Hullo, everybody, and a very happy New Year! I hope you've all been doing well!
First of all, I would like to apologize for the incredibly long and sudden hiatus this fic went on. It definitely wasn't planned! Between my graduate classes and my new job as a school librarian, I've had a difficult time getting work on my fan fics done. However, I've finally found a rhythm that works for me, so I've been able to sit down and get some hardcore writing done, and that's been great.
In the previous chapter, Nezumi crossed paths with the Unseelie King's brother, and now he and Shion have an ally. At least, Mava seems like an ally at the time. Hopefully Shion and Nezumi can have a moment to calm down and have a much-needed conversation about what happened in the Unseelie Court.
Hope you enjoy this one, y'all! It was really fun to write, and I'll look forward to seeing you all in the next chapters and in my other writing projects! I am going to do my best to avoid going on any other hiatuses, and if I need to, I will work on letting folks know about it so that no one worries that these fics will go unfinished! Stay amazing! 3
Shion woke slowly, following the tether of consciousness that called to him from the end of a long, dark corridor. Some chain of resistance kept him from staggering toward it too quickly; he wrestled with that weight, shaking it from his shoulders and letting it pool to the floor as he sprinted headlong toward the warmth permeating the air in front of him.
His eyes fluttered open, and Shion immediately clenched them shut again as the piercing light that shot through the darkness burned his retinas. He sat upright, head spinning from the effort, and jammed his forearm against his eyes. He pressed, hard enough to see red stars, and counted to ten before attempting to orient himself again.
This time when he looked, the light wasn't as harsh. A long, thin bar of golden warmth speared through a set of white curtains, the fabric so thick that the light beyond didn't properly penetrate it. The curtains covered the only window in the small room; Shion glanced around it, his heart pounding in his rib cage as he quickly surveyed his surroundings.
He was sitting on a large, king-sized bed. Beneath his legs, a tangle of white blankets and a silky top sheet stretched, winding around his bare ankle like a noose. Shion kicked it free, watching as it tumbled to a floor crafted of slotted, ash-colored wood that he imagined would be cool to the touch if he swung his legs over the edge. He shifted his legs until he'd curled them beneath the bulk of his weight, and then, steadying himself, he continued to look at the room around him.
The room looked… clean, if nothing else. A large white dresser sat shoved in the farthest corner, and on both sides of the bed, a squat white nightstand with a white lamp perched. The whole room shone in an ocean of pearl-white, so vibrant that Shion felt strangely out of place within it all. He brought his trembling hand to his chest, feeling his heart pounding behind his fingers.
He slid from the bed, no longer wanting to be seated, and winced as his feet touched the floor. The wooden slats were oddly warm, but Shion's knees buckled as he lifted himself upright. His joints ached as if he hadn't moved his legs in days, the muscles reeling at the sudden use of force. He swallowed the discomfort and forced himself to head for the window.
The pajamas he'd been wearing when he and Nezumi fled his mother's bakery had been replaced with an oversized black tee shirt and a pair of clean gray boxer shorts. Shion felt the shock of it crack down the center of his chest; he felt sore, especially around his heels, where the broken glass and bits of road debris had scraped, but the worst of the aches had disappeared sometime while he lay unconscious in the shadows.
Shion whirled away from the window, terror seizing him. There was no doubt in his mind that his current state of dress and the lack of pain in his injuries were Nezumi's doing, but as Shion glanced desperately around the room, he didn't see any sign of the silver-eyed boy.
Nezumi, where are you?
Shion cycled through the memories dancing at the edge of his mind, working the lump that'd balled itself in his throat away so he could scream. He couldn't remember much of what'd happened after the strange metal birds surrounded their stolen vehicle. The dull whispers had bled into his mind, lulling him into unconsciousness like a sinister lullaby. With those whispers had come horrendous nightmares that turned Shion's stomach―images of Nezumi, held in the Unseelie King's hands, bleeding and dying as Shion tried desperately to reach him―and beyond that, Shion couldn't recall how much time he'd lost. It felt as if he'd been asleep for days, his body heavy and pulsing with nerves at the realization that he'd missed so much.
He struggled around the lump in his throat. Terror carved through each nerve ending. His fingers itched to rip the curtains away and reveal exactly where he'd been dragged―who'd managed to remove him from Nezumi's side and what they'd done to him―but Shion was trembling too hard to force himself to move back to the window. He clenched his teeth, fighting through the misery and the cold, gripping horror to open his mouth and scream―
"You're awake," a calm, achingly familiar voice said from the other side of the room.
Shion whirled around. Nezumi stood leaning against the doorway―when had a door gotten there?―and he looked exactly as Shion remembered him. He didn't wear a glamour; the sharp points of his ears knifed through his long, dark hair, hanging loose and unadorned around his shoulders. With his hair down, he looked younger, far more vulnerable than the first time Shion had laid eyes on him. His fierce silver eyes softened as they settled on Shion, taking stock of the situation and determining that no, Shion wasn't injured and yes, he was finally awake.
"Nezumi," Shion gasped, and the name spiked through his throat so suddenly that it left him reeling. He clutched at his throat, hissing through his teeth.
"Here." Nezumi hurried into the room, shoving a glass of water into Shion's hand. "Drink this."
The coolness of it radiated through the glass, and Shion barely had time to register the feeling of the cup beneath his hand as he tipped his head back and dumped the contents into his mouth.
The cool water soothed the rasping scrape of Shion's throat. He was barely aware of Nezumi's hands hovering just beyond his periphery, reaching out as if to take hold of his arms, but drifting with doubt, as if he wasn't certain he had permission to touch Shion. The thirst and the need to soothe the pain in his throat encouraged Shion to shove those thoughts and the misery that came with them aside for now; he gulped down the last few drops of the water, and then, once there was nothing left in the glass, he handed it back to Nezumi.
"Better?" Nezumi took the cup gingerly, his long fingers wrapping around it and setting it on one of the nightstands.
"Y-yeah." Shion's throat did feel better, though not by much. He forced himself to speak in a low whisper as he looked Nezumi up and down and asked, "Are you all right?"
Nezumi glanced over at him. The piercing golden light streaming in through the white curtains sent strange shimmers across his silver eyes. Shion hadn't noticed until now, but Nezumi had traded his leather jacket for a plain white long sleeve and a pair of loose-fitting sleep pants. His feet weren't bare, but the sight of him standing there, dressed down and looking at Shion with concern, settled some of the fear that flooded Shion's veins.
"I'm fine," Nezumi replied, and Shion relaxed even further.
"You're fine," he echoed. He shifted his weight, realizing just then that the bandages Nezumi had meticulously wrapped around his injured feet were missing. It didn't take him long to realize that there was no longer a need for them; the scrapes and pains that'd prevented him from walking well had long since disappeared. Shion wriggled his toes against the warm, wooden floor, remembering the wonderful sensation of Nezumi's healing magic against his flesh and the cool, comforting waves that'd danced through his body.
"Are you?" Nezumi murmured. His expression was noticeably blank, but in his eyes, Shion could see that spark of concern and fear he'd spotted in the Unseelie Court.
"I'm all right," Shion said. He pressed the palm of his hand to his chest, feeling the fluttering of his heart against his palm. He closed his eyes, listening to the thump-thump of his heart in his ears, the gentle sounds of Nezumi breathing in front of him.
And then, Shion looked at Nezumi and asked, "Are we in the Seelie Court?"
Nezumi blinked at him. "What?"
"The Seelie Court. Is―is this it?"
Nezumi raised an eyebrow. "You think this is the Seelie Court?"
"Is it?" Shion glanced around the small room. It didn't appear to be carved into the side of a mountain the way the Unseelie Court did, but the stark white walls and sunlight―because he was sure it was sunlight now, peeking in through the thick white curtains―were so opposite the darkness of the Unseelie Court that Shion couldn't fathom where else they might have been. "Did you bring us to the Seelie Court? Wait, those birds. Did… did those birds bring us here? Why were we running from them if they were bringing us to the Seelie Court? Unless, did you not know that that's what they were going to do? Why did―"
"Shion." Nezumi held his hand up, and the desperate tumble of words stilled in Shion's mouth. Nezumi's lips quirked upward at the corners, and Shion could tell he was fighting hard to keep from smiling or laughing. "Take a breath. No, this isn't the Seelie Court."
Shion's brow furrowed. "Then where―"
"It's a hotel."
"A hotel?" Shion glanced around at the pristine white bed, the white walls, and the white furniture spread around it. The whole room certainly screamed hotel, from the limited times Shion had seen them on television, but as he looked around again, the whole thing seemed strange and out of place. "A human hotel?"
Nezumi snorted. "Do you think the Folk have hotels?"
"I don't know. You seem to have everything else."
Nezumi shrugged. "I'll give you that one."
"How did we get here, then?" Shion looked over toward the window. Beyond it, the sunlight shone so bright and so golden that Shion was absolutely certain it was at least midmorning. There were no clocks in the bedroom, but Shion could feel it, certain in a way he'd never known before, almost like an instinct.
Nezumi gestured to the bed. "Why don't you have a seat? It's… a long story."
"Are we safe?"
"Yes," Nezumi said immediately, and then, as an afterthought, "For now, at least."
Shion nodded, stunned. It seemed…impossible that he and Nezumi had managed to escape. The metallic sound of those odd wings still echoed in the back of his memory.
"How did we get here?" Shion asked. "And those birds. Do we know why they were after us?"
Nezumi's silver eyes flashed. "Unfortunately."
"What were they?" Shion whispered; he wasn't sure his voice could get any louder.
Nezumi didn't answer for a few moments, glancing over at the closed curtains. "Strix," he said, turning back to regard Shion. "Well, strixes, rather. There were more than one of them, after all."
Shion's shoulders slumped. "I don't know what those are."
"Lucky you." Nezumi's fingers fiddled with the hem of his shirt; it looked unnatural with his inhuman features, but also oddly calming. "Strixes usually travel in hordes like that, and they act as messengers for larger Folk."
Shion didn't like the sound of that. A horrified question died in his throat, as he wasn't certain he wanted to know the answer. "Oh," he said, instead of the myriad of questions he wanted to start demanding. "Their eyes were... terrifying."
"They eat flesh," Nezumi replied, far too casually for Shion's liking. "Human flesh."
Shion furrowed his brow. "Really? Flesh-eating sounds... very Unseelie."
Nezumi shrugged. "You'd think so, but they don't usually align themselves with a singular Court. The Unseelie Court's in a mountain. Nowhere for them to fly. I'm sure a strix or two has formed an alliance with an Unseelie messenger, but not a whole flock of them."
"Then, if they're not part of a Court, why did they chase us?"
Nezumi's silver eyes darkened. "Strixes aren't normally part of Courts, but these ones were just following orders."
Shion took a sharp, shallow breath. "Who's orders?"
Nezumi exhaled through his nose and gestured to the soft, white mattress. "You might want to have a seat. This could take a while."
Shion perched on the edge of the mattress. "All right." He patted the plush fabric beside him, the blanket crumpled where he'd kicked it off. "I'm listening, Nezumi."
Nezumi stood, staring at him, and for a moment, dread pooled in Shion's stomach. His limbs felt heavy, an unfamiliar spike of nerves twisting through his veins. His heart sang a moment later, when Nezumi stepped across the floor and sat on the bed beside him. The mattress dipped, pulling Shion in toward him. Shion shifted his weight to avoid collapsing into Nezumi's side, his heart fluttering at the foreign rush of need that prickled through him.
"I don't know where to start," Nezumi muttered. He looked very young, then, a shadow against the unnatural white of the hotel room's walls.
"I remember getting into the car with you," Shion supplied, gently. "Why don't you start with what happened after that?"
"All right." Nezumi closed his eyes and took a deep breath. That he seemed to be uncertain filled Shion with an odd desire to pull him against his chest. He dug his nails into the sheets to keep from reaching out and brushing a lock of Nezumi's hair out of his face. And he continued to fight against those feelings as Nezumi opened his mouth and explained.
Shion had never given much thought to the Faerie Courts. The summer Safu's grandmother told him and Safu about the two Courts that ruled over them all―Seelie and Unseelie, Light and Dark―Shion decided that it was better for him to avoid messing around with faerie politics. He and Safu were human, after all, and had to pretend their Sight was nonexistent to survive. Faerie politics had no bearing in his life, and so Shion had tucked the terrifying stories into the back of his mind.
It had never occurred to him that faerie Courts could branch out and war against each other. He knew, intrinsically, that the Seelie and Unseelie Courts were enemies, two halves of a whole that could never see eye to eye. But he never could have imagined that the smaller Courts, speckled throughout the land, could actively challenge the two higher Courts.
The hotel, Shion had learned, sat on the edge of an enchanted swamp. Or rather, a swamp that, for some unknown reason, had managed to avoid urbanization for more than two centuries. And at the heart of the swamp itself stood a patched together Court made of Bogs and a scattering of faeries who refused to join either of the more refined Courts, and yet still wished to live as close to Solitary life as possible.
After finishing his story―a nightmarish retelling of the Bog that'd crawled out from the trees and guided them through the depths of the swamp―Nezumi fell oddly silent. He twisted his hands in the sheets, inches away from Shion's own hand, dressed in clothes that Shion assumed he must have conjured from starlight. He certainly wasn't wearing the clothes he'd borrowed from Shion's bedroom, but Shion also figured he wouldn't have snuck off to a mall or a specialty shop while Shion lay unconscious in the hotel room.
Shion didn't bother asking about how Nezumi had managed to afford the hotel room. Based on what he knew about the Fair Folk, it wouldn't have surprised him if Nezumi and Mava, the Bog who'd rescued them from Scorpia, had merely strode into the lobby with their mud-splattered clothes and pointed ears, waving their fingers and enchanting the poor human employees into thinking they owned the hotel.
Nezumi glanced toward him without turning his head. His dark, thin eyebrows raised over his eyes in a silent question. He was so beautiful, it almost hurt.
Shion shook his head. "It's nothing. I'm just surprised someone else hates the Unseelie King as much as we do."
That brought surprised laughter. "I think you'll find that nearly everyone who meets him comes to despise him."
Shion smiled, and he could tell that it was likely to remain on his face for a while. Despite the misfortune of their situation, and the uncertainty they faced at the knowledge that someone from the Unseelie Court had ordered Scorpia to tail them out of Kronos, Shion couldn't shake the feeling of warmth that being beside Nezumi filled him with.
"Things haven't been going well for us," he whispered. "Have they?"
"No," Nezumi replied. "Not even a bit."
"I don't know if I'd fully agree with that." Shion turned his head and stared down at the floor. His bare feet hovered next to Nezumi's. He'd never dreamed he'd be sitting so close to a faerie, let alone a member of the Unseelie Court. Well, Shion thought, a former member of the Unseelie Court. He supposed jamming a knife into the King's back was as good as a resignation letter.
Nezumi raised an eyebrow. "What about our situation has been fortunate?"
"Well… I got to meet you, didn't I?"
Nezumi flinched, as if Shion had struck him, and for a moment, Shion considered backpedaling. He could simply leave it hanging between them. Change the subject and discuss what it meant that the Swamp Court, the ragtag bunch of creatures that'd rescued them, could possibly be planning. He could laugh it off and leave it in the shadows.
And yet, something inside him cried out against the thought. Shion's mind drifted back to the night they'd met in earnest. If he'd pretended not to have the Sight and ignored Nezumi's pained cries, none of this would have happened. He never would have crossed paths with the Unseelie Court. He never would have been kidnapped by whoever that human was. He never would have been dragged before that horrific monster and enchanted into forgetting that his death should have been terrifying.
But if he'd done that, he never would have met Nezumi. His nails dug into the sheets, fingers itching with the desire to reach out and brush against Nezumi's long, pale fingers. Despite the horrors that had befallen him in the Unseelie Court, and despite the uncertainty that stretched out before him, Shion couldn't say that he regretted what he'd done.
"If I hadn't found you that day," Shion whispered, "I wouldn't―"
"You wouldn't be in this situation." Nezumi's voice dripped with venom.
Shion looked at him, horrified. "That wasn't what I was going to say at all."
Nezumi didn't seem to hear him. He glared at the ground, and Nezumi saw, in his eyes, the dark knight the rest of the Unseelie Court expected him to be. The creature that smaller Folk shied away from.
"I don't regret it," Shion said.
"I don't. Nezumi, honestly. Despite everything that's happened, I don't regret coming to you that day." Shion's fingers loosened from the sheets and reached, ever so gently, toward Nezumi's hand. "Even though it was… frightening, ending up in the Unseelie Court, you kept me safe. You didn't let anything bad happen to me."
Nezumi's eyes closed. He looked uncomfortable.
"Nezumi, listen." Shion's heart hammered in his rib cage. His vision blurred red and black, and he worried that he was about to ruin everything. And yet, despite the fear that coursed through his veins, Shion urged himself to push forward. "I know things in the Unseelie Court were…strange. And I know we're still dealing with a lot. But, I just need you to know that…" Shion took a deep breath, his voice steadying as he whispered, "Even though I was enchanted, I don't…regret kissing you."
Nezumi froze. Shion's heart swelled in his chest. Thousands of words welled up inside him; he shoved them down, leaving the air between them open.
"Shion," Nezumi said after a moment, sounding very tired, "don't―"
"Say something I don't mean, right?" Shion interjected, finishing the thought for him. "I'm not. You said it yourself, didn't you? It's always amusing to watch humans lie. Well, I'm not lying now. You would know if I was. I mean it, Nezumi. Even if I hadn't been enchanted that night, I would have kissed you."
Nezumi's eyes flashed. They were a glorious shade of silver, the edge of a blade caught in the glint of the midafternoon sun.
Shion shuddered with a sudden wave of nerves. He glanced down and then up again, gathering his courage and forcing himself to speak. "I know it doesn't make sense, and you're probably going to think I'm insane, but I don't regret what happened in the Unseelie Court, Nezumi. I just wish I wasn't enchanted when it happened. I don't remember much of that night, but I know that even before then, I'd wanted to kiss you." His face burned, the edges of his vision blurring red and black as he forced himself to continue. "I still do. And I just… I just wanted to say that I'm sorry. I know you probably"―he felt the bitter tremble of tears building in his throat, but he swallowed them back―"I know you probably weren't happy about kissing a human, but I just wanted you to know that, whatever happens after, I didn't do it just because I was enchanted."
The silence that stretched between them stung. Thousands of uncomfortable prickles danced their way across Shion's skin, digging their little barbs into his muscles. He swallowed a lump in his throat, his vision beginning to blur.
"You think," Nezumi said, his voice rising over the stumbling panic cracking its way through Shion's chest, "I'm upset that I kissed you because you're human?"
"I'm upset," Nezumi explained, "because you were enchanted. You didn't know what you wanted. And I just―" He reached up and wove his fingers into his hair, shoving it aggressively over his shoulder. It was a nervous tick, Shion realized, something to do with his hands when he didn't know what else he was supposed to do. "For a moment, I let myself forget that. I'm the one who should be apologizing for it, not you."
"Then…" Shion swallowed. "You're not… mad at me because I'm human?"
"No. I'm not." Nezumi didn't meet his eye, choosing instead to stare at the floor as if he could make it spontaneously combust beneath his gaze. Even so, Shion felt warmth quickly overtake the fear, for Nezumi was incapable of telling a lie. "I'm just pissed that it happened while you were enchanted. It was a shitty thing to do." And then, after a moment, he clarified, "I did a shitty thing. I shouldn't have kissed you when you were enchanted. I'm sorry I did that."
Shion sat for a moment, swallowing down the heat that burned in his chest. He reached a hand out, slowly, and placed it over Nezumi's. He flinched as their skin touched; Nezumi's fingers were cool, and Shion traced the notches in each delicate joint.
"I'm not enchanted now," Shion murmured.
He felt, rather than saw, Nezumi look at him. Shion's face burned, and yet he couldn't bring himself to shy away. He continued to breathe softly, looking at the ground.
After an eternity, the mattress shifted, and Nezumi drew in close to him. He didn't extract his hand from Shion's grasp.
"Is this what you want?" Nezumi whispered.
Shion didn't need him to say it to understand the real question that hid behind those words: Am I what you want?
He felt the burn of tears building behind his eyes at the suffering Nezumi must have endured to end up in a position where he felt that no one could want him in earnest. The pressure of tears built along his lashes, but Shion forced them back and lifted his head so he could stare into Nezumi's eyes. They glimmered, the color of the sea after a particularly terrible storm, and Shion had never felt more love for someone than he did in this moment.
He wanted to tell Nezumi every thought that swam inside his head. He wanted to pour a novel's worth of words between them, countless poems detailing just how deep his affection ran, just how much he wanted Nezumi and how deeply he cared for him. Though they had only known each other for a short time, in the grand scheme of things, Shion found that he could no longer imagine himself as someone who had never known Nezumi. Some strange, infinite power kept them bound together, spanning across time and space, linking them together so that in every reality, in every possible universe, they managed to find each other.
But Shion didn't say any of that. There was only a single word that mattered in this moment, and so Shion peered up into Nezumi's face and whispered, "Yes."
"Shion," Nezumi murmured. Something brightened behind his eyes in that moment, the ashes of something wonderful being rekindled after years of being stomped out, weakened and sometimes beaten down to the point of almost giving up, but forever clinging to the hope that something would come along and reignite it. He leaned forward, and Shion tipped his head back to catch his mouth as they connected, their bodies pressing together as, behind the curtains, the sun steadily sank beneath the tree line.
To Be Continued...