Nezumi is standing there in front of him. Shion doesn't understand. How can Nezumi be here, just making breakfast like nothing is wrong? Shion watched him die. Nezumi died in his arms, and yet here he is, alive. Shion can't believe it. All he can see is Nezumi's eyes form that night, watching as the light left them, seeing Nezumi fade away right in front of him... Could all that have been a dream? Just another nightmare? But it all seemed so real. It hadn't been just a normal nightmare, the kind that he wakes up from whenever it gets too unbearable. But this… this one had seemed different from the others.

"You're blocking the doorway," says Nezumi. He is holding a tray with all the breakfast he just finished cooking. Shion steps aside. He feels like he is floating. Nezumi is alive. It was all just a nightmare. He's alive. Nezumi takes the tray to the table, and sits down. He calls back out to Shion. "Hey, are you going to come eat, or do I get all of this to myself?"

Shion doesn't really trust himself to walk. His knees feel weak. His balance is unsteady. But walk, he does, using a hand on the wall to steady himself. He walks out of the kitchen. Nezumi is serving food out onto the plates that had already been laid out. Such a normal act, yet Shion can't help but stare. He stares in wonder at Nezumi's graceful figure laying out the plates. Nezumi dying... It had all felt so real. He can't get the images, the feelings of his death out of his mind.

Nezumi stops what he is doing and looks at Shion. Meeting eyes with him again… It sends shivers down Shion's spine. "Hey," Nezumi says. "Are you okay?"

Shion hears Nezumi's voice, but all he can think of is that voice closing around those last words. You're going to be fine… Nezumi walks towards him. "Shion?"

Shion simply stares at Nezumi. He's alive. He's really alive. "Nezu... mi..." The words are out before he can stop them. His voice comes out in a raspy whisper, as though he really hasn't spoken in over a week. But it's okay to speak to Nezumi. Nezumi and Nezumi alone is allowed to hear his voice. That's what Shion has decided.

Nezumi recognizes the look on Shion's face and the way he says his name. The desolation and utter wonderment, just from looking at him, seeing that he is alive… these are feelings that Nezumi is all too familiar with. He guesses exactly what had happened in Shion's nightmares, because he's had nightmares of his own.

Nezumi walks across the room and takes Shion into his arms. Shion feels so comfortable, being held close like this. Feeling Nezumi's body, his warmth, his smell. All of these things are so familiar to Shion, and this familiarity calms him. He feels Nezumi's hot breath against his ear, and with it, his low voice. "It's alright, it's okay. I'm here now." Nezumi strokes his hair gently. The slow rhythm sooths Shion. "It was just a dream. I'm here. I'm here."

"Nezumi..." Shion says again. He is so overwhelmed by emotion. Happiness, disbelief, but there is still so much sadness. So much grief. "You were..." he doesn't want to say the word. It's as though, as long as he doesn't say the words, he can continue to pretend it didn't happen. Except it didn't. Nezumi didn't die. He was here, holding him in his arms. This gives Shion the strength to say what he had been trying to deny for what felt like over a week. "... dead,"

Nezumi pulls him closer. "Shhh," he whispers. "It's okay, it was just a dream. It's all over now. I'm here."

"I know..." After not speaking for so long, it feels strange to talk this much. "But it felt so real... And I didn't just wake up, it just kept going..."

"Shhh, don't worry about it, okay?"

"Yeah..." How can Shion not worry about it? Less than ten minutes ago, he'd thought Nezumi was dead. But he's alive…

Nezumi releases Shion from his embrace, holding him at shoulder length. When he speaks again, it is in a normal voice. "Let's have breakfast, okay?"

Shion nods and Nezumi lets go of him to go sit at the table. Shion follows him, sitting across from him.

He doesn't say anything for a while. He is just enjoying Nezumi's presence. He expects Nezumi to say something to him. To ask if hi is okay again. But he doesn't. Eventually, Shion can't take the silence anymore. "I didn't say a word, you know."

Nezumi looks up. "Hm?"

"I didn't say a word to anyone." He realizes that he doesn't know how Nezumi would react to this, and so he decides not to elaborate. He has his reasons for not speaking, but he suspects that Nezumi will make fun of him for it.

Images from the dream are still so vivid in his mind, as clear as memories. "Don't dreams usually dissipate by now?" he asks Nezumi. "It still feels so real..."

"Shion, none of that happened. You know that. This is reality."

"Yeah, I know," Shion says. Memories from his dream are still spinning through his mind. The pain, although it is starting to diminish, is still present. It is no longer crushing, but the weight is still there. "But I still don't think I'm going to talk to anyone for a while," he adds.

"That's fine," says Nezumi. They finish the meal without saying anything else. Nezumi stands up and takes his plate to the kitchen. He grabs Shion's on his way past, then disappears into the kitchen.

Logically, Shion knows that Nezumi is just in the kitchen. He knows that Nezumi will be back in a matter of seconds. He knows that, right? He remembers all of the times Nezumi has disappeared from him. Every time. Twelve years old: waking up to find him gone. Sixteen years old: every time he left to go to his mysterious job. Sixteen years old: standing out on a hill in front of the city and being left with nothing but the words Saikai wo kanarazu. Reunion will come. Eighteen years old: watching him die. Could this all be a hallucination? Something his mind made up in order to relieve some of the pain?

Nezumi came back in, causing Shion to sigh in relief. Even if this is all a product of his mind, the illusion isn't over yet.

"Hey…" Nezumi says. Shion can't meet Nezumi's eyes. "I'm here, I was just in the kitchen." He pulls Shion's chin up, forcing him to look into those deep gray eyes. "Hey, are you really okay?" Shion doesn't trust himself to respond. Those eyes have him completely captured, just as they had every time before and just as they would continue to do every time to come. "Do you want me to stay home from work today?"

Shion forces himself to think about what Nezumi is saying. He would very much like it if Nezumi stayed here with him, but doesn't want Nezumi to have to miss work. He shakes his head.

"I can miss, it'll be fine," says Nezumi. "It's not like I have any major shows today."

Nezumi grabs Shion's wrist and leads him to the living room, where there are several books lying around. Karan had started reading almost as avidly as Nezumi once all of the City's book restrictions had been lifted. She borrowed books from Shion and Nezumi's apartment by the armful, and wouldn't usually give them back unless Nezumi requested them specifically by title. With Nezumi being… well, Nezumi, the only books they would ever get back are Nezumi's personal favorites. There are quite a few books here, including a few that Shion hasn't read at all. Nezumi knows which ones these are, and hands one of them to Shion.

Shion takes the book, and wonders how Nezumi knows that this is the one he wants to read. He realizes that Nezumi really does watch him this closely, really does pay attention to what he does and says. Enough to know which books Shion has and hasn't read. If it were anyone else, Shion would see it as creepy or stalkerish. But it's Nezumi. Nezumi who doesn't show emotion or affection. And yet, Shion can see how much Nezumi truly cares. Shion tries to make eye contact with the other boy, to show him that he understands, that he appreciates it. But Nezumi has already opened up a book of his own, and ignoring Shion with such intensity that Shion is sure he saw him.

And so for the next few hours they just sit, side by side, reading their books and sharing each other's warmth. At some point during that time, Karan comes home, and is now in the front, running the bakery. Customers were stopping in; some of the regulars actually come into the back to converse with Karan. Shion barely registers any of this, he is so lost in the story. Secretly, he is glad of the distraction. He is glad that he is able to drift away from reality, from the nightmare that is still haunting his vision. He is glad that for at least today, for these few hours, he can let all of his problems just slip away.

"Shion, are you all right?" Karan asks. The three of them are at dinner. Shion hasn't said a word to Karan.

Shion looks at her and nods. He glances quickly at Nezumi, then back down at his food, staring at it intently. Karan can tell that he is trying to hide something. It has something to do with Nezumi, she is sure, but what could it be?

Could it be that they… She doesn't even finish the thought. She knows that is not the case, and she knows what did happen is something bad. But what? What could possibly hurt Shion like this? She looks to Nezumi, knowing that he probably has the answer.

He makes eye contact with Karan and gives her a slight nod, and a look that says, He's fine. I can handle it. I'll take care of him.

Karan returns the nod, telling him that she trusts him. And she does. It's hard, to put the wellbeing of her son into someone else's hands, but she trusts Nezumi. He has saved Shion so many times, Karan is sure that her son is much safer with him than he ever was with her. Even so, it is always difficult to place the wellbeing of one's own child into the hands of another.

Nobody says much of anything during dinner. They just eat in silence. The time passes slowly for Karan, and she has to force herself to eat. She is worried about Shion, but knows that not eating would, if anything, make things worse. She just has to trust Nezumi.

Karan finishes her dinner before both boys, and decides to leave them. She gets up, takes her plate to the kitchen, then goes into the main room to read.

After Karan leaves, Shion turns to Nezumi. "Are you going to make me finish this?" he asks quietly.

Nezumi chuckles softly and nods. "As much as you can get through. But don't force yourself, Your Majesty."

Shion shoots him a look which makes him chuckle again. But despite this, he doesn't eat very much more.

Nezumi stands up as the same time as Shion and together they go to the kitchen to clear their plates. When Shion turns to leave the room, Nezumi puts a hand on his arm and turns him back around.

"If you're not really okay, you need to tell me," Nezumi says. He doesn't want to show Shion how concerned he is. He doesn't want to be as concerned as he is. But there's no point in hiding things from Shion.

"I'm fine," he says. "Really. I'm just..."

"Just what?" Nezumi keeps his voice hard, or at least as hard as he can manage. He knows what it's like, to wake up in the morning thinking that Shion is dead, but the feeling almost always melts away the moment he sees him. It is clear that Shion's dream isn't dissipating.

"Just tired, that's all. I think I'm going to go to bed now..."

Nezumi nods. He's been thinking of going to bed early, too. He has to get up early tomorrow, and has been contemplating the idea of going to bed early himself. And even if that weren't the case, he still wants to stay with Shion.

He bows low. "Mind if I join you, Your Majesty?"

Shion smiles faintly, and tries to push him over, but Nezumi had known it was coming and steps out of the way just in time.

"So long as I can actually sleep," Shion responds.

"Shion!" Nezumi says in mock horror. "What could you possibly be suggesting?"

"I'm suggesting that I'm exhausted and I want to sleep," Shion says. Nezumi chuckles, part of him wishing that Shion didn't always know the perfect thing to say. The other part of him loves it.

They walk up to the bedroom side by side, with their shoulders occasionally brushing. The room they had at Karan's house was Shion's old bedroom from when he still lived with her. It was the same furniture as well, meaning there is only the one small bed. Nezumi doesn't know where Karan thinks he sleeps when they stay over, but he doesn't exactly care, either.

Nezumi opens the door and follows Shion inside. He and Shion go to opposite sides of the room to change back into their pajamas. Nezumi has to stifle a laugh. After all this time, after everything, Shion still has to face away from him when he changes. On any other day, Nezumi would have called him out on it. What could you possibly be trying to hide that I haven't seen before? But today... He can tell that Shion is tired and really does just want to go to bed.

Nezumi climbs into bed next to Shion. The bed really is small, no bigger than the cot he had when they lived out in West Block. But as he pulls the covers over himself and tries to settle in, Shion scoots in closer to him.

"Nezumi..." he whispers. Nezumi wraps his arms around the other boy, pulling him closer.

"What happened to getting to sleep, huh?" he asks quietly. But he is not altogether displeased.

"I..." Shion starts, but then he trails off. "In the dream," he says finally. "I lost you. You were..."

Nezumi doesn't want Shion to think of this. He doesn't like seeing just how much he affected the boy's life. Nezumi doesn't like seeing Shion like this, partly because he doesn't want Shion to be haunted by Nezumi's death. But also because it makes Nezumi think about how Shion felt when after he left. How had Shion reacted then? Had he been just like this?

"And..." Shion's voice, although barely more than a whisper, cuts through Nezumi's thoughts. "And everybody... They all were trying to help me... and I didn't say a word to them. And there was this police officer, and he kept asking me questions, trying to get me to tell him what happened, and I wanted to, I did. But I just couldn't..."

"It's okay," Nezumi whispers, for the third time that day.

"I was there, too," Shion says. "When you... I was there. I was holding you. I had to watch you die, and there was nothing I could do about it!" he is still speaking quietly, but it was clear he was starting to get agitated. "I couldn't-" he stops short, and takes a deep breath. When he speaks again, calmness has returned to his voice.

"It was the worst feeling of my life. Being so helpless..." he raises his eyes to meet Nezumi's. "I don't ever want to lose you again," Shion whispers. He shifts just a tad closer to Nezumi. "I love you."

And then Nezumi can hold back no longer. He pulls Shion even closer and, after less than a second's hesitation, kisses him lightly.

Despite Shion's earlier claims that he wanted to just go to sleep, he responds to Nezumi quite eagerly, pulling him farther into the kiss. Nezumi hadn't expected Shion to respond this way, and he certainly didn't expect his own subsequent reaction.

Well, he thinks, maybe I don't have to be in that early...

Shion is still breathing heavily. His heart is still beating so hard it feels like it will leap out of his chest. Nezumi is already asleep, his breathing and heart rate mostly returned to normal.

As his breathing finally begins to slow, his mind starts to clear. The experiences of the dream are still palpable, as real as a memory, but after the night's events, how could Nezumi be anything but alive?

Shion awakes with a start. The first thing he does is begin to panic. Nezumi isn't here. He forces himself to calm down, to think rationally. He checks the time. It is past 9 o'clock. He realized that Nezumi must have already left to go to work.

Shion gets up to go and get dressed. He is late for his own job, and after missing the previous day with no warning... Luckily he doesn't have any proposals of his own that he needs to put through, but he still needs to maintain a presence if he wants the other members of the committee to accept him.

When he steps out of bed, he is somewhat surprised to find that he actually has clothes on. He thinks back through the previous night, trying to figure out when he had gotten dressed. He doesn't come up with any answer, but he doesn't get overly concerned about it. His mind, and by extension, his memory, has never been the most... reliable in that state.

As he leaves the room, he thinks, Nezumi picked all the clothes up off the floor. I'll have to reward him for that later.

He goes down the stairs and into the kitchen to get himself some breakfast. There is a batch of fresh-baked muffins on the counter, teasing him. Inviting him to have one. He considers yelling to his mother and asking if he can have one, but he is still uncertain of the idea of speaking to anyone except Nezumi.

He decides to take the muffin. If his mom was really worried about it, he would just pay her back. He grabs a paper towel from by the sink and goes to the table to eat. He's already halfway trough the muffin by the time he reaches the table.

He barely has time to sit down before Karan comes out from the store. She comes out and looks at him with such a look of incredulity, and all he can think is that he's going to be paying for this muffin.

But the way she is looking at him... It's more than that. What could it be?

A thought works its way to the front of his mind. Shion sends it away, refusing to even admit to the possibility. That had all been a dream. It definitely had.

Hadn't it?

"Oh, Shion..." says Karan. Her tone of voice... was it sympathy?

No. Shion refuses to believe it. He is just getting himself all worked up over nothing again. Nezumi is going to come home this evening and laugh at him for being so worked up.

The doorbell to the shop rings. Karan continues to stare at Shion for another second, then she turns around to go serve whatever customer just walked in. Shion hears muffled voices from behind the shop door.

The door opens, and Karan is saying, "Yes, of course. Come on in." She gestures inside the house.

Through the door steps a man that Shion sincerely wishes that he didn't recognize. It is Jeff, the detective in charge of the investigation of Nezumi's murder.

"Hey," Jeff says and he sits down next to Shion. "Do you think you could tell me anything yet?"

But Shion isn't paying attention to Jeff. He can't pay attention to Jeff. Just when he had started to think that Nezumi hadn't died, it turns out that he is dead after all. Nezumi is dead... It hits him all over again. It feels just like the first time. To Shion, it feels as though his heart had been ripped out. And just as soon as somebody started to patch him up, started to sew him back together, the stitches are being torn right through and his heart ripped out a second time.

It is more painful this time. The first time, he'd been able to numb himself and process what had happened slowly. But this time, he already knows what had happened. So it hits him all at once. Full-force.

He can't see. He can't breathe. He can't think. He sees nothing but images of Nezumi, which get more and more distorted by the second. Nezumi is standing there before him, holding out a hand, and then is shot. Shion wants to yell, to warn him, but he can't find his voice. He watches as Nezumi dies right in front of him. Again and again and again and again and aga-

He feels a hand on his arm, rescuing him from these images. It is his mother. He looks up at her, and then feels her warmth as she takes him into her embrace. But this hug feels just as real as Nezumi's from the day before. So which was the dream?

He is aware of a heat on his face and knows he is crying. He can't stop it. And why should he? He just lets his mother hold him.

Had he been imagining the Nezumi from yesterday? But it had seemed so real... And that Nezumi had been different from the idealized versions that appear in Shion's dreams. He had been more accurate. More real. But everything here is equally as real. It is so overwhelming. The feelings are so overpowering, all he can really do is cry into his mother's arms. Slowly, all thoughts drain from his mind except one, circling around and around in his mind.

Is he alive, or is he dead?

Which life is reality?