A small round of applause resounded in the brightly lit room as smoke rose from twenty blown out candles, Shion smiling lightly as he straightened himself from leaning towards the cake in front of him. Surrounding him were five faces, all of which had now been familiar to him for at least a few years.
"Finally we can eat!" Rikiga bellowed, laughing heartily. "What type did you say it was again, Karan?"
Pausing to look at him as she plucked the candles from the cake, Karan answered him with a look of joking annoyance on her face, "I would have thought you'd be able to remember that by now. It's cherry, just like it was last year and the year before that."
"Ah, sorry sorry. I must have been too distracted by you to remember." Rikiga winked at Karan as he bowed slightly in his seat, a hand over his heart.
"Still trying with those lame lines, old man? Isn't it more likely that you can't remember because of all that booze killing off that tiny brain of yours?" Inukashi cackled. Beside her, Shionn giggled in his high chair.
"Oh, shut up you flea bag!"
Before another word could be spat between the two, the final guest interjected. "Come on you guys. This isn't the time to fight. Right, Shion?" Tori nervously turned the attention back on the birthday boy, his eyes pleading.
"You two will have plenty of time to bicker later," Karan interjected instead, sternly waving the knife she'd picked up to cut the cake at them.
Finally speaking up, Shion cut in and grabbed the knife out of Karan's hand. He knew she was careful, but the sight of it still made him a bit nervous. "Here mom, let me take care of that for you. I can cut the cake myself."
"Are you sure?"
"Yeah, it's no trouble really." Casting his eyes downwards, Shion swiftly cut out a piece for each guest and dished them onto plates.
They spent the next while chatting and laughing happily amongst themselves as they ate. With the light mood in the air, no one felt it right to point out that Shion had cut an extra two pieces which sat untouched and lonely on their plates.
Shion let out a deep sigh as he let the heavy door click to a close behind him. In his hands he carried what was left of the cake from earlier, his mother having had insisted that he be the one to take it, but it seemed heavier than was natural in his arms. Another birthday had arrived and was now coming to a close. The mark that another year had gone by with nothing but waiting.
He had moved into the small apartment he now stood in a little less than two years ago, shortly after his eighteenth birthday. Karan had insisted that he get himself some proper work and living space, and although Shion did appreciate the extra room and privacy, there were many times when he wished he had a bit of company. Tsukiyo had been there for him at the beginning, but the little guy had passed away due to old age shortly after the move.
After languidly putting the cake away in the sparsely filled fridge, Shion crossed to the bedroom where he opened the large window. Back when he'd been looking for a place to buy, the thing he'd been most picky about was making sure there was a balcony, no matter how small, and thus he had wound up in this little thing on the second floor of an aging complex. During each rain storm he would open the door wide for a few minutes and imagine once again screaming into the night, his voice being lost in the howling winds, but he never did. He would watch the water hit the pavement on the other side of the door for a few moments and then once again close the opening.
Tonight the air was mild, just beginning to hint of autumn's approach, and the evening breeze carried with it no signs or rain, but, despite this, Shion stepped outside. He did not run to the railing, nor did he scream as he had those eight years earlier. He only calmly paced to the edge and leaned over so that he could rest his head on his arms which in turn rested on the edge. He looked down at the street below, the warm lanterns glowing in the growing shadows as the last signs of the sun disappeared off the brink of the horizon. There were a few people still wandering about, likely returning to their homes, and Shion watched them half-heartedly for a while, absentmindedly trying to discern any familiar features they had. That man has a similar way of walking, but it's not quite as elegant. That woman's hair colour is kind of like his was, but it doesn't shine as much.
As he watched, the amount of people gradually lessened until the street was empty save for a few fallen leaves blowing lightly across cobbled stones. Instead he cast his eyes towards the heavens where stars had started to appear. Is this the same sky you see where you are? he wondered absently. But the stars are probably brighter, aren't they? Way out there where there are no artificial lights to compete with them for attention. And what about her? Is she up there somewhere watching over us? If so, can she see you too? Does she know where you are? If you're safe? Does she know when I'll finally be able to see you again?
He stayed like that, staring into the black infinity of the universe, until the air became too cold for him to bear and he was forced to retreat inside. He didn't close the door behind him however, at least not fully. Between the sliding door and its frame, he left a small space so that if by chance any rats with bleeding shoulders in need of care were to appear they'd be able to enter.
Warm, sweet smelling air enveloped Shion and brought him back to the waking world. Blinking at the bright sunrise, he turned to look at the time displayed on the old analog clock he kept beside his bed, the clock hands indicating that it was just past half past eight in the morning. On a regular day he'd already have been up hours ago, choking down a quick breakfast and worrying over if he had all the papers he'd be needing for the day, but the others he worked with had insisted that he take at least the one day off. It was rare for him to take weekends or even holidays off, so the concept of waking up so late and not have to panic about it gave him quite an odd feeling.
Slowly, he raised himself from his bed and began slowly pacing towards the kitchenette clad only in the pair of boxers he'd put on last night before wrapping himself tightly in warm blankets. He dragged himself over to the fridge and opened to it search for something to eat when he noticed that the box the cake had been in was opened slightly. Looking in it, it was instantly obvious that a piece had been taken.
"I'm impressed. Your perception seems to be worse than ever."
Shion's breath caught in his throat and he whirled around, feeling like he had suddenly landed in a dream he'd had far too many times already. Sitting cross legged in a chair, one arm resting on the kitchen table, was Nezumi, his eyes still as beautiful and stormy as they had been when that hand which now delicately held a fork had been icily pressed against his neck.
There were no cries of surprise. No running into each other's arms. For a moment they merely stood there in silence, Shion's eyes wide as they stayed locked with the other man's. He moved them away quickly though. It felt odd to look, in a way. It was as if he feared that the Nezumi in front of him was merely an illusion and if he looked to long he'd start noticing the flaws in his mind's creation and be sure that this wasn't really him. Instead he turned his attention back to the fridge, but finding nothing that he felt he could stomach at the moment, he settled simply for a glass of water. He didn't cross the small room to sit in the chair across from Nezumi. Once he'd turned to look once more at his unexpected guest, he merely leaned his back against the counter. "How did you find me? I moved after you left. You shouldn't know about this place."
That subtle look of amusement Shion remembered having seen so many times appeared. "Are you saying I'm not wanted? I was expecting you to welcome me with open arms."
Shion too was surprised. Almost every time he'd thought of Nezumi for these last four years, the thoughts had been of longing. Longing both to return to those days in the book filled room as well as longing for the day when he'd finally be able to see this silver eyed boy once again. It amazed his how calm he seemed to be now that that time had come, yet at the same time he realized that the reason was that he was afraid this Nezumi really was only a figment of him imagination. Sooner or later the phantom would vanish and Shion would once again be alone. If that had to happen, he didn't want to raise his hopes too much. It would only lead to even more sadness. "Did you get the address from mom or something?" was all he said in response, ignoring the other's question.
"…In a way, yes. She seems to have picked up your habit of leaving windows open while she's asleep."
A sudden pang of guilt sprang up in Shion. Karan had always been careful about windows, even more so once they'd moved to Lost Town, however, even before Nezumi had appeared in front of him again at the start of all the madness four years ago, Shion had developed a habit of opening a window on the night of his birthday. Had Karan noticed that and realized Shion's intentions? Had she opened the window realizing that, if Nezumi were to return by sneaking in through a window once again, he would likely not know of Shion's apartment and would instead go to the small bakery? "So you broke into my mom's house while she was sleeping."
"That's not the nicest way to put it, but yes."
"And then you broke into here while I was sleeping."
"I was under the impression that I was being invited in. The invitation wasn't as impressive this time however. Didn't feel like screaming?"
Shion paused in surprise. "Were you there last night when I was on the balcony then?"
Nezumi only smirked.
"Then what did you do last night…? You didn't just stay out there the whole time, did you?"
A soft chuckle reverberated around the room, sending a shiver down Shion's spine. "You've become a very heavy sleeper. They're not overworking you down there at the Moondrop, are they?" he said in mock concern, though Shion thought he could see a hint of real concern showing through.
Shion didn't answer this time though, instead opting to rush nervously back to the bedroom. As soon as he was through the door he noticed it, having been too tired to do so before. He himself always slept on the far right edge of the mattress, a habit he'd picked up while having to share a bed with Nezumi, yet on the side by the wall there was a very distinct indent in the sheets.
"You didn't even notice I was there." Nezumi had appeared behind him in the doorway. His words now, which usually would have carried his usual mocking tone, were now surprisingly soft.
Shion couldn't stop himself anymore. He spun around and connected his palm with Nezumi's cheek, a satisfying and very real smack cracking through the room.
"Fuck! What was that for?" Nezumi grabbed at his cheek, the skin already becoming noticeably red.
"Your perception seems to be worse than ever," Shion echoed back the earlier words, "In the past you would have been able to block that without much problem. I think there's only been one other time when I managed to land a hit on you."
"God, I was expecting you to be happy see me! What was that for?"
"For being gone for four years, of course! Again!" Shion could feel all his pent up emotions bubbling to the surface now. He fought back tears. He had cried enough. He didn't want to do it again now. Not in front of Nezumi. "Do you know what I've been having to deal with?! You've been off enjoying your little trip, meanwhile I've been having to completely restructure a city! Do you think that's easy?!"
"Shion, calm down," Nezumi said, visibly nervous, "I'm here now. I can help you with what's left. It's okay, it's all okay."
"No! It's not fucking okay! I've been so scared…!" Shion's voice broke on the final word as he could no longer hold back the tears. "I've had to be so mean…! I've spent this entire time feeling like I was losing myself and you weren't even there to care much less help me…!"
Nezumi didn't say anything. Instead, he just wrapped his arms tightly around Shion's shaking frame as the boy broke down in sobs and buried his face in Nezumi's shirt. They stayed like that for a few minutes, Nezumi whispering soft apologies as Shion buried himself in his shoulder. When the boy who was no longer just a boy finally began to calm, Nezumi led him gently to the side of the bed and they both sat.
"I'm sorry," Shion hiccoughed, wiping at his eyes for what felt to him like the millionth time. "You've just gotten back and I'm already yelling at you."
"Don't apologize. I deserve to be yelled at."
"But you don't…! You should be allowed to do what you want! It's not my business how long you were gone."
"And why wouldn't it be?" he spoke softly, "You're important to me, Shion, and maybe I'm not the best at saying these things, but it doesn't mean I'm not feeling them." Nezumi reached out a gentle hand and pulled up Shion's chin. "I'm sorry I was gone for so long. I didn't want to be, but every time I thought of returning, I was afraid that when I did you'd have moved on with your life and forgotten me."
"That could never happen…"
"But it could. If I'd stayed gone a few more years, you probably would have done just that."
"No! I wouldn't have!" Shion knocked away Nezumi's hand and looked him squarely in the eyes. "Do you know how much time I spent missing you? Wishing I could see you again?"
As way of answer, Nezumi simply leaned forward and pressed his lips lightly against Shion's.
"And this kiss? What does this one mean?" Shion asked once Nezumi had pulled away again, most of the tension beginning to evaporate from his voice.
"I'm disappointed that you have to ask." Nezumi's usual tone had returned, but as he smiled jokingly at Shion, his eyes were no longer stormy. Instead, they gave Shion the feeling of rays of sun finally slipping through the clouds as the sky began to clear after a downpour. "It's a vow, just like four years ago, expect this time it's not a vow that I'll return, but instead that I won't leave."
Happiness and disbelief flooded Shion's mind. "And how do I know you'll keep that promise?"
"I did last time, didn't I?"
"Well I guess you'll have to be stricter with me this time, hm?" Nezumi leaned forward as he said this, eyes playful. Shion couldn't help but let out a light giggle before leaning forward himself and returning Nezumi's earlier kiss.
The two melted into each other, the kiss becoming passionate and loving as hands began mapping out the bodies they had yearned for for so long.
A/N: Happy September 7th, everyone. And happy 12th Birthday, Shion. Everything starts now.
No. 6 and it's characters belong to Atsuko Asano and BONES. I own nothing but my imagination.