***Spoilers in both the Author's Note and the story***

To understand this story I am using the falling of the wall as a reference point. The number of years later or before indicates when the excerpt takes place in reference to the wall coming down. For anyone who hasn't read No. 6 Beyond, the baby Shion rescues ends up living with him and Karan and she named him Shionn, which is rather confusing if you ask me. It's also important to note that in some parts the characters may seem a little out of character compared to how they were in the novels (this follows the novels more than the anime, but I've included some animeverse in here as well. Can be read and understood by those who have not read the novels) due to the fact that nothing has been written about them at that age.

This story is for the talented Risque Tendencies! Happy Birthday. お誕生日おめでとうございま!

No. 6:

The Wind and the Mountain

Five Years Later

Nezumi

How long had it been? That was a good question. After his last time in the crumbling ruin of the infamous No. 6 he'd all but ignored time, mostly. He still tracked the sun to make sure he knew when a new day had happened upon him, but Nezumi had stopped counting the days once he'd ran into Shion's father almost six months after leaving his one, true friend. Even that day had to have been years ago and he hoped that if the selfish individual had actually met his son his white-haired companion had set him straight.

Not one for paying much attention to gossip anymore, he'd learned to ignore what others might have been saying. Had he listened he may have gone back to No. 6 much faster than originally anticipated. Time didn't matter on the outside and once his primary objective had been completed, he didn't need time anymore. All time did was remind him of the years of scorn and hate he'd built up inside of him. That was why he needed to leave, even though Shion had begged him not to. Once his purpose was over he'd felt loss the likes of which he'd never felt before.

Of course he wasn't about to admit that to anyone, especially his nosy friend. That kid would have done anything in his power to keep him around, but in the end Nezumi knew he'd needed to leave in order to find himself again. Wiping away over ten years worth of vendetta wasn't going to happen overnight, even if the falling of the wall had happened in such a short time.

Thus, he'd left without so much as a by your leave. That had been almost five years ago, or so he'd figured once he'd counted the marks in his notebook. Time wasn't something he'd wanted to pay attention to, but his yearning to see his best friend again was enough to bring him back to the human level.

In front of him loomed the area formally known as No. 6. Within the confines of the city was his friend, the one he'd hoped always retained his innocence. The same one, as it turned out, who'd tried to remain as the little boy who'd saved him almost a decade prior, but who'd slowly started even losing himself.

Two Months Later

Shion

After all those months of sleeping in the same bed as the grey-eyed rat it was difficult to fall asleep without the other's movement. The day prior his friend had left without a goodbye and Shion'd only found out when he'd woken up. Various emotions ran through his head when he saw his bed, for a second time, vacant with no knowing when the other occupant would return. This time he felt slightly betrayed, among sad and angry. Shion and Nezumi had been through so much together and to think that it may never happen again left the youth feeling vulnerable. That wasn't something he could share with anyone though, no one would be able to understand.

"I wish you'd reconsider working with the city," Karan uttered while feeding Shionn. The baby gurgled and looked over at the elder Shion and made a complaint of not being in the other's arms.

Shion stood up and walked toward his mother. She seemed so much older than when he and her had lived together after being evicted from Chronos. Those months when he'd been in the West Block had taken their toll and if he hadn't known any better he'd have sworn she was as different a person as he. Of course his mother hadn't killed someone, so she was still an innocent, even if he'd left that category long before.

"I understand, mom," he said, gently picking up his newly adopted brother and cradling him against his left shoulder.

"And I know you won't," she replied, rocking back and forth in the chair a couple of times before standing and going to the kitchen nook of their flat. "You're what they call a bleeding heart, Shion, and I know you will do everything in your power to make sure this city moves to where the founders had wanted." If Shion could have heard his mother's inner voice he'd have heard her say, I don't want it to change you like it did so many others. And the fact that you work with Youming scares me. He'd never know how much it scared her; she'd never admit that out loud since she knew the man was more than capable of destroying her son. She'd tell the boy eventually, but likely enough Shion'd figure everything out on his own, after all, he was one smart boy.

Seven Years Before

Nezumi

The old lady had found them a place to stay. Instead of skulking around the forests looking for shelter they could reside in one place and not worry about anyone looking for them again. At least that's what the boy got from the way the old woman acted. As of yet he still didn't know his name or remember what it might have been. Most of everything that had happened when he'd been four was a distant memory. He knew he'd had parents and a baby sister. That was all that remained in his nine-year old mind.

The place was cramped, but suited the two just fine. While the boy went in search of anything to keep him occupied the old woman had planned her revenge on the city. The boy, who would eventually be given the name Nezumi when he ended up in prison, spent time learning how to read. Books of every genre were at his fingertips. No one wanted to read books anymore, they were too busy trying to survive in the West Block. The future Nezumi spent time learning about everything from science to Shakespeare.

"To be, or not to be," he stated simply a year after they'd set up house. The boy was reading Hamlet, along with a book about old-fashioned computer viruses.

"That may come sooner than you think, boy," the old woman mumbled. "People like us, who have nothing to lose and everything to gain, need to be prepared to not be anymore. We've already lost everything and it needs to stay that way. Don't let anything keep you from your goal, no matter what. If you allow yourself to be trapped like we were before the only thing that will happen is heartache and death."

She always spoke to him like she knew they'd die in their fight. And the boy absorbed every word, becoming more and more jaded than he already was. No. 6 definitely needed to fall. They'd killed his parents, burned his baby sister into embers, and destroyed a home he barely remembered. In those moments the boy became Hamlet and the city had become his uncle step-father, and he'd do everything in his power to bring down the tyranny that the selfish and egotistical had created.

Five Years Later

Shion

The days were hot and the nights were dry. Rain had been scarce for quite some time, so water was only used out of necessity. Eventually the rainy season would show its face and there'd be water aplenty. Until that time Shion ate fruit, the same fruits grown in the West Block. The nectar in each piece of fruit he ate was water saved for his mom and little brother. As a man of twenty-one he needed to think of his family first and if that meant sacrifices then that was what was going to happen.

"Does that even taste good or are you trying to act like a grown-up?" Karan, the little girl turned teen, from the former West Block asked. Her little brother Riko was playing tag with Shionn and Lili in the front. Karan wasn't like the kids though, she was an adult, at least in her mind.

Shion grunted somewhat, attempting to laugh. It was almost as if he'd forgotten how to laugh in the past few years. Everything was as he'd wanted. The city was no longer in distress, save the water shortage that occurred every other year, and people were happy…almost all people were happy. He'd become someone that his former self never would have recognized though. To deal with crime he'd created a police force, almost like the former No. 6 had, only they took in those who were actual criminals, not innocent people.

The problem for the red-eyed youngest on the City Council was that he felt as if those who were punished were only acting out because of the way things were. Over time people had become accustomed to a certain way of life and the change after the wall had come down had been immediate and rather drastic. Humans didn't exactly jump into new rules easily, so every time someone committed a crime and was punished, Shion felt as if he were the one handing down the punishment. Each and every one of the hundreds over the years weighed down on his heart. Gone was the starry-eyed youth who had thought he could save No. 6 and everyone in the West Block. Instead was a man who had jumped into an adult world before he should have had to.

"You should be playing with the kids, Karan," he stated simply, eating a grape from his rations.

Karan scoffed and put her feet up on the same footstool he was using. "I'm hardly a kid anymore, Shion," she said, faking laughter. "I'm a teenager now and that means I can do adult things."

Of course he knew exactly what she was hinting at, he'd known for quite some time that the young lady who shared the same name as his mother had quite the crush. In the past it had been easy to brush it off because of the age limit, however, once Karan reached thirteen, the age of consent within the area, he knew it would be harder to stave off her pursuit.

"Just because you're considered an adult doesn't mean you need to jump into adult things," he answered without making eye contact. He was watching Shionn dodge the other two in the yard.

"Is it because you're still a virgin?"

Shion almost choked on a grape and ended up sputtering while the girl smacked his back to dislodge the air in his stomach. He belched loudly before turning to the other, face red. Shion wasn't exactly embarrassed by such a question, he was just surprised Karan would even ask such a thing at her age. There was quite the age difference between them and had she been about ten years older, he as well, then that age difference wouldn't have been such a big issue.

"Or is it that you are still pining for someone you know you can never have?"

Wow, the girl was direct. An image of Safu popped into his head as he shook the thing and sat back in his chair.

"I have no idea what you're talking about," he answered rather hotly.

"I don't mean that girl you and your mom have told me about either," Karan admonished. "I'm talking about Nezumi."

Whenever Shion heard that name his heart palpitated. He wasn't sure it was the same love Karan was talking about, but he did love the guy more than he did anyone else in the world. He'd not ever thought about a sexual encounter with the other male, to him what they had transcended the roles of sex in a relationship. At least they had when they'd lived together.

"And why are you even thinking of me with someone else?" Shion asked.

"Because," Karan answered dangerously. "If someone tries to take you away from me then I'll put a gun in their mouth and put a bullet through the back of their head."

Two Months Before

Nezumi

Never in his life would he have imagined watching someone sleep, let alone another man. However, once he'd found a companion in Shion it was something that occasionally happened, especially when the younger teen found it so much easier to drift off than he. Nezumi had been sitting on a chair, reading a philosophy book by Nietzsche. He'd heard a slight snore followed by a moan and looked over at his sleeping flat mate. His pigment challenged friend was mumbling and he'd heard his name.

"Kind of embarrassing to be dreaming about someone who can hear you mumbling about them, Shion," Nezumi smirked.

"Ne…zu…mi…" The grumbled name came out again and the rat stood up and went to lie on his side of the bed.

"What are you dreaming about, Shion?" he asked, eyeing the other to see if he was actually asleep or his acting had improved in the few months they'd cohabitated. Nezumi looked closer and noticed movement from under the other's white eyelids. Shion was in REM sleep, so he was most likely dreaming about something.

"You shouldn't dream about anyone, ever, Shion," Nezumi lectured. "When you dream about someone then that means you are attached and when you're attached that means you'll end up dead."

Of course no one was able to hear the baritone voice of the blue-haired teen except the mice and dog, who were gazing fondly at one half of their humans.

"Eventually anyone you dream about is going to either betray you or die," Nezumi continued, putting his hands under his head and looking up at the ceiling. "So what's the point in even trying to dream about them when you know from the start that it's going to end with you hurt in some way or another?"

He felt Shion shift and watched at the younger boy's form turned onto his side, facing him. He could feel Shion's breath on his ear and it made the hairs on his neck stand on end. Without thinking Nezumi pulled off his glove and reached over to grab hold of Shion's hand. It was still as warm as the day they'd held hands and fallen asleep when they were twelve. The rat hated that in those four long years he'd had a dream about Shion every single night he could remember. All of them ended up with one or both of them dead and that idea scared him. It was one thing for him to die, but he didn't want this person who'd weaseled his way into his life to die in the process.

"I should leave you," he stated softly, not doing a very good job of sounding like he believed his own words. "All you're going to do is turn into a liability. Inukashi was right, you've become my downfall."

Nezumi should have been angry, but he was anything but. For the first time in as long as he could remember he actually felt at peace. Yes, he'd felt peace on that night in Shion's bed four years prior, but now that the boy was on his own turf he was both comfortable and peaceful. That wasn't what he should have been though. He should have been angry that someone was tampering with his carefully laid out plans. Once Shion had entered into his life a second time he'd had to put his own methodically construed thoughts to the side and focus on Shion.

But…Shion had been a part of his life for those four years. The shorter of the two didn't know it, but Nezumi had been keeping watch all those years. He had seen Shion naked, seen the look on the boy's face when he had started his new job. He'd even been privy to the first time Shion had masturbated. While he had been completely out of his friend's life, Shion had been a big part of his…

…And that had been a burden, though he'd never admit that the burden had kept him sane. Unlike the old woman, because he had Shion on his radar, he'd been able to function and keep from going mad. No way in hell would he go out like she had, shot in the chest. And no way would he allow Shion to be taken and thrown into prison for two years, even if he himself was shot in the chest.

"I should hate you, Shion," he whispered, allowing his eyelids to drop slightly in anticipation of sleep. "But how can you hate someone you love?"

Three Years Before

Shion

Thirteen was starting out to be a much better year than twelve had been. Shion couldn't have been happier with his new surroundings, even if he knew that within the month he'd be required to quit his third-rate school and work for the park service. In truth he was actually waiting, no, more like anticipating a visit from the elusive Nezumi from the year prior. What a birthday present that had been, even if said present had gotten he and his mother removed from the place where he'd grown.

Still, he hadn't cared when they'd moved and he wasn't about to start. Instead he was much more interested in sitting in his yard looking for the one who'd left him high and dry the last time. He didn't even notice when Safu came up the walkway.

"Shion!" she called. He barely heard her and only looked over when she got a little cross. "Shion! I didn't come all this way to be ignored."

"Oh…" Shion smiled, bowing his head slightly. "I'm sorry, Safu, my head wasn't quite there for a moment."

The girl rolled her eyes at him and plopped down on the second chair at the table in his yard. "You've been like that since moving here. I'm beginning to wonder if your move has affected your brain."

The brown-haired teen shook his head with a slight grin. "No, my head is fine, though…" He began to wonder if his head had left with Nezumi twelve months prior. That would make sense.

"Though…what?" Safu asked, handing him a present; it wasn't a shirt this time, it was a scarf.

"Nothing, just a little lost in thought is all," Shion answered.

"I've heard that one before," she mumbled back. "Hey, let's go down by the canal. I don't want to sit here and talk. We're not old yet, so we should get to act like kids once in a while."

It was a good and logical idea, but if they left and Nezumi showed up he might very well miss seeing him. Shion looked at his friend and realized that he couldn't say no to her. He'd known Safu since they were two and in the same advanced classes together. The look on her face meant that he'd not hear the end of it if he declined and couldn't even give her a good reason. Telling her that a year ago he'd ended up losing his chance to advance along with her meant that they'd been separated and the look on her face then had been heartbreaking. Plus, making her privy to his hiding a VC in his bedroom for the night would cause all sorts of problems for her. Nezumi had told him that people who learned information weren't likely to forget it; Shion didn't want to burden her with unnecessary information.

"Okay," he said, putting on a happy face to disguise his worry of missing Nezumi if the other happened to come by. "Let's go." If you come back, Nezumi, wait for me.

Five Years Later

Nezumi

Things were definitely different. He couldn't quite put a finger on it, but there was something off and it did make him feel as if listening to the passersby toward the end of the five year walk-about had been a good idea. While No. 6 hadn't felt anything like it had when he was twelve, immediately after the wall had fallen there was at least a sense of relief in the air. That feeling was replaced by the type of feeling one might have felt in the West Block, or worse the detention facility.

No, this was how a city was supposed to feel, but underneath Nezumi could feel a sense of sadness and longing, most likely from those who had lost their perfect little world half a decade prior. And deep in the thick of it he could feel Shion…oh how he'd changed. Nezumi didn't even need to be right next to him to know that he'd lost in his battle to remain as he had before; Shion had grown up and lost all of his youthful dreams.

Nezumi knew how to get to Karan's bakery, which was a good two miles from where he stood. He didn't get a chance to head off in the right direction before he heard something behind him.

"Well shit," the voice said, full of loathing. "Look who finally decided to return to the city that time forgot."

"I see your disposition hasn't much changed in five years, Inukashi," Nezumi responded without even looking at the other.

"Just because that stupid wall fell down doesn't mean some nice couple was going to come along and adopt someone like me. I've actually increased in business thanks to that mess. Maybe one day I can afford to get real beds for all people instead of dogs," Inukashi chuckled.

Nezumi chose not to respond to what the younger said and just stared out at the city, remembering where the wall had been and recalling how patiently he'd waited to crush those within. Shion had been right, removing the wall was a good step, but if the likes of Inukashi were still living outside and not welcomed inside then that third option of Shion's had obviously fizzled.

"I assume you're on your way to mama Karan's bakery."

At this Nezumi did look at Inukashi. "Mama?" he asked, eyes slightly curious and head cocked to the side so his scarf was almost touching his ear.

Inukashi scoffed. "It wasn't like it was intentional, the whole mama thing, but she's been more than generous in her dealings with me. It's only out of respect for her and for Shion that I call her mama."

This caused Nezumi to cackle, and quite loudly at that. "Yeah right, I'm sure deep down you relish being able to call a human over a mutt mama."

"Don't talk about my mother like that you bastard!" Inukashi screeched, lowering to the ground in a fighting pose. Five dogs came up behind, teeth bared for any sort of offensive attack.

"I'm not here to fight the likes of you!" Nezumi spat, taking a few steps forward and rolling his eyes. He'd have made it down the hill if the younger hadn't grabbed hold of his jacket sleeve.

"Wait," Inukashi murmured. "I know where you're going and you should be prepared."

"Prepared for what?" The blue-haired boy could feel his palms start to sweat. Obviously the kid was about to spill on Shion and Nezumi wanted to know as much as he didn't want to know what had been going on with his friend.

Inukashi walked over to an old-fashioned see-saw and sat in the middle, allowing the sides to fall in a melodic rhythm.

"I'm listening," Nezumi pried.

"He's not the same since the town initiated the police force. I think he's blaming himself for every idiot who's ended up in the jail. Obviously it's not his fault when some lowlife kills someone else, but after reading those books in your house and learning about the type of punishments the world doled out in the past, he and the government went back to a basic form of law." The way the other spoke was clean, but Nezumi could hear a hint of sorrow hidden under the lack of emotion. "Some of those offenders were executed," Inukashi added. "And he's had to witness every single execution."

After all Shion had seen in the West Block and even going so far as to killing someone to save him, Nezumi had prayed it hadn't changed Shion in any way. That had to have been wishful thinking. If Shion was expected to send people to their death, not to mention be required to watch, then it probably had taken its toll on his psyche. Nezumi had not only failed in keeping his friend's innocence, but hadn't even been around to keep that righteousness intact. In other words, the fucking city had corrupted his best friend and where was he? He was lost.

One Month Before

Shion

"Riko, Karan, you shouldn't leave your home all the time without supervision," Shion chided the two children as they pushed their way into the room and sat down on the sofa.

"We don't have anything better to do and we're at home alone anyway, so what's it matter if we're alone at home or alone outside?" Karan asked, matter-of-factly.

Shion couldn't really argue that point as it was valid. "If you want to visit though you should let me know so I can come pick you up."

"And how are we supposed to do that?" Karan asked, wrapping her sweater around her small body. Shion recalled giving that sweater to Nezumi all those years ago. Once the young girl had found out it had been Shion's at one time she refused to take it off.

"That's a good question. Maybe I should send a dog or a mouse with you?" he said, thinking out loud.

Karan giggled. "Mom would freak out if she saw a mouse in the house, so it's best you keep them to yourself. Besides, we've lived here longer than you, so we're that much more prepared than you are."

This made Shion smile as he handed out some drinks and sat on the sofa. Once he was seated Karan moved closer to him while Riko hopped up and went searching through Nezumi's piles of books. He returned carrying one in his left hand while holding Cravat in his right. The boy handed Shion the book and the hopped onto his lap to hear the story.

Shion looked at the story and started to read. The first chapter talked about the wind and how it could never be contained. The wind reminded him of Nezumi in a way since he doubted he would ever be able to keep Nezumi from doing his thing, not that he'd want to. Chapter two talked about a mountain, that started out as a hill and over time grew bigger and bigger. For some reason that mountain reminded him of himself. When he'd lived in No. 6 he was a tiny hill, but after leaving he could even feel himself growing. What made him sad was that the mountain was stationary and even if the mountain had wanted to travel with the unhindered wind he'd never be able to since he could never move.

"Does the story make you sad, Shion?" Karan asked.

He shook his head and smiled sweetly at the innocent question. "No, Karan, the story doesn't make me sad, it just reminds me of some people I know, that's all."

Six Years Before

Nezumi

The old lady was gone. She'd died before he'd even been able to reach her. Then, while he'd been in the process of grieving he'd been picked up by the scruff of his shirt and thrown into the back of a truck. The next thing he knew, the boy was sitting in a room with a bunch of other people. All of them were worse for the wear, but he was definitely the one who stood out with his striking grey eyes and blue hair.

"That's definitely one; I'd recognize one of them from miles away. He must be the last of his kind." The boy could hear someone talking about him and it irked his senses. How dare someone he'd never even met talk about him like he wasn't even there. "He doesn't look none too happy either."

"How'd you like it if someone you didn't know was talking about you?" the boy snarled, standing up and squaring off with the older man.

"Oh, feisty too, just like a rat caught in a trap," the man snickered. "That's what we'll call you while you're stuck in hell, Nezumi."

The boy couldn't remember the last time he'd had a name, but he'd be damned if he let himself be called a rat. He stood up and launched himself at the man, teeth bared like a packrat on the attack. Had he been in a dream he'd have crushed his opponent, but as he was completely awake his aggression was thwarted by the much bigger man.

"Relax, boy, doing crap like that in here will only get you killed."

He didn't seem to care much about the warning since he screeched out in fury, fingers clawed as best as he could get them. In his ten short years of life he'd managed to lose everyone in his life. The old woman was right when she told him that everyone hurts you; friends, strangers, family; they all leave you in the end.

"I think we'll take him with us, once he calms down. Relax, Nezumi, we know about what happened to your parents and sister."

Nezumi glared at the man, annoyed that he was responding to that name. "And what do you know?" he spat.

"Take it easy and I'll tell you. Let Rou clue you in on what Rou knows. You'll be amazed at what I know about you and what you've been through."

It was more than enough for the tired boy to fall back on his haunches. Nezumi was struck with a sudden bout of tiredness. The last thing he saw before passing out was Rou's face in his vision and the last thing he heard was a song that seemed to emanate from the very core of his being.

Two Years Later

Shion

Red eyes locked with green eyes and held one another for what seemed like an eternity. Eventually the red eyes watched as the green slowly faltered and shut. The man was dead and Shion had helped create the law that executed the first to be given the needle. He watched as the attending checked the deceased to make sure there was no heartbeat. Then it was over.

The last thing that man saw was me, Shion thought as he fought to keep in the tears that wanted to escape. It was no time for him to be emotional, after all that man had been tried and convicted just like a criminal who killed eight people by locking them into a car and setting it on fire should have. Still, even though it wasn't me pulling the trigger like last time, it still feels the same.

Shion didn't exactly remember what it was like after he'd killed the man who'd shot Nezumi two years prior. He only recalled what he'd felt afterward when he'd had a chance to process the chaos. This time he'd had more than enough time to process what was going to happen days, hours, even minutes before it happened. And for every single one of those minutes all he could see in his mind was the face of the man he'd shot with a gun.

He shot Nezumi, so he deserved to die, the teen argued with himself as he exited the watch room of the execution chamber, now located in the basement of the Moondrop. But did I have the right to decide that? I'm not god, so have I the right to make that judgment?

For months after that incident he'd had the same thoughts. For a short few months those thoughts had gone away until the council had voted on bringing back the old way of law. Now that he's witnessed a man dying, his second kill, if you will, he was reliving those thoughts and emotions from so long ago.

Nezumi, where are you when I need you? It had been almost two years since his elusive friend had vanished. Are you ever going to come back? Of course he didn't have the right to try and lock the other boy in a cage. He was the mountain, destined to be stuck in one place for the rest of his life. Nezumi was the wind, free to roam about and never think about stopping if he so desired.

Shion walked away from the Moondrop and met his mother, holding baby Shionn on her hip. The woman smiled and it took a lot of effort for Shion to smile back. His mother knew what had happened and would have gone in for his own support if it had been a place to bring his little brother. Shionn's eyes looked at him and a toothy grin followed.

"Shion!" the younger of the same name called out, trying to jump from one adult to the next.

Shion took the toddler from his mother and they walked back toward their home together. I may not be able to stay the way you wanted me to, Nezumi, but I'll do my best to make sure this Shionn makes you proud.

Four Years Before

Nezumi

He did his best to remove his hand from the sleeping Shion next to him without waking the other tween. Nezumi needed to leave before the officials arrived. If he was lucky then none would be the wiser as to his being there at any point. He didn't want Shion to end up in trouble just because he had a bleeding heart and helped a complete stranger in need.

For a second he almost wondered what it would have been like to live in a place like Shion's; be protected. Then he remembered that no matter where he was in the city, he'd never be safe, even if Shion's mother had the same thoughts as her son. Nezumi wouldn't put anyone else in jeopardy ever again if he could manage.

Grey eyes scanned the room after he'd released his hand from the other. Shion turned over on his back, drool on the bedspread where his head had been lying just moment prior. He wanted to laugh at how innocent this boy was, living in his perfect little bubble where nothing ever went wrong. That would have woken Shion up though and caused problems Nezumi didn't want to deal with.

The boy made his way to the table where the medical kit was located. Just hours prior that medical kit had saved his life. Of course he didn't have the right to take it when he'd already snagged the horrible sweater and even eaten his host's food, but where he was going it was something that could keep him alive. Shion would most likely get another one without anyone batting an eyelash.

"Stupid kid," Nezumi mumbled to himself, rubbing his smarting shoulder. He could almost make out the stitches but maybe that was because he was thinking about them rather than feeling them.

For the life of him he couldn't fathom why he wanted nothing more than to hop back into that bed and curl up next to the warm body that occupied it. Holding Shion's hand had sent all sorts of messages along the synapses to his brain. Living people have warm hands, he'd mused. Unlike the dead hands of the old woman when I ran to her side two years ago.

"Where can I even go now?" he asked himself as he hid the medical kit under his new shirt. The old woman popped into his head again followed by Rou. Surely he shouldn't go back to that man; he'd started to turn just as ridiculous as those in charge of No. 6. There was the room he and the old woman had shared in the West Block before her unsightly demise.

Nezumi had a vague recollection of the mountains of books in that place that he'd collected over their short time there, not to mention the fact that there had been hundreds there to begin with. He'd come to appreciate those books as he grew up since they'd given him insight that No. 6's inhabitants had been blinded to over the course of their brainwashing. Those books wouldn't have been use to anyone else, so they were probably still there and he could easily find more.

He looked over at Shion, who had turned over again and was mumbling something in his sleep.

"Talking in your sleep proves that you are naïve," he muttered with a yawn. It was still early in the morning, before the sun rose. That meant it was a good time to sneak past authorities and find his way to a safe place. "Goodbye, Shion," he said for what he thought would be the last time. "And…thank you," he added as an afterthought. The brown-haired youth wouldn't even know he'd said goodbye, but at least Nezumi would know. He slowly opened the window and closed it without a sound and jumped to the ground. Liberation was at hand and he needed to be ready for whatever life threw at him with this second chance.

Five Years Later

Shion

"Shion, Shionn, Lili, Karan, Riko! Come in for some cherry pie!"

Five people turned toward the tiny abode and all of them smiled. Two took off running, one teen girl lagged behind slightly.

"Aren't you going inside?" Shion asked Karan. "I know how much you love mom's cherry pie."

"Not until you do," the stubborn teen answered, eyeing him from the second chair.

Shion knew he'd need to tell her directly, even if it hurt the girl in the process. He was in no way shape or form ready to start a long relationship with anyone, let alone someone eight years his junior who was still in school, or would have been had she been born inside of No. 6's walls.

"Listen, Karan," he started; every intention in turning her away from him even if they both ended up upset afterward. "I know…"

Karan shook her head violently, face turning pink enough to worry Shion until she started to talk. "No, no, no! You don't know anything," she cried, turning to him so he could see the tears in her eyes. "I love you and have since I was a kid. That's never going to change. I want to marry you, I want to have sex with you, and I want to have your babies!"

Well, if that wasn't overly direct nothing was. Shion was at a slight loss for words. That was the first time in his twenty-one years someone had confessed outright to him, and it was quite bold.

"I am not taking no for an answer, so I'll wait for you to be ready," she said, snot falling from her nose and onto her shirt.

Shion sat up and used a hanky to wipe her eyes and nose not realizing that this simple act of kindness was cementing the girl's love for him further. He wasn't such a heartless guy to let a girl cry. Even if it was something that would eventually come back and bite him on the ass.

"Okay, Karan," he said softly. "When you grow up we'll talk about it some more."

Karan threw herself into his arms and cried on his shoulder while the befuddled man rubbed her back. In the time it took for her to grow up he was sure she'd move on and find someone else, especially if he put himself into his work or even found someone of his own. It wasn't like he was waiting for anyone anymore anyway. And even if Nezumi showed up, he doubted the other would want anything to do with him with what he'd become.

"Come on, let's go in and eat pie before someone comes out looking for us," he suggested, standing and pulling the girl to her feet. She nodded and grabbed hold of his hand, indicating she wasn't letting him go. It was the same hand Nezumi had held at one point. If anything, he and his companion were definitely kindred spirits, bound by fate somehow.

A laugh startled Shion right as he was about to step foot over the threshold of his home.

"Still quite the charmer, I see," the unmistakable voice teased. "I didn't know you went for younger women though, Shion."

The man in question did an abrupt about face, dropping Karan's hand, and looked into the grey eyes of his past. Standing in front of him, taller still, and wearing an outfit that closely resembled that of which he'd last seen the other wearing, stood someone he'd tried to but never been able to forget. Shion could hear a soft gasp of discomfort from Karan and he turned to see her shaking, fresh tears streaming down her face.

"Never had that sort of reaction from a girl before, myself, so this is new," the smarmy voice continued. Shion still couldn't find his voice as he watched Karan run into the house and slam the door, effectively shutting everyone in the vicinity out of their own little world. "What's the matter, Shion, mouse got your tongue?"

Of course Tsukiyo had died a few years prior, he was a mouse after all. Shion'd never found another pet to replace the happy-go-lucky little guy, not that he'd ever want to. Then he realized he was still being teased and he finally found his voice.

"Nezumi?"

The taller man chortled. "Not as articulate as you were when I last saw you."

"Nezumi," Shion resumed, eyes almost brimming with tears. "You're really there?"

Two Years Before

Nezumi

"Hey! When have I ever given you permission to waltz in here like you own the place?" Inukashi growled.

Nezumi smirked and put his feet up on a dilapidated coffee table, dripping mud on the wooden top. "The day you tried to rob me is the day you opened yourself up for business, if I'm not mistaken," the teen responded smartly. He'd use the little brat until he had what he wanted. Plus, there was no mistaking that the kid was good at getting things from No. 6 and no one would suspect a kid to be able to pull that off.

Inukashi snorted in mock laughter. "Taking advantage of me is not going to win you any favor points, Nezumi."

"I'm not trying to win any favor from you," Nezumi deadpanned, causing the other to scowl. "What I am trying to do is find an alternate way into that eyesore out there." He indicated No. 6 as if it were in the same room.

The dog lender's eyes narrowed. "And why would you want another way to get into the city?"

The blue-haired teen sat forward, face unreadable, "I want to have different routes to get into the city to avoid being detected. I'd have thought that was crystal clear. Or would you rather I keep going one way and end up getting caught?" He'd intended the last part to be like a slap in the face and it was as the younger occupant in the room recoiled slightly. It didn't take Inukashi long to retaliate though.

"As if I'd care one iota if you ended up getting caught and shipped to the detention center." There was malice in those words, but Nezumi knew Inukashi didn't mean them. That didn't mean he was going to take that type of remark sitting down.

"Okay then, I'll find someone else I can pay with good money to find out my answers. This'll be the last time you see me." His words were also not completely true, but he knew that baiting the younger would get what he wanted all that much faster.

Nezumi stood up to leave, but was stopped when a dog stood between him and the door. Score! "Tell your flea-bag to get out of my way."

"I've got three alternate routes," Inukashi seethed," and I'll give them all to you if you sing for my mother as she's dying."

The rat-boy could actually feel his heart skip a beat at the request. On occasion he'd sang for Inukashi's dogs as they were dying, but he knew that the one who was the other's mother was special. She must have been really close if Inukashi was willing to give him three routes for just a few songs. Nezumi wasn't heartless, so he'd never have turned something like that down.

"Where is she?"

Inukashi led the way, followed by no less than seven dogs, and Nezumi maneuvered behind. He'd be sure to get all three routes after he helped put the dog to rest. Inukashi may have been sneaky, but the kid wasn't a liar.

"Mother" was lying on a mat in an out of the way corner of the building. Of course it wasn't a good idea to put a dying dog out for customers. Nezumi could feel the emotions running high in the air and he knew Inukashi was trying not to cry. While he wasn't privy to everything that had happened to Inukashi before they met, he did know that the kid was raised by an old man and a bunch of dogs. The old man disappeared one day, probably to die, and left a very young child in the care of the canines. For a simple dog to have raised a human child, that must have meant "Mother" was special.

Nezumi knelt down on his knees and out a hand on the dog's head, giving her a little pat. She didn't even open her eyes and her breathing was shallow. Based on her physical appearance it was clear she came out of the losing end of a fight. How she'd managed to hold on so long was a mystery. It would end up being any moment, her last breath.

Close your eyes, be at rest; soon you will be set free

Your life has been lived and your last breath is near

You've earned the reward right in front of your eyes

So don't you worry, and don't shed a tear

Nezumi continued singing the song while stroking the dog's coat. He could feel her tense up slightly as her last breath was taken, but still he continued singing until he was sure her soul had made it safely to a new place. He didn't remember where he'd heard that particular song, but for some reason it felt as if his own mother had sang it at one point when she was still alive.

Five Years Later

The two stared each other down, seeing the changes each had gone through. Shion was taller and his hair was slightly longer than before. He wore smart clothes; trousers, a collared shirt, loafers, and a belt. Nezumi was sure that had it been a day in which his companion had needed to go to work a tie would have been part of the deal. He also noted that Shion had lost some of that teenage gangly appearance and had started to buff out a little. His shoulders were wider and his face narrower. The image that had been planted in his brain of his friend from before had been taken over completely by the adult standing before him.

Shion was too inheriting a memory change. Nezumi was now about six centimeters taller than he. His hair was rather long and tied in a pony tail; loose strands fell about his face, framing it like that of a man in a picture. He was wearing the same type of cargo pants he'd always worn with a slightly tattered jacket. For an instant Shion thought they were the exact same clothes he'd last seen Nezumi wearing, but there was no way that was possible. Twenty-one year old Nezumi was much bigger than sixteen year old Nezumi had been.

When no further words were spoken of the younger male, Nezumi spoke up. "If I'd known my appearance would have caused you to lose your ability to speak I'd have sent Inukashi ahead to warn you of my impending arrival."

Shion blushed slightly at being chastised since he knew he was been a rather rude host. "Sorry, Nezumi, I'm just surprised is all. I never expected to see you again, not after you left."

Nezumi, keeping to his impish self, replied with a quick chuckle, "as if I'd ever be able to live it down not coming to visit you every now and then. I'm sure you'd have sent out a search party for me if I didn't come back."

He was surprised when this didn't get a rise out of his friend and it pained his heart to see that Shion had indeed changed. Normally there'd have been some quick comeback, but this time Shion just kind of nodded.

"Do you want some cherry pie, mom made it?" Shion asked, reaching for the door handle. It was taking every ounce of his energy not to wrap his arms around Nezumi and hug him until the other stopped breathing.

On any normal day the offer of pie, or anything that Karan had created, would have made Nezumi's mouth water. This time was completely different though, and he couldn't just pretend it didn't exist.

"Shion?" Nezumi asked, reaching for the shorter man and turning him away from the door so he could look into the other's red eyes. What he saw was cringe worthy. "What happened to you?"

Two Years Later

Shion

"This man was caught excavating without a permit," one of Shion's co-workers stated.

"Do we even require a permit?" Shion asked, innocently. He'd only recently been moved from just the Reconstruction Committee to the City Council, so he didn't know everything yet, plus, he was barely even eighteen.

The man caught digging let out a raunchy laugh. "Oh, how the mighty have fallen," he sing-songed. "Never thought I'd see the day when the great No. 6 had turned into nothing."

Shion glowered for a second before speaking. "We're doing the best we can under the circumstances. Who are you?"

"Not telling," the man said, never once making eye-contact.

"Shion, we need some sort of law system in place or trash like this will continue to cause problems," his co-worker stated. "I know you didn't appreciate what Youming did, but he did have a plan for law in this city that you might want to look over."

The white-haired boy thought for a moment, not noticing that the 'prisoner' had actually stopped acting like a jackass and was staring at him with curiosity.

"How long can we detain him for?" Shion asked. "I'll read over his notes quickly and then we can think about a proper punishment."

With those words Shion and a few others from the Council stood up and made to leave.

"Wait!" the man cried, trying to stand up but not getting more than a centimeter from the chair before being pushed back down. "Your name's Shion?"

Shion turned back around and eyed the man, calmly. "Yes," he answered simply.

"Karan's Shion?"

His eyes went wide at the use of his mother's name. A few murmurs could be heard behind him.

"Yes," he replied, hesitantly. "You know my mother?" It was then that Shion started to see some subtle similarities between his old self and the man seated before him. They had the same bone structure in the face.

"Let's talk, Shion, it's been a long time," the man urged.

Of all the people in all the world, Shion never expected to run into his father and recognize him. What made it even worse was that he was now going to have to come up with a plan of action to incorporate law into this city and his father was going to be the first offender he dealt with. There was no time to try and find the good in the situation.

"I don't have time to talk right now," he said with emotionless conviction. "You still need to be dealt with as an offender to the city."

The look on his father's face was enough to make his own heart lurch. Had it been a couple of years ago he'd have sat down and talked with the man, even if he was going to need to come up with some sort of punishment. Now, though, he wasn't sure he wanted to be associated with the man who was his father. It was going to forever be on his mind that his own flesh and blood was the first person punished in the newly created No. 6.

Five Years Later

Denying that the pie was good would have been one of the biggest lies told in history. The flaky crust melted in Nezumi's mouth and the cherries were just the right amount of tart so as the sweetness of the confection didn't overpower the senses. Truth be told, he'd dreamed of Karan's baked goods as often as he dreamed of Shion and what the other was doing during his long absence.

"Nezumi, you're too skinny," Karan chided, picking up his wrist and feeling the bones beneath. "If I can feel your bones, see them, then you haven't been eating enough."

"Mom, let Nezumi be, he's been taking care of himself for years," Shion all but begged. He could feel something different about his friend and it was bothering his mind that he couldn't put a finger on it instantly.

Karan walked over and put a hand on Shion's shoulder while ruffling Nezumi's hair. "I'm sure he's more than capable of taking care of himself, but everyone needs a mother sometimes," she put forth.

The idea of his mom unofficially adopting Nezumi like she had Shionn and Inukashi made Shion happy. If Nezumi thought he had a place to live that was safe then maybe the wind would stop blowing and he could stay by the mountain. It didn't take a rocket scientist to see that the other's eyes weren't all that thrilled with the idea though, no matter how much it was clear Nezumi would have relished the idea of a family. Shion knew that he was practically the only family Nezumi had, even if the slightly older boy didn't realize it himself.

A cough reminded the three adults in the room that they weren't the only ones there. Shion and Nezumi both glanced at the younger Karan, who was looking lost and completely vulnerable. Of course her mood had been completely unintentional, but Nezumi knew why she was upset and he didn't actually blame her for her thoughts. He and Shion had been through a lot together to the point where they'd pretty much become soul mates, and even if separated he doubted very much that they didn't think about one another on a daily basis.

"Are you okay, Karan, you look a little pale," the elder Karan asked, putting a hand on the teen's forehead to feel for any sort of temperature discrepancy.

"I think I'm going to go home and sleep for a little while. I'm not feeling too good right now," the girl replied, standing up and nodding in appreciation for the half-eaten pie on her plate. "Come on Riko, you come too. You're not allowed to walk in this city on your own."

"Oh, but Karan, I wanna stay and play with Shionn and Lili!" said young boy whined, placing his thin arms around his chest and huffing in indignation.

"We can walk him back later, Karan, or you can rest here in the house," Shion offered, worried that he'd been the primary cause of the young girl's sickness.

"I don't know that I can rest here right now, Shion," Karan admitted.

Shionn stood up from his chair and walked over to where the girl was seated and placed his head in her lap. "Ne-chan, don't go," he pleaded with his little five-year old voice.

Nezumi chortled and wiped some pie crust from the corner of his lips. "How can you say no to that?" he asked, only semi-serious.

Shion glanced around the table at everyone who was scrutinizing Karan. If only they had been privy to the reason for her issue then they mightn't have tried to get her to stay. It might have been better if she did leave since it was clear she was not only uncomfortable, but losing face rather quickly.

He locked eyes with Nezumi and they had a silent conversation amongst themselves.

We're the reason she's like this, Shion indicated Karan.

Nezumi shook his head, not we…I am the cause of this.

Karan eventually agreed to the little faces of her brother and Shionn. She and Lili went to lie down together on the elder Karan's bed while the two younger boys followed Nezumi and Shion outside.

"I had no idea she was so adamant about her feelings, Nezumi," Shion whispered.

Nezumi put an arm around his companion's shoulder and laughed, silently. "You've always had a way with the ladies, Shion. Give it a few years, she might grow on you."

Shion lowered his head and shook it slowly. I don't know that I could make anyone happy when I'm not happy myself, Nezumi.

Four Years Before

Nezumi

Standing in front of such a place made his skin crawl, but thinking back to the traveling bard who had made him an offer of traveling and singing played at the forefront of his mind. Nezumi wasn't about to do what others did and sell his body for money, though he knew very well that his virgin self would easily get him enough money to live off of for months. He didn't want some man using his body like that though. Before he'd met Shion he may have very well thought of selling his virginity, plus he was young enough he could probably sell it quite a few times before people caught on, but now that he'd finally returned home to all of his books, he knew he'd never be able to stomach such an idea.

Instead he'd decided to sell his body another way, but applying for the job of entertainer at the seedy playhouse down the way from his pad. It wasn't a gig that would bring in the cash and make him rich, but it'd help him buy the circuits he wanted. After spending time in the detention center with Rou he'd learned quite a bit about micro-circuitry. Once they'd gotten free of the detention center Nezumi had spent quite a bit of time reading up on the topic. Had he known the officials of No. 6 had implanted a microchip in his body he'd have turned it off before they'd come after him again, but as it was they'd managed to capture him after a year of evasions.

Micro-circuitry wasn't going to come cheap, but he'd created some blueprints for little robotic mice that could go into No. 6 and act as scouts without arousing too much suspicion. That was his plan, at least. And working at the playhouse meant he could pay for the parts and have his little spies created in under two month's time.

The owner of the playhouse looked Nezumi over and grumbled. "I've no use for a brat in my staff, get the hell out of here and find something more befitting your age."

"I can play a girl too," Nezumi had told.

"Sure, any little punk can play a girl when they're your age, but you'll grow up and stop being useful and then what'll I do with your carcass once you've died on stage?" The man was a little slimy, but Nezumi knew he'd change the elder's mind.

"Because I'll always remain beautiful enough to be Eve in your show." After Shion had commented that it was impossible to tell whether he was male or female, Nezumi'd thought it would behoove him to come up with a stage name if he were hired. He didn't want his name, even if it was a nickname as well, associated with the likes of the playhouse.

The owner cackled. "Eve, huh? And tell me, Eve, what can you bring to my show that isn't already there?"

He'd fallen into the trap Nezumi'd set. Definitely not the smartest individual living in the West Block. That didn't matter much to Nezumi since it made his job all that much easier.

Nezumi opened his mouth and used his falsetto to sing an aria.

They come for me in the night, stealing my last bit of sleep

Taking away my very soul, never to be seen again

After the aria was finished he jumped right into a folk song he'd learned.

One step, two step, three step, four

Fall into step upon the floor

Dance around the apple tree

Spread your arms and swing them free

He watched as the man's face went from shock to utter desire. That's when he finished the deal by singing a battle hymn.

Heads held high, we march, we march

No wind, nor sleet, nor snow, nor rain will keep us from our goal

In to battle we go today

And if we die we'll come back on the 'morrow

Nezumi ended his audition with a little curtsey and a wink. He knew very well he'd just pulled off the con of the century and that the man would make a lot of money off of him. Some of that money, a very small fraction would end up in his pocket. And with that money he'd find out No. 6's weaknesses and bring the walls down like Joshua when he marched on Canaan in the bible.

The boy shook hands with the drooling playhouse owner and all but signed his life away for the time being.

Five Years Later

"You gonna wait for her to become more of age?"

Shion looked at the grinning man beside him and blushed. "I don't know what you mean," he replied, unconvincingly.

"Far be it for me to not see the attraction there, but that kid's been pining for you for years. Do you know that she came to see me at the playhouse one day to ask about the girl who gave you that sweater she still wears?" Nezumi asked, eyes dancing at the implications.

Again Shion blushed and ducked his head. He'd had no idea the girl had been so persistent from such a young age.

"Don't tell me you're holding off because you're still a virgin," Nezumi chirped with a wink.

"Do-don't say that stuff out loud, they're too young for that kind of talk!" Shion hissed, pointing to Shionn and Riko, who seemed to be playing around with one of Nezumi's robotic mice.

"Wait, you finally took that plunge?" Nezumi wanted to throw back his head and laugh. No wonder the innocence was gone.

Shion didn't know what was more embarrassing; being considered a hebephile or that Nezumi could still read him like an open book.

"How long after I'd left did it take for you to learn about sex, Shion?"

"I don't know, how long after you left before you took that plunge too, Nezumi?" Shion countered, still red in the face and heart racing.

Nezumi laughed. "And what makes you think I was a virgin before I met you?"

The red-eyed boy eyed his companion with a slight grin on his face. "Just a hunch," he replied.

A communicable silence followed in which both men sat back in their chairs. It didn't really matter one way or another when either had experienced sex, so best to let the matter go and move on to other discussions.

"I met my father," Shion said after a few minutes of just breathing in the air.

The other nodded his head. "I figured you'd run in to him, I met him a while back myself," Nezumi admitted, running a hand through his hair to remove it from his face.

Shion sat up quickly and glared. "When was this?" So many ideas popped into his head at that confession that he was having a difficult time processing thought. The first and foremost was that his father had been privy to a part of Nezumi's life he hadn't been invited into and that actually stung. A second though focused more on the irony of the two of them meeting and having him in common with one another.

"I had a feeling you'd have a run in with him at some point. He wasn't exactly the most upstanding person I'd ever met. In fact, he offered to share some of his spoils with me when he excavated them from the lands of the former No. 6."

Nezumi's admission hit the nail on the head. It was clear the two had run into one another. He'd not have known what Shion's father had been sentenced to prison for. The man was to be let out shortly and would have been let out sooner had he not tried to make a run for it and end up hurting pedestrians in his wake.

"He was the first person punished under our new laws," Shion supplied, knowing full well that Nezumi was probably rather curious as to the happenings between him and his father. "Someone caught him digging in their backyard and since we didn't have much of a police force after the destruction of the city, we needed to come up with a fair way of dealing with those who were 'hurting' others quickly."

One blue-haired boy wasn't at all surprised that it was rather chaotic in the city for a couple of years after the wall came down. He'd have saved Shion all that grief if he'd just killed the man when he'd caught him searching through his belongings. Nezumi wouldn't share that tidbit since it was obvious what Shion's father did was affecting him in a pretty bad way.

"I actually ended up, with my other Council members, deciding to adjust a plan that Youming created. My father was sentenced lightly, but after he stole a car and tried to escape, tossing a pregnant woman out onto the street in the process, he was sentenced again. It makes me wonder what I would have turned out like had he stayed in my life." The last bit was said rather hushed and as an afterthought, like Shion had been contemplating it for years. "That system now includes executions for those who commit particularly heinous crimes." Shion didn't sound like he'd wanted to add more onto his monologue, but that last part was important, it was an unspoken cry for help.

Nezumi immediately understood a few of the reasons 'his' Shion had disappeared. Having to deal with an absent father, who turned out to be a crook, and having to create a system of law that he wasn't used to would have taken its toll on anyone. It was completely different to shoot someone when scared and adrenalin was pumping through your system, but to sit calmly by and order someone to death was a completely different matter. Shion was never intended for that type of responsibility. At most he was responsible for leading a team of ecologists in their studies, not leading the scum of the universe to their deaths.

The artist formally known as Eve reached his large hand over and placed it on Shion's white head. He started to caress the hair like he'd done after cutting the bee from his neck. Shion leaned into the touch, not even realizing how much he'd missed Nezumi. All of those years alone came crashing down on him and he fought back tears. He'd not show any weakness anymore, especially not to Nezumi. The other needed to know that he was strong enough to stand on his own two feet.

What he feared though was waking up the next morning and seeing that his friend had vanished again and would stay away for another five years. Shion could see the years pass in the form of Shionn, who was growing like any normal boy would. He'd said it before, and he'd doubtlessly say it again, he couldn't live without the grey-eyed boy in his life anymore.

Three Months Before

Shion

"You really are the biggest idiot. Tell me, where did Nezumi find you again?" Inukashi woofed while getting sprayed with water from a shaking dog.

Shion giggled and pulled the dog in for a hug. "Now, that wasn't nice. Let's shake off away from others so they don't get wet!" he spoke with a huge smile on his face.

"Like telling that dog will do any good!" Inukashi spit. The dog lender shook just like any of the other canines and stalked off, grumbling. "Last time I do a favor for anyone."

This didn't deter Shion in any way as he started on another dog. It was best to get them cleaned first thing in the morning so they would be fully dry by the time night fell. Plus, he liked working with Inukashi, even if the younger had just as much a cactus-like personality as Nezumi. The dogs made working fun too and Shion never once missed working for the parks and recreation staff of No. 6. This job brought about more honor and reward since the dogs he washed were used to keep people from dying. Running the robots in No. 6 would hardly keep anyone from within the walls from dying.

"You like that, don't you?" he asked the dog who was wagging its tail in anticipation for more of Shion's touch. He had a feeling that rather than the wash itself it was the attention every dog received when he or she was being bathed. Inukashi may have been a good leader of the pack, but there were so many dogs it must have been hard to give every single one individualized attention.

Cheep! Cheep, cheep, cheep! Cheep!

Shion looked over to the fountain and saw Hamlet sitting on his haunches and demanding attention of his own.

"Are you jealous, Hamlet?" he asked, knowing full well what the answer would be. The mouse squeaked in response and fell to all fours. Shion laughed. "I'll be going home with you tonight, so you'll be able to demand as much attention from me as you want."

The mouse made an angry squeak and stared down the dog, easily three hundred times bigger than he, and almost looked like he was on the attack until Shion grabbed him and stared him in the face.

"Now, now, now, Hamlet, let's be nice to our friends," he scolded. Hamlet chirped again and Shion figured the mouse was responding with, what friend? "No one is so good they should throw away friends," he stated, setting the mouse on the stones and resuming his washing.

"Wise words, Shion," a voice thundered from behind. Shion turned around and saw Rikiga standing behind him, though the older man was shadowed from the glare of the sun.

"Rikiga-san, what are you doing here?" Shion would have stood up, but he was in the process of cleaning the underside of his current customer.

"I've come to offer you a job and get you out of doing this menial labor. You're too smart to be washing some filthy mutt," the elder commented. Shion would have thanked Rikiga for the compliment and also told him that he liked this job since it gave him a sense of worth, but Inukashi barreled out of the motel like a bat out of hell when those words rang from the older man's mouth.

"Watch what you say, old man, or I'll make sure those were your last words!" the keeper of dogs screeched, knife in hand. "My dogs are less filthy than you and your slimy, perverted ways."

Rikiga laughed and took out his sake for a quick swig. "Someone needs to put a leash on you, brat, before you turn into part of the tomorrow's fertilizer."

Inukashi crouched down in a fighting position. "Is that a threat?" The question was rather dangerous and Shion could have cut the air with a knife, even though they were outside.

"Rikiga-san, I'm honored you want me to work for you, but I like working here with Inukashi and the dogs," he said quickly, hoping to cut down on some of the emotions running wild.

The elder narrowed his eyes and turned himself away from the child crouching on the ground ready for a fight to the child on the ground trying to dole out peace in the land. "Really?" He wasn't at all convinced.

"Really. Washing these dogs is not only fun, but makes me think that I am doing my part to keep people from dying. I don't want anyone to die, not even those society thinks should die. I don't know that anyone has the right to decide on that matter," he rambled, stumbling over the right words to say.

The older man eyed Shion, who felt as if he was under a microscope. "And washing some disgusting strays helps keep people from dying?"

Shion stood up quickly and planted himself between Inukashi and Rikiga, who needed to learn how to deal with others, before the former could attack and chop off the latter's head.

"These dogs keep people from freezing to death at night. To me, that's making sure people don't die." He stated this with an air of certainty and looked behind him to see that Inukashi seemed to appreciate what he was saying. "However, I could use something to do in the afternoons every now and then, so I'll happily work for both of you." It wasn't a bad idea, especially since the more money he saved up the more funds he'd have for saving those in No. 6 when the time came.

Rikiga snorted and took another swig of his alcohol before pocketing the flask. "If that's what you want, Shion, but I'd better not hear that you are doing this because Eve is forcing you or this little brat here is coercing you in any way." Without even a nod, Rikiga stalked off toward the main part of the city, leaving the two teens in his wake.

Shion wasted no time in getting on his knees and continuing on the dog. The air cleared up rather quickly, but he noticed that Inukashi was still in fighting stance a few meters away.

"He's gone now, so you don't have to prepare," Shion said in his most comforting voice.

"Did you really mean it, what you said about the dogs?" the younger asked, sitting on the ground with a frown.

Shion smiled. "Of course. These dogs are going to be someone's comfort. I told you before that we need to take good care of them, but it goes beyond just making sure they're clean so they can be blankets. They bring comfort to those who feel lost and to me that's an important reason to support the dogs in any way I can."

He missed the look of admiration that crossed Inukashi's face before it was replaced with the same look of distrust that usually marred the younger's features. "Then don't disappoint my customers by doing a shoddy job." Shion grinned at those words and watched Inukashi walk away.

Five Years Later

There comes a time in every man's life when he needs to change his surroundings. Nezumi's thoughts were on that exact line as he watched Shion and his family eat dinner. The other three kids had gone home after Karan said she was feeling better. The elder Karan sent them packing with enough baked goods to keep a person happy for a week of Sundays.

"Nezumi-san?" Shionn asked, looking up from his plate and at the taller man he didn't remember. "Since when did you know my brother?"

He didn't know if it was proper to say he'd met Shion when they were twelve or not. Of course Karan had been told that the reason they'd been kicked from their prior home was Nezumi years ago, but did he really learn about Shion back then or was it when they'd lived together in West Block?

"I met Nezumi on my 12th birthday, Shionn," the elder of the same name replied.

"That's before I was born, right?"

Karan laughed and rubbed her young son's head. "Right, Shionn, you're definitely a smart boy."

The idea of the kid being smart made Nezumi wonder if she was comparing him to the elder or not. Obviously there was no contest or even a way to tell anymore. Once the wall came down it was only logical that those strict codes that had governed children also came down so that all the kids in the West Block, or any of the other blocks outside the wall, could be included in the school system. Nezumi couldn't recall his own family making those comments, but the memories he had of them from when he was younger than even Shionn was now were so faded he'd have been lucky to recall exact words or phrased uttered by either parent.

"Shion and I go way back and we're going to remain that way," Nezumi commented, absentmindedly. He didn't miss the look of shock in Shion's face when he made that comment. His pigment challenged friend probably took what he said as his wanting to stay in the vicinity.

"Does that mean you'll get to be my friend like that too?"

"I see he picked up your habit of asking too many questions," Nezumi remarked, flashing Shion an accusatory look.

"All kids ask questions, Nezumi, that's how they learn," Karan commented. "Now, I want all three of my boys to finish dinner and wash up. It's almost time for Shionn to go to bed and I'm sure you're tired too, Nezumi."

There was no denying the truth of that statement. Once she'd said it he could feel his lack of sleep start to compound on him in a matter of seconds.

"Why don't you two use the bath and get ready for bed? Just remember the water shortage while in there so there's enough to last the rest of the week."

In all their time together both could only count a couple of times when they'd bathed with one another. One had happened to be when Inukashi was dying and needed a quick soak, so that wouldn't necessarily count. Shion wondered if his mother was implying the same thing that teenage Karan had hinted at earlier.

Four Years Later

Nezumi

When he'd heard that No. 6 was executing criminals it made Nezumi sick to his stomach. Shion was in that place and the last time he'd heard of his friend he knew the other was working for the city to promote equality and whatnot. Capital punishment was something that hadn't been used in the other city-states in decades, so why was No. 6 back to using such extreme tactics with someone as innocent as Shion at the center?

Nezumi recalled his conversation with Shion's father some time ago. The man had commented that power does things to people. He'd hoped that Shion was above all of that, but maybe no one was infallible. What hurt though was the thought that he'd been the main cause of Shion's downfall, if indeed there had been one. If he hadn't gone into that room all those years ago then Shion would have still been fine.

No, that wasn't quite true. Shion would have been dead. Nezumi'd all but forgotten the bee encased within Shion's body. If Nezumi hadn't been there then that boy would have died and no one would have been any the wiser.

"Damn-it Shion, what's happened to you?" he cursed under his breath while trudging through the forest. It was a beautiful place he'd run into over a year prior. The grass crunched under his feet and he could hear the rustling of the trees and the running of the brook to his left. This was the type of place he'd have wanted to take Shion if he were anywhere near the other.

Loneliness set in moments later. He did miss his friend. That whole bit about Shion being the past was bull and he knew it. That was why he'd decided to head back.

Distracted, Nezumi started to sing.

The wind sweeps away souls, and people snatch away hearts

Oh Earth, oh wind and rain, oh sky, oh light

Please harbor everything in this place

Nezumi didn't know why he'd started to sing that song, the one from his people. But in this beautiful place it fit. Without Cravat and Hamlet to keep him company, he was literally alone and singing was the best way to fend off the silence.

"I knew I'd run into you again, lad," a man's voice commented from the right.

Immediately he stopped and stood in an easy stance to either attack or disappear quickly.

"Relax, young one, I'm not here to hurt you any more than I was in your city or in the forest all those years ago."

Nezumi eyed the forest as an older gentleman emerged from behind the branches. He was dressed in an overgrown smock of a dark green color, so he blended in with the trees nicely. Nezumi was surprised he was not aware someone had been there until the man spoke.

Then it dawned on him who the man was. "I remember you," he stated noncommittally. The last time he'd seen the bard and the time prior he'd been asked to join him and he had no intention in joining him, no matter how good an offer it was.

"I see the wind has finally broken free of its confines and has been traveling freely," the bard commented, sitting himself on a rock.

Nezumi nodded. "It was bound to happen at some point." He knew he should be wary of anyone on his travels, but for some reason it was almost like fate had brought them together a third time, similar to how Shion and he had been brought together on multiple occasions too.

"And where are you off to this time?"

"I'm heading back to No. 6 to see…someone," he said, breaking off slightly. It was still difficult to refer to people as friends, especially when he'd up and left half a decade prior.

"This must be someone of importance if he or she makes the wind change direction," the man commented. "A lover, perhaps?"

Nezumi grunted. Calling Shion a lover was stretching it quite a bit. The bard asking all of these questions reminded him of his companion from so long ago. It looked like what he'd thought was going to be his past was also his future as well. Shion never stopped with his incessant need to ask about every little thing.

"I can see it in your face boy, the love you have for this person."

"Quit fortune telling me," Nezumi spat, taking a few steps back.

The bard laughed. "I'm not here to coerce you into anything, forest child." Hearing the bard use that term made Nezumi's heart skip a beat. "I'm only here on a journey of my own. We just happened to cross paths; nothing more, nothing less."

Grey eyes narrowed into slits as Nezumi crouched down next to a tree. He didn't feel threatened physically in any way, but that still didn't mean he trusted the man fully. The only two people he trusted were himself and Shion, and the latter wasn't around, so he need only trust himself.

"I have a feeling you are in a hurry, are you not?"

"Like it matters," Nezumi replied. "I'll get there when I get there."

"The wind is wise," the bard commented with a short chuckle. "Never lose that sense of time, lad. Our type can't be held in a cage; whether it be the cage of time or not."

He wasn't sure how to take some of what this man said. The elder was right though, the thought of being trapped again, after he'd just gotten free of the cage of vendetta he'd created made Nezumi dizzy. And he was marching back in the direction where the one person who could cage him lie in wait.

Five Years Later

To say the shower ended up interesting would have been an understatement. All they did was talk and wash one another's backs, until the 'fun' began. Shion looked closely at Nezumi's scars and felt a pang of regret. He'd found out how the elder had received them quite some time before. The idea of him being on fire, of watching his own family burn into char was enough to make his blood boil and run cold at the same time. After hearing the truth he'd wanted nothing more than to hug his friend, but that wouldn't have gone over all that well.

"They're the same scars they were back then, Shion," Nezumi stated wryly. "They're not going to change or go away any time soon."

"I know that, but they still evoke some pretty strong emotions in me."

Nezumi laughed. "If I didn't know any better I'd say you were in love with me or something, even after being with a girl I'm still your number one."

"And what if you are?" Shion shot back. "I already told you, of all the people in the world you're the one I'm most scared to lose."

The older boy feigned a yawn. "Your confessions are getting old, Shion," he jeered. "Better come up with some new material or I might find someone else."

Shion rolled his eyes. "If you'd had any inking you'd have found someone on your travels and not come back. You're as addicted to me as I am to you." With that he took a bucket of water and dumped it on Nezumi's head, effectively soaking the rat.

After sputtering for a few moments and clearing his eyes, Nezumi glared at Shion with a look of murderous intent. "You're lucky we're naked or I'd have you pinned to the floor."

For the first time in five years Shion laughed like he used to when they lived together. The joy overtook his senses and eventually he slid down the wall and to the ground, convulsions overtaking his body.

"Hey!" Nezumi demanded. Shion continued laughing until it hurt his stomach and he held onto it, but couldn't stop the laughter from spilling out. "Hey, Shion?" Without another thought Nezumi grabbed the bucket, filled it from the tub, and splashed it down on Shion's head, wetting him to the bone as well. And it worked, for it caused Shion to hold in the laughter until the water was off of his face.

"What was that for?" he coughed, spitting up water and mucus into the drain on the floor.

"You were in hysterics," Nezumi commented nonchalantly. "Weren't you the one who taught me how to use water to alleviate such an occurrence?"

Shion thought back to that time in Nezumi's house. It seemed so long ago, that day. He did remember it well though and it brought a smile to his eye.

Nezumi noticed the change and realized that 'his' Shion really was in there and just needed a little coaxing to get out.

"Nezumi!" Karan called from behind the bathroom door. "If you'd like you can take my bed and Shionn and I'll camp out on the floor tonight," she offered.

The boy remembered looking around when he'd first entered the room and did notice that they hadn't added on to the place at all. There was still a set of bunk beds against the wall. The last time he'd been there he and Shion had shared the top bunk.

"I think it's sturdy enough Shion and I can share the top bunk again," Nezumi called back, grabbing a towel and wiping his hair and body down. Shion followed suit. "I wouldn't want to put you or the kid out," he continued. Obviously Shionn slept with Karan as there wasn't another bed anywhere around.

"Are you okay with that, Nezumi?" Shion asked, handing his friend an outfit to wear for the night.

"It's not like we haven't shared a bed before," he replied, shrugging his shoulders. In truth he wanted to feel the warmth again. No one else had the same warmth as Shion.

The two exited the bathroom and allowed Karan to bathe Shionn and herself. Before they knew it the sun had set and the moon and the stars were out in full force, twinkling a melody in the sky. Goodnights were shared all around and soon the soft snores of Karan and Shionn permeated the air.

"You, back there in the bathroom, that was the real you," Nezumi pointed out. "What happened to the real you while I was gone?"

"This is the real me, Nezumi," Shion stated softly not looking at the man who was currently sharing his pillow.

"Don't give me that crap, Shion. I can still see the real you, buried under all of this jadedness," Nezumi hissed, trying to keep his voice down so Karan and Shionn didn't wake up from the lower bunk.

Shion turned his head so he was facing Nezumi, who was glaring at the other from his side. "People change, Nezumi, you of all people should know that. I'm sure you weren't full of vengeance when you were a child."

Nezumi scoffed before turning to his back and looking at the ceiling less than two feet from his nose. "And what would you know about my childhood, you weren't there?"

This time Shion turned to his side and he reached his hand over and grasped Nezumi's in his own. Nezumi glanced down where they were now connected. Shion's hand is warm, always the same.

"You don't change Shion, you just hide the real you under a façade and hope no one notices."

"What do you mean by that?"

Nezumi, not breaking their hand contact, turned back over to his side so he was staring into deep red eyes. Those were the eyes of the one person in the universe who had managed to bring out his humanity; the person who gave him something to care about in the world.

Nezumi sighed before speaking. "You are incapable of change, Shion. You will always remain as you were before No. 6 showed its real colors. If you change that means I failed."

Shion's eyes shot wide open and confusion hit him like a ton of bricks. "What do you mean you failed?"

"If you change then that means I was unable to protect the most important person in the world to me."

The white-haired boy's head started to spin at that confession and he took a deep breath in before exhaling in a rather undignified manner.

One Day Later

Shion

He watched his mom look the three rag-tag children up and down a few times, baby in arms. "Mom, this is Karan and Riko, my neighbors when I lived in the West Block with Nezumi. They live with their mom and little sister," he said as he indicated the two younger children. "This is Inukashi…my boss…I guess that's the best term."

After the day's excitement of finally seeing his mother again and getting to sleep in his own bed, Shion had wanted to bring Nezumi to see his mom. She hadn't originally wanted him to go, but he assured her he'd be safe and return in a couple of hours. He'd been so insistent that she reluctantly let him leave. The problem lie in the fact that he couldn't find Nezumi. Their house was empty, save for all of the books, so Shion went searching elsewhere. He'd run into Karan and Riko who offered to help in the search. That was how they came upon Inukashi. Once it came time for him to head back home he offered to introduce the three to his mother and they agreed, some more reluctantly than others. That was how they'd ended up on display at a house in the lost part of town.

Again his mother looked at the three in front of her. She handed him the baby and then enveloped the ragamuffins in her arms in one big hug. "Thank you for taking care of my son." Shion heard her speak in a whisper as quietly as possible. He wasn't sure how any of the three would respond, so he wasn't surprised when Inukashi tried to push away. Karan and Riko just let themselves be hugged.

Once away from the iron grip of the elder Karan, Inukashi spoke, hesitantly. "You're welcome." Shion smiled and patted the dog keeper on the back.

"Shion's mama," the younger Karan began. "We can come see him, even though we don't live in No. 6, right?"

Karan laughed and knelt down, pulling both children into her lap. "You and Riko are welcome here at any time. You can also bring your little sister and you can call me mama Karan, if you want."

Riko grinned and hugged the woman, making Shion smile. A second after Riko's hug, Karan the younger hugged his mother as well. Shion looked at Inukashi, who seemed rather uncomfortable and was starting to fidget. He knew very well that his former boss wasn't much of a people person. His mother didn't seem to care all that much though. She stood up and let the two younger children go before enveloping Inukashi in a hug, which the latter struggled in for a few minutes before becoming completely lethargic.

"Inukashi!" Shion hollered in panic, rushing forward and jostling the baby awake. The air was immediately cut by the baby's cries.

"Relax Shion, Inukashi is fine, just not used to this and needed to feel safe, just like a dog," Karan affirmed.

Inukashi looked up at Shion, a look of contentment staring at him from his mother's arms. It was true, Inukashi was more dog than human. And Karan's insistence persevered as Inukashi was now putty in her hands.

"Don't you know anything about babies?" Inukashi finally barked, breaking free and taking the baby from Shion. The instant the baby was in the dog keeper's arms he stopped crying and started cooing.

"How did you…?" Shion started to ask.

"Those of us who've been nursed by dogs share a special bond that you humans will know nothing about," Inukashi stated as if it were common knowledge.

Elder Karan walked over and put a hand atop Inukashi's head. "You'll have to come around often to make sure Shion and I are raising him correctly."

It was a good way of baiting, or so Shion thought as he watched Inukashi's face show happiness for a fraction of a second. He himself smiled and nodded his head. Shion's thoughts went back to Nezumi and he looked at the door, half expecting to see the elusive rat standing in the threshold. He wasn't there, of course, but deep in his heart he knew it was okay to wish.

"You'll have to bring Nezumi with you one day too. I have to thank him for all he did for Shion…and Safu."

"Do you know Nezumi, mama Karan?" Karan asked.

"No, I've only exchanged messages with him," the elder replied.

"Then how did Shion meet him? He mentioned that he met Nezumi here in No. 6."

That question was how Shion's mom found out about Nezumi and Shion's past. Inukashi'd had a vague idea before that day, but Shion's story reaffirmed that notion. His mother, Karan, and Riko sat listening intently to the tale Shion wove of their meeting and how that meeting changed his life. That part of the story was something Shion was sure his mother would get angry about, but instead of leave or scream, she just stood up and enveloped her son in a hug.

"He's been watching out for you for so long, and I can't even thank him properly," she whispered, tears falling from her face onto Shion's neck.

"You'll get to thank him in person one day mom, I promise," Shion swore. I don't know if I'd be able to live without him in my life.

This his pledge was followed by Karan serving stew and homemade bread, which the three urchins dug into like it was the first time they'd eaten in years. It may very well have been days since they'd had more than scraps, so Shion was more than happy to let his fill go to the other three. While they ate Shion regaled his tales of living in the West Block. He only left out a few happenings, and most were of happy times. Only twice did Inukashi jump up and threaten to maim him, but then the dog lender looked at the baby and sat down without another word.

Where did you go, Nezumi? Please don't leave without at least saying goodbye this time.

Five Years Later

Sleep didn't come easy to either after the final comment of the night. Instead they each spent a few hours just listening to the other breathe before sleep took hold. It was the first restful sleep either of them had had in years. Nezumi was the first to wake and he rolled his eyes at the fact that his hand was still holding Shion's.

Look what you've done to me, he accused, can't even sleep well unless you're in the same damn bed. He gazed contentedly at Shion's sleeping form. You're like a mountain, Shion, unmoving. The problem with mountains is when they reach too high nothing grows on top of them because they become uninhabitable.

Nezumi rolled over onto his back and to the other side where he could look over the top of the bunk. It was sunny out, or at least the door that was wide open indicated. Neither Karen nor Shionn were in the vicinity, but he figured they were probably in the shop downstairs. He carefully removed Shion's hand from his and jumped silently off the bed and went outside into the sunlight. It blinded him momentarily and he involuntarily looked away. Out of the corner of his eye he saw Shion's mom coming toward him with a plate of pastries.

"I didn't want to wake either of you, especially after your trip," Karan stated, setting the plate down on a patio table and motioning to one of the benches. Nezumi sat and gazed at the older lady with caution. He'd not had all that much alone time with her in the past and he was waiting for her to comment on how he'd been the cause of their move from Chronos to this lost area.

"I'm not going to bite, so you can relax around me," Karan said prudently.

"I don't know how to act around people," Nezumi admitted without thinking. Once that came out of his mouth he bit his tongue. There was something about Shion and his mother that made him open up without intending to.

"But you know how to act around Shion," she pointed out, taking a pastry and offering it to the boy. Nezumi accepted and nodded his thanks. Whether he knew how to interact with people or not, he felt completely at ease with his friend's mother. And to say he didn't know how to interact with people would be false. He didn't know how to let his guard down around people. Shion didn't count as people to him, he was more so. Everyone else got to see the emotionless drone he'd become through years of practice. Shion's mother was an enigma as she was people, but she was also part of the one person Nezumi was able to let his emotions flow freely around. In truth, it was correct to say he didn't know how to act around Karan, alone. All other times in which he'd been around her she'd had Shion or Shionn with her. Nezumi knew how to act around them.

"Do you think you can make him happy again?"

He was brought out of his musings quickly. "Pardon me?"

"I heard him laughing in the bathroom last night," Karan replied. "I haven't heard him that happy in my entire life time. I don't know what it is you do to him, but you make Shion himself and he hasn't been himself since he started working for the city when he was not even fourteen. It got worse when he joined the Reconstruction Committee and then he fell when he joined the City Council." Nezumi watched a thoughtful look overtake Karan's face as she continued. "But last night, he laughed, and you were in there with him, which means that you are the one who can make him happy again."

Nezumi pondered her meaning for a few moments. This woman had seen every stumble and fall Shion had made on his way to where he was. She could see that No. 6, even after the fall, was killing her son as it had his father and countless others before.

"Shion's a big boy, I'm sure he can take care of himself," he replied, falling back into true Nezumi form. "If he wants help then he needs to ask for it himself. Even if you want him to change, you can't make someone change who doesn't want that." Nezumi was sure the answer was like a slap in the face, so he was surprised when he saw Karan nod her head.

"I agree, and I hope you can prove to him that he needs that help."

"How long have you been awake?" Not even a moment after her comment they heard Shion at the door. Both turned to look at the white-haired man in the doorway, hand scratching his head and yawning. Nezumi rolled his eyes.

"Hours, you sleep too much," Nezumi chided from his seat. "You sleep that much and the day'll disappear without your knowing."

Shion grumbled and padded to the table. "You could have woken me instead of disappearing from bed you know."

"Now you sound like a desperate housewife, lonely for her husband." The teasing started early in the morning and Nezumi noticed how thrilled Karan was to see the emotions he was able to goad from her son.

"If anything you're the housewife, Nezumi, look at your hair," Shion retorted running his fingers through Nezumi's long locks. "At least I look like a man whereas you could easily pass for a girl."

"Passing for a girl has served me well in the past. I'd like to see you make as much money as I did. You'd make one ugly-ass girl."

Shion thought for a moment before cackling and sitting down across from his mother and Nezumi. "I guess that settles the debate then, doesn't it honey?"

"Honey my ass, bastard," Nezumi grumbled, reaching for another pastry. "I guess that means that I'm in charge, as we all know the lady runs the house."

"Whatever you say, dear," Shion taunted, plucking his own pastry from the plate.

"In that case, dear, we're going on vacation," Nezumi decided. Better to just come out and say that he wanted to take Shion away from the evil that was No. 6 then beat around any bushes.

Shion was confused and he let it be known. "Vacation, what do you mean, to No. 5 or 4 or something?"

Nezumi shook his head and locked eyes with Karan in a non-verbal way of gaining her permission. She looked torn, but he knew she was smart enough to realize that staying in No. 6 was going to be the end of Shion, possibly her family.

"No, I want you to travel with me off the grid."

The younger of the two men was at a loss for words as he processed what he'd just been offered. "But, why? I have responsibilities here; family."

Nezumi felt himself revert back to how he was in the West Block the moment the word family left the other's lips. "What have I told you about baggage, idiot?" he questioned.

"Baggage doesn't matter anymore; No. 6 is dead, just like you wanted."

"Obviously you're delusional if you think that. Look around you Shion, another No. 6 just took its place and it's got you trapped."

Shion didn't like the tone Nezumi was using, especially when he'd put his heart and soul into creating a better place for people to live. "What are you getting at, Nezumi. This place is nothing like what it used to be. There is no outside or inside anymore, we're all one," he stressed, feeling the veins in his head popping.

"If this place is so much better for you, Shion, then why have you changed so much that I've heard about you a year's walk from this place?"

Shion stood up and hit the table, causing pastries to fly off the plate. He didn't quite know what overcame him. In the past he wasn't prone to acting out over such a trivial matter unless he was provoked quite a bit. He hadn't been provoked all that much as of yet. After his sudden jolt his mother jumped back, not used to seeing her son so assertive.

"I already told you that people change, Nezumi, get it through your thick skull!"

The rage Nezumi felt in that moment was enough to make him want to jump across the table and smash his fist into Shion's face. However he knew that Karan was present and that Shionn had come to the patio to see what the ruckus was about.

"Not you, Shion, you were not supposed to change!" he seethed, taking a few steps back from the table.

"Well I did, and so did everyone else. No one stayed the same!" Shion countered, feeling light headed and dizzy as Youming's words hit him like a sledgehammer. He'd promised both Nezumi and Youming that he wouldn't change and yet, he'd not been able to keep that simple promise.

Nezumi felt his eyes water slightly, the first time he'd felt like crying in as long as he could remember. "What makes you think I care about anyone other than you, Shion?" he asked, catching the red-eyed man's gaze. "You are the only one I care about, and you're not allowed to change."

Two Months Before

Days in which neither Nezumi nor Shion had to work somewhere were few and far between. Shion relished every single day they were able to just sit at home, read, talk to the mice, and cook over the little stove. Even if his slightly taller companion liked to tease him mercilessly, it was still a day well spent.

"One of these days I need to seriously train you how to read Shakespeare without sounding monotonous," Nezumi mumbled half-heartedly from his sofa.

Shion looked over at the other, stretched out on his back, book over his face and other arm dangling from the couch. Nezumi looked so at home whenever he read a book. It was almost like he forgot anyone else was in the room with him. Shion could never get that comfortable reading since half of the time he'd end up jumping up and asking a question of the elder male.

"Hamlet likes how I read to him, don't you?" he asked the little mouse on his knee. The mouse squeaked indignantly, pressing Shion to continue reading. "Okay, I get it, I get it. You're more important right now." Shion rubbed the rodent's head and continued reading. He didn't see his companion stop reading and turn his head to look at him until he finished the scene. When he noticed the other's gaze on him he looked up and locked eyes with Nezumi and cocked his head to the side, Hamlet mimicking his movement. "What? Is there something wrong?"

Nezumi groaned and sat up from his comfortable position. He took his time in stretching before he yawned and looked over at his flat mate, seated on the floor near a pile of books he hadn't been able to fit on the shelves when he rearranged the titles. Shion definitely fit in his life, though he'd never admit that to anyone, including himself.

"You're not allowed to change, Shion," he commented dryly, and a bit randomly.

Shion giggled like a child and shook his head. "I'm not sure I get your meaning. Who is going to change and why?"

"You." The answer was point blank. "You're not allowed to change, no matter what happens to you now or in the future."

"What makes you think I'm going to change?" Shion was curious as to what brought this topic to light. Nezumi was forever telling him that they'd be enemies because they had two different ideas. He hoped that wouldn't happen and that they'd remain friends until the very end.

"This place is like a disease, much like No. 6, and you'll be getting a double dose of that since you are having a mental affair with that place. But no matter what happens, you are not allowed to change. I forbid it," Nezumi barked.

"I'm not planning on changing, Nezumi, so you don't have anything to be worried about," Shion assured.

"You are dull at times, you know that?" Nezumi asked, tossing his book to the sofa and standing up. To anyone else he might have looked rather intimidating, but Shion was used to Nezumi's idiosyncrasies, so he wasn't fazed when his nose was almost touching the other boy's in mere seconds. "People don't have a choice about changing, idiot."

Shion leaned in and touched his forehead to the other's and held his gaze until his eyes lost focus. Then he sat back slightly until his eyes came to rest on the grey eyes before him again.

"You're the only one that's going to change, Nezumi," Shion predicted. "Once you see that No. 6 can't hurt you anymore, I'm sure you'll end up changing quite a bit."

"I don't worry about myself changing," Nezumi mumbled, standing up and sitting down on the piano chair. You're the only one I worry about changing. Why can't you see that?

"Then you shouldn't worry about me changing either," Shion stated, putting his book down and putting Hamlet on his shoulder. "I've been here for a number of months already and I haven't changed yet, have I?"

"Define changed," Nezumi demanded. He wanted to hear what the boy would come up with. Maybe he can't tell how much he's changed, but I can. These aren't the changes I'm worried about.

Shion was slightly perplexed by the comment Nezumi made. "Obviously that would mean to make different," he responded with a textbook answer.

"And you don't think you're any different?" Nezumi started picking out a song that was stuck in his head on the keys.

"Wow, I didn't know that you could actually play?" Shion declared in wonderment.

Nezumi chuckled. "That's definitely one way in which you haven't changed; you've still got no attention span."

"Okay, I'll admit, I've changed, but it hasn't affected my personality any. I'm still the same person you met in my bedroom four years ago. I've just grow up a little."

That was a true statement thus far. Shion was still innocent, bumble headed, enthusiastic, inquisitive, and above all, he was still Shion. But what was going to happen shortly would inevitably change him, and Nezumi was sure it wouldn't be for the better.

"You're not allowed to change," he stated again, picking at the piano some more.

Shion shrugged his shoulders and stretched. "I don't think you should be worrying about my personality changing. I think it's more important to worry about yours changing." He put Hamlet down on top of the piano. "I'm going to go take a shower; then I'll start making some sort of stew for dinner."

"You do that," Nezumi said, emotionlessly. He had to keep his emotions hidden or they might have formed a tidal wave in his room. Once Shion had closed the door he stopped picking at the piano and looked at the partition that blocked him from seeing his companion.

I refuse to let you change, Shion. I will do whatever is in my power to make sure you stay the same as you are for the rest of our lives. Other people change, but changing for you is not an option.

Five Years Later

Shion was in no way ready to respond to Nezumi's outburst, so his mother had separated the two of them like they were fighting toddlers. He sat on the patio still with his eyes facing where the West Block was located. Of all the times he'd been witness to Nezumi flying off the handle he'd never seen anything like what he'd seen today. Normally when the other man's face was inches from his own he could only see one emotion in those grey eyes; disdain. This time it was different. Even from across the way with the sun in the sky, he could clearly see an emotion he'd never seen on Nezumi's face, even with all they'd been through.

Fear.

Seeing fear on Nezumi's face was enough to make him feel that same emotion. Nezumi never showed fear, even when getting shot at, chased, or saving him. Now, all because of change, Nezumi was showing fear. It wasn't only Shion who had changed, Nezumi had changed as well.

Karan exited the flat and sat down next to her son.

"How is he?" Shion asked, not even trying to hide the worry in his voice.

"Surprisingly enough he fell asleep while I was regaling tales of your babyhood," Karen replied with a smile. "I had no idea there was such a person in existence as this boy, Shion."

He didn't have a way to argue that point. Nezumi was one of a kind. "Have I really changed all that much, mom?" he asked.

He could hear his mom sigh in frustration and it hurt his senses to know that he'd caused his mom grief, as well as scared poor Shionn into tears. Luckily the lady down the way took the younger brother out for a walk for a while.

"I don't know as you've changed differently than I expected, Shion," she started, sadness in her voice. "No. 6 has a way of creating two types of people; those who live in an ignorant bubble, and those who lose all reason to live. If we'd stayed in Chronos then I'm sure you'd have been part of the former, whereas if you'd not been taken away from me then the latter would probably have been true."

Hearing those words from his mom made him feel a deep hopelessness.

Karen continued. "You were always so idealistic, but you were never like I heard you last night, Shion. Nezumi does something to you, makes you act in a way that I've never seen."

Shion turned toward his mom, curiosity in his brain. "I don't see that though, mom," he commented.

"That's because you are too close to the situation. I watched you grow and you were always so full of life. You were happy when you were with Safu, you were happy when you were with me. Even when we came to this part of No. 6 you retained most of that child-like eagerness. But then you were taken away and I thought that was the end. I didn't think I'd ever see your smiling face again. But the day you came back it wasn't the smiling face I was used to, it was so much more. You would beam every time you brought Nezumi up when you first came back. Never did you shine so brightly with me, or even with Safu when she was alive."

Shion did what he could to search through his memories to find out exactly what his mother was talking about. Was I really that different? Sure, he had gotten quite a bit of street smarts during his time in the West Block, but had Nezumi really had that much of an effect on his personality?

"After I met Nezumi I knew instantly the reason for your change. He was standing in front of me, a real life reason for you to smile. But when he left I could see that energy he gave you start to slowly die away. Sure, when Inukashi, Rikiga, and the kids came by you'd still show off a little of that radiance, but eventually that flame died."

Having his mom say this was even more difficult for him than when he'd had to watch that man be executed. In all the time since his return he'd slowly died in his mother's eyes and that was a hard pill to swallow. Shion felt a lump in his throat and his mouth became instantly dry. If he hadn't had a glass of water at the table he'd surely have passed out.

"I do love him, mom," he professed. "He's like my soul mate and losing him scares me."

"I know, I could tell, even without you voicing it."

"I can't leave you though, mom. I have a responsibility to this city and my family." Shion didn't want to admit that he really wanted to go with Nezumi when the other left. The idea of an extended vacation made him feel a fire he hadn't known had existed.

Karan stood up and pulled her son to his feet. He was taller than she, by at least four centimeters and Shion had to look down slightly to look into his mother's eyes.

"The only responsibility you have is to yourself, Shion," she asserted. Then she claimed, "Shionn and I are fully self-sufficient and if we need help there is always Lili, or Karan, or Riko when he's older." A tear started to stream down her face. "I want to see you occasionally, but I want to see the you that you are with Nezumi, not the one you are with everyone else. Call me jealous," she laughed, "but if you share a part of yourself with him and not with me then I feel envy."

"But five months was…" She put a finger to his lips to keep him from talking.

"Five months is nothing, neither is five years. Just make sure you come back to me and introduce me to the Shion I never get to see."

After his mother's approval he couldn't say no. Even as he watched her walk down the stairs to the bakery below, he could feel the anticipation and trepidation in his heart. He still didn't think he needed to be saved, but there was a good chance his leaving would make him very happy.

Shion turned and walked into the room he shared with his mother and brother. Nezumi was seated on the upper bunk reading a cookbook. They acknowledged one another as Shion jumped up and sat at the foot of the bed, one leg dangling over the side.

"Tell me again where you want to take me?" Shion asked, surveying his friend.

"Anywhere but here," Nezumi replied, coldly.

"And how will we get there?"

"We'll walk; it's the only way to travel." The book was set aside and Nezumi sat up and locked eyes with Shion for the millionth time in his life.

Shion considered the offer, or at least pretended to. "That'll take a lot of time."

"Time won't exist for us out there, not for real anyway." Nezumi scoffed at himself, this is beginning to sound like a cheesy love story.

"And when will we leave?"

"The earlier the better. Being stuck in this rat hole is making my skin crawl."

Shion took the bait and snapped back. "This is hardly a rat hole. I'd say that the only reason it became a rat hole is you showed up."

Nezumi glared from across the bunk and a smile slowly set in. If Shion was able to jest then he could keep the promise he'd made long ago. Nothing was more important than making sure Shion, his Shion came back and stayed. If that required Nezumi being by his side for the rest of their lives, well that was a sacrifice he was willing to make.

Five Years and Two Days Later

Nezumi gazed thoughtfully at the entourage who had followed them to the edge of the former No. 6. Little Shionn was waving from his mother's arms like mad and Karan looked like she was going to cry. Lili and Riko were standing next to her on the left looking somber, but putting on brave faces. It was the younger Karan who caught his eye more than anyone else. She had tears streaming down her face.

"You'd better bring him back you rat!" Karan cried out making Nezumi grin.

He looked over at his companion who was not sure if he should smile at that prior comment. "I'm still not sure what to make of her persistence, Nezumi," Shion admitted, fingering his backpack.

"She loves you," Nezumi answered. "And while you may not see her that way, when we return and she's grown up you may change your mind."

"I hope she finds someone else." Shion didn't doubt that it made him feel good to have someone pining for him in that way. It was different than the way he felt for Nezumi, the one person in the world who was his soul mate.

Nezumi ruffled Shion's hair and chortled. "She's going to be waiting for you to come back, you know," he stated matter-of-factly. He reached down and took Shion's hand and pulled him away from the city. They'd be back eventually, but until that time he was going to monopolize every second of Shion's time. The wind may not be able to move the mountain, but slowly the wind can strip the mountain back down to a hill. Nezumi'd never admit the love he had for his companion, but the nice thing was that he didn't need to, Shion already knew.