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All That I Am (You Let Me Be)

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Sometime during the Second Quarter of the Twentieth Century

 

I –

 

The ground felt humid under his hands, damp dirt making water slowly seep through his worn trousers in what were surely going to be uncomfortable wet patches, and his breath condensed in white puffs in front of his mouth every time he opened it in yet another failed attempt at voicing the words he had come to say.

He felt weirdly at peace, sitting on the ground under the terse autumn sky, keeping his neck craned and his gaze unfocused on the lone cloud floating above him – the sun setting and the air getting crisper were things his mind was distantly registering, just like it had always meticulously registered every event he'd ever been witness of, but his thoughts were too jumbled and far away for him to actually process the hours passing and turning day into night.

It felt just like interrupting his existing for a short while, his distracted brain supplied, and the short laugh the thought caused wasn't even much of a surprise, really.

Stopping existing, he mused tiredly, wasn't exactly a luxury he could allow himself just yet.

Only a little longer still, he told himself as he slightly shifted his position to relieve his back of a pain he hadn't noticed till that moment.

He sighed, bending his neck left and right to try and get rid of the stiffness the prolonged stillness had caused it, and then finally focused his stare on the old, white stone he had been sitting in front of for good part of the day – the edges worn and color grayed by time were a sight he was intimately familiar with, and resting his eyes on them gave his mind the same feeling coming home would give it, had he had the fortune of owning anything like that.

“Hey,” he said softly, raising a hand to trace the neat cravings with a tired finger, “I'm sorry, I don't have any flowers this time around.”

Under his fingertips, the dip of the letters in the stone felt shallower than it had the last time he'd visited the grave, and something inside him gave a little, knowing that one day the neat lines and soft curves wouldn't any longer be there to remind the world of that precious name.

Just more ink in the book of a forgotten history, his mind whispered to him somewhat sadly; it was bound to happen sooner or later, he had rationally known it for decades at that point – that didn't exactly blunt the edges of the sharp twinge he felt in his chest, though.

“It's a shame, really, because I had meant to buy you the biggest bouquet of roses I could find,” but nothing I found felt worthy, he didn't say, and a small smile tugged at his dry lips as he let his hand fall back on his lap.

The sky above his head was tinted of a deep orange, sun low on the horizon and air cold enough to feel the chill down to his bones – his apprentice would soon start looking for him, he realized, and he shook his head a little, gathered his words to finally speak of what he needed.

“There's going to be another big war,” he started, voice cracking a bit around the edges and air leaving his lungs in melancholic resignation, “nothing like our war, of course, but it's going to be... big. Long. Disheartening and violent. It hasn't even started yet, and I'm already... but what war isn't just like that, really.”

He shook his head, inhaling and exhaling slowly to give himself the time to better gather his thoughts, and then started again.

“I'm old, you know. It has begun to weight on me, in the last years.”

When he thought about it, he was just about as old as the old man had been, and wasn't that a weird coincidence.

“It should probably feel stranger, and if you– if you were still here, you'd probably get angry at me for thinking this way,” his anger had always come just as easily as his smiles had, and God, how he missed that, the jab of a red finger in the middle of his chest, the hard silver eyes staring him down as the polite mask slipped away, “but this one, this war is going to be my last one. And it's fine like this.”

He felt it like a weight lifting from the back of his mind, or the sweet release of a hold he hadn't known had been constricting his lungs – there wasn't going to be another war after this one, not for him to register, not for his eyes to see and his hands to write down.

Freedom, his brain supplied, and he felt a rueful smile take over his mouth.

His role as Bookman hadn't always felt like that, like a chain keeping him tied to a world he didn't wish to dwell on any longer, but he was old, and he was tired, and visiting a grave was the closest thing to coming home he could admit to have and wasn't that just hilarious in the most self-deprecating way.

But, all things considered, he felt like it was fitting. It had been way too many years prior that his heart had died, after all – he had let it burn with the body that should have been resting under that same gravestone, had left it for death to claim in the same moment he had abandoned his last, real name.

Lavi had died the same day Allen had; it was only due time for his body to finally follow.

He slowly got up on his feet, feeling the pull of muscles in his stiff knees, and gingerly rested a hand on the cold stone. His lips were still smiling, soft and tired, and he knew his eyes never held just as much emotions as they did when visiting that grave.

“I don't know where you are now,” he said in a whisper, slowly caressing the headstone with distracted motions, “but whichever God claimed you at last, maybe I'll be lucky enough for them to have me as well.”

He straightened his back, adjusting the scarf around his neck and then stuffing his cold hands in the pockets of his coat. His smile was as genuine as they got those days, as he took a step back and deeply inhaled the crisp air.

“I know I always say this, but there's something important I never got around to telling you. And it really wouldn't be fair of me to say it now that you can't reply.”

The still silence of the cemetery made it easy, for him, to recognize the distinct shuffling of his apprentice's feet just a few yards at his back, and a slow sigh left his lungs as he realized that his time off was truly over.

“Keep waiting for me, will you?” he murmured to the grave, turning then around to leave for one last time, “I won't be much longer, now.”

 

 

 

2006, Sometime between September and December

 

I

 

The boy couldn't be more than a couple of years younger than Lavi – fourteen years old top if he had to pick a number, but his right eye still stung and felt watery from the conjunctivitis he'd been trying to fight off for the past week and a half, so maybe his estimate wasn't as accurate as it would have been had he actually been able to properly see the kid.

He had a white medical mask covering the lower part of his face, the boy, and messy, overly-big clothes to go with a mop of light brown hair that looked like it hadn't seen a brush in probably half a century.

(Not that Lavi was one to talk, really, he had looked at himself in the mirror just that morning and had been surprised to find out how much he could manage to look like death itself.)

His voice had sounded small and cough-rough when he'd politely asked if the place next to Lavi was taken, and then he'd gingerly sat keeping his feet under the seat and his bag close to his body; he looked small, between the closed-in posture and the too-large clothes, and tired in a way only illness could make you feel.

Lavi felt a sudden sense of camaraderie because of that – in sixteen years of life he still hadn't found something he hated more than being ill.

“Looks like a pretty bad cold,” he found himself saying a couple of minutes after the kid had sat down, his own voice sounding scratchy by cough and disuse, and he winced a little when being suddenly addressed made the boy startle and whip his head around.

“Sorry, I can find another place to sit if you–” the kid started replying, but Lavi just waved him off with a tired movement of the hand, letting his head rest against the bus' window and keeping his bleary stare on the worried face.

Maybe, probably, it was the water in his eye that made it look so, but for a moment he thought he could see a dab of annoyance, maybe reluctant resignation, under the polite concern the kid's face was showing.

“I'm just getting out of a cold myself,” he said in the end, letting an easy smile bend his lips and better pulling the scarf around his neck, “I doubt you can pass it to me again.”

Or at lest so he hoped.

The boy seemed to relax at his words, though, letting his shoulders drop a bit and settling more comfortably in his seat, and, somehow, the fact that he'd been able to make the kid feel more at ease made Lavi's lips tilt upwards even further.

“Thank you, then,” the boy answered in a soft exhale, the way his eyes crinkled at the corners making it easy to guess the smile that was surely stretching his mouth behind the mask.

The satisfaction Lavi felt at the knowledge of being the cause for said smile was probably stupid and uncalled for, he realized, but that didn't stop him from turning around to look outside the window feeling warmer than the poorly insulated bus could account for.

Somehow it just felt right, giving that kid a reason to smile. It made him feel a little more at ease in the middle of his chest, like a fuzzy feeling engulfing his ribcage and making his limbs lighter – it was a good way to start a day, he decided.

Throughout the next handful of minutes, though, Lavi found his gaze stray over and over again to the boy without really meaning to: there was something, about that kid, that had been bugging at him since the moment he had first laid eyes upon him, and the fact that he couldn't pinpoint exactly what it was made him restless in a way he hadn't experienced in a long while.

It was as if, whenever he turned around just enough to have the small figure be barely visible in the corner of his eye, his mind automatically superimposed a taller, leaner body to the boy's shape, mixing up colors and lines to create an image that Lavi's mind simply couldn't properly grasp and hold on to.

It was annoying in the same way it was not being able to solve a problem you knew you should be able to figure out, and by the time the bus' doors opened at its last stop he was just about ready to reach for the kid and ask him if maybe he had an older brother Lavi may be confusing him with.

The second they put foot on the sidewalk, though, the boy was immediately approached by a tall, blond guy about Lavi's same age – straight back and arms crossed over his chest, brows deeply furrowed in a way that looked so natural there was the concrete possibility they were actually permanently stuck like that, and Lavi would have considered stepping in to check that everything was fine, weren't it for the way the kid's shoulders sagged in obvious fond exasperation.

A friend then, he assumed, and gingerly sidestepped the two as the blond guy let out an half annoyed, half resigned grumble to tell the kid that he shouldn't have left the house, considering the state of his cold.

“You're not actually my mum, you do realize that, right?” Lavi heard the kid's rough voice reply at his back, and the undignified startled snort the sass in the tone caused him to emit made him glad he had decided to give up on asking the boy about possible relatives.

It was just a temporary curiosity, after all.

He'd forget about it soon enough, he lightly shrugged.

 

II –

 

The white, bright light of the joint hurt Lavi's tired eyes, making him need to squint to properly look at his friend on the other side of the table – not that he particularly wished to, truth be told: it was honestly frightening just how downright murderous Kanda was able to look while simply drinking coffee.

Then again, Lavi had known him for nearly eight years and he could count on the fingers of one hand the times the other hadn't looked ready to slaughter every single person present in the room; he liked to think that was just Kanda's resting face, no real threat of any kind behind it, when he was feeling optimistic.

He was too tired for optimism at the time, though.

“You know, you don't have to look at me like that...” he started to say, moving a fry around in his plate with a finger, and somehow Kanda's stare became even more threatening.

“It's three and a half in the morning.”

“Yeah–”

“On a week day.”

“I know–”

“And you woke me up and called me out to talk about a nightmare.”

Well. When he put it like that it sounded just stupid, didn't it.

“You know it's not just a nightmare, though,” he protested, and then nearly toppled his coke reaching out over the table to hold onto Kanda as he made to leave with a muttered I don't have time for this.

“Come on, Yuu! I know you have that kinda dreams too, you're not being fair here!” he whined, ignoring the threat that left the other for having used his given name and keeping on holding him until he sat down again with an annoyed click of the tongue and a murmured curse.

“We're not talking about this again,” Kanda warned, lifting his cup to his lips with a curt movement and making a face when his tongue met cold coffee, “I still don't know why I told you about it in the first place.”

Because they had been ten years old and frightened by nightmares at the same time, was the answer to that question – Lavi wasn't feeling suicidal enough to actually voice that thought, though; he just kept on eating his now cold fries, slumping his shoulders and letting the silence linger a little longer as his brain replied yet again the dream he had been having just before he woke up and called his best friend out.

It had been about the kid from the bus.

All his dreams had been about the kid from the bus, in the last month and a half.

“I just... this is the third time I dream about him dying, every time a different way,” he settled on in the end, “the third. How many times can this kid have died?” he complained, dipping a fry in the ketchup at the side of his plate and eating it maybe more vehemently then strictly necessary.

It was frustrating and frightening in a way even dreaming about his own death had never been, and not being able to understand those feelings, but being anyway trapped by them every time he closed his eyes, made him never want to sleep again.

“You talk about it as if the shrimp has actually died thrice over,” Kanda pointed out, putting aside his coffee and crossing his arms over his chest, and Lavi found himself glaring at the other without really meaning to.

“And you still talk about the dreams as if they're just messed up fantasies,” he replied in a low grumble as he pushed his now empty plate away, and Kanda clicked his tongue and rolled his eyes in annoyed answer.

“That's because they are,” he sneered sitting a bit straighter on his chair and crossing his long legs.

“Sure,” Lavi replied, “that's why we've both been having them since before we were even able to talk.”

The way Kanda's eyes grew harder and his posture stiffened even further wasn't exactly a surprise, but Lavi had still wished that, for once, his friend wouldn't have gotten as defensive over that topic as he always did.

He did realize that was just wishful thinking on his part, though.

“In my dreams I have died countless times,” Kanda ground out in a low growl, “shot through the head, sliced to bits, fallen to pieces, lost all my limbs and cracked like stone, had my own guts turned inside out and felt more blood covering my skin than running through my veins.”

He got to his feet keeping his stony glare on Lavi, making him dry swallow and subconsciously stiffen his posture.

He seriously had no idea why he had thought this would end differently from any other time he had brought up the dreams' topic – and was maybe starting to regret doing so a little.

Just a tiny bit.

“It's not real,” Kanda concluded, turning around and starting moving towards the entrance of the joint, “and I have no damn clue why you'd want for it to be.”

As the door closed behind his retiring back, Lavi let a slow, resigned sigh leave his tired lungs – then he got up, stretched his limbs, and started making his own way back home.

At least he had tried, he guessed.

 

III –

 

It wasn't like Lavi's dreams weren't just as gory and sickening as Kanda's ones.

For as long as he could remember, he had always dreamt of hopeless wars and people dying, fires eating indiscernible landscapes and blood covering every surface the eyes could reach, weapons of every kind being welded for reasons he couldn't even begin to understand and his own heart slowly turning smaller and colder every passing day.

Sometimes the deaths he dreamt about were of people he knew, other times it was he himself the one bleeding out or falling down, bones crashing and every muscle in his body hurting.

They weren't fun dreams, that was for sure.

But sometimes he met new people he could swear he was already friend of, and other times he learned something in school he had already known thanks to his dream-self's seemingly endless knowledge – some places he swore he had already visited before he put foot in them for the first time, and some foods he knew how they tasted even if he'd never eaten them.

It was hard, ignoring every sign the world was throwing at him to have him realize that those dreams weren't actually just that.

And, even if he had been able to find another explanation to all those weird coincidences, there was still the way his life, sometimes, irrationally looked to him like an hardly earned second chance – that, and the pull he constantly felt in the middle of his chest that urged him towards something incredibly important he had once been lucky enough to own and had now lost, even if he knew there had never been anything of the like in his life.

It was weird how he hadn't noticed the way that pressing need had disappeared while sitting next to the kid until the recurring dreams about the boy had started that same night – until his dream-self had started laughing with him and crying for him, until he had found himself expert in the various tones of a voice he hadn't ever really heard, in the meanings behind the different movements of mismatched hands or the changes between endless numbers of stares of too pale eyes.

Until he had started waking up feeling a little emptier inside, a bit colder, more alone.

His dreams had never been and never would be a walk in the park, and Lavi could perfectly understand why Kanda would prefer not to think about them outside of the secure blanket of the night.

But, if Lavi hadn't been interested in the possibility of them being just fantasy before, he sure as hell wasn't going to stop considering them real now that they held the boy inside of them.

And that was even if it meant suffering from the continuous heartbreak of seeing the kid die over and over again.

 

 

2009, Sometime between March and May

 

I

 

Hospitals, for as long as Lavi could remember, had never been places he felt comfortable inside – and he arguably held memories of two different lifetimes, so that was saying something.

If asked, he liked to say that the smell was too strong and too aseptic, or that the washed out colors simply made him restless; that he wasn't made for places where everyone insisted on talking in hushed tones, and that there was too much waiting and too little fun, so why would he like them anyway?

The actual reason, the one he never voiced to anyone, was that hospitals, to him, felt like the place where life and death danced around each other the most, and where death most easily won their endless, egoistic game.

It was the constant feeling of impending loss, the tears he could sometimes hear from rooms nearby, the worried pacing and resigned sighs lingering in every hall and around every corner – it reminded him of a time of war his body had never actually fought in, of standing in the middle of one battlefield after the other, watching people die again and again as the question of why echoed on repeat inside his numbed mind and heart.

He hated it more than he hated anything else in the world.

So the simple fact that he was sitting there of his own volition, had been for the past two hours and a half as a matter of fact, was proof enough of just how much his eye was hurting right that moment.

“I swear this damn thing is cursed,” he grumbled in a low tone, pressing with his right hand on the closed lid as he tried to force himself not to tear up, and Lenalee sighed at his side, leaving the book she had been reading on her lap and turning towards him.

“You're being overdramatic again, Lavi,” she said, delicately pushing his hand away and checking on his right eye with a worried gaze – opening it stung and made it water up, but he forced himself to let her fuss for as long as she liked without complaining too much anyway.

“Am not,” he huffed, watching her wet a handkerchief with her water bottle and then accepting the cloth once she offered it to him, “I haven't gone a whole year without it having some kind of problem my whole life, that's how curses work, Lena.”

“Or maybe it's because this is the first time in eighteen years you decide to properly get it checked out, and that's why it never completely healed from whatever problem it has,” she reasoned with a fondly exasperated tone, and Lavi scoffed as he gingerly applied the cold, wet tissue on his burning eye.

“No, see, this is just being oversimplicistic,” he said, and then let a small smile bend his lips when Lenalee only laughed and reached for her book again, in answer.

Privately, Lavi had lately started to assume that the problems his eye gave him were a direct consequence of him keeping it covered for so long during what he liked to consider his previous life – he wasn't exactly sure about the how 's or why's, and the more he thought about it the more it looked just like a cosmic joke at his expenses, but it was the only theory that made any kind of sense, as far as he was concerned.

He sighed, letting himself fall against the chair while checking the time on his phone, and Lenalee patted him on the shoulder in silent solidarity; he was just about to complain again, mostly because of the lack of anything else to do, when a nurse's voice called his name in a tired drawl, motioning for him to follow her.

“I'll be waiting right here,” Lenalee smiled up at him, and he offered a grateful tilt of the lips and a short nod in answer, before starting to make his way down the hall behind the nurse's steady stride.

What would end up making him the most incredulous, later on, would be how the first person he recognized between the group of three was the tall, blond guy with the permanent frown – it was simply ridiculous, because up till that moment he had completely forgotten he had existed to being with.

They were inside one of the rooms Lavi passed as he followed the nurse, blond guy standing with his back straight and a stern look on his face, as a dark haired boy with a big piece of gauze taped on the bridge of his nose rested on a stool at his left and another with bleached hair and a bandaged upper left arm sat on a bed at his right.

Lavi swept his good eye over them with disinterest, heard the blond's voice reprimand the other two with a clipped, annoyed tone – the fact that I can't leave you two alone for one afternoon is beyond unacceptable and I'm not payed to be your babysitter, I hope you realize – and then nearly tripped over his own feet as an intimately familiar voice said, half amused and half resigned:

“No one is paying you anything at all, Link, you don't really need to be this much of a mother hen.”

Lavi stopped short in his tracks, head whipping around and mouth falling open, and for a single, agonizingly long second fought with himself over whether to turn back or continue on his path.

He had been waiting for that moment to come for nearly three years – three years of daydreaming about meeting that boy again, three years of seeing the kid's face nearly every night during his sleep, and now that he had found him the one thing his brain decided to do was hesitate.

Maybe he had never really thought he would meet him again.

Maybe, somewhere inside, he had actually been scared of what would happen, what he would end up saying to the boy, had he actually met him again outside of his dreams.

Dread, his mind supplied.

He didn't know over what, but that was most definitely what he felt during that too long and yet too short second of stillness in the middle of a too white, too aseptic hospital hall.

Then the nurse politely coughed to get his attention back, nodding towards an open door once his stare was again on her to urge him inside, and Lavi felt something slightly painful tighten around his rib cage as he sighed and followed her in.

There was little to be done right then, he told himself – he had an appointment he had been waiting two hours and a half for already, and an eye trying to burn its way out of his skull that he needed to get checked out as soon as possible.

If the boy was still there once his appointment was over, Lavi promised himself, he would definitely find a way to talk to him.

The eye came first, though.

 

II –

 

The room where the boy and his friends had been was depressingly empty, when the doctor finally sent Lavi away with too many pills prescriptions and another appointment scheduled for later that same month.

Lavi tried to ignore the way his heart plummeted in his stomach at the sight, or how breathing became hard and painful for a long second.

He tried, but he couldn't say he ended up being much successful in the task.

 

III –

 

Lavi dreamt of the boy, that night, which obviously wasn't a surprise in itself.

It was the atmosphere of the dream, he guessed, or the way the various scenes fit together to build a story he couldn't exactly follow, that was new to him – it wasn't as memory-like as every other dream he had had about the boy, but more similar to a patchwork of different points in time glued together by nonsensical fantasies and too fast changes in settings.

In that sense, it felt way more like a dream than he was used to, those days. He found it weirdly unsettling.

In the dream, the boy smiled at him and said his name, sat with him in libraries and gardens and guided him through narrow city-streets and wide country-roads; he cried and fought and bled, yelled at him and gently held his hand, laughed with and at him with abandon and looked at him with promises and sorrow in his eyes.

Throughout the whole dream, Lavi felt a vice-strong hold around his heart and throat, painful like claws drawing blood he couldn't see, and he kept trying again and again to open his mouth and say the boy's name, to yell words he didn't know and voice feelings he couldn't let himself acknowledge, but the air coming out of his lungs refused to produce any sound at all.

As the dream progressed, the boy's figure became blurrier and more far away, his words faint enough to be nearly silent, and for however much Lavi tried to reach out or run to catch up with him his arms refused to stretch forward, his legs only slowed his stride.

He felt hands holding him back and weights dragging him down, a darkness he couldn't understand wrapping around him and numbing him from the inside, while the light always surrounding the boy became more and more intense, blinding in its ferocity, until his only eye couldn't make out the other's shape any longer, until it swallowed him whole and irremediably stole him from a still mute, still motionless Lavi.

When he woke up, the moon high in the sky and the only sound coming from the house his grandpa's loud snoring, tears were streaming down his face and air hitched inside his throat in shuddering breaths.

He laid there, eye wide and heart thundering in his chest, as the memory of the dream slowly seeped through him and left him feeling cold and empty – he tried to shut his brain off and stop thinking about anything at all, but his mind kept going back to the hospital room with the kid inside it, to the mere few feet that had been separating Lavi from him and the hesitation that had stopped him from finally annulling the distance between them.

He rolled onto his side, hiding his face in his damp pillow, and didn't even try to stop the long, pained whine when it tore through his throat as it left his hurting lungs.

 

 

Sometime between November 2011 and February 2012

 

I –

 

Studying History, Lavi swore, had seemed like the best idea back when he had had to pick a major – after all, most things he already knew better than the back of his own hand, and whatever he still couldn't remember came back to him as soon as he opened a pertinent book.

It was ideal.

It helped that he loved History just as much as he had when Bookman had been for him a title and not a surname, but his choice had mostly been guided by the possibility of hitting two birds with one stone, really.

He hadn't considered that his happening to know too much about that specific subject would turn out to be more of an hindrance than a blessing, though.

“I can't believe people seriously still don't know about this stuff,” he grumbled, double-checking for the seventh time on his textbook and then erasing a long paragraph on his report, “why do they think the war moved up North, gut feeling?”

Around him the cafe bustled with life, as it was usual for it at that time in the early afternoon, and the sounds of people loudly talking and orders being prepared and consumed perfectly drowned out the aggressive hitting of Lavi's finger on the backspace key.

He hated writing reports.

“It's because we made sure no one would remember,” his companion distractedly chimed in from the other side of the table, flipping through the pages of an old-looking book and then scribbling something on his notebook, “you'd think a Bookman would know that.”

“You know, Wizh, you're not actually being of any help here,” Lavi replied in an annoyed huff, and then crumpled a spare piece of paper and tossed it at the other's head when a sly smirk opened on Wisely's face.

“I wasn't trying to be,” he singsonged, narrowly avoiding the paper projectile – then he grumbled first at the book, than at his own notes, and scribbled out a long paragraph of his own report.

“But you're right, this is annoying,” he conceded in the end, and Lavi cried out an exhausted see! as he threw down on the table the pencil he had been holding and let his forehead hit one of his open books in defeat.

He would never admit to it out loud, but having Wisely be in his same predicament kind of helped dull the exasperation that going through his courses was building in him – the comfort he found in the knowledge that there was someone else out there remembering the world's history as he did was also the only reason why, when he had first met him months prior just after the end of a particularly annoyingly wrong lecture, Lavi had used every last bit of his willpower to not give in to the irrational instinct that told him to reach out for the biggest blunt object in sight and try and smash the guy's face in.

Then again, enemy yesterday ally today, or however that saying went.

He looked down at his laptop's screen, scratched at the place on his face where his medical eye-patch met the tender skin of his right cheek as he flipped through the pages of one of the many books strewn in front of him, and then sighed long and drawn out.

“I'm going to need more coffee,” Lavi declared rising up to his feet, throwing a glance at a doodling Wisely to make sure he had heard him and then making his way towards the counter through the overcrowded cafe.

He distractedly realized that maybe he had already drank too much coffee, for it to be not even three in the afternoon, but discarded the thought with a small shrug – it was a matter of immediate survival, he told himself.

He settled in line behind a tall man and a petite woman, crossing his arms and swaying a little on his spot as he waited for his turn to order, and lazily moved his gaze over the crowd trying to see if he found any familiar faces he still hadn't met in this life.

(It was a game he liked to play with himself, kept his mind occupied and his observation skills sharp, even if the results had never been all that positive – it was rare of him to dream of faces he still hadn't met again, after all.)

He was just trying to decide if he actually knew the pretty girl with glasses on the other side of the cafe or if it was just wishful thinking, when someone collided with his back and let a panicked woah reach Lavi's ears – he turned around in startled surprise, half-extended arm ready to steady whoever it was that had crashed into his back, and then stopped short when his eye was met with a mop of bleached-white hair.

He felt his heart jump in his throat, which was ridiculous to say the least and Lavi was perfectly aware of that – it had been years, and the person in front of him right now was giving him his back, and all he could really see was hair that might have been anyone's and a too-large light brown jacket covering shoulders slightly smaller than his own, but it was him.

Lavi could feel it in the way the breath hitched in his lungs and how time seemed to slow down as soon as his eyes laid on the smaller body, that was the kid.

I found you, he thought, taking in the other's shape and colors, feeling his heart stop just to start running a mile a minute soon after – the boy was not even a foot away from him, a large number of the prepackaged sweets the cafe sold piled in one arm and a tall guy with wavy dark hair holding him up by the other, probably steadying him after the collision, Lavi guessed.

“Watch where you're going, will you?” the man smiled at the kid, and the sound of the other's voice grumbling about being distracted made something like one or seven storms of butterflies suddenly appear in Lavi's stomach.

He made to reach out, open his mouth to say anything, when a hand holding onto one of his sleeves made him startle and whip his head around.

“Can you get me something sweet and caffeinated? I feel an headache coming,” Wisely asked in a tired whine, pushing money in one of his hands and waiting for him to answer, and Lavi looked at him for a stunned, silent second before hurrying his eyes back on the boy.

Who, he realized with panic growing inside his chest, wasn't there any longer.

Fuck,” he cursed, sweeping his eye over the crowd in a frantic motion and ignoring Wisely's interested inquires coming from his right, “fuck, fuck, fuck!

He lifted a hand to his face and dragged it down over it, pushed the same fingers up to mess at his hair, and then turned around to glare at his friend.

“Right now I may actually murder you,” he said, feeling defeat settle on his shoulders and weighting him down.

“Then everything is once again right in the world,” Wisely replied lightly, a question still dancing behind his irises as his mouth stretched in an interested smirk.

Lavi was starting to seriously consider the possibility that the universe had never really intended for him to properly meet the boy, in this life.

It was a thought that made his heart hurt more than he thought it could.

 

II –

 

“Let me get this straight,” Kanda said, sitting before Lavi at their kitchen table and cradling his own warm mug of tea between long fingers, “you saw the shrimp with some guy a couple of weeks ago, started dreaming about the same guy dismembering him, and are now worried he's, what, in an abusive relationship?”

How did Kanda always manage to make Lavi's concerns sound totally irrational was beyond him.

“That's not what I said,” he mumbled, turning his mug between his hands and taking a sip of too hot tea to avoid meeting the other's stern glare.

“But it's what you meant.”

Lavi shrugged a little in answer, keeping his eye on the table's surface and tracing a long indent with his left index, and then sighed; it wasn't like Kanda was wrong, but he wasn't exactly right either – the more he thought about it, though, the more he realized just how stupid he must have sounded to the other.

“It's just, what if something happens?” he worried, keeping the unspoken and I'm not there to help still obvious enough for anyone to pick up on.

In the dream he kept on having, the boy had been alone when meeting the curly-haired man, too – Lavi should have been by his side, he could feel it like a blade crossing his chest from part to part right through his heart, but he had been far away, unaware, and everything he could do now was watch the images of the boy suffering and force himself not to give in to the need to wail.

It was painful, and the idea of having it all happen once again was enough to keep him awake and irrationally worried.

Kanda sighed and grumbled to himself in a tone too low for him to hear, and then abandoned his mug on the table to cross his arms at his chest.

“Assuming the dreams are real,” he started, making it hard for Lavi to refrain from rolling his eyes at the stubborn way his friend still refused to accept the obvious, “you've spent every waking hour in the last year studying with someone who's tried to kill you, too.”

And there was that too, Lavi mused as he felt his shoulders sag – Kanda's cynic rationality was the biggest reason why after all that time he was still the one he decided to confide into, when it came to the dreams. Lavi tended to forget about it, most of the times.

“Yeah,” he sighed in defeat, “I guess you're right.”

There wasn't much he could do about it anyway, he reasoned with himself. He had lost the boy again, after all.

Everything he was left with was once more dreams bordering on nightmares and an emptiness he couldn't seem to find a way to fill.

 

 

2014, Sometime between the Second Half of June and the First Half of July

 

I –

 

The Lee household was more or less endless in size, which was most probably the reason why Daisya had insistently bugged Lenalee for three whole months to have her agree to offer the place for the party he had been organizing for even longer.

Of course, Lenalee in turn had had to convince her brother to disappear for a whole weekend, which had made Komui whine and wail until his sister had promised to absolutely not interact with boys, I swear not even one, and to make sure Kanda would be there to keep a leash on Daisya and, subsequently, on the party as a whole.

Which meant that Lavi had had to physically drag his friend to said party, and was now stuck making meaningless conversation with mostly drunk people he didn't really know, a beer in one hand and eye scanning the crowd in search of his missing housemate.

He was nearly sure Kanda had used the first opening he had found to run back home, but he felt too optimistic that night to give up on his search that easily – and it wasn't like he wasn't having fun anyway, so keeping moving around for a while longer didn't weight on him at all.

He had just laid eyes on Krory's tall figure lurking on the other side of the room and was trying to find an opening in the sea of people to wiggle his way to him, when his name being called by Lenalee's happy voice reached his ears and made him turn around, bright smile on his lips and arms ready to go for a hug.

“Lena!” he exclaimed excitedly, and then found his eye widen and his mouth fall open when his gaze slid over her and right onto a mess of white hair and two silver irises resting on a face just as shocked as his own.

“I've been looking for you the whole night!” Lavi distantly heard Lenalee say, but his brain was currently on standby and his heart was stuck in his throat, making blood rush in his ears and turning breathing in a task requiring his whole concentration, “I wanted you to meet my friend–”

Allen,” Lavi choked out without really meaning to – the name he hadn't known he remembered until that moment felt right on his tongue, though, and made something painful around his heart slightly give, turned it easier than normal to expand his ribcage and fill his lungs with air with every breath he took.

It felt so good to shape those letters with his lips, he realized, that he probably wouldn't have minded if the only word he could ever say for the rest of his life was that one name.

Then his brain finally took in the shocked expression on Lenalee's face and the surprise painting the boy's – Allen Allen Allen Allen's – features, and he thanked God for the low lights because there was no way he wasn't blushing, right that moment.

“You two know each other?” Lenalee asked with a raised brow, crossing her arms over her chest and tilting her head in confusion; Lavi moved his hands up before himself in an aborted gesture, trying to find a way to backtrack without being too obvious or come up with an explanation that wasn't we used to in another life.

What a way to make a good first impression, he mused bitterly, readying himself to give to the beer in his hand the fault of whatever came out of his mouth from then on, but then Allen's lips were turning upwards in a happy smile, his body was moving a step forward, closer to Lavi.

“Yes,” he said to Lenalee, and god his voice was music to his ears even in the middle of the deafening party noises, “something like that.”

What, Lavi's dumbfounded mind stuttered after a still second, feeling his eyebrows draw in a confused frown – Lenalee didn't notice his shift in expression, though, her attention completely fixed on Allen as she huffed out an annoyed breath, uncrossing her arms and resting her hands on her hips.

“You could have told me, you know? I've been trying to introduce you two for years, now!” she complained in a sigh, making Lavi gape at her as another shocked what! ran through his mind and halted all his other, possibly more useful thoughts.

Admittedly, he didn't feel just as bright as he usually assumed he was, right that moment.

Allen laughed at her annoyance, a sound soft and elegant that carried too easily over the loud music and chatter, and apologized to her with a polite, happy smile and a light tone; then he turned toward Lavi once more, covering in a couple of steps the space between them and closing a hand – a red hand, his brain marveled in amazement – around his right wrist, tugging him gently forward.

“Come on, let's find a place we can talk,” he said, elated smile still tilting his lips upwards, and everything Lavi found himself able to do was nod dumbly and follow after him.

 

II –

 

“I actually came with my friend Alma,” Allen was saying, pushing his way through the crowd with his left hand still around Lavi's wrist – the spot where their skins met was starting to feel like a newly formed burn wound, and it had to be downright insane just how nice and right it felt, “but I lost him a while ago so– ah, there he is! ...Never mind, let's pretend I didn't see him.”

The statement was weird enough to make Lavi force his stare away from the back of Allen's head and follow his gaze above the party-goers, towards the stairs on the far right, and it was a testament of just how overloaded his brain already was, the fact that he didn't even startle a little at the sight of Kanda being pulled towards the second floor by a dark haired, excited-looking guy.

Somewhere in the back of his mind Lavi recognized the boy – Alma, it had to be – as one of the two friends Allen had been with that time at the hospital, and he found himself opening his mouth before he even realized he was doing it.

“Blond and frowny?” he asked, prompting the other to turn around and look at him quizzically for a short second, and then shrugged and specified, “with the two spots on his forehead, he's not with you this time?”

He belatedly realized just how weird that question had to sound, but Allen only looked surprised for a moment before laughing and starting pulling him forward again.

“Link isn't a party type of guy,” he replied, and then hesitated a little before adding, “and I might not have told him I was coming over.”

The sound of startled laughter coming out of Lavi's throat was a surprise to both of them – it made Allen look at him with something close to amazement for a flickering second, and then his shoulders were shaking as well, his hand tightening the hold on the wrist between his fingers even more.

He guided Lavi through the kitchen and outside the back door, moving inside the garden and between the people mingling in the open with a sureness that made Lavi guess he'd been there before; when he stopped, it was in a somewhat more secluded side of the outdoor, only a few guests visible and far away enough to not be within earshot.

“Here will do,” he said, taking in a long breath as he looked around himself with a satisfied expression – then his mind must have suddenly realized he was still holding onto Lavi's wrist, because he let it go with a surprised ah! and raised the same hand to rub at the back of his neck with an embarrassed smile.

“Sorry about that,” he said a little sheepishly, nearly making Lavi laugh at the absurdity of it, considering how he wouldn't have minded for them to stay glued like that for another hour or year, possibly, “I didn't want to lose sight of you again, I guess.”

He found himself smiling at that admission, Lavi, as he felt his heart grow a little in size and beat faster for a second – then he let himself fall down to sit with his back against the side of Lenalee's house, patting the ground at his left to motion for Allen to do the same.

“You mean after the bus?” he guessed lightly, prompting the other to snort an incredulous laugh and shake his head as he settled down with his legs crossed in front of him.

“Sure, and the hospital after that, and the metro later on... you kept popping around and disappearing a second after, it was really annoying,” he complained, stretching his arms above his head and turning his gaze up at the night sky with a distracted smile.

“The metro?” Lavi wondered, keeping his eye on Allen's profile in a subconscious fear of closing his lid just to open it again to an empty space – he couldn't say he didn't understand the other's apprehension, truly.

(And he maybe felt a bit giddy at the thought of being at the end of such feelings coming from Allen, but that wasn't something he was going to linger on right that moment.)

“Something like a year ago,” the other explained, tilting his head to look at Lavi and scrunching up his nose at the memory, “I had just gotten off when I saw you going in, it was really frustrating.”

Lavi hadn't noticed – he was always so distracted on public transports, he wondered just how many times he had crossed Allen on them without even realizing it; the thought made him frown and bite his lower lip in annoyance.

“Last time I saw you was in a cafe,” he supplied a bit distractedly, “I was going to talk to you, but I turned away one moment and you were gone.”

Allen's answering smile felt warm and elated, making Lavi mirror him with a genuine one of his own – they looked at each other in silence for a few seconds, the noise from the party dulled by the walls separating them from it making for a low, easily ignorable background music. Then Allen tilted his head a little to the side in amused confusion, his smile turned slightly more crooked.

“I never told you my name, though,” he said, and Lavi's heart stuttered and jumped out of beat for a moment, making him widen his eye in surprise and open his mouth to say even he didn't know what.

He let a slow uhhh come out of his parted lips, raising a hand to move through his messy hair for lack of anything better to do, and the shine in the other's eyes somehow became even more pronounced.

“You remember, don't you,” Allen said after a second, more of a statement than a question, as his smile turned into an excited grin, and if Lavi had felt like his heart was going to stop a moment earlier it was now running so fast he feared it was going to jump right out of his throat.

He searched Allen's face for a few still seconds, hope growing like ivy to envelope his too tight rib cage, and it was in a distant way that he felt his own lips stretch in a glowing smirk.

“Ye-yeah,” he nodded, feeling excitement clog his throat and making him stutter, “yeah, yes, I do, I remember.”

Allen's smile was so wide it looked like it must have hurt, and his voice when he let out a whispered good sounded pleased and genuinely happy – Lavi's own mind was a continuous chant of he remembers he remembers he remembers he remembers, and he couldn't have stopped his lips from stretching upwards even if he had wanted to, felt so light he would have been scared he'd actually start floating off, had his mind cared at all right that moment.

Then Allen took in a long breath, raising both his hands to mess his hair up and letting the air out in a nearly hysterical laugh.

“Good!” he repeated with a still giggling voice, making the back of his head hit the wall behind him with a soft thud, “I thought you would remember because that's what you did, right? Remember, but Alma's the only person I know that actually remembers and I didn't even know him all that long, back then – Lenalee and Miranda have zero clue about it all, the only thing Link has left is the overprotective instincts of a mother hen mixed with a prison guard and Tyki has flashes now and again, but it's not, you know, really remembering, so I wasn't sure you would, even if I–”

He stopped, took in another long breath, and then turned around to smile at Lavi with an embarrassed tilt of his head.

“I'm really glad you remember,” he concluded, making Lavi's heart flutter a little in his chest and robbing him, for a moment, of any words he may have had to answer.

Allen's eyes on him felt like a dream in the dim light of the garden's soft illumination, and having him finally, truly before him, his body within arm reach and his voice sounding clear in his ears, made Lavi's breath hitch in his throat and his smile feel shaky on his lips.

He's actually here, he found himself realizing.

There had always been, inside of him, the feeling of a piece of himself missing, the pull towards something hidden and out of reach – he had felt it for so long he had forgotten what it meant to live without it.

Sitting with Allen right there, though, the memory of his hand's heat still fresh on his wrist and his laughter still ringing inside his mind, made him feel whole like he never had before, gave him a peace he hadn't thought he would ever get to bask into – and every memory he had recovered of the other, Allen shared with him, and every second he had never lived but could remember anyway, Allen could verify for him.

Every happiness and every anger, every fight and every game, every quiet moment and joke and touch he had been dreaming about for the last eight years, Allen held in his memories too.

It felt like a blessing he wasn't sure he deserved, if he was honest with himself.

“I'm glad you do, too,” he said in the end, trying to convey with his tone and expression as much of what he was feeling as he could without having to voice something that felt so big words could never properly convey it.

And when Allen smiled back at him with just as much emotion, he felt like maybe that was just enough, for them.

 

III –

 

“You look just the same,” Lavi said, raising a hand to motion at the other in a wide gesture – he was laying on his back on the grass with one arm behind his head, Allen still sitting cross-legged by his side, and as far as he was concerned the party at his back had stopped existing the moment the other had dragged him away from it.

It felt just like they were the only two people left in the whole world.

Allen laughed at his words, raising his left hand to mess up his bleached hair in a self-conscious gesture, and then shrugged.

(Lavi adored how he could tell apart the meanings behind his motions so easily, it made the century they had spent apart disappear just like the people still moving a few yards away from them – it felt like a puzzle piece slotting in the right place, like coming home to a warm bed after a too long day of work.)

“I should be the one telling you that,” Allen retorted, happiness dripping from his every word, “you even have the eye-patch, and I thought you didn't actually need it, back then.”

Lavi groaned, raising his free hand to cover the white medical bandage keeping his right eye protected and then sighing at the other's questioning stare.

“I didn't!” he complained in a whine, “but now I have to keep this stupid eye covered most of the time or else it starts burning and watering up, it's so annoying!”

Allen's answer was a laughing I didn't think the universe knew about irony, and Lavi pushed him a bit in retaliation, whining about how little funny it actually was.

“It's cursed, Al, I'm telling you,” he groaned, “it's because I used to be envious of yours back when we first met, this is what I get for it.”

“So you're paying for your sins,” Allen concurred, crossing his arms at his chest and nodding in mock-seriousness – then his eyes fell on the other's raised brow, and the laughter he had been somehow managing to keep at bay came out full force, so free and delighted that Lavi couldn't do anything but follow him soon after.

He still couldn't believe just how easy it was to laugh with Allen – and he had known they used to be like that, when they had known each other in another life, but feeling the ease come back that fast made Lavi feel light and warm.

There had been moments, mostly right after he woke up from a particularly happy memory, when he had dreaded meeting Allen again, scared by the possibility of their relationship not turning out to be as he remembered – laying there right then as he laughed every two words said, though, every fear he may have had looked incredibly silly, to him.

It was still them, after all.

“But I'm happy yours isn't this time around,” Lavi said once their laughter faded, and Allen looked at him with wide lids for a beat, before sighing and rubbing a spot just under his left eye.

“I don't know about that,” he mused with a smile, “I did nearly lose it, once.”

Seriously?” Lavi asked with surprise obvious in his raised brows, and Allen laughed a little at his expression, explaining that when he was a kid he had once tripped and fallen with his face right on a too sharp rock.

“I don't remember it much, honestly, but my dad was so panicked he was in tears – I still have a scar, right here,” he said, patting his left cheekbone with a red index finger; Lavi squinted up at him, trying to make out Allen's back-lit face without much success, and then reached out with his right hand to take a hold of the other's shirt and pulling him down, murmuring an interested let me see and ignoring the other's surprised woah!

From closer up, the scar was plenty visible: it was a thin crescent moon following the curve of Allen's cheekbone, just under the tender skin of his eye socket – one inch higher and his eyesight would have been damaged, maybe even permanently lost.

“That's one dangerous place to get hurt,” he mused, squinting his eye up at the scar as if, with enough intensity, he could manage to glare it off the Allen's face – then he raised his gaze a little, meeting too wide and way too close silver irises, and his brain finally caught up with the position he had pulled the other into.

He could feel the warmth of Allen's breath on his cheek, he realized, and the air stopped in his throat as blood rushed to his face, his eye darting down to slightly parted lips and then soon up again – then countless moments just like that one started filing down in his memory all at once, halting his heart and overloading his mind.

(Allen falling on him during a battle, himself too distracted by a book to notice where he was going and crashing into Allen's front, them both falling asleep on a train ride and waking up just inches from each other, Allen leaning closer to whisper in his ear, Lavi holding onto him to drag him away from a meaningless fight, Allen with his head resting on Lavi's shoulder and Lavi with his arm around Allen's back and so many other different moments that fundamentally felt just the same, breath stuck in his throat, eyes falling on the other's lips, heart beating too fast and too slow and I don't have a heart don't need a heart take a step back back back–)

He inhaled sharply, feeling his eye open wider as he came back to the present.

Fuck.

“How about your arm,” he forced out, letting go of the other's shirt and pushing him away a little, and Allen only hesitated a moment before sitting once more beside him and breathing in.

“When I was sixteen,” he started, eyes fixed on the night sky and tone still a little hesitant, “Alma and I thought it a good idea to put a glass container on the stove.”

Then he stopped talking, bringing his stare back down with a genuine smirk bending his lips – Lavi looked at him with a raised brow for a beat, waiting for an explanation, and then let a surprised snort shake his shoulders when Allen just kept looking at him.

“If you stop there, I'll start thinking that all of your origin stories this time around are about you being an idiot,” he chuckled, his back relaxing once again into the lightened mood, and felt even more grounded when the other's answer was to push at his head and mess his hair up.

“My left upper arm was badly burnt,” he said then, rubbing the place in question with his right hand and sighing a little, “nothing that didn't completely heal, but looking at it being red and weird triggered the memories of how it was before it, you know, evolved.”

Which was to say before tall-and-curly destroyed it and Allen was forced to rebuild it from scratch, Lavi's brain translated, and an annoyed expression flickered for a second over his face at the painful memory.

“After that, looking at it being normal felt wrong, like it wasn't my own,” Allen grumbled, opening and closing his left hand before him and frowning at it, “so I got it all tattooed red.”

Surprise covered Lavi's face for a startled moment, having him rise to sit up and just barely stopping himself from a forward movement meant to once again mindlessly grab onto the other – he took a deep breath in, straightening his back as silver eyes looked at him with confused, furrowed brows, and then exhaled slowly to calm down his once again running heart.

“Can I see?” he asked after a bit, motioning with his chin to the red limb, and Allen offered his arm in silent agreement, letting Lavi's hands hold onto his forearm as he turned it left and right under his assessing stare.

The feeling of Allen's skin under his fingers made shivers run along his spine, silver eyes intently looking at him made goosebumps cover his arms, warm breath barely grazing his cheeks as Allen talked about how hard it had been to find a way to make the cross on the back of his hand look right made blood rush in his ears.

Lavi bit at his lower lip, fractionally tightening his grip on Allen's tattooed arm to ground himself, and took a steady breath in.

 

IV –

 

So he was in love with Allen, no big deal.

He'd already done this once, he told himself resolutely as he made his way back home alone later that night, Allen's number and e-mail address safely memorized in both his phone and mind and a promise to meet the next day for coffee making him smile.

He could live with having him in his life as his best friend again, he nodded to himself.

This time around he didn't even have to pretend to not have a heart, he rationalized, so there wasn't even any real reason why he should keep hidden his caring for the other boy.

It was just a matter of measuring how much he showed, and that was easy, he could do that with no problems.

It was going to be a walk in the park.

 

 

Sometime between the End of August 2014 and the Beginning of January 2015

 

I –

 

Keeping in check his feelings, Lavi was painfully realizing, wasn't just as easy as he'd originally assumed - and he wasn't even sure why he thought it would be in the first place, honestly.

It was like he hadn't learned anything after a whole life spent failing to ignore his heart.

He noticed just how hard it was when his casual touches lingered more than he consciously decided, when Allen's eyebrows crooked in confused amusement every time he stopped and stared, with every are you listening and is there something on my face accompanied by a smile and laughter behind the words – with every jump his heart made for every text received, every subconscious upward tilt of his lips as an immediate response to Allen's name being spoken, every flutter in his chest following the other's voice reaching his ears or his scent filling his lungs.

If there was a hell – and considering his status as a reincarnated soul he highly doubted it, but if there was a hell, Lavi was fairly sure it consisted of having Allen perpetually within arm reach and still not being able to hold him like he wanted.

Hadn't he had actual memories of being tortured for months on end, he would have assumed nothing could have been more psychologically draining and painful then forcing himself to partially shut down emotions and impulses too big to ignore.

Sometimes he felt like it had been easier pretending to not have a heart at all.

And the fact that it was a self-imposed abstinence only made the situation all the more unbearable, he had realized bitterly early enough.

It was in moments just like that one, with Allen walking by his side and laughter seamlessly flowing between them, just a few inches separating their shoulders and knuckles brushing against each other every other step, where he found it the hardest to remember why he wasn't simply reaching out and holding Allen's hand, leaning over and kissing his lips.

The fear of rejection he usually felt gripping at his throat and heart became only a faraway memory, when it was just the two of them like that, the universe easily disappearing outside the secluded world they created, and Lavi often found himself nearly giving in and reaching over, finally erasing the space separating him from everything he wanted and needed.

But he had lived a life with Allen already and, sure, his determination in keeping his supposedly nonexistent heart hidden made it impossible for him to take the first step – but it couldn't have been only his fault if their relationship had never taken that turn, could it?

By his side, Allen was alternating drinking his soda and complaining about a discussion he had had with Link that morning, left hand moving in wide gestures and brows drawing more in the middle of his forehead with every annoyed word he spoke, and Lavi couldn't help being reminded of the countless times he'd listened to the other complain for similar reasons, in another life.

Walking side by side, a sigh on Lavi's lips and annoyance dripping from Allen's tongue – an arm draped around smaller shoulders and the other's frame sagging a little under the weight, light words about getting over it and a red elbow jabbing in his stomach.

They had always been just as close as they were right then, Lavi was sure of that: their relationship had found its original rhythm without problems at all once they had met again, there was no reason to think Allen felt differently about him in this new life compared to the previous one.

And he had never said anything, back then.

“I mean, he's a great friend and I'm happy he cares so much, but I can't notify him of every move I make, can I? That'd be ridiculous!” Allen groaned, throwing his left arm out and taking an aggressive sip of his soda, and Lavi shook his head to get rid of his obtrusive thoughts, reached over to mess his hair up.

“Haven't you been doing just that since you were eight, though?” he smiled, letting his arm slide to rest on the other's shoulders – Allen sighed and rolled his eyes, grumbling about how he was twenty-two and did not need a babysitter.

“It made sense when I was a kid, but now it's just stupid,” he grumbled, prompting then a lump to form in Lavi's throat when he let himself relax under his weight.

Just as he remembered him always doing.

Nothing's changed, Lavi thought, as he shook Allen's frame and purposely changed topic of conversation by pointing at a food stand on the other side of the road.

Nothing had changed, and there was no reason to think he wouldn't have been rejected, had he confessed how he felt – what if his words put a dent in their relationship? What if he ended up ruining everything once he gave in to his impulsive wants?

There was no way he was going to risk Allen's presence in his life like that, not now that he had just finally found him again.

He could manage going on like he always had.

He just needed to get used to hiding his heart again, after all.

 

II –

 

It had already been months since it had started and Lavi still wasn't used to seeing Kanda interact with Alma – then again, he had spent over fifteen years of his current life (and way more than that in the previous one) convinced that nothing in the world could rid his friend of his perpetual grumpiness, he was sure it was just normal to have problems reviewing that belief.

And it wasn't like Kanda actually laughed when Alma was around, or stopped looking like the whole world was one wrong move away from complete annihilation by his hand – there was an air about him, though, that made him look nearly close to at peace; as if, as long as he had the other boy by his side, he would consider waking up every morning and continue living something worth it.

It was weird.

And if that wasn't strange enough for Kanda, Lavi was sure he had caught him smiling once or twice.

He was so obviously in love, it made Lavi wonder if he himself looked just as incriminating around Allen.

Right that moment, Kanda was sitting leaning against Alma's side, one of the other's arms around his waist and an amber drink resting against his lips – even just the fact that he had agreed to going out without putting up much of a fight was incredibly puzzling to Lavi, and his eye kept straying towards the two of them in undying amazement.

“I swear Alma has to be some kind of miracle worker,” he said, draining the last of his beer and motioning for the bartender to pass him another.

Allen laughed loud and happy at his side, bringing a handful of peanuts to his mouth and swallowing them nearly without chewing – Lavi looked at him with a raised brow, but didn't comment on it: that Allen's appetite had only marginally decreased without his Innocence to factor in was something he had learned early enough.

Whether it was actual hunger or just habit wasn't exactly clear to him, but he didn't care enough to ask about it.

Yet.

Other than in name he was still a Bookman at heart, after all: curiosity was meant to be his selling point.

“Don't take it personally, Lavi – you know this is the third lifetime in a row they've known each other,” Allen replied, his tone still light and his eyes trained on Kanda on the other side of the bar, a hand pushing Alma's head away from himself as he complained about god knew what to a laughing Lenalee.

Lavi shook his head with an amused smirk bending his lips, sliding a distracted stare over the crowded bar to give himself a vague sense of his friends' general whereabouts, and then took a sip of his new beer.

“Lucky they remember each other again, then, if that's the reason why Alma manages to get Yuu to let go,” he said, turning around to direct a smile at Allen.

Honestly, for however weird it still felt to him, Lavi was genuinely glad Kanda had found a way to happiness in the end – between his default mood being anger-and-murder and the stress he put his mind under as he forced himself to ignore his memories, Kanda's general emotional well-being had been headed downwards since Lavi could remember.

It was good to see him that relaxed, finally.

Allen's eyes were still trained on their friends, though, a soft pensiveness making him furrow his eyebrows and bite his lips.

Luck, eh? I don't think that's it,” he mused, a moment of hesitation just barely noticeable before he turned towards Lavi with deep seriousness painted on his features, “when you have something important to remember, even death can't stop the memories from staying, that's what I believe.”

The sureness of the words and the intensity of the silver stare made Lavi's heart suddenly jump a beat and get stuck in his throat, his lid widening a little as his jaw went slack in surprise – this isn't about Alma and Yuu anymore , his mind yelled at him, and the realization that something was going on between them right then and he couldn't even properly grasp what made his stomach flip on itself.

He opened his mouth, an A already forming on his tongue to start a sentence even he didn't know the end of – then his brain registered his surname being called from behind him, a loud and happy sound with every vowel stretched out, and the next thing he knew was Allen suddenly standing before him, right hand pushing him behind his smaller back and left arm slightly raised forward in a probably instinctive shielding gesture.

“Woah!” the same voice that had called out to him said, and Lavi shook off the surprise and moved his eye away from the back of Allen's head, meeting Wisely's half-shocked-half-amused face.

Talk about people with the worst timing ever, Lavi thought to himself bitterly. He was starting to believe the other did it on purpose, truth be told.

“Wizh,” he said, feeling the sigh heavy on his lungs and glaring a little at the openly amused smile he got in answer.

“Lavi,” Wisely replied lightly, and Allen's frame, if possible, stiffened even more between them at the singsonging voice, “are you going to call back your bodyguard any time soon?”

The hand still resting on his chest tightened around the cloth a little at that, and the gesture made Lavi finally properly register what was actually happening before him.

He took in a long breath and exhaled slowly, measured, gathering his thoughts to remember what he had to do in that situation – right, calming words, bring back to the present, breathe.

He inhaled and exhaled again.

That was the exact same reaction he had had the first time he'd seen Tyki approach Allen, the bone deep instinct to fight-and-protect so strong it over-rid every logical thought yelling at him that there was no war going on, he could stand down, no one was in danger, Allen was fine.

Re-meeting for the first time Noahs he had already remembered the faces of was the most stressful reincarnation-related experience Lavi had had to go through, really.

“Allen,” he said slowly, raising his hands to cover the other's fingers still grasping at his shirt, delicately making them let go and then waiting for the other to turn around and face him, “it's okay, I'm fine, it's 2014 and there's no war going on, Wisely is just a friend from college turned colleague, we're at the local down from your apartment in London and I'm okay, we're okay, everything is fine.”

He looked at Allen watch him with hard eyes and tense back for nearly a minute longer, taking in measured breaths and repeating that there was nothing wrong in low tones, waiting for the other to start breathing properly again – his smile became more genuine as Allen's posture relaxed, a long sigh leaving his lungs in relief when his shoulders sagged and he inhaled deeply and exhaled slowly.

“You're okay,” he pushed out still a bit hesitantly, prompting Lavi to repeat it for him once more – I'm okay – and then returned the smile with an embarrassed tilt of his own lips.

“Sorry,” he said, his hands tightening on the other's fingers, and Lavi shook his head and murmured a soft it's fine in answer, rubbed his knuckles with slow strokes of his thumbs in motions soothing for both of them.

He watched somewhat distractedly as Allen turned around to properly introduce himself to Wisely, a red hand giving one last squeeze to his right one before letting go, and then his mind went back to what had been happening before Wisely called his name.

He couldn't shake off the feeling that, had his friend not interrupted them, he would have ended up telling Allen everything he was keeping hidden inside – he had even started the sentence, hadn't he? He'd been just a step away from the confession he had been dreading and yet dreaming about making for months.

He wasn't sure whether to be relieved or disappointed, if he was honest with himself.

 

III –

 

Sitting on his couch at four in the morning, eye zoned out on the muted TV showing images of a national park in Germany and phone resting in his limp hand, Lavi wondered if it would have been too weird, for him, to actually text Allen as he wished to.

He had already been awake for over an hour, sitting mostly motionless and trying to sort through his thoughts as much as he could; he knew that, had he sent the text and heard back from Allen, he would have easily been able to go back to sleep – it would have been proof enough of his well-being, after all.

Had the other been asleep, though, there was the concrete possibility his brain, right that moment, would have irrationally freaked out – Lavi wasn't really sure that the slim chance of finding Allen awake was worth the gamble on his already stressed mind, truth be told.

But he had been having that dream again.

It was a relatively newly recovered memory, all things considered, as he had started reliving it during his sleep only in the last month or so – more times than not, though, it managed to unsettle him enough for him to wish he'd never recovered it.

In the dream, he felt tired and hallow, resigned in a way he had never experienced before, and whispered words he couldn't hear as he sat before a white tombstone with Allen's name carved in its surface.

He knew he was old, older than even his grandfather was, and he knew that it wasn't the first nor the last time he would visit that grave, flowers on the ground before him and a soft smile on his dry and wrinkled lips.

What was the most unsettling to him – what made him need to make sure his Allen, the Allen with bleached hair and a tattooed left arm, was still alive and well, and put his mind in a restless frenzy – wasn't the tomb in itself or what it represented, but the way in which in that memory he felt like there was nothing left in the world, for him, outside of that patch of humid ground and a name slowly fading away.

He felt empty and resigned to that emptiness, just waiting for the end of a life he couldn't be bothered to properly live any longer, and that feeling just didn't seem to disappear, once he woke up.

It left him shaking for the length of every endless hour in which sleep eluded him soon after, made him wonder about how little he had had, in his previous life, and how much he had lost – about what he had actually done to hold onto the few things he could consider his own, and how far he had been willing to reach out to try and grab what he wanted.

Lavi had ended a life having nothing but memories and regrets – it was downright scary, to realize he may have been on the same path this time around, too.

He watched distractedly as a black birds flew high in the German skies on his TV, moving then his attention on the phone in his hand and biting his lips, considering.

He sighed, sliding a fingertip on the touchscreen and bringing it in front of him: if lack of reaching out had been the problem, he told himself, there was just one way to make sure he wouldn't repeat the same errors.

He typed out a testing are u awake?, sent the text to Allen with only minimal hesitation, and then sat back and waited.

 

 

2015, Sometime between the Beginning of March and the End of July

 

I –

 

“This should be the last bunch,” Lavi said entering the room, leaving the pile of boxes on top of the closest one already resting on the floor and then stretching his back.

Most of his muscles hurt, and he groaned a little in pleasure as he felt them marginally relax: even when he'd been a soldier and his weapon of choice had been a gigantic iron hammer, the thing to him had still held the weight of a toothpick – he was a bookworm, heavy lifting had never been written in his genes.

Allen looked up at him from his crouched position with a grateful smile, taking out a dozen shirts from the box he was rummaging through and starting folding them in one of the open drawers.

“I'm sorry I roped you into this,” he said, gesturing at wide to the room covered in newly reassembled furniture and cardboard boxes filled to the brim – Lavi waved a dismissive hand at him in answer, rolling his eyes at his sometimes-overly-polite friend, and then looked for the boxes where the books were stored and started arranging their contents on the case's shelves.

“It's faster if it's two of us,” he reasoned, “and you're moving in with us anyway, it's normal for me to help.”

Even if he didn't think he'd do much aside from pushing heavy boxes around on the floor some more and snooping between Allen's books, truth be told – he'd go check out Alma's bunch too, as soon as Kanda and he were done figuring out a way to set up a room meant to be a single as a double.

Having new books to read was becoming increasingly hard for Lavi, considering how in his past life he'd done a good job of memorizing everything and anything available – maybe the new addictions to his home would end up being a treasure trove, who could know.

“I'm kind of sorry about that too, actually,” Allen said after a beat, reaching for another box and continuing the folding-and-putting-away process, “this place is barely big enough for three people, let alone four.”

He wasn't exactly wrong, Lavi knew – they had had the spare room to repurpose as Allen's, but Alma and Kanda had needed to share the space for all of them to fit; they had ended up with one bathroom to share in four, and the kitchen had already been a tight squeeze for Kanda and Lavi alone.

But still...

“That's ridiculous, you and Alma needed a place to stay after Two Spots moved away and left you short on rent, here's perfect,” he said resolutely, organizing music books on the highest shelf from tallest and largest to shortest and slimmest, “Alma already spent most nights here anyway, we'll manage just fine.”

There was still the question of where to put Allen's piano, and a lot of furniture had ended up being superfluous once they had actually moved in, but they could figure that out later.

If Lavi was honest with himself, the biggest problem he saw with the newly formed cohabitation was the effect having Allen constantly around would have on his emotional stability – not that he was ever going to mention that, obviously.

“Yes, well, I still feel like we're imposing,” Allen replied with a soft scoff; he raised up to his feet, making his knees crack for having spent too long bent and motionless, and moved in front of his closet to start putting away his remaining clothes.

Lavi looked at his barely-there pout for a second longer, eyebrows high and a book still halfway to the shelf, and then found himself barking out an incredulous laugh.

“We're not making you stay here free of rent, Allen,” he said, shaking his head in amusement, “you two are paying just as Yuu and I are - that means less rent to pay for us, actually, so in a way you and Alma are the ones doing us a favor.”

He thumbed through an illustrated copy of One Thousand And One Nights, thinking about the last time he had read the book and seriously considering asking the other to loan it to him for a while so he could read it again - and then turned around when he felt a balled-up sock hit the back of his head.

“Please don't be ridiculous, paying rent is the least we could do in this situation,” Allen said in a huff, watching him with crossed arms and a disapproving glare before turning back to his clothes and closet.

Lavi sighed as he bent down to retrieve the sock, and then shortly considered the idea of throwing it back at Allen just for the fun of it – he discarded the thought soon enough though, opting instead for folding the piece of clothing and moving towards Allen to put it away himself.

Allen had been beating himself up too much over accepting their offer to move in, after all, and right then was as much a good time as any for them to have a serious talk about it, Lavi guessed.

He leaned against the wall beside the closet with another soft sigh, watched his friend put away his clothes with his brows still slightly furrowed, and then reached over to mess up already disheveled bleached hair.

“You need to stop worrying so much, Allen,” he said, keeping his hand between white locks, “there's really no reason to, I'm glad I get to live with you, okay, I haven't stopped being happy about it since you accepted - you're in no way an annoyance, believe me.”

It was the way Allen's head snapped up to look at him with wide eyes, that had him realize that maybe a line had been crossed with that last admission – the way Allen's back tensed slightly and red started creeping along his neck, though, made Lavi's heart beat stronger and faster for a second, stopped any attempt at backtracking before it left his throat.

They looked at each other for a silent moment, motionless as Lavi's words sank and settled between them, and then Allen's mouth open in a soft oh.

“Is that so?” he asked in a happy whisper, lips turning upwards at the corners as he took a step forward, making Lavi's hand slide to the side of his face and then down to rest between his neck and shoulder.

Time around them felt still, to Lavi, and everything he found himself able to do was nod and shift to stand straighter, the movement bringing him close enough to Allen to breathe in his scent with every breath he took – the skin under his hand felt warm, and for a moment everything he could hear was his own heart beating too fast and the blood rushing in his ears.

Then a loud bang and long string of curses made them startle and jump apart, Lavi's heart stuck in his throat and Allen's eyes as wide as they could possibly get: they looked at each other for a shocked second, unsure of what to do, until Alma's worried voice asking Kanda if he was okay completely broke the spell, prompting Lavi to finally pull away his hand from Allen's neck and take a step back.

“I'm going to check on them,” he said, hurriedly turning around and leaving the room as panicked thoughts started taking over his mind, making blood flood his face and his heart try to beat its way right out of his rib cage.

For a second, he thought he heard a soft, nearly inaudible groan reach him from behind his back, and convincing his overly hopeful heart that he didn't actually know what it may have meant turned out to be way harder than it probably should have been.

 

II –

 

Living with Alma and Allen, as it happened, made for far weirder experiences than Lavi had initially guessed.

When he had thought about it while they had still been organizing the moving, he had assumed he could make a pretty educated guess about the living-with-Allen experience – after all, he had spent over an year sharing his spaces with him back when they'd been exorcists. It only made sense to expect something similar.

It turned out his assumptions had been wrong.

Very, very wrong.

It wasn't like Lavi's memories didn't match up with reality any longer, though: Allen still woke up just as insanely early as he remembered, and he still ate the equivalent of three lunches and four dinners for breakfast; his bedhead was still nearly as impressive as Lavi's own, and he was still way too chatty and energetic when everything Lavi wanted to do was crawl back under his covers.

He kept his drawers neatly organized but his closet an absolute mess just like he always had, still spent an unreasonable amount of time standing in front of the mirror glaring at his reflection, used two hours of his day between push-ups in the morning and sit-ups in the evening just like Lavi remembered him always doing.

He was still Allen, there was no doubt about it.

But, if once he had just listed off what he wished to eat and waited, now he cooked his own food himself – and even just that was weird enough that, the first time Lavi had walked in the kitchen to find him in front of the stove, Alma half laying on the table and complaining about being hungry and missing Link's perfect cakes, why did he have to go and find himself a better job, that jerk, he had nearly panicked and grabbed for the pan in Allen's hand.

(“If we'd left cooking to Link we wouldn't have eaten anything but sweets,” he had explained with a resigned sigh when Lavi had asked.)

And if once it had taken him hours to fall asleep at night, now if he reached eleven in the evening still awake was considerable a miracle – Lavi had had to wake him up after he fell asleep on the couch while watching TV enough times that he had started keeping a spare blanket around just so he could lay it on Allen and leave him to sleep there.

(He had fallen asleep on Lavi's shoulder, once, during one of the increasingly-less-rare nights in which they managed to convince Kanda to sit down for a movie – Lavi had felt warmth spread out from the middle of his chest, and every memory of mission-tired-Allen using him as a pillow was suddenly the clearest thing he could remember from his previous life.)

There was how he spent hours going around the apartment with his phone glued to his ear as he spoke with his father about things Lavi couldn't even begin to comprehend, the way in the afternoon the air was regularly filled with the sounds of Allen practicing piano, how Alma would at times sit on the couch and just read out loud to no one in particular.

It was weird how with their cohabitation Lenalee had decided their apartment was their group's official hang out spot, making it an easy occurrence to find random friends hanging out in their living room, and it was even weirder how way too often Lavi entered the kitchen just to find a mostly-naked Tyki asking for another round of poker to a still completely dressed Allen – weirder still had been that one time it had happened in the middle of the night, Allen one step away from falling asleep and still winning, Wisely and Alma eating chips and watching the game in amusement, and Lavi had taken one look at the scene before turning back around and deciding he hadn't seen anything.

There was hair dye in their bathroom's cabinet and every room had at least two of Alma's plants, Kanda managed to smile at his boyfriend just as often as he yelled at Allen, stray animals mysteriously appeared under tables and chairs from time to time – cohabitation had turned out to be way weirder than Lavi had assumed, alright.

He was getting used to it, that was for sure – he was proud of how fast he'd been adapting, really.

But that.

That was too weird even for his current standards.

 

III –

 

Link had been sitting in front of Lavi at the kitchen table, back just as straight as usual, weird eyebrows furrowed and eyes nearly unblinking, for what to him had felt like at least an hour.

Realistically, he knew it couldn't have been more than ten minutes – but in that new life Lavi had had a grand total of three exchanges of words with Link, all of them not over two sentences long, so he felt justified in being apprehensive and a tad nervous over the conversation the other had requested they had.

A conversation that still hadn't started, since Link had favored sitting as straight as a pole and silently looking at him for the approximate length of a lifetime.

It was becoming annoyingly unbearable.

“Did you actually want something?” Lavi asked, pushing a hand between his untamed hair in a slightly distressed motion, and Link looked at him for a beat longer before scrunching up his nose and sighing in resignation.

“Honestly, I feel like it would be wise not to trust you,” he said, elegantly crossing the fingers of his hands on top of the table, keeping his eyes unfaltering – Lavi widened his lids in surprise, made to protest in some way, but Link just kept going, “of course, the same goes for Kanda as well, and I'll make sure to have this conversation with him as soon as I can, too.”

Well, wasn't that a sure way to die young. Lavi was honestly impressed by just how fearless Link could get.

“But this specifically concerns you and Walker, Karma is something I obviously have little interest in discussing with you.”

What.

“Of course, if you were ever to in any way harm him my reaction would not by any means be pleasant, I know you realize - but it's natural to assume that's not something I need to concern myself about too much. Walker, on the other hand...” he concluded pointedly, closing his lips in a tight line and focusing icy eyes on Lavi.

Who was, more or less, completely lost.

“Link,” he said, resting both his palms on the table's surface and keeping his stare steady on the other's face, “I know you're talking, but I can't understand a word you're saying.”

And he was fluent in most known languages, which had to count for something, in his opinion: that speech was just making no sense at all.

Link huffed indignantly under his breath, crossing his arms at his chest and, if possible, furrowing his brows even further.

“I don't have time for games, Bookman,” he grumbled, and Lavi really wanted to remind him that hadn't it been for Link's ridiculous requests they wouldn't have been having that conversation at all, “I realize Walker has made a choice which is completely his own to make, but that doesn't mean I have to like it.”

Was he talking about the cohabitation? Lavi was suddenly pretty sure the conversation was about the cohabitation – which was just unfair, Two Spots was the one who'd moved away, wasn't he?

“Yeah, I don't think you get a say on this,” he replied, a bit miffed, and Link scoffed again and rolled his eyes.

“Obviously, but I have been making sure no harm comes to Walker for a long time, Bookman, and I'd appreciate it if we could make sure you are not going to be where I finally fail.”

God, Allen hadn't been kidding when he'd said the guy was overprotective – Lavi was honestly starting to feel a bit offended both for himself and on Allen's behalf: did Link truly think them completely incapable of taking care of themselves?

And why did Lavi have to be the cause of possible problems, anyway? He'd been living mostly by himself for over five years and no major accidents had ever happened, he would have liked to point out.

(Aside from that one time with the stove and the firefighters, but there hadn't even been an actual fire worth of that name – and he knew what he was talking about, okay, fire was his thing.)

“Listen up, Two Spots,” he said, rising from his chair and leaning forward toward Link with a frown and set lips, “Allen's never been as safe as when he's with me, I want you to get that straight.”

Which was kind of a lie and Lavi knew it, but he'd done enough harming and watching the other suffer in his past life – there was no way he was ever letting anything hurt Allen again for as long as he was alive, that he could swear.

Link elegantly rose to his feet as well, eyes reduced to slits and back as straight as usual.

“I'm forced to take your word on your good intentions,” he huffed, moving his hands on his shirt to tidy it up with precise gestures, “but were anything to happen, be it physical or emotional harm of any kind, I assure you I will have no regrets after personally breaking every single bone present in your body.”

Then he turned around, braid softly swinging against his back from the movement, and left first the kitchen and then the house with long, steady strides.

Lavi watched the point where he'd disappeared for a long minute, eyebrows still furrowed, unsure about what to do; then he let himself fall back on the chair, messed up his hair with a soft groan, and sighed long and drawn out, defeated.

“I need a drink,” he said to the empty room, but didn't actually move from his slouched over position until, hours later, he heard the front door open and Alma's voice fill the too still air of the shared apartment.

 

 

2015, Sometime between the End of September and the Beginning of November

 

I –

 

Lavi had been having a nice dream.

It was a new memory, one of those, he already knew, he wouldn't see in his sleep again for a long time – for some reason it was always the bad ones that stuck around the longest, happy memories always faded fast and unnoticed.

It had been a dream of the journey towards China he had taken right after meeting Allen: they were sitting at a table in a nondescript inn's restaurant, Allen on one side, Krory on the other, and Lenalee and the old man opposite to him; they were laughing, he couldn't really remember about what, and Allen was a warm weight resting against his side.

In the memory Lavi felt at peace and uncaring of everything that wasn't the table he was sitting at, his abdomen and cheeks hurting from the laughter and spirit so light he didn't even mind most of his food was disappearing in Allen and Krory's mouths before he could even lay eye on it.

Lavi loved that kind of dreams, they made him feel safe and at home, left him to wake up gently with a warm chest and a smile on his lips, glad to realize he had another chance to live a happy and fulfilling life with the people he loved – if he could have chosen, that would have been the kind of dreams he would have had every night for as long as possible.

Which was why the sudden and startled awakening that dragged him away from that memory left him too surprised to properly take in his surroundings for long, still seconds: blinking his eye slowly at the ceiling, his half-asleep mind tried unsuccessfully to understand what had so roughly pulled him out, to remember if that specific memory was tied to something unpleasant, maybe, but nothing came to him.

Then a soft shuffling from the side of his bed caught his attention, and Lavi brought his bleary eye in that direction with a slow turning of his head – the moon was high in the sky, softly illuminating his room's floor and the chair in front of his desk, making pale skin and white hair nearly shine in their ethereal, ghost-like appearance.

“Allen,” he said, feeling his voice rough from sleep and blinking a couple of times to rid his eye of the dry sensation, and Allen shifted again on his position, taking a step closer and then sinking to his knees by the bed in an tired movement.

Lavi looked at him for a long minute, for a second unsure about whether what he was seeing was actual reality or just a weird dream – but Allen's edges were too clear, the nightly sounds coming from outside too sharp, for it to just be fantasy.

He turned around to lay on his side, swiping his eye over the other's face to better make out his expression in the dimly lit room, and forced himself to shake off the sleep at least a little when no explanation for the visit came his way.

Allen looked weary and highly-strung, maybe still not completely awake himself, and was watching him like he may have disappeared any moment, had he blinked and lost sight of him even for only a second.

Lavi wasn't used to seeing him look like that, not anymore. It was a distressing sight, to say the least.

“What's wrong?” he asked, drawing in his brows at the other's unmoving stare, receiving in answer just a deeper, more intense frown, “are you alright?”

Allen looked at him for a minute longer, steady and focused, making Lavi feel the beginning of weariness settle on his still tired body, and then a long breath left his lungs, drawn out and unnatural.

“I'm really angry at you, right now,” he said, just a barely audible whisper even in the stillness of the night, and then let his forehead hit the mattress in front of him with an even softer growl, “but I'm also glad you're fine, you complete idiot.”

His shoulder were held tight, his hands gripping on his own upper arms nearly spasmodically, and Lavi looked at him for a long handful of seconds, frown set on his face as he bit at his lower lip, before sitting up with a sigh and reaching out to slowly thread his fingers between mussed up bleached hair.

“What did you dream about?” he asked, keeping his voice just as low as the other's, moving his hand rhythmically and slowly, and when Allen grumbled his answer directly into the mattress, making it just smothered, incomprehensible sounds, he sighed and shook him gently to prompt him to repeat it.

Allen groaned long and drawn out yet again, letting himself sink further into Lavi's bed, and then set up to stare at him with narrow eyes and a scowl to his lips.

“In what universe setting yourself on fire is a good idea!” he growled, eyes alight and hands falling down to grab onto the quilt on the mattress, tightening his grip till his knuckles were white and shaking.

As the words registered in his mind, Lavi felt his eye widen and his heart jump a beat, his chest suddenly growing two sizes smaller and back straightening without him meaning to – the memory of fire lapping at his skin was suddenly everything he could think about, and he forced himself to shut his eye and take in a long breath, unwind his muscles, relax his posture.

Banish the imaginary feeling of his body burning straight to his bones to save the last of his dying soul.

Lavi hated thinking about that fight.

He hated that helplessness always seeping through that memory, the resignation to death as the only possible solution, how clearly he could still recall the smell of burnt, the intense heat making it hard to breath, the crackling sound drowning out even his own voice.

He hated how all he could remember from before that fire were just fogged up memories blurred around the edges – Allen dying yet again right before his eyes, countless tombs all around him and Lenalee crying, pain and resignation gripping at his heart once his mind stopped responding, dread, fear, a yell blocked in his throat and tears that refused to come out.

He hated how he couldn't give those scebes a logical sense or put them in order, how what had brought him to such desperation still mostly eluded him after over a decade of trying to put it all together.

That fight was one of the worst memories he'd ever recovered.

Lavi couldn't stand thinking about it, never had, and seeing Allen tremble because of that same memory, angry and scared and relived all at the same time, made him, if possible, hate it even more.

He let his hand fall from Allen's hair to his left shoulder, sliding down till he could hold onto a red wrist, feel the heartbeat in the thundering pulse, and then tugged forward a little as he let himself fall down again.

“Come on,” he said, voice just barely above a whisper, trying not to think about just how truly ridiculous that invitation was; he tugged at the other's wrist again when Allen just kept staring with wide eyes, unmoving, and forced away the knowledge that, had he been properly awake, he would have most probably found a better solution to Allen's – and, to some extents, his own – distress.

The best idea he could come up with to have both of them stop thinking about that fight was going back to sleep as soon as possible, though.

His brain was too tired to find anything better, really.

Allen looked at him with narrow eyes for an handful of seconds longer, bit his lower lip and tightened his fingers in the quilt fractionally – then he dragged himself on his feet in slow movements and, just as carefully, slid under the covers beside Lavi, settling on his side only inches away from him, twisting and moving his left hand to hold onto the fingers still gripping at his wrist.

It was enough to make Lavi relax shoulders he hadn't noticed he had tightened and have him huff out a small relieved breath, the fact that no rejection had come his way.

They watched each other in silence for a long while, Allen's frame slowly relaxing and Lavi's increasingly more sleep-fogged mind starting to make his lid too heavy to keep open – his lungs took in Allen's scent every time he inhaled, he could feel his heat on the fingers around his hand and from the knee barely touching his own, could hear him breathing in both sound and warmth on his cheeks.

He wasn't sure he'd ever felt more at peace while falling asleep, during that life.

 

II –

 

“You're an idiot,” Allen murmured after what could have been mere minutes or could have been an hour, voice sleepy but decisive – Lavi made himself drag his lid open again, met angry eyes trying to hide badly concealed fear, and started moving his thumb over the knuckles of the hand still holding his in rhythmic, small circles.

“I'm sorry,” he said in a whisper, and Allen narrowed his eyes at him for a second, assessing, before grumbling a barely audible no, you're not.

Lavi sighed and shuffled a little to better position himself, rising his free hand to rub at his tired eye; Allen was right, he wasn't sorry. Or better, he was sorry Allen had to wake up in the middle of the night angry and scared and pained, but he definitely wasn't for the actions he had taken a lifetime ago.

He could barely remember what had been going on and he still knew that it had been the right choice, there was nothing to be sorry about – had he voiced that thought right then, though, the argument that would have ensued wouldn't have seen its end any time soon.

He couldn't have that, not when his mind was mostly asleep already.

“You would have died,” he settled on answering, because that was the undeniable truth and somehow looked like the safest statement to make, but Allen only frowned deeper, tightened his lips in an angry scowl.

“You set yourself on fire,” he growled back, his hold on Lavi's fingers becoming for a moment so tight he felt the bones grind together, “for a second I actually thought you had died.”

“Allen–” he tried to say, but a hand pressing on his lips made the whisper die in his throat – Allen shuffled closer, making his angry eyes perfectly visible to Lavi even in the darkness of his room, and hissed at him a sharp don't.

He opened his mouth and took a breath in, as if preparing to say something he'd been meaning to voice for a long time, but then closed it again and shook his head, moved his hand away from Lavi's lips to drag it over his face in a tired movement.

“Just promise me you won't ever try to sacrifice yourself for me again,” he whispered in the end, nearly defeated, and Lavi would have loved to just nod and assure him nothing of the like would have ever happened again, to give Allen everything he was asking for and then maybe some more.

He would have really loved to.

And yet.

“I can't do that,” he answered with decision, tightening his hold on Allen's left hand and keeping his stare steady when the other's sharply settled on it, and then kept going, putting in his voice every ounce of sureness he could feel through his body, “I can't promise you I won't protect you at any cost given the chance, Allen, you can't ask me that.”

There were very few things Lavi wouldn't have done for him, and that was definitely between them – asking him not to sacrifice himself to save those he loved, to save Allen, when his death was the only way for them to survive as unscratched as possible, was something no one could do and expect a positive answer from him.

He'd been ready to sacrifice himself when he had been set on pretending he didn't have a heart, there was no way he wasn't going to now that he was wearing it on his sleeves.

“I know you would do the same,” he added when Allen looked ready to protest further, letting a soft smile bend his lips to try and placate the other's anger, “you can't ask me to put myself first when you're leaving yourself for last.”

It had always been Allen's biggest merit and at the same time worst flaw, how selfless he was, how little he cared about his own well-being when someone else, anyone else, was in danger. And it had been one of the first things Lavi had fallen in love with, so he couldn't even truly complain.

“I don't want you to die,” Allen said after a beat, a soft pout curving his lips and his eyes still narrow and steady, and Lavi scoffed under his breath and raised his free hand to poke at the other's cheek with an index finger.

“You don't want anyone to die, Al, that's always been the problem,” he retorted in a whisper, hoping his words and tone could convey just how much Allen needed someone to take care of him in return, how much he wanted to be the one to.

Allen only swatted the hand poking at his cheek away, though, using one of his forearms to raise enough to look down at Lavi with renewed seriousness – his hair hung around his face, shading it from the soft moonlight and making it impossible to properly discern his expression, but Lavi could see the determination in his set jaw, in the unblinking eyes, in the way his left hand was still gripping tightly on his right one.

“That's not it,” Allen murmured, biting on his lower lip and then repeating it again, surer, “that's not it, Lavi, that's not the point – you're just not listening to me, you never are,” he took in a long breath, brought his right hand to push the hair away from his face and then moved it to grip on the quilt resting over Lavi's chest, above his rapidly quickening heart, “this isn't just about anyone, I don't want you to die. You can't die, I couldn't stand it, how can you still not get it?”

There was near desperation in his voice, in his stiff posture, in the way his grip on the quilt kept on tightening till his hand was trembling, and Lavi took in his set lips, his frowning eyebrows, his narrow, steady eyes; let the words he'd spoken sink into his mind and heart, thought back to every moment throughout the last year where Allen had looked at him, touched him, talked to him – and way back still, every second shared in another life, every lingering silence, every soft smile and word never spoken.

Lavi felt his eye widen, his chest constrict, his mouth open to form an surprised, inaudible oh.

How slow could he be, really? Wasn't he supposed to be the smart one?

He gently brought his free hand up, curling the arm around Allen's shoulders and threading his fingers between mussed up hair on the back of his head, and then pulled him down towards his chest, pressing Allen's cold nose against the side of his warm neck, feeling him stiffen further still and then relaxing on top of him.

“I think I'm actually an idiot,” he whispered after a second, slight amazement clear in his soft voice – he could feel the other's heartbeat resound in his chest, Allen's breath when he scoffed in answer right over the bared skin of his shoulder, and Lavi's right hand tightened his hold on the red one still gripping it, his left pressed the body on top of him impossibly closer.

“That's what I've been telling you the whole night,” Allen grumbled, his voice clear even if just a whisper thanks to their proximity, his smirk obvious from the feeling of his lips curving against Lavi's skin, and Lavi shook his head and closed his eye, a smile opening on his face when the fingers of Allen's right hand curled around the shirt over one of his shoulders, when he moved one of his legs to rest between his long ones to better accommodate himself.

Allen's weight pressing down on his chest felt like an anchor to the present time, settled his mind in the life he was currently living with a certainty Lavi wasn't sure he had ever felt before.

It was peaceful. Made breathing easier.

“This time it's different, nothing will happen to either of us,” he murmured, letting himself get lost in Allen's warmth and smell and sounds, so close, so alive, “but I still can't promise you I won't give everything for you, if I'll ever have to.”

Allen didn't know what it was like, to live decades in a world where everything he loved was dead and gone, to only ever feel at home in a cemetery surrounded by his friends and family's empty tombs, to wait for death to take him as if it were freedom and salvation finally coming.

Lavi would give anything to never have to feel like that again.

“I won't let you die, though,” Allen replied, a sleepy whisper grumbled directly over the skin of his neck, and Lavi rolled his eyes behind his closed lids, murmured a vague then we feel the same, and finally let himself be dragged away by sleep.

 

III –

 

In the dream he was sitting on the moist dirt in front of Allen's grave, words heavy in his mouth and regret sharp in the back of his mind.

“I wonder what you would have done, had I ever found the courage to tell you,” he said to the wind, closing his eyes and letting the chill air of the sunset sting at his cheeks – there were so many words he had never been able to voice, so many people he'd never been sincere with, and every one of those feelings was a solid weight on his heart, made his lungs too small and his chest too tight.

In that dream there were two thousand different ways he could have told Lenalee just how important she really was to him, told Krory how much he admired and valued him, told Kanda how deeply he really cared for him – thousands of different ways to thank Miranda and apologize to Bookman, millions of ways to express just how real his smile was because of all of them, countless ways to explain to Allen the entirety of what he really, truly felt.

In the dream he knew every single one of those different speeches and sentences, because he'd thought about them all over and over again, decades spent regretting his fears and silences, hoping against any possible logic for a second chance that would never come.

In the dream, in the memory, he couldn't bring himself to voice those words to an empty grave, to cold stone and damp dirt, and swore he'd make it up to his too-often-silenced heart, had he ever been lucky enough to meet them all again.

Had a second chance, against every odd, actually come his way.

 

IV –

 

Lavi woke up early the next morning, feeling warm and cozy, too at peace to even consider cursing the sun streaming right on his face for having awoken him.

He rolled onto his side, pushing his nose in the pillow and groaning softly, stretching his legs under the heavy quilt and stifling a yawn, and then opened his eye, blinked twice, and seriously considered the possibility of having died during the night and having woken up in heaven.

Allen was sleeping just inches away from him, tangled hair and slightly parted lips, relaxed features and steady breathing – the sun turned obvious the small scar under his left eyes, made his long lashes look endless in number, and Lavi breathed in and out lighter than he ever had, didn't even try to fight the smile when it started taking over his lips.

He moved a hand to brush the bleached fringe off the other's forehead, slid a thumb over the nearly invisible mole just above his left eyebrow – Allen frowned slightly and scrunched up his nose, blinking awake a second later with an half grumbled, incomprehensible question.

He looked at Lavi for a long minute, eyes shining in the early light and making Lavi's breath catch in his throat, and then run the tip of his tongue over his dry lips, burrowed further into the covers and yawned into the pillow.

“You got freckles,” he sleepily murmured after a beat, closing his lids again and letting a sigh leave his lungs, and Lavi wanted to laugh, to tell him he knew, to make fun of his bedhead, to hold him inside his arms and feel his heat make him warm and right and whole.

“I love you,” he said instead, the words tumbling out of his mouth without him really meaning to voice the thought, and he felt his heart beat right into his throat and a weight lift from his chest at the same time, making him lighter than he'd ever been in any life he'd ever lived.

Allen's head snapped up at the words, lids widening and lips parting in surprise, making Lavi stop breathing for a long, endless second, and then he let himself sink back into the pillow with a deep sigh and a small smile.

Finally,” he breathed out, soft laughter accompanying his quiet voice, “I was starting to think you'd never say it.”

Lavi looked at him with eye wide and air stuck in his throat for a stretch of time that seemed still, to him – then he let out a quiet, nearly incredulous you knew, and Allen laughed again right into the pillow, sleepy and happy, nearly shining.

He was so beautiful Lavi couldn't even bring himself to be annoyed at the fact he was obviously laughing at him.

“Of course I knew,” he said, silver eyes glittering of orange and yellow shades in the morning light, front teeth delicately biting at his lower lip as a smile still pulled at his cheeks, and Lavi smothered a long groan in his pillow, raised a hand to mess up his already tangled hair.

“Why didn't you say anything!” he whined, moving to rest on his back at settling his stare on the ceiling, a frown drawing in his eyebrows, and when Allen shuffled closer he felt it in the way the cover shifted, in how his body-heat suddenly became more intense.

“You seemed pretty set on ignoring it,” he replied, sitting up to look down at Lavi and scrunching up his nose in annoyance, “again.”

The last word he said in a low grumble, nearly an inaudible mumble, and Lavi let it roll around his mind until surprise smoothed out his frown again, leaving him once more wide-eyed and short on breath.

“You knew back then too,” he whispered, widening his eye even further when Allen nodded in confirmation – he opened his mouth and filled his lungs, ready to ask for explanations over the other's silence once again, when his reeling, still half-asleep mind finally grabbed onto the actual meaning of the other's words, making the question die in his throat.

Allen had known.

He had known, about Lavi's feelings and, to some extents, about his fear of accepting them, about his struggles with a heart he shouldn't have had and the words he'd never said – he had known, and had sat back and waited him out, let Lavi choose by himself the path to take, the right way to deal with his own heart, and then had accepted it when Lavi's choice had been to keep pretending nothing was happening.

He had when they'd been exorcists, and was ready to do the same again in that life, too.

Allen had always known, and he had never pressured Lavi in any way whatsoever.

“God, I love you,” he groaned, dragging both his hands down over his face and trying not to think about just how little he actually deserved the boy by his side, “I love you so damn much.”

Allen's answering laugh was happy and full, and his fingers, when he grabbed onto Lavi's wrists and uncovered his face, were warm and soft – the sun and happiness reflecting on his face made him shine so bright Lavi, for a moment, nearly feared he'd fade away right then, before his eyes.

And he realized it was ridiculous, maybe downright insane, but that was an irrational fear he knew he'd never get rid of, for however many lives he'd still live.

“I love you,” he repeated, softer and quieter, following Allen's frame with his eye and then his whole body as he settled back beside him on the bed.

Allen's smile still hadn't diminished in intensity when he answered, warm and happy, with a low I love you, too, you idiot, and Lavi couldn't have stopped the grin from stretching his lips even if he'd wanted to with all of his might.

Which may as well have been the farthest thing from the truth, right that moment – if there had ever been a right moment to smile, that one was it. He could have kept watching the other while his grin made his cheeks ache for hours still and he wouldn't have wished for anything different, he was sure of that.

“Are you going to kiss me any time soon?” Allen asked after a while, though, raising a brow and barely containing his laughter; Lavi felt his heart grow in size at the words, his chest feeling warm and tight as he shuffled closer still, the tip of his nose brushing Allen's with every breath he took in.

“Am I going to have to do everything, in this relationship?” Lavi wondered amused, laughing openly when the only answer he received was a shrug and a grinned maybe.

Being completely unable to stop smiling made for the most awkward kiss of either of Lavi's lives, that was undeniable.

He'd still insist it was the best and most perfect he'd ever shared with anyone to whoever may have asked, though.

 

 

2021, Sometime between the End of March and the Beginning of August

 

I –

 

The place where a century earlier had stood the small, empty cemetery Lavi had privately called home was now a twenty-floors apartment building with its bricks showing in more than one place and mismatched windows with clashing colors.

Standing on the sidewalk on the other side of the road, Lavi let his good eye roam its front with quiet interest, taking in every scratch and crack, trying to fit the view in front of him over the stark memories he held of that same place.

He couldn't seem to reconcile the two images, in his mind.

Knowing the cemetery was gone had made something let go inside of him, like the last tie to his previous life being cut with scissors he hadn't seen coming – it was saddening, maybe even painful, but liberating in a way he hadn't thought possible.

The story he had once lived wasn't written in any book, never had and never would be.

The buildings he'd inhabited and the places he'd visited, the war he had fought and the people he'd saved, all of those things had disappeared over the course of one single century, just above one hundred years – nothing remained of what he had once been, no places were left standing silently remembering their struggles and fights, no words, written or spoken, were left to keep his previous life more than just a fantasy passed between people sharing the same dream.

Lavi Bookman Jr., the exorcist and the historian, the surviving soldier between endless martyrs, had finally, unquestionably died.

He took in a long breath, inhaling and exhaling slowly and deliberately, and then turned to give the building his back, started walking away with a step lighter then he thought it'd be, after visiting that place.

“Done?” Allen asked as he fell in step with him, a small, concerned frown bending his eyebrows and lips, and Lavi smiled back at him with honest peacefulness.

“Done,” he confirmed, reaching over with his right hand to catch Allen's left and starting to play with the gold bend around his ring finger with distracted motions, like he'd become used to since the day he'd slid it in place.

It had turned into an habit he couldn't really be bothered to break, playing with his own when he was alone and with its twin when it was within arm's reach.

Allen kept looking at him with a pinched expression for a while longer, softly biting his lower lip and obviously refraining himself from saying whatever it was that was on his mind, and Lavi snorted and rolled his eye, pulling him against his side and curling an arm around his waist.

“I'm fine, Al, stop looking at me like that,” he said, bending down to kiss him with a smile still stretching his lips.

He was fine.

Even with the memories and experiences of two different existences and the combined lived years amounting to over one hundred, Lavi could honestly say that he'd never, ever felt better then he did right that moment, with Allen's weight pressed against his side and every single one of his friends and family members just one phone call away from him.

He may have even considered his first life a blessing, after all, if it meant receiving in exchange happiness and peace like those he was feeling right that moment.