My crown is in my heart, not on my head;
Not decked with diamonds and Indian stones,
Nor to be seen. My crown is called content—
A crown it is that seldom kings enjoy.
William Shakespeare, The Third Part of King Henry the Sixth, Act III Scene I.
Nezumi’s back was to him.
The muted gray of a cloudy dawn blanketed the sky. There was a light breeze, gentle and lazy. Nezumi walked slowly away from him, ponytail and microfiber scarf swaying slightly in the wind, his boots making little noise on the dirt-earth below him.
Shion was confused. Nezumi…? Where are you going? He wanted to move but found he couldn’t, his body paralyzed, immobile, and his lips and lungs struggled to form any words, make any utterance or sound. Nezumi continued gaining distance at a steady pace, traveler’s bag in hand, never looking back once.
Nezumi. Nezumi! Where are you going? “Nezumi!” Shion finally managed to say aloud.
Still, Nezumi kept walking forward. “Nezumi!” Shion cried again, but Nezumi’s pace remained unchanged; he did not flinch, he did not turn, he made no show whatsoever that he had heard Shion in the first place.
Shion still could not move forward. It was as if his very veins were rooted in the ground below him, the earth a part of him, keeping him prisoner, a useless, lifeless tree. He sank to his knees. Suddenly he noticed his breaths were coming more in gasps, that breathing properly felt difficult, an effort.
Tears obscured his vision as Nezumi started disappearing in the distance. “Nezumi… come back…” Soon, he could not see him at all.
Fresh tears fall on the pillow beneath him. Shion half-buries his face into them, eyes pressed shut. In the darkness behind his eyelids he can still see Nezumi’s figure walking at an even pace, getting farther and farther and farther away from him—
And then, suddenly, a hand on his cheek. A thumb brushing away tears with the lightest of movements. “Shion, I’m right here. Shion, look at me.”
Shion complies. Slowly he opens his eyelids, sees a worried pair of gray eyes through the blur of his tears. He blinks the rest away—Nezumi is bent over him, his face composed but betraying a slight concern. His shoulder-length hair is down, slightly damp, a towel around his shoulders; he’s wearing a black and gray baseball tee and black sweatpants.
“Nezumi…you’re here.” Shion says, head still foggy with sleep.
Nezumi’s lip twitches up a bit. He strokes Shion’s cheek with his thumb once more, then removes his hand. “Of course I’m here. It’s my place, after all.”
“Oh.” Shion sits up, rubs his eyes. He pushes the dark gray sheets off of him, looks around. The room is small, cramped. There are a few bookshelves, stacked fully, a dresser, a table and a chair, not to mention the assortment of other things scattered haphazardly across the floor. Shion vaguely remembered last night complaining what a pigsty it was, asked Nezumi how he was able to walk on the floor without stepping on anything. Nezumi had replied with something about not being as clumsy as a certain two-left-footed dancer he knew.
“Right. Your room. Of course.”
Nezumi, perched on the edge of the bed, eyes him for a few seconds. “You have a bad dream or something?”
The image of Nezumi’s back far in the distance flashes in his mind again. Shion looks away. “Something like that.”
“Jeez, you scared me for a second there. Calling my name in your sleep and crying all of a sudden. Right as I was coming back in to surprise you, too.”
“Surprise?” Shion asks, confused. He’s more awake now, the dream not fully faded but feeling less real, especially now that Nezumi’s here, in front of him. But he’s still having a bit of trouble keeping up with what Nezumi’s saying.
Nezumi steps off the mattress, reaches down behind the side of the bed where Shion can’t see, and magically procures a tray with food on it. Nezumi balances it on one hand, extending it to him, and with a mock bow says, “Breakfast in bed. Happy birthday, your majesty.”
“Birthday… oh!” Oh, that was right. That’s why he was at Nezumi’s in the first place. Nezumi had asked him to stay over the day before. Shion blushes, embarrassed he forgot.
Nezumi hands him the tray, and he sees Nezumi’s prepared all sorts of things, eggs, bacon, apple slices, toast, but also a slice of cherry pie. Shion suddenly feels starving, and any bad feelings remaining from the dream begin to bury themselves back in his subconscious. Instead he feels a warmth bloom across his chest, filled with feelings of gratitude and appreciation. “Thank you, Nezumi.”
“It’s your birthday, after all.” Nezumi says, a little sheepish. “Dig in.”
Shion smiles, then does just that. As he’s eating Nezumi removes the towel from his neck and crawls back into bed, siding up next to Shion, resting his head on Shion’s shoulder, and Shion feels the coolness from the slight dampness of Nezumi’s hair on his shirt. Any other time he might have reprimanded Nezumi for not drying it properly, but now he finds it comforting, any physical feeling and evidence of his presence welcome.
“Do you want any?” Shion asks.
Nezumi shakes his head, readjusts his position on Shion’s shoulder, closes his eyes. “I got up early. Ate already. It’s for you—partake, partake.” He says the last part with two dismissive waves of his hand.
“If you’re sure.” Nezumi, with his eyes still closed, nods once more. Shion eats the breakfast as Nezumi rests quietly beside him, and Shion thinks this might be the most relaxed he’s ever seen the other boy. Shion wonders how early Nezumi got up, exactly.
Maybe because it’s still morning, and he’s never seen Nezumi groggy, or maybe Nezumi is making a conscious effort to be gentle since it’s Shion’s birthday, but while Shion likes Nezumi in all his usual prickliness, his bluntness and harshness, he finds something about this early morning Nezumi charming, too. It’s a side of Nezumi he’s only been able to see since they started dating—he’s sure Nezumi would not have so easily been like this before.
When he’s done, Shion sets the tray on the dresser beside him and Nezumi stirs immediately—Shion had assumed he was napping, but it turns out he wasn’t, was just lightly resting. “Was it to your highness’s liking?” Nezumi asks, lifting himself off Shion. Shion feels a twinge of disappointment, already wants him back, suddenly feeling unsettled by the slight wetness on his shirt without the weight of Nezumi’s head.
“It was perfect. I love your cooking.” Since Nezumi lived alone, Shion assumed Nezumi was a good cook because he had to be, had to make all his own meals. It was completely different from Shion, whose mother owned a bakery, who always had stuff prepared for him before he could even offer to help. Part of him wants to ask if he had initially learned how to from his mother, father, if he found it difficult—but he knows those kinds of questions unruffle Nezumi, and he doesn’t want to cause a stir right now. Not with this rare quiet Nezumi, and not after his dream.
“Good. I’m glad.” Nezumi shifts his weight. “Now, tell me. What did you dream about before?”
“Huh? Oh… I can’t really remember.”
Nezumi narrows his eyes slightly. “You’ve always been a terrible liar, you know.” A pause. “You were calling out my name.”
Shion looks away again. “Yeah, I was dreaming about you, I guess.”
Nezumi leans closer. “Don’t bullshit me. I don’t like being messed around with. Tell me, Shion. I think I deserve to know why my pillow’s got your tearstains all over it.”
So much for that gentle Nezumi from earlier. “Alright, I get it. But there wasn’t much, really. It was just…we were outside, and you were walking away from me, like you were going somewhere far away. I couldn’t move, and no matter how much I called your name, you wouldn’t turn around. You just kept walking and walking without looking back.”
Nezumi stares at him for a few moments. Leans back. “Is this about what I mentioned yesterday?”
“Oh. Well, I don’t—”
“I didn’t say I was going anywhere yet. I said maybe in some months, or even a year. I’m not just up and leaving tomorrow.” Shion looks down, curls his fingers around the bedsheet. Nezumi leans forward, lightly runs his fingers through the other boy’s hair, moves some stray pieces from his face. In a low, quiet voice, he asks, “Did it scare you that much?”
“…Not exactly. I don’t want to be far from you, that’s true. But, I mean, I know it’s good for you. There aren’t many acting opportunities in this town, are there? I think you should do it. I guess I was just…shocked, is all. I wasn’t prepared.”
“You wouldn’t have been prepared no matter when I told you. Though I guess maybe I shouldn’t have told you so close to your birthday. At the same time”—Nezumi brings his hand to Shion’s face again, his thumb stroking his cheek under his eye—“I wouldn’t have wanted you to be calling my name and crying all by yourself.”
Shion feels his face flare up. He grabs Nezumi’s hand, takes it off his face. “It was just a dream. I’m not that worried.”
“Such a terrible liar, too.”
“Shion. I have two more birthday gifts for you.” Nezumi is smirking, and as he pulls away the hand that Shion had still been holding, he puts up two fingers.
“I don’t think I need anything else from you, thanks.”
“Is that so? Then I guess I won’t ask you to come live with me when I move.”
Shion blinks, once, twice. Three times. “For real?”
“I wasn’t sure about asking, originally. You have your own life to live, and I won’t drag you into my whims. But the offer is available, if you decide to take it.”
“Think about it. Use that big, smart brain of yours, make it useful for something. Like college, or whatever. And don’t make that kind mama of yours sad.” Nezumi holds up one finger this time. “Now, for the last gift.”
And without another word or explanation Nezumi starts leaning in closer to Shion, cups his chin with one hand, closes his eyes and presses his lips to Shion’s, softly, gently, lovingly—
—and then sticks his tongue in and slides his other hand along Shion’s thigh—
—and Shion is pretty sure his heart stops right there.
No, it definitely did stop, and now in a panic it’s pounding again, rocking his ribcage and he hates that he’s getting so excited over just this, but Nezumi’s never done this before, his tongue and his hands in new places and Shion is suddenly raw heat and he wants him wants him wants him wants him—
and before he can respond Nezumi’s already pulled away but he’s not done; his hand is by his hip now, his fingers under Shion’s shirt touching his bare skin, and he slowly kisses his cheek, his jaw, his neck, over his pulse; Nezumi smirks, moves the hand that was cupping Shion’s face down his neck to his chest, places it over his racing heart.
“My, that’s all it took to get you excited?”
“Nezumi—” Shion starts but he doesn’t have any words to complete the sentence, finding it hard to work his brain, his lungs. Instead he places his hand over Nezumi’s, hopes it’ll keep his heart inside his chest.
“Nezumi.” Shion tries again, takes a deep breath. “Thank you. For the gifts.”
“Already had enough?”
“No,” he admits, curling his fingers tighter around Nezumi’s. “No, but you’re spoiling me. Way too much. I want to do something for you.”
“On your own birthday?”
“Especially because it’s my birthday.”
Nezumi turns around the palm trapped under Shion’s, grabs his hand, pulls Shion toward him. Shion lets himself be pulled. “Your majesty doesn’t like being spoiled, huh?”
And Shion can’t tell if he’s being sarcastic or not, if he’s teasing him or if he’s disappointed by Shion’s denial—it takes everything in him to look away from Nezumi’s captivating eyes staring directly into his, to retract his hand from Nezumi’s.
“Well, also…” Shion starts, swallows. “It’s been non-stop ever since I woke up. I think I’d like to take a shower.”
When Shion gets out of the shower he puts on clothes he’s borrowed from Nezumi—a plain gray T-shirt and another pair of black sweatpants. Shion wonders for a moment if Nezumi wears these a lot when he’s home by himself, since he has multiple pairs.
As he reenters the bedroom he sees Nezumi half-laying, half-sitting on the bed, head propped up against a pillow, a book in his hand. Shion sees the title, remembers it’s the play Nezumi had told him the other day they were practicing at the theater, another Shakespeare one, one even Nezumi was not the most familiar with.
Shion stops walking. Stares at the way Nezumi is so quietly focused, so into whatever he’s reading that he hasn’t looked up to acknowledge that Shion is back, although Shion knows that Nezumi knows he’s here. He admires the way Nezumi is dedicated to whatever’s currently got his attention, that he doesn’t falter or do things halfway, whether his attention be on a book or Shion or something else. How he looks casual but composed, not statuesque but beautiful in an artistic way, a detailed and carefully drawn composition, the surrounding scenery blended perfectly in a way that makes it a part of him—although Shion is aware that Nezumi is a human being, and that more than anything it’s the fact that he is human that truly makes him captivating. He watches Nezumi’s gray eyes slowly move along the page, scanning lines, as intent as they had been when he looked at Shion before. He watches the way Nezumi flips a page with simple yet elegant movements—with the hands that had just been on Shion’s thigh, his neck, his chest. And that feeling wells up in Shion again, the one that shoots up the center of him like lit fireworks and ricochets in his heart and makes him warm. The shower did little to cool off his desire, and he feels it racing through his veins again, a sharp need.
But he doesn’t want to do anything right away, wants to soak in this simple moment for a little longer. Shion moves to the side of the bed, and feeling a sense of contentment and happiness come over him,
flops headfirst down onto Nezumi’s stomach.
“Raise your head and speak properly.”
Shion turns his head to the side to face Nezumi.
“…What are you doing?”
“I was just thinking,” Shion starts. “I was watching you read and I was thinking. That I love this. All of this. Your messy room and your clothes and your bed, the way you live—and being able to be here with you. I love you. I could do this forever.”
Shion half-expects sarcasm in response; Nezumi has a habit of catching affection and tossing it back like it’s a hot potato or a bomb instead of a gift, and although Shion wishes he wouldn’t he lets him rebuff it as long as he’s able to honestly express his feelings. It’s just how Nezumi is, and he’s used to it by now, doesn’t mind it. But nothing comes.
Instead Nezumi is just looking at him with those light gray dawn eyes, and he reaches over and runs his fingers through Shion’s hair. Then beckons him to come closer. Shion brings himself fully on the bed, lays down next to Nezumi, rests his head on his chest, Nezumi’s arm lazily draped around him as he continues to read.
Shion closes his eyes, takes a deep breath, lets himself really feel the sensations of Nezumi’s arm resting on his shoulders, the movements of his chest under his cheek, the comforting presence of his scent surrounding him.
And Shion knows that if he asked Nezumi would let him pick up where they left off, would indulge him with kisses and whatever else he may have had planned. And although Shion wants it, he’s okay with delaying the gratification if it means he can burn this moment into his heart; he feels grateful for everything Nezumi has given him so far, content that he’s able to be close to him like this.
And when Shion closes his eyes this time he doesn’t see Nezumi’s retreating figure, doesn’t feel powerless and broken. Instead he sees a large room with many, many bookshelves, lit by lamplight, mice scampering freely about. He smells warm soup mixed with a sort of cold dampness. There is a single bed, a table, a couch, all somewhat run-down. He’s sitting on the couch, Nezumi next to him, close, shoulder to shoulder, bowls in hand. It’s so familiar and so foreign. It’s peaceful. It’s comforting.
It feels like home.