This story is a collaboration between me and glorifiedscapegoat, another fantastic No. 6 writer and my good friend. It's been a year in the making and we're very excited to be sharing with you! You can also find the fic on AO3.

Sunlight glinted off the edge of the blade pointed at Nezumi's throat. It was a small, pathetic thing—the edge dull and chipped. Something grabbed in desperation. An experienced killer would have sought out something more efficient. Not a murderer, then. Just some down-on-his-luck thief who grabbed whoever was foolish enough to walk the streets alone.

You've got to be kidding, Nezumi thought, his eyebrows raising in a mockery of surprise. One minute he'd been walking down the streets of an unimpressive little town. The next, a hand had emerged from the alley, caught the hem of his jacket, and yanked him into the shadows.

Nezumi had anticipated the attack long before it went down. His life had been nothing but running. A threat lurking around each corner. When he'd sensed the person crouching in the alley, waiting to strike, he'd prepared for a confrontation. A difficult fight. They always came armed and prepared to deal with him—but rather than the men in dark suits Nezumi had been preparing to take down, he found himself staring into the face of an idiotic mugger.

The man in front of him was nothing to be concerned about. The sight of the knife was often enough to convince people to hand over their valuables, but Nezumi knew the man didn't know how to use the knife. He held it all wrong. His fingers shook around the hilt, as if this were his first time pointing it at someone. Nezumi knew he could knock it from his hand in the blink of an eye.

"Give me your money, kid," the mugger growled. The hood of his windbreaker had been pulled up over his head in a quick attempt to hide his face, but Nezumi could make out the shadows under his eyes. The deep hollows of his cheeks. This man either hadn't eaten well, or drugs were somehow involved. Nezumi would bet money on the latter.

A physical confrontation was more of a hassle than Nezumi felt it was worth. Beating up an assailant ran the risk of attracting more unwanted attention. And attention was something Nezumi wanted to avoid, as much as he could.

Forcing a look of terror on his face, Nezumi said, "OK, OK. I will. Just—just don't do anything crazy."

Nezumi was a skilled actor. He'd been practicing looking genuine when he smiled. Looking scared on cue. Pretending he had no control of the situation when he was, in fact, the only one in control.

"Just shut up and give me your money!" the man snarled. For good measure, he jammed the point of the knife closer toward Nezumi.

Wow. Rude. Nezumi sunk his teeth into his lower lip. He reached a hand into his jacket pocket, forcing his fingers to tremble. "OK," he said, his voice coming out soft and wobbly. "OK, just don't hurt me."

"Give me your money and I'll let you go," the mugger assured. He held his free hand out, his wide eyes darting back and forth to the opening of the alley. "Just hurry up."

Nezumi's fingers curled around the contents of his pocket: a handful of leaves. He shakingly pulled them from his jacket, pretending fear of the knife had slowed his movements. Leaves had become Nezumi's constant companion. The need for money and the inability to receive it reliably had left Nezumi with little choice but to fill his pockets with scraps of nature and trick his victims into thinking of them as currency. Not the most respectable thing in the world, but times were rough.

Nezumi lifted his head and peered through the darkness. His silver eyes sought out the pupils of the mugger's eyes in the shadows. Eye contact was not a necessity in these situations, but it made his work easier.

As he pulled the leaves out of his pocket and presented them to the mugger, Nezumi looked into his dark eyes and Reached.

He pictured a large hand stretching across the space between them. The fingers pressed into the man's mind, slipping into his pupils and weaving into the synapses pulsing through his brain. He drifted over the grooves of damage, the lingering effects of regular drug use. The lightning firing between the connections was weak where it should have been strong, and too concentrated in the areas it should have been gentle.

Look at this. Nezumi scowled. Even if he stopped doing drugs all together, the man had done too much harm to his brain. It'll never be the same. No time for that now. Focus.

Nezumi latched onto the words bouncing through the mugger's frontal lobe: What is this kid trying to pull? Those are leaves, not money! He caught them in his Palm before they could register in the man's brain. Once Nezumi had grasped them, it was nothing at all to twist the thoughts around, to gently urge his own suggestions onward.

:Of course it's money,: Nezumi said, his own mental suggestions weaving through the man's mind like a needle and thin silver wire. :These aren't leaves at all. You could get a lot with these. This kid had a lot with him. What kind of idiot carries this kind of money in his pocket?:

A brief look flickered across the mugger's face—and then Nezumi saw the shift in his eyes. The hungry gleam of greed. Nezumi felt the corner of his upper lip twitch into a smirk before he schooled it back into a terrified frown.

The mugger snatched the leaves from Nezumi's palm. Without a glance back, he stuffed them into the pocket of his jacket and made a break for the mouth of the alley. He ran around the corner and disappeared.

As soon as he was alone, Nezumi let out a bemused laugh. He shook his hands out, a few specks of dirt from the leaves clinging to his skin.

It was easier to convince people with a low IQ to believe the things Nezumi wanted. The mugger might have had a higher IQ at one time, but prolonged use of substances tended to lower their ability to reject Nezumi's mental suggestions. It was a gamble, some of the time—but Nezumi could often convince people to believe whatever he wanted.

It was a useful superpower, if not a risky one. Nezumi exhaled. Guess I'm going to need more money. He bent down and took a small handful of pebbles from the alleyway. Stones were harder to trick people with, since he had to pretend they were coins rather than bills. People didn't like taking coins as payment, but currency was currency. Nezumi deposited the stones into his pocket, then stuffed his hands inside. There. That should get me through the rest of my time here. He didn't plan to stay in town long.

He never did.

There were six large cities bunched together like gemstones on an unfashionable necklace. Nezumi didn't know the official name of this particular one, though he'd heard it dubbed "Number Six" by a few less-than-happy citizens in the neighboring slums.

Number Six, like the rest of the cities, was broken into sections. The wealthier members of society lived in the northern half, called Kronos. Nezumi could spot the houses in the distance, elegant white structures that rose into the air like rows of teeth. The valuables inside each house were almost worth the effort it would take to skirt the security and break inside. Though the thought had been tempting, Nezumi's powers would not work on cameras. And it would look suspicious if he were to march onto a porch, dressed in ratty jeans and a ripped jacket, and simply walk out with pocketfuls of jewels while the homeowners happily waved him off. Horizon Labs already had agents on his trail. The longer he could avoid alerting their attention, the better.

The other half of Number Six had been given the name Lost Town. An unfortunately appropriate name. The little shops and houses peppered throughout seemed lost in the midst of the city's majesty. Faded paints in an array of mismatched shades colored the walls of a convenience store. Halfway down the main street, a small white house with potted plants on the front step sported boarded windows on the second floor.

Nezumi scowled. Despite the obvious poverty of Lost Town, it was still nicer than some of the other towns he had passed through. There were no street urchins huddled together on the storefronts. No women with dirt lines on their cheeks desperately toting rotten produce and stinking meat. No corpses going ignored or unnoticed as drunks spilled from bars and passed out on the sidewalks.

The mugger in the alley had been a rarity, it seemed. Must be nice, Nezumi thought. He'd used his powers on more than a few wannabe thieves, but it never ceased to aggravate him. Carrying rocks and leaves in his pockets all the time just so he had something to convince them with could be more than a little frustrating. His jacket was often heavy—and there was always the chance that he couldn't convince someone to believe what he wanted. That he would hand over the stones and they would be just that.

Most of the people foolish enough to rob Nezumi were either idiots or otherwise impaired, so they were simple to trick. He never bothered himself with the aftermath. After the thieves snatched the stones from his palms, convinced they were bills and coins, Nezumi didn't know if the effects of his convincing lasted. Did the thieves race off, accomplished, only to cry out in enraged disbelief as they found their palms streaked with dirt from filthy leaves? Did the dealers those thieves then handed the stones over to knock them to the ground and threaten them with violence? Nezumi didn't know and he didn't care. That was the risk they took when they decided to make him a target.

Toward the end of the road, Nezumi could just make out a faded sign jutting from the stone walls of a little shop. It swayed in the gentle mid-afternoon breeze. As he approached, he could make out the words 'KARAN BAKERY' etched into the wood.

As his mind registered the word "bakery," Nezumi's stomach rumbled. He hadn't had much to eat the past few days. He'd been too focused on ducking the man in the black suit pulling up along the curb half a block away from him. Nezumi had hoped it was just some regular guy on his way to a job interview—and then he'd spotted the logo on the right arm of the man's suit. Even from a distance, Nezumi knew what it was. A golden sun rising above the words HORIZON LABORATORIES stitched with garish orange lettering, like something from a cheap slasher film.

He'd managed to avoid getting detained by the agent, but it had been…difficult. Between his hurried trip through the city, hiding out in the forests lining the roads connecting each of the towns, and his run-in with the mugger, Nezumi hadn't given much thought to food.

Nezumi made his way down the street and eased the door to the bakery open. A little silver bell above his head announced his arrival, and Nezumi's stomach tightened.

He did a quick survey of his surroundings. It was a small space, with a single wooden table set in the middle of the room. A dark-haired girl sat at the table with a steaming mug of coffee set in front of her. A counter separated the back of the room from the rest. Inside the glass case were boxes of pastries in a variety of shapes and colors. Nezumi recognized muffins and a few different types of cookies. There were others he had no name for: coiled pastries with cream poking out from the ends, miniature pies with nuts sprinkled on top, and a dark purple cake sliced into eighths set on the bottom shelf.

"Hello," came a voice from behind the counter. Nezumi spotted another kid about his age, a boy with a mess of shaggy brown hair and dark brown eyes. He had a pleasant smile on his face. A genuine smile, not the fake grin Nezumi had seen on retail workers who would rather be anywhere else.

Nezumi lifted his chin in brief acknowledgment and walked to the counter. His hands, stuffed in his pockets, curled around the cluster of pebbles. He'd have to convince the kid they were coins, but it would work. If he did it subtly enough, he doubted the girl at the table would notice. She seemed lost in thought, staring out the window with a bored look on her face.

"What can I get for you?" the boy behind the counter asked. Nezumi had stopped in front of the register, and now he could see a half-full pot of coffee on a little table behind the boy.

Nezumi's eyes swept over the boy. The kid still had that stupid smile on, but his eyes were wide and staring directly into Nezumi's face. He wore a plain white apron over his clothes and no nametag.

"Coffee," Nezumi said quickly, and the boy's smile dropped just a bit at the edges. "Please," Nezumi added as an afterthought. "And, uh…" He looked down at the case of pastries. He gestured vaguely toward the tray of blueberry muffins. "Two of those."

"Of course," replied the boy, his smile stretching back across his face. He turned to the pot of coffee behind him.

Is it normal for someone to smile that much? Nezumi wondered. Doesn't his face hurt?

He clenched his hand around some of the pebbles. A coffee and two muffins probably wouldn't cost more than a few bronze coins. He felt the jagged dips in the rocks, idly rolling them between his fingers. The boy took a little white mug from beneath the counter and filled it with coffee. The pleasant aroma struck Nezumi in the face and his stomach clenched again.

"Here you go," the kid behind the counter announced. He set the mug in front of Nezumi, and then went to work pulling the two blueberry muffins from the glass case.

A sudden movement behind the counter caught Nezumi's eye. His head snapped up, his gaze narrowed—but it was just another employee, a woman carrying a tray of sugar cookies.

The woman's dark hair was tucked beneath a lilac bandana, and there were laugh lines around her eyes. She must have been the kid's mother. Their facial shapes were nearly identical. She gave Nezumi a bright smile as she opened the glass case and slid the tray of cookies into an empty slot.

Completely non-threatening. The kid and his mother were no one to be concerned about. The girl sitting at the table was also of little concern. Nezumi felt himself relax. It wouldn't take much to convince the kid that the stones Nezumi handed over were enough coins to pay for the coffee and muffins. If he played his cards right, he could probably even get some real money back as change.

The boy behind the counter set the muffins on a small white plate and set them down beside the cup. Nezumi went to take the pebbles out of his pocket and work his magic, but the kid held his hand up. "You can eat first," he said gently. "Pay when you're done."

Nezumi froze. He stared the kid in the face. After an awkward moment he said, "OK." He took the cup of coffee and the plate. He turned and looked out at the room. There was just the one table, with three unoccupied chairs. A bit awkward to share a table with a stranger, but Nezumi had done worse.

"I hope you like it," the kid said. Nezumi didn't look back, but he could picture that ridiculous smile on his face. He rolled his eyes and took a seat at the table. He sat opposite the girl, facing the door. He refused to have an entryway at his back. If a threat came through the door, he wanted to be the first to see it.

The dark-haired girl didn't acknowledge him. She picked her coffee cup off the table and took a sip. She looked at the kid behind the counter and said, "This is good, Shion."

"Thanks." The kid folded his hands on top of the counter. "Mom thought a lighter roast would go well with the pastries. Do you need more sugar, Safu?"

"I'm all set," the girl, apparently named Safu, replied.

Shion, huh. Nezumi's gaze darted briefly over to the older woman. Her bandana was the same shade of purple as the flower her son had been named after. Must be her favorite color. He took a sip of his own coffee and let the warmth wash over him. The bitter taste slid across his tongue, but Nezumi had grown used to taking it with no sugar or cream.

He toyed with the wrapper around the muffin close to the edge of the plate. He went to take the paper off so he could start eating when the bell above the door jangled again.

Nezumi looked up. Two other customers stepped through the archway—and the cup nearly slid from Nezumi's fingers.

A man and a woman, both dressed in black suits. Thin faces with matching black hair. Eyes dark and narrowed. Not a spot on color on either of them aside from the matching gold logos on the right bicep of their jackets.

No. Nezumi quickly lowered his head, peering up at them through his bangs. How? How did they track me here?

He'd been so careful. The mugger had been no one. Nezumi had surveyed his surroundings. Horizon Labs had tracked him down in the last city, but Nezumi had evaded them. He'd vanished without a trace and left them in the dust. Lost Town was such a miniscule speck on the map that he'd been certain he could avoid them here.

Nezumi's knuckles went white around the mug handle as the two agents stepped into the bakery. There were two of them. He could take them. He could knock both of them to the ground if he was quick enough and make a break for it. If they'd been sent after him, both of them would have scramblers. Those little buds in their ears would emit a low frequency that would interfere with his powers and prevent him from convincing them to do anything, so he had to rely on physical force to get past them.

"Excuse me," said one of the agents. Her voice was thin and soft, as if she were having a hard time speaking. She looked at the woman behind the counter. "Karan, is it?"

Nezumi risked a closer look. Neither of the agents were looking in his direction. Both of them had crossed the room and stood off to the side of the counter, putting themselves in the path to the bakery door.

The woman in the lilac bandana slowly stepped around the counter. "Yes," she said. She had a smile on her face, but Nezumi could see the tension at the edges. "Can I help you?"

"My name is Toshiya," said the second agent. He was taller than both women, his neck angled uncomfortably to look Karan in the face. Harsh circles darkened his eyes, and the lines around his mouth made him look older than Nezumi suspected he was. "And this is Sachiko. We have some questions we would like to ask you."

"Questions?" Karan looked at the logos on the agents' jackets. Her face went slack. "What is this in regards to?"

"We'll ask the questions," Sachiko replied. "You'll answer them. Understood?"

Karan's lips pressed into a thin line.

"Mom?" It was Shion. He had started to come out from behind the counter, a look of worry on his face. "What's going on?"

"It's all right, Shion." Karan glanced over her shoulder and gave him what Nezumi assumed was meant to be a reassuring look. "Just give me a few moments." She turned back to the agents. "I will answer your questions. How about we go upstairs, and we can speak? I don't want to disturb the customers."

Nezumi set the mug on the table. His fingers flexed. The path to the door was wide open. The agents were focused on Karan. Nezumi could make a break for it well before the agents had a clue what was going on—but something held him back.

The agents had come for Karan.

She wanted them to come upstairs to speak with her, but Nezumi suspected she had other plans in mind.

What can she do? If Horizon Labs had sought her out, then there must be something she could do that had them concerned. Nezumi looked around at Shion and Safu. Both of them were watching, quiet and still, holding their breath. Would it be possible for Nezumi to sneak upstairs after Karan had lured the agents up to witness what she could do?

"You will be coming with us," Toshiya sneered.

"Wha—" Karan's lips opened, and Sachiko darted forward and grasped her arm. Karan jerked her arm back on reflex, and Toshiya descended upon her. His large hand seized her wrist. "Hold on a moment. Stop!"

Nezumi's body went cold. The room around him darkened at the edges. Images flashed before his eyes, overlapping and mingling with the sight of Karan struggling against the agents in black. His own mother, her grey eyes wild with terror, struggling in the grip of a man twice her size. He'd been wearing black, too. All black aside from that horrid yellow logo on his shoulder.

"Mom!" Shion hurried out from behind the counter as the agents began to haul Karan toward the door. "Mom!"

"Mrs. K!" Safu sprang up from the table.

Her knee caught the frame and Nezumi's coffee sloshed over the rim and splashed on the surface. The sudden movement yanked Nezumi back to reality. The sight of his mother pleading with the agent shifted back into Karan.

"It's fine!" Karan's eyes were wide and wild. She twisted in the agents grips—not to get away from them, but to look at Shion. "It's fine, Shion. It's going to be alright."

Shion grabbed Toshiya by the arm and tried to pull him off his mother. "Let go! Let go of her!"

"Shion, stop!" Karan's voice rose above her son's. "It's OK! It's OK! Just calm down!"

"Beat it, kid!" Toshiya jerked his arm, and Shion stumbled back. His spine caught the edge of the counter, and he grunted in pain. "This has nothing to do with you. Your mother will be back once we've had a little talk."


Nezumi shoved his chair back. Neither of these agents had been sent after him. That most likely meant neither of them had scramblers. He couldn't see those telltale red buds in their ears. Neither of them seemed very intelligent, either. Attacking a woman in her own bakery in broad daylight. Twisting their thoughts would be nothing. Erasing their minds so they would never know they'd seen his face would take no effort.

As Nezumi rose to his feet, three things happened all at once:

Shion screamed, "Let go of my mom!"

Karan shrieked, "Shion, calm down!"

The hairs on the back of Nezumi's neck stood on end as something in the atmosphere shifted.

And then the bakery exploded.

Nezumi hit the ground. Shards of glass rained all around him. A thunderous crash echoed through the small room. Safu's shriek pierced the air as she too dove for the ground, her arms thrown over her head.

And then everything was silent.

Nezumi slowly lifted his head. His ears were ringing. Shion stood in the center of it all, his hands hanging limp at his sides. His eyes were wide, as if he couldn't quite believe what had just happened. Now that Nezumi looked, he realized the bakery itself hadn't exploded, but all the glass inside had. The glass case containing the pastries was gone. The table and floor were covered in chunks of glass that shone like silvery gemstones.

The windows had blown outward. None of the glass had speared through anyone, but the way the two agents gawked at Shion, it might as well have.

Karan looked at her son. Taking advantage of the agents' confusion, she jerked her arms from their grips and darted to Shion. Her hands clamped down on his shoulders. "Honey." Her voice rose, too loud in the silence that had followed. "Shion, it's OK. It's OK, honey."

"Mom," Shion whimpered.

Both of the agents jolted, shocked back to reality. "You," Sachiko sputtered. "How the hell did you do—?" She shook her head. "No. It doesn't matter. You're coming with us." She jerked her head to her partner. "Call for backup. We'll—"

"How about you don't?" Nezumi called out. He rose to his feet as Toshiya and Sachiko turned and looked at him. He gingerly stepped over the glass. "Pretty nasty gas leak, wasn't it? Blew the glass all over the place. But sometimes that happens in these old buildings. Probably wasn't up to code."

Toshiya bared his teeth and growled, "Who the hell are—"

Nezumi looked right into the man's face. He locked eyes with him, taking note of the dark flecks embedded in his irises. Peering into the agent's eyes, Nezumi Reached and said slowly, "It was a gas leak."

The light went from Toshiya's eyes. The anger twisting up his face vanished like a candle flame blowing out. He rocked back on his heels, his hands stilled at his sides, and he murmured, "Yeah. Yeah, it… It was a gas leak."

"A bad one," Nezumi added.

"A bad one," the agent echoed.

"Toshiya, what are you talking about?" Sachiko demanded. Nezumi turned to look at her and Reached. Her eyes widened, and then her face went blank. " was a gas leak."

"You came here for coffee," Nezumi said. He made sure his voice was loud and commanding. He lifted his chin and ordered, "You're going to go back to your superiors and tell them you didn't find who you were searching for. The tip you received was a false lead. A gas leak happened in a bakery in the town. You have nothing else to report."

"Nothing else to report," Toshiya replied with a sincere nod.

"The tip we received was a false lead," Sachiko added.

"Good." Nezumi looked at the bakery door. "It's time for you to go."

The agents nodded and, without a word, marched to the door. They went out single-file and disappeared around the corner. Nezumi watched the door for a moment, ensuring the agents wouldn't break through his mental shifts and come rushing back.

When a moment had shifted and they didn't return, he looked back. Karan stood with her hands on Shion's shoulders, watching Nezumi intently. Shion's eyes were wide, his hands trembling. He kept glancing at the broken glass scattered throughout the bakery. Safu had climbed onto her feet, resting her hands gingerly on the table. A shard of glass had scraped across her cheek, and a thin line of blood trickled down to her chin.

Looking at the three of them, Nezumi squared his shoulders. He pressed his lips into a thin line. He watched, one by one, as their faces shifted into looks of shock as he Reached out to them all and said, :We need to talk.: