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where they don't want to be

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Kanda’s door is unlocked. He knows he locked it this morning, before he left for work. There isn’t any damage to the door, though, nor any other signs of a break-in. It could be that Tiedoll came to visit again without warning him, but he took the key from the old man the last time he did that. Kanda pulls his key back out, careful not to make too much noise, and opens the door.

He can’t see anything out of the ordinary from where he’s standing in the entryway. He shuts the door quietly behind him. The apartment is silent. He sets his bag down on his kitchen chair, continuing into the hallway. He opens his bedroom door –

A stranger stands in the middle of his room, blinking one green eye at him.

"Who the fuck are you?"

The stranger throws his hands up, backs up a step. The way his eye widens looks faked. Kanda hates it. "I’m Lavi. Is this... your place?"

"Yes,” Kanda growls. “What are you doing here.”

"I’m so sorry, man! I thought this was my apartment, I swear. But turns out I'm like, a floor down, yeah? And I forgot my keys, so I was gonna break in anyway, so then I guess I broke into the wrong place, and I’m really sorry about –"

"... Fine. Get the fuck out."

“Huh?”

"You made a mistake. All right. Get out." Kanda’s not an idiot; he can tell that whole thing sounds rehearsed, and even this Lavi person hadn’t expected it to work, given his surprise when Kanda accepted the story without question. But the fact that he did get in somehow without damaging the door means that this isn’t the kind of thing Kanda wants to get involved with again.

"... Okay." Lavi backs toward the door, and Kanda circles to let him pass, keeping an eye on him until he’s out the front door and out of sight.

 

Kanda thought that was that, but out of sight isn’t out of mind, in this case. He doesn’t want to get dragged in, he really doesn’t, but he’ll admit he has something of a curious streak and it’s bothering him that he never followed up on at least a reason why.

He's walking through the park, heading home, passing by the rowan tree that grows by the path he walks every day. It's early summer, the heat pressing him in the jacket that he's too stubborn not to wear.

There usually isn’t anyone around this time of day, especially not deep in the forest. Movement catches his attention: red hair, green eye. When Kanda stops, Lavi freezes in place and then darts off, deeper into the midday shadows. Kanda’s had enough of running after people, but something he thought he'd buried stirs inside him and fills him with the impulse to chase.

He listens.

The branches whip at his face and catch at his hair as Kanda runs after, his bag bumping against his side and his boots catching on the roots and undergrowth. He's never been an outdoors person. Lavi ducks around thick trunks, picks his way through roots, runs through screens of willow branches in an effort to lose Kanda.

He follows Lavi for what seems like half an hour, but the park isn’t that big. In reality it must have been about ten minutes, sprinting headlong into the forest. Eventually, they're far enough into the woods part of the park that Kanda can't hear the main road anymore, much less see the path he was on. The sun still glares from overhead, and when he finally breaks through into a clearing to find Lavi balanced on a branch above him, he's caught off-guard by the light in his eyes. The shifting sunlight through the trees makes Lavi’s hair look like it’s changing; blood-red to autumn-red to most of the shades of apple.

"You're fast!" Lavi comments, lightly. "I didn't think you'd be able to keep up."

"Why did you stop?" Kanda had other questions, at the start, but this one seems more pressing in the moment. "You could've easily outpaced me."

"That wasn't what you wanted to ask.” Lavi stares down from his perch in the tree. "What did you want me for?"

That’s as much answer as Kanda needs. Lavi doesn't want him to follow him any further, which means the border must be here. Another place to mark down and avoid. "Why were you in my apartment the other day?"

"Hm?" Lavi grins again, but there's a tightness around his eye. His expression looks strained. "I already told you, I thought--"

"The real reason. Not the bullshit again."

Lavi blinks, and his expression darkens. "The real reason?"

"Why my apartment. You were there for a reason. Looking for something? Someone? Or," and here he narrows his eyes, “avoiding someone.”

Lavi flinches.

"You were hiding." Kanda almost feels bad for pressing, but, well, Lavi did force himself into Kanda's life first. "Who were you hiding from?"

Lavi frowns, and instead of looking out of place, it makes all his other expressions seem fake. "I don't have to answer you. I could leave, you said so just now."

"You could outpace me. You couldn't stop me from following you."

"You wouldn't. If you knew so much about us -- about this." He gestures around. The fact that he's talking around it and not mentioning names directly clarifies their subject more than any phrase would have. "You wouldn't dare."

"You don't know me." They're at a stalemate, but Kanda still feels like he has the upper hand. “You were the one who sought me out.” He turns to leave.

“I’ll see you again,” Lavi agrees, and it sounds like a promise and a regret.

 

It takes another three days, but Lavi keeps his word. When Kanda wakes up in the morning, Lavi's on his living room couch.

"You're here again." Kanda tucks his thumbs into his jean pockets.

"I am." Lavi's grin spreads out again, but with little enthusiasm. "I have a deal to make with you."

Kanda hates deals. He hates the fae, and he hates that he's going to agree to go through with it anyway. "You need my help with something."

He can see Lavi swallow. "Isn't there anything you want?"

"You couldn't give it to me."

"Try me."

Kanda considers it, considers telling him, but in the end tearing all that open again isn't worth getting one over on a near-stranger. He steps from the hallway threshold into the living room. "What do you want."

"I seek refuge,” Lavi says, solemn in the formal way. “Until the summer solstice.”

Kanda counts out the days in his mind, wishing he didn’t still remember all the important dates. Four days. "Stay here? That isn't going to protect you."

"Not this alone." Lavi gestures around him. "I could've probably stayed here myself if I wanted to, hiding it from you. You've got a spare bedroom that you haven't touched in over a year, judging from the dust."

Kanda snarls. "You opened that door?"

Lavi has the sense to look ashamed. "It smelled weird. Magical." He twists his long fingers into the fabric of the couch cushion.

"It shouldn't. Still." This is getting too close. "What do you need me to do?"

"You can handle the basics, right? Cold iron. Running water. Signs, symbols, words on the wall." He shudders just talking about it, curling up tighter on Kanda's couch, and an unpleasant parallel runs through Kanda's mind. "I can't touch any of that, but the... entity I'm hiding from can't either. If you could just make a barrier, some kind of safe location..."

The annoying thing is, he's right. Kanda can handle that much, no problem. "Is this going to put me in danger?"

"Not for you," Lavi assures him quickly. "If you mess up, it all falls on me."

Kanda nods in acknowledgement. Now for the hard part. "What do I get out of this?"

Lavi chews on a nail, thinking. "Well, if I can't get you what you want most... Name something else. I'll do my best." Everything about his position on the couch is more relaxed, now that Kanda’s agreed, even though he's sitting straighter. Like he's dropped the facade of carelessness and some of the tension has left.

"I'll let you know by tomorrow. Don't get too comfortable if you don't think you're up for it."

Lavi doesn’t look too worried. Kanda's never seen someone look relieved and terrified all at once. Not in a long time.

 

It’s the weekend, so Kanda doesn’t have anywhere to go. Lavi sticks around while he fries up some eggs, but he turns down his share when Kanda offers out of reluctant politeness. His eye is sharp, when he’s not turned inward trying to hide his dilemma, and he does seem bright enough to figure out when is too much for annoying Kanda.

Kanda eats his eggs. Lavi watches him, chin propped on his palm, other hand twirling a spoon.

“I have my strengths, if you’re having a hard time thinking of something,” Lavi offers after a bit. “You want my skill list? Resume?”

Kanda glances at him, unamused.

“I’m good at history and facts! I swear. They didn’t keep me around ‘cuz I’m pretty , y’know.” Kanda would beg to differ, not that it means anything coming from him. All fae are like this.

“History and facts.” Kanda hums, setting down his chopsticks on an empty plate. “If I were to ask you to find out everything you could about a subject.”

“I could do that!” Lavi looks genuinely excited, and not just about naming a price. He’s really into this research stuff. “A person? An event?”

Bit of both, really. “Do I have to tell you the subject upfront?”

“No. Just whenever you want me to fulfill my end of the bargain.” Kanda can feel Lavi holding back the question is that all you want? but he’s not stupid enough to offer more than Kanda’s asking.

After breakfast, Lavi wanders out the door. Kanda doesn’t comment on it, but he does take the chance to get out his old things and brush up on folklore. He keeps his word, too, and if he’s hosting a guest he doesn’t plan on letting anything happen to him.

 

Lavi comes back at dusk. Kanda’s set up almost everything, by then, so that he flinches at the doorway and Kanda has to adjust a few things to allow him in.

“Adequate?” He raises an eyebrow.

Lavi spins slowly in the middle of the room, taking in the iron horseshoe where the empty picture frame had been, the herbs woven into a braid sitting on the counter, and the rowan branch sitting in a vase on the coffee table. “Yeah.” What’s in his voice is like the terror side of wonder.

“It’s preliminary. Anything else I’d have to go out to get.”

“It’s plenty for now,” Lavi insists.

“You know what would be safer,” Kanda comments, “is staying here. Why do you go wandering?”

Lavi twists down a corner of his mouth. “I don’t like feeling trapped in one place.” He laughs when he sees Kanda’s dubious look. “I know, I know. Hey, we’ll both be glad when it’s over, yeah?”

“Yeah.”

 

For the next two days, things stay the same. Kanda improves the protections, and feels more and more that they’ll be useless if Lavi’s only using the damn place to sleep. He comes back around dusk every day, and stays for a bit in the mornings, and that leaves more time to interact than Kanda had anticipated.

Lavi doesn’t say anything about who he’s hiding from, and Kanda’s glad he doesn’t pry into that spare room or why Kanda knows so much about this world. Instead they hang around in each other’s orbits, not quite doing anything together but not secluding themselves either. Sometimes Kanda reads. Sometimes Lavi asks him to draw him puzzles, and Kanda looks up some sudoku on the internet for him to solve. Lavi’s fascinated with the internet, but he doesn’t touch it, because the magic “doesn’t feel compatible”.

After that conversation, Kanda takes to reading him news articles, in the mornings during breakfast.

On the last day, Lavi doesn’t come home at dusk.

Kanda sighs. He’s so, so tired of going after people and not being sure they’ll come home. But this isn’t Lavi’s home, and this is different, and it’s been so long.

He goes.

 

The park looks different at night, streetlights and moonlight making all the shadows softer and darker. Kanda packed as much iron as he thought the border would let through, and he finds the same clearing that he’d followed Lavi to a few days ago.

He can hear distant hooves, stepping over rain-damp earth, and the murmuring rustle of a faerie procession. He follows the sounds against his better judgement and the weight in his gut. It’s been so many years.

He sees Lavi, among the shadowy figures on horseback. Colours duller in the dark, head down. Kanda waits until he’s close, passing by, and then he slips out of the cover of the trees and grabs at the pale hand hanging limply down. He pulls .

Lavi falls, crumpling down on top of Kanda with a little high shocked sound, and then Kanda shifts his weight around and runs. Brambles catch at his ankles and he scrapes his shoulder against a tree making a turn too fast; he’s getting really tired of running in forests. He doesn’t look behind him, even when a gently glowing light casts strange fuzzy shadows in front of him. He keeps his eyes on the ground in front of his feet and holds on to Lavi.

When he breaks the border, Lavi jerks and starts struggling to be set down. Kanda stumbles a few more steps to be safe, and by then Lavi is twisting and making a strangled sound that has Kanda more cautious when he slows. He looks down: there’s a fading purple briar pattern snaking up from under Lavi’s collar, like shadows under his skin, wrapping around his neck and curling at his jawline, under his eye. It’s receding as he watches, but there’s still a wild look in Lavi’s eye and he’s looking through Kanda with no hint of recognition.

Well, fuck. This is the part that Kanda doesn’t know.

He lays Lavi down in the grass, and, as he’d predicted, Lavi tries to scramble up and run back the way they came. Kanda wraps his fingers around Lavi’s wrists and all but sits on him.

“Hey. Focus.”

Lavi snarls, and his teeth are sharper than Kanda had noticed.

Hey . You owe me an answer, still.” That gets his attention. Sometimes Kanda thinks the rules for dealing with them, the promise-keeping and riddle-rhyming, is burned deeper in the fae’s bones than the physical constraints of their existence itself.

Lavi’s gaze skids all over Kanda’s face. “I owe...” Kanda watches the briar curse fade a little more, and then Lavi’s gaze settles and he looks Kanda directly in the eyes. “I didn’t ask you to save me.”

“You implied that you didn’t want to die, by asking for help.” Kanda can’t make it sound as bitter as he wants; it comes out soft, even a little apologetic.

Lavi takes a breath. “I don’t. I don’t want to die.” He’s stopped resisting, so Kanda lets him go and sits up, away. The places where their skin touched burns warm in the night air. Lavi’s mouth does that wry twist. “I guess I should thank you.”

The last of the mark wisps away on Lavi’s neck. Kanda lets his eyes close. “Alma Karma.” He can feel Lavi’s quizzical stare. “That’s the subject I want information on, in exchange for protection.”

“Oh.” Kanda opens his eyes to see Lavi watching him carefully. “That’s a heavy topic.”

“Do you know it or not?”

“Yeah.” Lavi’s gaze goes a little unfocused again, but this time it’s nothing sinister. “About a decade ago, there was a changeling child by that name. He’d grown up with humans all around him, and when the queen came for her pet, he didn’t want to go.” He pauses, as if collecting his courage, and continues. “You know all this, though. You’re the human child who went after him to try to take him back.”

Kanda ignores that. “And then?”

“It didn’t work. The human kid was cursed and cast back out. Alma Karma... stayed. And for seven years after that, the human was the thorn in the fair folk’s side, trying to get back in, trying to try again. One day he just stopped.” Lavi chances a glance over, but Kanda doesn’t look at him. “General consensus was that he more likely died than gave up.”

“What happened to Alma?”

“He’s dead. He couldn’t adjust.” There’s a silence that lasts for quite a long time. “Back to old habits? Trying to steal what belongs to the fae.”

Kanda presses his lips into a line. “No one should have to stay where they don’t want to be.”

Lavi lets that sit for a while, in the quiet of late night and an empty park. Eventually, he pulls himself away and stands up. “The terms of the exchange have been met.” He laughs, for the first time in a while. “Guess I’m on my own now.”

“Are you?” Kanda frowns up at him. He doesn’t stand up, doesn’t trust his knees. “You weren’t safe in the end despite my precautions. Are you going to be fine, now, with only shorter days to protect you?”

“I’m gonna have to be.” Lavi adjusts his rumpled shirt collar, pulls down his sleeves. “You’re done with me, and even if you weren’t, I’m not cowering in one place for the rest of my life, yeah?”

Kanda’s head is still a little light from the answer he got. He blames that, in the end, for everything. “Maybe I want more from you.”

Lavi doesn’t say anything.

“Maybe, if this is long-term, I could work out more specific protections. Portable. Hurts them, doesn’t hurt you.”

Lavi crouches back down, the movement making his eye catch the light and flash like a cat’s. “Maybe, if you can manage that, you can have anything that I can give.”