fall to the floor with a heavy thunk. It contained most of his weaponry stock, since this was a special trip it required special armaments.

Inukashi eyed him, jumping up to join him.

Rolling his eyes, Nezumi kicked out of his shoes, sending a boot knife sliding away, and pulled off his shirt to unstrap from the sheaths he had on his back and forearms. While he fully disarmed, he eyed Inukashi. She huffed and pulled out the knife she had strapped into the back of her waistband to hand it off to another of her cousins.

She dropped down into a fighting stance as she turned back to face Nezumi.

Shion had jumped up between them. "Stop it! I don't want you guys to fight like this!"

"C'mon Shion, it's just a little fun," Nezumi chided. "Haven't you ever heard of sparring at the gym? I just wanna show the little bitch that she's not as tough as she thinks she is."

"That's my point exactly," Shion said, waving his arms dramatically at Nezumi as he continued, "You guys never just spar, you're always out to kill each other! Or at least maim. I don't think you'd ever actually kill—."

"We would," Nezumi and Inukashi promised at the same time.

"—each other, but you'd definitely hurt each other," Shion went on, unfazed by the interruption. "And . . . I don't want you to."

Nezumi rolled his eyes. "You're still too soft, Shion. Pain is the only constant in this world. It's nothing to hide away from. You'll have to accept that eventually."

"Even if that's true, it doesn't mean that I have to just watch you hurt each other like this," Shion shouted at him.

"We'll be fine."

Shion didn't bat an eye at Nezumi's blasé response. Instead, Shion leapt to tackle him.

To everyone's utter shock, he managed it.

Shion's arms caught Nezumi around the middle before he'd even tried to dodge the attack. The only way he could have gotten out of falling would have been to throw Shion to the ground by flipping over him, which was a move that would have been dangerous to try with anyone, let alone someone as city-soft and fragile as Shion, and Nezumi refused to risk it. If he landed on Shion, he would crush the boy's ribcage, and that would be unacceptable in Nezumi's book after all the effort he'd gone to in order to keep the kid alive in the first place.

Dumbstruck as she watched Nezumi and Shion fall, Inukashi marveled at how thoroughly Shion had wound himself up in Nezumi's defenses. The rat hadn't even twitched when Shion had lunged for him. To Inukashi, still looking on in a state of disbelief, it was as if they'd spent so much time together, so close together, that Nezumi could barely register Shion's existence as one that was separate from his own.

"Nezumi, you idiot," Shion was saying. "I don't care if you'll be okay, I don't want you to fight. Not tonight. Tonight was supposed to be about becoming better friends, about getting to know each other better."

"Friendship is a concept that doesn't exist in the West Block," Nezumi said quietly, looking away from Shion. The boy's arms were still locked around Nezumi's torso, but to Shion, Nezumi felt like he could be a hundred miles away.

Shion hated it when Nezumi got like this. Nezumi's mood swings were always sudden and violent, but Shion could handle most of them with only embarrassment being a side effect. But this mood was one that Shion still hadn't figured out; whether it was how Nezumi really felt or if it was some attempt to convince himself that the truth of the world was so bleak or something else entirely, Shion wasn't sure.

"That's not true."

Shion's quiet words made Nezumi look at him. Even Inukashi, who'd looked away from whatever weird moment the two were having, peeked back in their direction.

"You and Inukashi are friends."

"Business partners."



"Why does that have you mean you aren't friends?" Shion asked. "You and Inukashi are business partners, and that's why you're friends. You know exactly what each other needs and you know each other better, and in different ways, than anybody else does."

Inukashi and Nezumi looked at each other for a moment, quickly averting their eyes when they realized what they were doing. There was an instant and tacit agreement to never speak of the incident, particularly around Shion who was too busy not-crying to have noticed.

"And both of you are friends with me."

Shion sniffled, pulling himself together a bit to prevent outright sobbing which would definitely have made his friends laugh at him. "And that's why I don't like it when you guys fight like this. Because we're friends."

There was a moment of quiet. Nezumi refused to break it and Shion was done with speaking, he'd said all he needed to for the time being.

"Fine then, pup," Inukashi huffed, letting herself drop down with a loud thump. She kicked her feet out and leaned back against one of the dogs. "No fighting. But I'm gonna need another story from you in compensation. I mean since you did just cancel my evening's entertainment, you've got replace it somehow."

Shion looked over at her with a confused smile. "Eh? But I don't really have any more scar stories . . . I don't really have any more scars."

"What are you talking about? I thought you'd said the rat stabbed you?"

Sitting up and rocking back onto his heels, Shion quirked his head to the side. Then he smiled. "Oh, well, he's used his knife on me kind of a lot, but he's never left a mark. He says that since he had to replace the sheets from cutting that pupa out of my neck, he doesn't want to bother with making me bleed that badly again."

"Never left a mark, huh?" Inukashi repeated mockingly, staring with sardonic and judgmental eyes at the pair still twined together on the floor. "Only cuts you on the bed, huh? I wouldn't have thought a softie like you would have been into that kind of thing, Shi-puppy."


"Get off of me, you airhead!" Abruptly, Nezumi rolled out from under Shion. He kicked the confused boy away from him, sending him skidding across the sandy floor. "And stop saying weird things about people," he shouted, taking his seat by the fire.

Rolling onto his hands and knees, Shion crawled back to his seat. "What did I say?"

Inukashi was still a half step away from howling with laughter. "So, if you're into pain, little guy, I wonder what the big guy's into, hmm. C'mon Shi-puppy, got any juicy tidbits for me?"


"For shame, the dog does bite the hand that feeds," Nezumi growled in a poetic and dramatic display of scorn.

Shion clapped. Inukashi lost control of her laughter. "Shit, that's it, isn't it? Does he talk like that to you at home? Pin you down and cut you up and feed you lines of that poetry crap?"
"Of course, that's just how Nezumi always is," Shion replied, completely missing Inukashi's meaning. "You have experience with it too, you've said it yourself."

Now, the Dogkeeper was choking on the mental images flooding through her mind. She wouldn't be able to survive much more of this airhead's blathering on. It was a miracle that Nezumi could live with someone so thick.

"Inukashi!" Nezumi snapped, his blushing face hidden from Shion by the firelight. "Stop asking irrelevant questions."

"She'll stop if you tell a story!" Shion chimed in brightly.

Nezumi glared suspiciously at him. It was possible, he thought, that Shion wasn't quite the airhead he seemed, that he'd been planning to exploit something like this to get Nezumi to play his little campfire game. That was an unlikely scenario, though, made even more so by the childish excitement on Shion's face at the prospect of hearing a story from Nezumi.

"Fine." Nezumi gestured to the crook of his left arm, a semi-circle of scar tissue on his bicep. For a moment, both Inukashi and Shion's eyes were drawn to a rather faint scar just a few inches above it. That one was clearly from a much deeper wound, and its shape was unnaturally straight as if it had been fused back together the moment the skin had been torn.

Inukashi recognized it from the time she'd given Nezumi the wound he was actually talking about. Back then it had borne the criss-cross pattern of stitching that was such a rarity in the West Block and Inukashi hadn't known what to make of it. Now, she still didn't know, in fact, she understood the injury even less. She could see Shion staring at it from across the fire with this nostalgic expression that she couldn't completely read; there was a sort of sadness in his face, and yet also almost a fondness, and definitely a mix of pride and concern. Shion definitely knew the story behind that wound and that confused Inukashi to no end.

"This was given to me by the bitch," Nezumi was saying, drawing everyone out of their reveries to listen. "The first time we'd met and she was trying to wriggle free because she'd foolishly thought that she could get the jump on me, she'd been trying to distract me from the ridiculously massive dog she had 'sneaking' up behind me. Before the mutt jumped in to try and save its imbecilic master, Inukashi bit me herself."

"She bit you? Really?"

Nezumi nodded, and let Shion have a closer look at the semi-circle of a scar. "I was almost impressed, actually. Who knew that little bitch could do anything with enough force to leave a scar? I guess it was the tiny teeth that dug in, though it hardly hurt at all. Maybe she has venom that prevents wounds from healing."

"Nee, Nezumi," Inukashi snorted, "I hope you don't think that little scrap is enough to count as your story."

Nezumi shrugged. "Well when you've already told the rest of it, what else can I say? Your story-telling was beautiful, by the way, so stark and flat and impressively void of the moment's strife. I was awed at how you could ruin a tale so thoroughly," he replied with a smirk. "It was almost as glorious as Shion's first reading of Macbeth."

Inukashi snarled vaguely in Nezumi's direction, but couldn't help the trickle of amusement at Shion's mortified expression. Apparently, Shion's first experience with Macbeth or whatever had been quite the show.

"Nezumi!" Shion nearly squeaked.

Teasing, Nezumi responded, "What? It was quite the little performance. Or would you rather I tell her about the first show you ever put on for me?"

"NEZUMI!" Shion shrieked. "You wouldn't! You promised!"

Nezumi shrugged and Shion lunged for him again, taking the bait. This time, Nezumi was able to dodge him, twirling up and around his flailing form with the elegance Inukashi normally associated with him. "Oi, oi, Shion," Nezumi teased. "It's not like you to be so shy in dealing out personal information like this."

Grumbling, Shion pushed himself up from where he'd fallen flat on his face. "Fine, I get it. No more stories tonight," she said with a pout.

Shameless, Nezumi folded himself back into his seat beside the airhead. Shion curled up next to him with one of the dogs, still pouting slightly. "You should at least sing something, then, to make up for ruining tonight's story time."

All of the dogs perked up at Shion's suggestion, a few even barking approval. Inukashi smirked. "Yeah, Nezumi, let's hear that pretty voice of yours."

Nezumi didn't shoot the idea down. Instead, he sighed. "Fine. Get settled, though, I won't have any fidgeting interrupt me."

The dogs all curled up for bed, settling in around Shion and Inukashi. They grudgingly left a bit of space for Nezumi beside Shion at their friend's insistence. Nezumi waited, staring into the fire until everything had fallen quiet, and then he began to sing gently. It wasn't the song that Inukashi was familiar with, the one Nezumi used to carry away the souls of her dogs. This one was just as peaceful, but brighter, warmer.

Resting her chin on her knees, Inukashi let herself drift off. She barely noticed as the minutes ticked by, and the echo of Nezumi's song was still playing in her head when he stopped. Shion had fallen asleep. Nezumi was tending to the dying embers of the fire, ensuring that they wouldn't flare up and spark a fire in the building.

"Nee, Nezumi," Inukashi whispered. She didn't receive a response from Nezumi, but she'd known him long enough to know he was listening. "What's the story of that other scar on your arm, the one Shion got all weird about for a minute there?"

After letting the fire fizzle out into nothing more than warm coals, Nezumi sighed. He looked down at the line that had carved a story into his skin and a new world into his mind. He smiled softly at it. Looking on, Inukashi was suddenly uncomfortable. She'd asked something she shouldn't have, that was entirely obvious. Whatever the story was, it was something Inukashi was probably better off not knowing. After all it was something that could make the rat smile; of all the scumbags on earth that it could have been, seeing Nezumi with a genuine smile of warmth was something that Inukashi was not prepared for.

Nezumi's gaze fell to the sleeping figure of Shion, smile still in place.

"That is a rather long story," Nezumi responded eventually. "The short version is that Shion saved my life once, so really it's his story to tell."

Inukashi stared at the pair with new eyes. The intensity of Nezumi's voice when he was talking about whatever it was that had occurred was incredible. Inukashi had never heard anything like it, even when he was onstage. The entire world had been rewritten in his mind because of the story behind that scar.

"The West Block is rough," Nezumi whispered, "But it's a thousand times kinder to its outcasts than No.6 is to its precious citizenry."

"I don't wanna know about it," Inukashi murmured back. "About No.6. Or about the you that hadn't left it yet; whatever sort of demon you were then . . . If you're this dangerous now, after having that pathetic pup soften you up . . . I don't wanna know how you were before. I'd rather take my chances with the rat you are now."

"You should try convincing Shion of that."

"Like anyone could ever convince that airhead," Inukashi countered, almost affectionately. "He thinks the world of you."

"I know."

A quiet settled between them and Inukashi shifted down to sleep. Before closing her eyes for the night, she commanded almost inaudibly, "Don't let him down."

She'd almost drifted off in dreams when Nezumi's nearly soundless response reached her. "I don't think I know how to do that."

His hand brushed over Shion's snow white hair, resigned to holding a watch even though there was no need for one. The dogs had their own rotation established. Nezumi just wanted to stay up for a while longer alone with his thoughts.

Nezumi didn't know how to keep Shion from being let down when he learned the truth. All he could do was prolong that moment for as much time as possible. As much as the scar Shion had tended to reminded Nezumi every day of the kindness that existed in the world, he had many other scars telling very different stories.

The stories that were written all over his body were shallow marks that only penetrated the skin. The mark that Shion had left, the wound he had stitched up and helped to heal, had gone far deeper marking his heart as firmly as any knife had ever marked his skin.

As desperately as Shion wanted to learn about the stories Nezumi had carved into his skin, Nezumi wanted just as desperately that he never learn them. In the hours before dawn, Nezumi lay down at last and let Shion pull into his warm back without a hint of protest.

Shion was right, Nezumi did have his own scar stories to tell.

But none of them were very important.

Just the one.

And Shion already knew that story.

A/N: So, that's that. I'm not terribly satisfied with the ending. But I'm at the point one comes to while writing a portfolio when one has turned to sugar cookies and fruit-roll-ups for sustenance and is simply DONE with the semester, without accounting for how done the semester is with them. I hope you like it, regardless. I'm about to go on winter break, which means a month off without any school worries! (employment worries . . . those never really go away . . . ) but anyway, this might mean that I'm gonna write a lot, or it might mean that I'm not gonna write a thing. Could go either way.

SO, in case I don't see y'all for a while: HAPPY HOLIDAYS.

{I hope to be back with at least a Holiday one-shot, but I'm not sure what fandom I'm going to set it in ... }