"We'll meet again, Shion."
Hearing those words, in that voice...how often had he dreamed about it? He wasn't even sure anymore if he'd ever actually heard them. Parts of his past would always feel more like dreams than reality. Lots of them were nightmares. The only things that still felt real, every time, were his memories of that room, filled wall to wall with books. The painful words that had confronted him, and the warmth of the person beside him. Shion's heart clenched at the thought and he couldn't hold a heavy sob in his throat.
"What do you have to sigh about?"
Shion shifted a little and pulled his blanket up to his chin. It was chilly in his room and the light was still dim, filtered by heavy curtains. It was quiet, early morning and very much not time to wake up yet. He wanted to drift back to sleep and dream of that face again, those shimmering silver eyes framed by long black hair. Shion blinked in the darkness and felt like he could almost see it right in front of him. The smile he imagined beneath those eyes was mocking him.
"You're still so defenseless. Good grief."
"That's not fair...", Shion mumbled, his voice still heavy with sleep, "...can't I be a little defenseless at night?"
"Hm? What was that? Speak up."
"I said-" Shion's eyes snapped open. There was a weight on his left arm that laid stretched out under his pillow. His eyes couldn't get used to the darkness before a hand was laid on his neck. A thumb traced the scar that coiled around Shion, and the touch made him shiver.
"If I was holding a knife, you'd be dead now." the voice chuckled. It was lower and raspier than the one in Shion's memories. His vision swam as he sat up, clutching a hand to his heart. He tried to get a good look at the stranger next to him.
Shion's voice caught in his throat and he made an ugly sound, gulping and sighing at the same time.
What a realistic dream. He'd often tried to imagine how Nezumi might have changed in their years apart. Would he have grown out his hair and become a beautiful vision that dazzled weary travelers? Or would the years on the road harden him? Maybe he'd grow a scruffy beard, get broader and stronger, now that he didn't have to hide so much. The scariest thing he could imagine was a version of Nezumi that just got older and didn't change at all. I'm the stationary one. I want you to change wherever you go, Nezumi. So that next time I see you, you won't want to leave me behind.
The man lying on his bed now, head propped up on one arm, wore the same sardonic grin from so long ago and those eyes that made Shion think like a drunk poet. His sleek black hair was bound in a long, low ponytail. It was hard to see in the dim room, but his skin seemed a shade more tan and bore a small scar near the chin. He had broad shoulders and looked taller and sturdier than the slender 16-year old Shion had known.
"Admiring the view?" Nezumi sneered.
"Is this- a dream?" was the only thing Shion could think to say.
"It's that good?" Nezumi laughed, and then moved with a speed Shion's sleepy mind could barely follow. In a moment, Nezumi's face was inches from his. "Need me to pinch your cheek, little prince?"
Shion closed his eyes and felt Nezumi's warm breath on his face. A smile made its way to his lips. "No need...I know you're real." his voice wavered more than he had expected. It was really Nezumi.
"I've been leaving the window open for you." Shion breathed, leaning against Nezumi's forehead.
Nezumi clicked his tongue. "Only people who keep their windows closed get to let their guard down."
"My docter said something like that last time. I come in for cold medicine too much."
"You better listen to your doctor, dumbass."
"But it paid off."
"I could have used the door."
"I didn't think you'd become that boring." Shion's face was stuck in a wide smile and he felt tears at the corners of his eyes.
In truth, this was already much less intense than the scenarios Shion had imagined before. A thousand times, Shion had imagined catching sight of Nezumi's eyes in a crowd, and frantically chasing after him. Or being saved from one disaster or another by Nezumi's hand. An unexpected answer when he was screaming into the storm, or a voice calling him from far away like Safu's. In nightmares, it was often him finding Nezumi instead, wounded or... worse.
Suddenly Nezumi drew Shion into a warm embrace. Something scared flitted around in Shion's heart at the unexpected touch. A memory flashed through his body, of being pressed up close to Nezumi under the superfibre cloth, surrounded by sobbing, wailing people. A sickening lurch, as the gates of hell opened underneath his feet.
Shion forced himself back into his own body, felt his fingers digging into Nezumi's shirt, and the beads on sweat on his face. It's not real. I'm at home. I'm safe. He focused hard on his breathing, slowly in and out. I'm safe. Better than safe. You're here.
Nezumi loosened his grip and leaned back, making eye contact while his hand lightly brushed through Shion's hair. Shion realized he'd been waiting to be looked at with that piercing gaze again. To have someone communicate so clearly what was true, and what to do. But there was only tenderness in Nezumi's gaze right now. It was so unfamiliar, it made Shion tremble all over again.
"Hey, you're shivering, Shion." Nezumi pressed their foreheads together, checking his temperature. "Hm, it's not a fever."
Shion laughed nervously. "Yeah, I'm just surprised. Don't... worry." It felt off, saying that to him. Nezumi had never needed input on who or what to worry about.
"Lucky you. I'd be seriously pissed off if you had a cold right now."
"I could have been more careful if I had known you were coming."
"That doesn't make any sense, Shion. If you were careful, I wouldn't have gotten in."
"I mean- oh, nevermind." Shion didn't want this reunion be nothing but pointless bickering. He didn't want to play it safe like this.
"Nezumi, what made you come back now?"
Nezumi had closed his eyes and Shion half expected him to shoot back with another 'You're hopeless'.
"I missed you. I felt... drawn to you." he said instead, making a face like he had bitten into a lemon.
Shion couldn't help but break into laughter. "Nezumi, what's that? Are you trying to do an impression of me?"
"Hey watch it!" Nezumi growled at Shion, "I try to bare my heart and soul here, and you're laughing!" That sent Shion into even more of a fit and he fell back on the bed, doubled over with laughter. A rush of happiness filled him. What would his days look like with a sentimental, open-hearted Nezumi? It was hard to imagine, but it felt like the world had opened up.
Shion wiped at the tears in his eyes and tried to speak even though he was still giggling "I appreciate it, Nezumi. But this really doesn't suit you. I know it's been a few years, but can't you quote some Shakespeare instead?"
"'What, you egg?'" Nezumi shouted, and quickly pinned Shion to the bed, who was still chuckling. "Better?"
"The Nezumi I know doesn't just do what I ask, but..." Shion struggled against Nezumi's grip. He raised his head up a bit and quickly planted a kiss on Nezumi's lips. "I do like it better, yeah."
Nezumi seemed stunned for a second. Then he let go of Shion's arm, just to flick his forehead instead. "Ow!" Shion yelped, "What was that for?" Nezumi glowered down at him and there was a spark of aggression in his eyes that was blissfully familiar to Shion.
"Stop bullshitting me. A goodbye kiss, at a time like this? I can't believe you."
Shion's eyes turned serious as well. "It was supposed to be a welcome-back kiss. I really tried."
"Well, it was a lackluster attempt. Embarrassing. Even I couldn't distinguish that intention."
There was a moment of silence between them. Shion gulped, trying hard to keep up the somber tone. "Can I try again?"